Monday, June 22, 2009

Food for Musical Thought: What I did on my summer vacation

We always take the same summer vacation. We go to the same cities and see many of the same people. We take the same routes, drive in the same car, and we stop at the same rest stops. On this trip back we even had the same person take our (same) order at Taco Bell.

The sameness of it all helps offset the differences. We see how places change year to year. We got to experience the Charlie Card in Boston, though it seems not be common knowledge that the "Charlie" in the Charlie Card comes from the Kingston Trio's classic song Charlie on the MTA. Very clever.

Having spent a large chunk of my life riding on the M.T.A., which during my childhood became the M.B.T.A., and during my young adulthood became known simply at the "T," I have a lasting love for public rail transportation. Sweeping changes in the seat color and the quality of the station announcements on the New York subway always amaze me. During the 1970s the subway lacked all glamor. It still lacks glamor (which is one of the things I like about subway travel), but it seems far more civilized.

It is still odd to me to hear piped-in Beethoven violin and piano sonatas in the Port Authority. I find myself looking for speakers so that I can actually listen, but then I feel weird. And then I bother myself thinking about who might be playing. Live musicians in the T stations in Cambridge make everything more straightforward, though Michael and I seemed to be the only people listening to the young woman with a guitar and a speaker that had additional tracks of her voice singing "Country Roads," while we were waiting for the Red Line to take us back to Harvard Square after eating fantastic (vegan, on my part) Cambodian lunch with T. and her husband, Mr. T.

Being somewhere without an instrument and without a musical purpose (or even a blogging purpose--I didn't bring a computer, and only spent a few minutes on Michael's computer during our journey) was not as difficult this time as it has been in the past. Slowly I am learning how to view myself as something other than only a musician, and am learning to be less restless when I am not practicing or writing. I find that defining myself by what I "do" rather than what I "am" leads to a great deal of unhappiness and discomfort in the non-musical "real" world.

We were able to see the movie Food, Inc. when it opened at the Coolidge Corner in Brookline (Mass). Driving westward the next day, and seeing the farms that had cows eating grass (as they should) suddenly be replaced by huge fields of corporate genetically-modified cattle feed (the corn and beans fields that fuel the local economy) gave me a more immediate understanding of the impact that a few money-making corporate entities can have on the world.

I came away from this trip realizing that it is fine to make a difference in the world in a small way (as suggested by the movie), and in a remote place (both musically and in my personal carbon footprint). I think that making decisions and mistakes that affect (benefit or hurt) a lot of people is far too much responsibility to make room in life for free creative thought. Being a free creative thinking person is a tremendous luxury, and it has value that is not measured in dollars and cents.

Speaking of free thinking, it is time for me to mow the lawn, an activity that helps my mind become even more free, at least before it rains or gets too hot.

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