Son House wrote a song called “Walkin Blues” and said “The blues ain’t nothin’ but a low down shakin’ chill”. Ever been so sick that you’ve got every blanket in the house piled on top of yourself (plus that little blue kitchen towel with a sailboat embroidered on it because your mom sent it to you) and you STILL can’t get warm? Shivering as you are burning up with fever and freezing to death at the same time? Can you physically feel that if you think about it hard enough? Excellent! Let’s explore what “feelings” feel like to a thawing ex-boozer.
I never took the time to think about feelings before I started this adventure. My unprofessional opinion is I equated feelings with weakness or vulnerability. If a person showed sadness, they were weak. If they showed anger, they lacked control. If they showed fear or trepidation, they were vulnerable. If they showed happiness, they were hiding something. These genius observations weren’t the result of my upbringing, quite the opposite. My parents always taught my sister and I to talk about stuff and that it was OK to show emotion, good and bad. Just because they taught me that stuff doesn’t mean I applied it…
Alcohol was not only something I enjoyed the many flavors of, it was a a useful and ahem… needed tool. Booze was the sandpaper to the sharp edges of feelings. Round ’em off a bit and they don’t cause so many issues. Ever hear the saying, “Just a quick one to take the edge off”? It’s because we mean exactly that. For some reason, alkies are simply not wired for the intensities of feelings. Emotional fuses blow. Uncomfortable to say the least.
Going through my journal shows how the feeling “amp” started to come back to life. I’m almost 45 so my “feeling amp” is tube type and yes, it takes a bit to warm up.
Flicking the power switch to “On” and all I hear is crackling and an all too familiar hiss…and it’s loud… fear. What are people going to say??? Is that person looking at me funny? Was that guy a bit standoffish? Imagine looking at your friends and having to wonder if they were still your friends. Why the first feeling I had couldn’t have been elation or relief is beyond me. Maybe it’s because as we peel the onion, the ugly stuff is closest to the surface.
I hated going places. The center of the universe thinking that is inherent in we alkies leads to a powerful case of paranoia. I was immersed in this new experiment and assumed everyone knew and was talking about it and me. A few might have been, most could’ve cared less. Another drunk proclaiming he is changing his ways. Big deal. Lots of snapping and crackling going on in those early days. Hoping for the best and unable to prepare for the worst. But the amp started to warm up…
The snapping and crackling and hissing started to fade, or more likely was overrun, by the loud screeching sound of feedback… anger and resentment. So much louder than fear.
Why didn’t someone tell me what was happening??? Why didn’t one of my people tell me to put the bottle down??? You said you loved me yet you watched me dig deeper and deeper! Oh, now you want to judge me?!?! What are you looking at??? It wasn’t my fault!!!
The snapping and crackling and hissing is coming back intermittently and the feedback is on full blast. The normal fix would have been to wipe the amp down with booze. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have a repair shop full of fellow “musicians” to help me keep adjusting things instead of shit-canning the amp I had. Unfortunately, searching for that perfect tone takes time. At this point, all I could “hear” was loud noise. Going from not feeling to feeling these things SUCKED! It’s no wonder some give up. The search for tone is not for the weak of heart. The nice part is that there is a bunch of tuners ready and willing to help anytime.
All kinds of all racket happening and what’s this??? What is that echoing sound? Reverb. Amp work is incredibly exhausting. The body is starting to heal but the brain is still in shock. All the new noises and suddenly there is way too much reverb. Echoes of the past. Guilt and sadness. That low down shakin’chill of the blues? It’s here with a vengeance.
The brain is an amazing machine but it can be a ruthless bastard and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. Fond memories pop into your head like a favorite song then someone drags the needle across the entire record as though you will never get those times back. This is when we realize that it reality, it isn’t anyone else’s fault. WE caused the ruined records. You look in your recording studio and you see the priceless guitars (relationships) smashed beyond repair. The drum kit that your mom and dad bought you for Christmas (career) is kicked in and thrown around. Your entire case of harmonicas (happiness) is missing without a trace. I’m not sure if any of you have ever been so blue that your heart physically hurt but I got there. It’s painful. And this is AFTER I quit drinking!
Something compelling kept happening. The boys in the band always said the same thing after each “jam session”.
“Keep coming back.”
So I did. And just like they promised, things started sounding better! The snapping and crackling and hissing faded. Feedback? Always a potential but now I know what causes it and more importantly, how to remedy it. Reverb? A very good part of your song, in moderation. Those old records aren’t broken or ruined by scratches. You can still play them and feel the good feels.
Right now my amp is running better than it has in many, many years. If I look inside, the tubes are glowing a beautiful orange glow. You can see the curls in the filaments as clear as day and feel the warmth rolling out. The control knobs are balanced for the tune I’m playing now. Not too bright or tinny with treble, not too booming or muffled by bass. The song I’m working on right now is called “Feelings are Normal” and it sounds pretty good through this rebuilt amp. I’m going to keep going back to the shop to find the perfect tone because the Old Timers know stuff I don’t. Maybe I’ll crank my happiness volume up a bit, too. Rock on, people!