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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Be happy, before it's too late

By Ted Slowik

I’ve been playing acoustic guitar and singing originals at open mics regularly since October 2011. I’m having a lot of fun. I got to wondering the other day: Why didn’t I think of this sooner? I started learning guitar in 1980 and wrote my first song in 1982. What took me so long to start playing my songs in front of people?

The obvious answer is that I played bass in a blues band for 11 years until September 2011. But that’s not a full explanation. I had rediscovered the guitar a while before that, during 2010. Initially I thought I’d play electric guitar instead of bass and become the frontman of a blues band. But I soon realized I’d have to spend many more hours practicing leads to become a decent blues frontman.

So my focus shifted to what I consider my strengths, which are rhythm acoustic playing and writing songs, particularly lyrics.

But what made me think in terms of being a solo artist, instead of a member of a band? Without going into detail about why I left the blues band after 11 years, something happened completely unrelated to music that caused me to rethink life at its very deepest levels.

On March 2, 2009, my brother Jim died suddenly of a heart attack. He was 59.

I was 44 at the time, and in the months that followed I found myself thinking, If I go at 59 like Jim, that means I’ve only got 15 years left. That’s not a lot of time.

I started thinking about what I really wanted to do, what really made me happy in life. Family, check. Day job, check. Music, um. That’s when I realized if I could change one thing about my life, it would be my music.

Playing music is one of those things that makes you happy the more you do it. When you play music every day, you’re better today than you were yesterday. That sense of accomplishment equates to inner happiness.

Before 2009 I didn’t think very much about what made me happy, and before 2010 I didn’t play music very regularly. The blues band typically rehearsed once a week, but I didn’t practice or play for fun besides those rehearsals. But in the four years since Jim’s passing I’m grateful to have discovered that playing music more often makes me happy, and I’m pleased with the progress I’m making as a musician and songwriter.

I guess the takeaway is this: Whether you’re 84 or 44 or 14, figure out what makes you happy and do it. Do it because our time here is limited, and you don’t want your last thoughts to be, I wish I’d …