The Dating Game

Let’s face it, I dated a lot before Colleen and I married. I was looking for that special something—my life-partner for a very important and specific part of my life. The funny thing is—now that we’re being totally honest—you’d think that 29 years of marriage would have slowed down my dating.

It didn’t.

If anything, it increased my rate of shopping around, even when I was married. Yes Colleen was a great spouse, etc., etc. While I won’t blame her for my continued searching, she was certainly an instigator—an “accomplice to the crime” if you will. She loved playing that role.

Well I am happy to say that after all these years, I think I’ve found my life-partner for this specific part of my life.

That life-partner is—drumroll please—the ukulele.

I’ve dated, and even had pretty serious relationships with, the guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, banjo and resophonic guitar. You see, I have a serious case of MIAS (musical instrument acquisition syndrome).

The reason I bring this subject up in relationship to this voyage is that two different musician friends of mine, Pete and Tim, have asked me if I have any music with me. I replied to both that although I’ve taken a minimalistic approach to cruising on HJ, there is no way I would contemplate a voyage of this magnitude without music—it’s unfathomable. There are so many other things that I would do without on my 31’ by 10’ castle. Nothing is better than being anchored-up in some secluded bay, or sailing through the night with HJ busting through waves like they’re marshmallows and I’m singing at the top of my lungs and strumming the uke to her.

Why in the world the ukulele you ask? I’ve thought about a lot that and think it comes down to 4 reasons: 1) portability—it’s small and can go anywhere, in addition I have a carbon fiber uke made by Klos Guitars that I love, it’s not affected by water and changes in humidity; 2) simplicity—the 6 strings of a guitar are just too much for me when playing up the neck; 3) it makes people happy—regardless of what you do with it, when people see it come out of it’s case, they smile; 4) expectations are lowered—after people smile, they think, “Oh, he’s playing a toy, I won’t expect much”. The aphorism “Happiness equals reality less expectations” ties together points three and four nicely.

In my dating of the ukulele, I’ve made a conscious effort to learn it and play it like a ukulele. Many guitarists play some ukulele because it’s trendy, think of the ukulele as the musical equivalent of kale. However, they play it as a small guitar. That’s fine for them but I didn’t want that.

Also, songs that sound truly good on the uke in my opinion have lots of chords. We’re talking diminished, augmented, minor 7th, minor 6th, etc. The chord structures really put the “Hawaiian sound” out in front of the music. Better musicians than I ascribe to the notion that good folk, rock, country and blues is three chords and the truth. Blues great Junior Kimbrough took it a step further. He said, “My songs, they have just the one chord, there’s none of that fancy stuff you hear now, with lots of chords in one song. If I find another chord I leave it for another song.” That’s great for those talented musicians who can make so much music and improvise on so simple of a framework. For me however, given my musical limitations, I enjoy more chordal variety to make up for what I lack in the improvisational area and the uke is perfect for that with its 4 strings.

As with people-dating, I’ve learned so much from my other relationships that I’ve brought to the uke. My West Virginia banjo teacher, Dwight Diller (his kinfolk pronounce it “DEE-white”) taught me that good mountain banjo playing is 90% in the rhythm of the right hand. If you mute the strings with your left hand, your right-hand rhythm has to be snappy enough that you want to get up and dance to just it, just the rhythm without the melody or chords. He also taught me that good banjo playing is like Japanese art. When a traditional Japanese painter paints a tree, they don’t paint the entire tree or all the leaves. They do it all with a couple deft brush strokes and let the viewer fill in the blank spaces. In the same way with music, there’s no need to play every note. The notes you don’t play are as important as the notes you play. Finally Dwight taught me that rather than “learning” hundreds of tunes…just stumbling through the chords and lyrics, focus on playing handful but play them over and over until you get truly good at them. I’ve taken these lessons, and lessons from other teachers of other instruments I’ve dated and applied it to the uke. I’m happy to say I’m having so much fun with it.

With DEE-white’s last lesson in mind, here are some of the songs I’m working on and their special meanings to me. I hope everyone finds music in their life:

All of Me – Try Willie Nelson’s version on his Stardust album.
Blue Skies – Same album from Willie. I was initially learning this song in the weeks after Colleen died and I choke up every time I think back to learning it on my back porch while my life was falling down all around me.
Take Me Home, Country Roads – Boy is this one making a comeback. Probably a close third on the karaoke circuit after Don’t Stop Belivin’ and Wagon Wheel. Toots and the Maytals have a great reggae version.
The Nearness of You – Nora Jones covers it at her finest.
You’ve Got a Friend in Me – Hard to imagine on the uke but is works (at least I think so). I think of Mike whenever I play this. Randy Newman is such a good songwriter.
I Can See Clearly Now – One word: inspirational. Written by Johnny Nash but I just love Jimmy Cliff’s funkier version.
Brandy – Hands down one of the best modern sailing ballads of all time.
The Girl from Ipanema – I dare you to listen and not dance.
Sixteen Tons – Old Crow Medicine Show does a great version.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ – Love, love, love Leon Redbone’s version with the violin.
Moonlight in Vermont – This one is fun to play in the moonlight, in the islands. I love Billie Holiday’s version.
To Live is to Fly – By the great Townes Van Zandt. His struggles with alcohol addiction are such a sad, sad story and a stark contrast to the beauty of his songwriting.

I’ll finish with Everybody’s Talkin’ by Harry Nilsson. The song contains the iconic lines that paint the picture of the Bahamas and Caribbean:
I’m goin’ where the sun keeps shining, through the pouring rain.
Goin’ where the weather suits my clothes.

I don’t know much about Harry Nilsson but I have to think that he had direct experience with mental health issues—most of us do. There’s still a lot of mystery around Colleen’s last 24-hours on earth and what she was feeling and sensing and doing, and what she was aware of. If I know anything, it’s that we will never have all the answers and have to live with the mystery. I tend to think she was in a really bad place with her prescription medications horribly out of balance. Some people in our neighborhood and community service agents reported that they did see her and tried to talk to her. Whenever I hear or sing these lines from Everybody’s Talkin’, I think of her and her last 24-hours on earth and try to imagine what she was going through:
Everybody’s talking at me
I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’, only the echoes of my mind.
People stop and stare,
I can’t see their faces, only the shadows of their eyes.

7 thoughts on “The Dating Game

  1. I have been fascinated beyond words by your blog posts my brother, and have been especially peaked by your musical references, especially Tom Waits and Gordon Lightfoot. Southern Cross is also nothing that any of us “lubbers” will truly understand.

    Have you seen Jake Shimabukuro perform Bohemian Rhapsody solo on the uke? Powerful instrument.

    My favorite photo though, was the photo with the uke, strewn in saloon. Because. Of course. I had been imagining, and prayed that she was a friend on your journey.

    I name all of my instruments because they’re so personal. Curious to what you call “Yuke”?

    1. Funny you bring that up tony, about naming instruments, I’ve never been in that habit. However, now that you bring it up, you’ve got me thinking. I think I’ll stay attuned to my uke and the universe, or the uke, will send me a sign with the right name. Take care bud and hope to see you soon.

  2. EVERYONE WILL BE TALKING ABOUT YOUR PLAYLIST titled SHOPPING AROUND! BUT THE original “Shop Around” comes from my generation and you should listen to THOSE lyrics!!!
    Love, T

  3. Your words really spoke to me Dan. Your last paragraph brought me to tears. Tim and I have always subscribed to music as a therapy in good and bad times. As a cancer survivor I can totally relate to “Everybody talking”…thoughts and feelings that go through your mind when it seems like everyone else is living a normal life. We are currently listening to your playlist looking over the Caribbean Sea…enjoying our journey together. Safe travels and keep writing…you are gifted.

  4. Check out Eddie Vedder’s ukulele album.. cleverly titiled….” Ukulelel Songs”. Jim McMahon

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: