22 September 2015

60 – Same Difference, Pt. 3

This is the third and final in a three-part series of essays. If you haven’t already, have a go at #58 and #59 first. If you already have, then put your ears on and buckle up. Turn the volume that way too. This essay’s about music.

I’ve been a huge Bob Dylan fan since I was 19. I have my epic friend Small Paul to thank for that. And I’ve played the hell out of most of his albums since then. A few months ago I put together a concise ‘Dylan’s Greatest Hits’ set to listen to on my phone and laptop. It’s 126 songs long. That’s the best I could do.

I thought I’d heard all the Dylan my ears would ever need. But then Bob Neil came running along in a simple twist of fate. There are two things you need to know about Bob Neil: 1) he’s 51 and ran almost 200 miles in August, and 2) he’s got a collection of live concert recordings that most collectors would die for.

We’d been working together a few weeks last summer before we realized we shared similar tastes in music. Then the levee broke and Bob Neil started raining selections from his massive collection down on me. And I developed a new appreciation for artists I already admired like Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and The Allman Brothers Band.

But it’s the live recordings of Bob Dylan concerts that really made my conscience explode. I heard versions of familiar songs that I couldn’t recognize. I heard songs I could sing along with being sung with completely different lyrics. I realized there were even more sides to Bob Dylan than I’d known. 

Rearranges faces and gives them all another name.

I can only describe it by misquoting Bob Neil:

When Bob plays a song for a record it’s the only time it’ll ever sounds like that. It never sounds the same live. He never plays a song the same way twice. So every show it’s like him and his band are playing a new song. It’s beautiful. Fuckin’ beautiful.


I’ve been learning the same thing while Bob Neil teaches me an ongoing course about The Grateful Dead. The Dead absorbed every genre of popular music and wove those styles together to put themselves in a place where no other American band has gone. And while I’m only recently deceased I can hear that they approached performing live the same way Bob Dylan does: a chance to follow the music where it leads them, and to find new variety in the same songs.

‘Same’ stayed backstage whenever they took the stage

Again, I can only loosely quote Bob Neil on this:

You never knew what you were gonna get at a Dead show, man. Each one was different. Even if you knew what song was gonna come next you never knew how they were gonna get there. But they’d get you there. The jams they’d do to get from one song to the next were sick, man. Fuckin’ sick.


So let’s bring it all back home.

Habits, routines, or Systems are valuable practices. But finding variety in them can be a virtue. Because sometimes variety is just another word for growth.

Change doesn’t have to be drastic or complicated. It doesn’t require a clean break from a habit or routine. And it doesn’t have to come unbeknownst out of left field.

Change can be subtle and simple. It can be introduced in small, manageable doses. And sometimes it can be found in your existing habits and routines.  Sometimes you can see it in the same places when you look closely. Sometimes you can feel it when you mix up your everyday activities. And sometimes you can hear it when you listen carefully.

Don’t be afraid to follow a routine, devote yourself to a habit, or commit to your own Systems. Doing the same things the same way isn’t always boring monotony. Sometimes they're the best places to find variety.

And speaking of variety, I need to change writing gears. The two novel drafts I’ve got on the go are terrible at writing themselves. I need to change that. 

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The House Newf is from a rugged and beautiful island on the eastern edge of Canada called Newfoundland. He was first identified by a potter with a naturalist's flair, and he does in fact live in a house under the watchful eye of a cat that seems bewildered by the universe at large. That house is in Halifax, Nova Scotia and that's where the House Newf writes fiction and essays on things that add value to his life that may add some value to yours. You can contact him at bobharding80@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter @theHouseNewf, on Instagram @thehousenewf, and like him on Facebook. The House Newf is a unique specimen. Every home should have one.