"Boy, do I have a lot to learn!"
There is nothing new about this statement, but the story I'm about to tell you may have you saying the same thing by the end. You can resist, as I did, but if not, it will only take you a moment to find a whole new world awaiting you, one you never before knew existed. Plus, resistance wouldn't stop him.
I'd been a musician for a long time. Well, let me change that right away; I'd played the bass guitar for a long time, about twenty years before I met him. Yet it wasn't until I met him that I learned the difference between playing the bass and actually being a musician, and better yet, the difference between being a musician and being musical. I thought I knew a lot about music already. I even thought I knew a bit about life, but what happened over the next few days proved to me that I was just a babe in this world.
I also thought I would never tell this story for fear of ridicule. At least, that's what I always told myself, but I actually knew it was because I wasn't sure if this story actually happened. And if I didn't fully believe it was real, how could I expect anyone else to? Who would believe me anyway? I mean, I never found out who this guy really was or where he came from. The more time goes by, the more I start to think that maybe, just maybe, he came from my imagination, from some unused portion of my mind, where he's now gone back to live. I can still hear him knocking around in there much of the time. It's as if he's constantly rearranging the furniture. I can hear his voice ringing in my mind saying, "Real? What is real? And tell me, what importance does reality have anyway? Did you learn from the experience? Now, that is important!"
He was a strange man, unlike any other music teacher I'd ever had. There was really nothing ordinary about him. He stood about six foot three with long, straight black hair that hung down past his shoulders. His facial features were distinct, yet in a way that made it hard to tell where he was from. He appeared to be part Native American and part... something else.
I've yet to meet another person with eyes like his. They were powerful. They were also as crystal clear as a Colorado mountain stream. When he would lecture me, standing nose to nose, as he often liked to do, the transparency of his eyes allowed me to look as deeply into them as he did into mine.
Also, on any given day, his eyes seemed to change color. One day, they would be bright blue. Another day, they would appear green, and yet another, they appeared brown. I never knew what caused it, but it was a great device for grabbing my attention.
Not only could I tell from his eyes that he was a healthy man, but also that his body was incredibly strong. Like a fine tool used for what ever task he chose, his body never seemed to falter or tire. Though I often saw him run, jump, gallop, and climb, I never saw him break a sweat. How he managed to stay so trim and fit, even though he ate and drank whatever he wanted, was a mystery. To him, a meal was a meal, and it didn't matter what it was or from where it came.
He also used his eyebrows as a tool. He could control his eyebrows better than most musicians could control their instruments. He could get a point across without speaking a word, just by wiggling one or both of his dark eyebrows.
His mannerisms were unpredictably quirky, and his clothes were always the type that drew attention, yet he never ever seemed to worry about what other people thought about him. Just about every time I saw him, he had on a different outfit. His shoes, when he wore them, were either an unnamed brand of boots or a pair of old worn- out sandals.
I almost hate to admit it, but I actually miss the little irritating qualities about my eccentric friend. He was the most, how should I say it, "free" person I've ever met. He wouldn't hesitate to strip off all his clothes, hop a fence, and jump in for a quick refreshing skinny dip in a private, off limits, outdoor swimming pool. Although he was always polite enough to ask me if I wanted to join him, hopping a fence naked in the middle of November for an illegal swim was not my type of fun. He possessed many of the qualities I would like to have, and I envied him for being able to do these things with seemingly no concern, worry, or embarrassment.
Having an opinion without being opinionated was a gift of his. How to do that remains a mystery to me. I know now that he just wanted me to think, to use my brain.
Answering my questions with a question was an important part of his teaching method. That frustrated me many times, but it made me think for myself. I'm sure that's all he wanted. I'm not sure if he ever outright lied to me, but I know that he frequently stretched the truth. Whenever I questioned him about it, he would answer with, "Truth? What is truth? And tell me, what importance does truth have anyway? Did you learn from the experience? Now, that is important. And by the way, if I always tell you the truth, you might start to believe me."
That confused me, as I always thought I was supposed to believe my teachers. I guess I was wrong. I can still see the sly smile on his face every time he knew he was totally confusing me.
Confusion seemed to be my natural state when I was with him, especially in the beginning. I recall him saying, "Music, like Life, and like you, is one entity expressing itself through its differences." My puzzled look let him know that I didn't understand. "Music is one thing," he continued, "but it wouldn't exist without its parts. You couldn't play a chord without different notes. Change a note, change the chord. Life is no different, and neither are you. You are expressing yourself in Life by choosing different notes all the time. Learn to be conscious of your note choices and Life will respond with the proper chord or, in other words, Life will respond accordingly." I didn't know what to say. He just smiled.
He loved to laugh. I remember telling him about an invention I once saw called The Lick Blocker. It was a flat piece of board that attached to your wrist while you played guitar. It was supposed to block the audience from being able to view your hand, thus keeping them from being able to steal your licks. He laughed for a full ten minutes when I told him about that one. "I'm glad I ain't normal," he would often say.
"Sharing is one of the most important tools needed for personal growth," he once told me, also stating that many people never come to understand that point. He said that many of us try to hoard our knowledge in order to stay ahead of everyone else. I understood that completely because I used to use the same method. Somehow, I think he knew that.
It didn't take long for me to realize that I was learning more than just Music. We rarely talked about it, but in the few days that we were together, he taught me more about life than anyone else ever has. "Music, Life, Life, Music: What's the difference?" I could hear him saying.
I remember criticizing him for leaving my car door unlocked. He asked me if I believed my mother whenever she would tell me that "all things happen for a reason." I told him that I did. "Listen to her, then," he responded. "Change your vibes. Stop creating reasons for your car to get broken into." I had to think about that one for awhile.
Vibrations were an important concept to him. I guess 'concept' is not the best word to use. I could tell that vibrations were important to him because he talked about them as if they were alive. His approach to Music was the same, and he came alive whenever he talked about it. He seemed to think that all things were made up of vibrations, especially Music.
"All things are in motion," he once told me, "and although a thing may appear to be stationary, it is always moving. This motion may change, but it will never cease. All Music ever played is still playing." I'd never thought of it like that. Whenever he mentioned the word "Music," he said it with a specific clarity I didn't have. It was as if I could feel the truth of the word vibrate whenever he spoke it.
He even told me that thoughts were vibrations. I had to think about that one for a long time too. I had no way of disproving him, and believe me, I would've if I could've, but when I thought about the way a lie detector works, measuring subtle changes in vibrations from the mind and body, I figured that he might have a point. He always had a point.
When I asked how he knew all that stuff, his immediate response surprised me. "A better question is: How come you don't know it? All knowledge that ever existed, or ever will exist, is already out there in the air. All you need to do is tune in to what you want to know."
He loved to talk about the power of the mind. "All things have a mind," he would often say. "Even an acorn holds, in its mind, a picture of the whole tree. If this were not true, how could the tree ever show up? Do you think that your mind is any less powerful than an acorn's? Pictures or Music held in the human mind are bound to come forth. They have to! That is the law! Learning to use the mind is the key to all possibilities."
His bold statements kept my mind spinning. I guess he was secretly teaching me how to use my mind because he never asked me to write anything down. Years passed before I ever realized that I'd taken no notes on what he'd said, or even one photograph of the man. There was nothing except my memory to document any of the experiences I'm about to relate. And speaking of my memory — well, I forgot what I was gonna say.
The only physical evidence that remains from his visit are twelve handwritten measures of music. He quickly wrote them out one night while we were playing together at my house. He said that they were a gift from Music. At first, I thought that he meant to say, "a gift of Music," but he always said what he meant. The measures were supposed to contain all of the elements he'd been showing me. We played those few measures together as a duet, but he said that, one day, I would be able to play the whole piece by myself. I'm still waiting for that day. I've never shown it to anyone. Most people would just say that I wrote it, and maybe I did.
I don't know what happened, but one day, I just decided to write the whole story down for myself. It was while I was writing these notes that I was convinced, by some unknown force, to share this experience with you. He would've said that I convinced myself, but I'm sure it was his voice that kept interrupting my thoughts asking, "Who are you writing this for?" I'm still unsure what the answer to that question is, but since you're reading my words, maybe I'm writing them specifically for you.
Like me, you may be wondering who this guy really was, where he came from, and where he is now. I don't know if I can accurately answer any of those questions. Sometimes I think that he came from another planet. Maybe he was a wandering, retired college professor or even a mystic from the Himalayas. He's probably roaming around somewhere searching for his next impressionable victim, someone else's mind to screw around with.
Maybe all the above is true. I've learned not to rule out any possibilities. The one thing I know for sure is that what he taught me, no, showed me, about Music and Life is as refreshing to me now as it was when I was hearing it all for the first time.
So, in following his example, I will share my experience with you. Once it enters your mind, you're on your own. What you do with it is up to you. I won't promise you complete accuracy or complete honesty, and don't waste your time trying to figure out which part is truth and which is not. It's what you get out of it that's important. "Truth is your decision anyway." And as he told me over and over again: "I want you to think for yourself."
"Boy, do I have a lot to learn!"
Reprinted from The Music Lesson by Victor L. Wooten by arrangement with Berkley Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) 2006 by Victor L. Wooten.