Always got to push

Wanda Jackson is an old lady. I’m not kidding; she’s 76 and was singing in rockabilly joints before I was born. She still plays out (in fact, she was in D.C. with Dr. John on New Year’s Eve — a show I would have seen if Trombone Shorty hadn’t been in town the same night).

It’d be easy for Wanda to work the oldies circuit and appeal to seniors trying to re-live their sinister youth. But she doesn’t play that way; she keeps recording new music. I was only peripherally aware of this until a few years ago, when I heard her cover of “Shakin’ All Over.” It was a mix of the modern and the old, and it had more than a tinge of surf music madness in it. The song, as it turned out, was produced by Jack White; once I learned that, I fished up the full (and fantastic) album.

Among other gems, the album has a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good”:

Wanda’s studio version starts with a little pre-song patter, the kind musicians sometimes engage in after the ‘record’ button is pushed but before the band counts off the song. “Always got to push,” Wanda says during that patter. That explains why she’d take on this tune, which is basically a serial cheater’s rationalization story, complete with some lurid lust in the lyrics. It’s not what you expect to hear from your grandma, even your cool grandma.

Always got to push. I’ve been thinking about that phrase a bit lately, especially in my work life.

A few months ago, I was in a position where I could have bummed around for a few more months and then try to find a less-taxing job with a safe employer. It wouldn’t have been much of a challenge; this is a good town for veteran journalists looking for a ‘silverback’ job that relies on their expertise but doesn’t particularly push them.

Instead, I quickly took a job with a near-startup, in a new field, with a small young staff and far more dreams than resources. Why? Because I wanted to be pushed (within healthy limits) and I knew they would push me. It’s turned out to be a good idea so far — and even if it ends in failure, I won’t regret my decision.

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This thinking is coming across in my hobby life as well. I’d been coasting for a long time as a musician, playing the same music with the same guys at the same places. As a result, the gigs and the motivation were drying up.

But I decided to push. I found some new musicians and although I’m still playing covers, they’re often covers of new songs (very much in the rootsy/Americana vein that I love, but still new). These guys are serious about practice, too, and as a result my voice has gotten much stronger in recent months. And playing with the new guys has helped renew my enjoyment of playing with the old guys, too.

Always got to push. Seems like a solid strategy to me.

Randy

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