JAMES(7)What Made Me Love Music: James Meade, guitarist

My love for my instrument and my sharing of a time spent in love with it was nurtured by that feeling of waiting for something. It arrived but quite late.

Some of my earliest memories are filled with the sound of my great grandmother’s radio always dialed to bluegrass gospel. In my teenage years my consumption of music consisted of paying a couple of bucks and loading into an overcrowded car full of crass teens en route to a local show. For quite a long time music was all about communion with friends and family. But I remained an observer.

Throughout my childhood, the procuring of either an instrument or lessons was not an option despite my wishes. In the economic situation I was born into, a pencil and paper was the option for me. For that reason, my earliest artistic memories are of recreating and reinterpreting on paper images that were aesthetically pleasing to me.

I cannot remember a time when thinking about concepts such as proportion, shade, and texture was not a part of everyday life, even though, at that time such terms were not in my lexicon.

One day, at age 17 my mother greeted me with a guitar in the early evening. The instrument had a light sun burst finish, with strings high off the neck and a bowed top that sank towards the sound hole making it incredibly difficult to play. For me this was an experience of infatuation with the puzzle of sound. Despite its difficulty, my focus abruptly shifted from the visual to the aural. The majority of my time was spent huddled around this thing that warmed me.

As I got older I slowly came to identify the characteristics of addiction that are so ingrained in me. I’m thankful for the avenues gifted me for expressing this addiction, a much better option than a chemical one.

A quote by Thomas Merton recently made its way to me. Paraphrased it is: “Ourselves we clothe, we wrap in the bandages of other people’s perceptions of us or in our appetites and pleasures and we say: ‘Oh, those bandages, that is ourselves!’, without ever looking at what’s underneath the bandage, which is a hole in our heart the size of God.”

For me personally, that hole has always been filled with art and with communion around the expression of what it means to be human. It was this infatuation, obsession, and dependency on music that filled a hole created in me by a society that furtively stated that, since I had no money, my family and I were to blame for so much and that we were worth so little.

Of course, as an adult I can now articulate all of this, but then it was only an empty feeling. Art saved me from what society in its unwillingness to take responsibility for its own creations, told me about myself. It was through art that a child addicted to escaping inside himself was able to shape up into a better form of that self allowing him a self-perception like an honest mirror on which he could look.

This stream of forgetting and envisioning is where I began to dedicate hours after school until I felt confident enough to bring my instrument with me. But that was something that some teachers were not too enthusiastic about. I’m incredibly thankful to Ricky Wells and Jeanne Blankenship for their support. Eventually I was accepted into the guitar program at Eastern Kentucky University. There, Professor Davis had enough patience for a kid with no life skills but one obsessed with music. He guided me along and gave a new beginning, and for that I cannot thank him enough.

I’ve been allowed to bring my guitar to school ever since.

From that beginning music has given me the purpose I share with an incredible network of colleagues, friends, and enthusiasts who fill the void with so much that is wholesome, so that now there is never a moment when that hole that used to be there is not filled.

I’ve been a musician almost as long as the time I spent with those beautiful pencils and those forgiving erasers.

For all of this I’m thankful.

James Meade