This is our farm column from farmer Casey O’Neill. O’Neill is the owner operator of HappyDay Farms north of Laytonville, and a long time advocate for the cannabis community in Mendocino Co; more of his writing can be found here. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer. If you would like to submit a letter to the editor feel free to write to [email protected].
I remember learning to play the drums in middle school, Mr. Hogan taught me to count the beats and measures, to pay attention to the 4 count and to listen to the flow of the song. I hadn’t yet developed the feel of the music, and I would fall off the beat, hitting the snare on the 1 and the 3 instead of the 2 and the 4. Mr Hogan would clap his hands on the right beats to get me back on track.
We had the school rock band and we played at different functions and had a few concerts. More than 25 years ago this was my introduction to music. Through high school I played drums and also dabbled in bass and guitar, learning the basics of reading notes and a few chords, but that has all long since fallen away from me. What remains is the drumbeat in my soul.
Throughout my life music ebbs and flows like the tide. I heard a song yesterday in which one of the lines in the chorus was “music is my best friend”. It made me reflect that no matter where I’ve been in life, ups, downs, good times and bad, music has been there for me. Whether it’s listening in my headphones while I work, banging on the stereo from a vehicle as we tend to the growth and harvest of our crops or resonating from the instruments at a concert or of friends gathered to play, music sets the beat of my life.
I used to play a drum kit, but these days I stick mostly to the cajon, a box drum that I play with brushes. It can produce a good variety of drum sounds depending on where I hit it, from a deeper bass note to a tight snare or the tapping of a hi-hat. I love that the cajon is portable, that I can bring it with me any time and have it ready to play without having to set up.
Over the past year I’ve played with more regularity than at any other time in life except when I was in school. At the end of our mountain farmers market we played each week last summer and fall, and we’ve managed to keep it up thus far through the winter, gathering every couple of weeks for a little potluck and an evening of free-form music. Sometimes we play songs, sometimes we just let the beat and melody develop, it all depends on who has arrived to play and what instruments they brought.
We played music last night and during one of the breaks there was a conversation about thinking while playing. For me, it’s about not thinking, just feeling the rhythm and melody to play what comes from my soul. Keeping my brain out of the equation makes for the best sound and the best feeling. When it’s really flowing there isn’t any thought at all. I feel the rhythm and let my body play what comes.
Something about playing music is untouchable, locked deep inside but waiting to bloom. It is tenuous, and often shy, though I’ve worked over the years to coax it forth and give it the space to be comfortable enough to express itself. Cannabis and low-dose psilocybin help a lot for getting below the level of thought and into the trance of being, sometimes I play with my eyes closed and then the music is everything.
I’ve also been reflecting on the difference between percussion and the other instruments. I don’t know what the notes or the chords are, and I no longer count the measures. I play by feel, and my hands know when the drop is coming. My body recognizes the changes in progression and plays the drum to keep the beat and accentuate the melody.
When I start thinking I get in my head about whether I’m playing well, wondering what other people think about my playing, second-guessing myself. I lose that feeling of being in the moment and being carried along by the beat, and it reminds me that this can be the case for me in life. It’s easy to overthink, to second-guess myself, to not trust my intuition and deeper sense of the right path for me to travel. Even if the melody is unfamiliar, if I listen well, my body will know what to do.
I’m hoping to develop more understanding of music theory. I want to know what makes the sound right, when is it too much, how do the spaces work to accentuate the notes and beats. The freedom and expansiveness when the beat hits just right and everyone starts grinning is right up there with the good things in life. Like Bob Marley said, Music is the Most High. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!