After all

It’s a long band break at an office Christmas party, and we’ve been hired as the band for the evening. They’re giving away presents in the other room, and there are a lot of presents, so we’re going to be sitting around for a while until that gets done.

I’m in a pickup band put together for the occasion. We’ve all played with each other in various configurations over the decades. The drummer’s known the guitarist for more than 20 years and played with him in a couple of bands; I played with the drummer and the guitarist in one of those outfits; the bass player is a full-time pro who has seen and played it all; finally, we’ve got a country vocalist with us tonight who has a beautiful Gibson acoustic guitar and looks like he just walked out of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.

We talk about music as the present-giving continues. Popular music has passed us by, which probably makes sense considering we’re all well past 40, but it doesn’t make us any happier about it. The guitarist, who is simply a fountain of fantastic American guitar tones, keeps gigging out even though he’s 52 and has a back so bad that he can’t stand up for any length of time any more.

“Somebody’s got to keep playing this music,” he says. We all nod in agreement.

Me, I play harmonica, which no one except old-school blues guys will mistake for a musically relevant instrument any more. It’s one of those nights when all of the gear is working just right, and I am getting some flat-out beautiful tones out of my Fender Bassman. But I can’t help but think that I’m playing harp through an amp that first was manufactured in 1959, through a microphone from the 1940s, singing songs that (mostly) were written before I was born. I’ll be 51 next month.

Don’t even get me started with the country singer. His version of country music faded away before the Vietnam war ended, and current country music is what we called rock ‘n’ roll back in the ’70s.

So here we all are, old (by music standards) guys who have never played together as a band, and you should have heard us. We put out some genuinely beautiful music, and there were times as the night went on when I just wanted to stop and say, “Damn!” And as the night grows long and most of the guests leave, we sit in a circle, kicking out tunes on request for a dozen people and the restaurant staff.

And then we pack up and head home. During the trip to the house, I get annoyed about the manufactured, false quality of so much modern music. It’s made via assembly line where the producer is king; the singer and instrumentalists are almost afterthoughts and the slightest imperfection is fixed via software.

It fails to dawn on these assembly line foremen that this is not what music is all about. Music is an expression of your soul. Modern producers think your soul is a machine.

I flip on the television when I get home, too wired to go to bed right away. Carson Daly’s show — which I never see — is wrapping up. A band is performing. The guys are young; they’re playing in a club somewhere; I immediately think they’re fantastic.

The band’s name is Delta Spirit. I’ve never heard of them, but they’ve put out two albums and an EP. They’re playing a song called “Bushwick Blues” and it is wonderful, with punchy guitar lines alternating with an irresistible drum beat. Underneath it all is a love song built around the line, “Because my love is strong/and my heart is weak, after all.”

And I stop feeling nostalgic for something I feared was dead. Because my love is strong and my heart is weak, after all.

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