The year was 1989. I was a Sophomore in High School, 15 years old, attending “The Chicago Academy For The Arts”. The Chicago Academy For The Arts is Chicago’s version of New York’s Fame. An arts high school where all the students who attend, major in one of four things; Visual Art, Dance, Theater or Music. I went as a music major and it was a magical year for me that in many ways helped shape the person I would become.
In the mornings at the Academy we took our core required classes. English, History, Math and so on. Then, we would break for lunch. It was an “open campus”, so we were allowed to leave the campus for an hour to eat where ever we wanted, which was extremely liberating to my 15 year old self. Then, we would all return and spend the rest of the day taking classes in our chosen field of study. I had guitar lessons, music theory classes, ear training classes and so on. It was an incredibly inspiring and informative year.
When I was at the Academy, I became friends with someone who would become my first songwriting partner, and ultimately a life-long friend, Mike Malone, or as his friends refer to him, MJ. MJ and I would spend countless weekends together making music, during the one year I attended the Chicago Academy For The Arts and for a couple years after. We would hole ourselves up in MJ’s home studio for the weekend and stay up until the wee hours of the morning working on music together. We wrote and collaborated on dozens of songs during this year.
These songwriting weekends were magical times. Music was still relatively new to me at that point. I had only been playing guitar a few years and I was brand new to songwriting. I was filled with a sense of wonder and awe about music that perhaps only someone who had recently discovered music can feel. This was long before the days of worrying about how to make money from music and long before the days of trying to write specific styles that have the greatest chance of “commercial success” and so on. These songwriting weekends were simply about making music for the sheer joy of making music. Nothing else. Sure, we would sometimes fantasize about how rich and famous we would one day become, but ultimately, we were just two friends getting together to share our passion for music in the purest way possible.
After my sophomore year in High School I chose to attend my local public High School where I was living in Kanakee, IL. You see, I lived about 50 miles south of Chicago and as much as I loved attending the Chicago Academy for the Arts, I had grown tired of getting up at 5 am to get ready for the commute, getting home around 5 PM, or later, then proceeding to study and practice until bed time, go to bed and then get up and do it all over again. As much as I loved the experience, it was also pretty grueling. That, and I didn’t have any friends in the town where I actually lived, since I wasn’t attending school there. My family and I had just relocated to Kankakee, from Florida where I lived previously. I wanted to get to know people locally and finish my high school years making friends in the town I lived in.
So, I made the difficult decision of deciding to switch schools and spent the next two years attending Kankakee High School. Ultimately it was a good decision and I ended up forming a lot of great friendships over the next couple years in Kankakee. I also continued to study and play music locally. But I missed going to the Academy and even would have dreams of being back there for the next year or so. It made that big of an impact on me.
MJ and I kept in touch and we kept collaborating as often as we could for the next couple years. Then, after High School, I went to Boston to attend Berklee and we ended up drifting apart for a number of years. Quite a few. A good decade or so. We would occasionally call to say hi and catch up, but we didn’t really start hanging out again regularly until around 2006 or so. MJ had gotten married and had a child. I had lived in a few different areas over the years and by the time I resettled in Chicago again, in 2000, after having spent time in Boston and southern Illinois, I think we were just in different places in our lives.
MJ and I have recently started writing and collaborating on music together for the first time in 30 years. Of course, MJ, has performed on many of my songs over the last few years, including on “hits” (to me) like “Headed Home”, "Falling Down", “Where We Were” and “Nobody Knows Us”, all of which have been licensed repeatedly. But this is the first time in three decades that we’ve been writing music together and we’re preparing to release an EP together in the Fall. We’re both excited to be working on music together again, and as a result of our collaboration we’ve been spending a lot of time together lately, in the studio and just hanging out as friends.
My collaboration with my friend MJ has really gotten me thinking about the many friendships and relationships I’ve formed over the years as a result of playing music. In many ways, when I reflect back over the last couple decades, I feel like these friendships and connections with people have really been the greatest gift music has given me.
Throughout both my adolescent and adult life, music has been the catalyst the has allowed me to form dozens of friendships and relationships with other musicians and people in the industry. Some of the friendships have lasted for a brief period of time, while we were performing or working together, others have lasted many years, and others, like my friendship with MJ, have come in and out of my life at different points.
But music, consistently, has been the thing that gets me out of the house and motivates me to get out there and “make things happen”. Whether it’s the desire to get a band together, the desire to go into the studio and record new music, or even something as simple as going to play at an open mic, music has consistently been the magnet that has attracted many of my closest friendships and relationships over the years.
As cliché as it sounds, life really is about the journey and not any particular destination. A big part of what makes a journey so enjoyable are the people we meet and connect with along the way. But the catch is, it’s hard to embark on a journey if you don’t have a specific destination in mind. So, set your sights high, and go for your dreams. Just don’t forget to enjoy and embrace the journey along the way. Because, chances are, when you look back on your life, from a future vantage point, it will be the journey you took to get to your desired destination and the people you met along the way that you cherish the most. Even the challenges and obstacles you overcome will be appreciated, if you overcome them with the right people.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes, by Freud, which is:
“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”
Speaking of the EP I’m working on with my friend MJ, here’s one of the tracks that will be featured on our upcoming EP. We’re calling our project "Zen Folks". Our music consists of spiritually themed lyrics with elements of folk, rock, new age music and more.
Listen to our first track, "Slip Away (North Light)" here.
Follow me on Spotify and hear our full EP when it's released.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.