Learning music made me a better actor. It made me able to understand rhythm and timing, as well as pitch and volume. Yes, having musical ability makes you more marketable but beyond that, knowing and understanding music helps you better understand acting in a scene with a partner. It helps you realize that the words don’t matter, it’s the underlying truth and emotion that connect you to other people. When I learned music, I got smarter and my acting got better.
I didn’t learn music as a kid. Oh, I listened to the radio and loved the pop music of the ‘80s and ‘90s as well as the Beatles and the classic rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I loved to sing to songs I heard on the radio. I just wasn’t very good at it. But that inner rockstar was always there. My family wasn’t musical. None of my parents or grandparents played musical instruments that I know of. On top of it, I was born with a hearing loss – something like 55-60% loss in both ears – and have worn hearing aids since age 3. I think my parents and teachers just assumed I wouldn’t be any good at music since I had such trouble hearing.
But I always loved music videos and I would rock out and watch MTV. In my early ‘20s, I began telling people in my next life I’d learn to play the guitar. And I meant it, too. I had no intention of learning in this lifetime. Then one day, a very thoughtful and generous client gave me gift: an acoustic guitar. It was a cute guitar, a beginner’s guitar. I got a guitar stand and it sat in my apartment like a piece of furniture for almost 2 years before I finally decided I should probably learn how to play the damn thing.
I told another client of mine that I got this guitar and he introduced me to his old friend of 20 years who happened to be a famous musician for a time in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. We began trading lessons some 6 years ago – I’d train him and he’d teach me guitar. Learning to play the guitar and piano and sing has been the single greatest achievement in my life. Mainly, because I really didn’t think it was possible.
It was so basic, at first. I learned the chord of G, then C, then A minor. My teacher asked if I wanted to learn to sing. I was TERRIFIED! Seriously, I had no thoughts or illusions, at that point about singing. Then he just encouraged me to match him as he made a “OOOOOHHHHH” sound against a G chord. I’m telling you, I was so nervous, so scared to sing. It sounds so silly now. But there was a real feeling of peace – like touching my soul, or something – in vibrating my vocal chords in pitch against the sound of the guitar.
I had enough chords under my belt to learn Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. My ultimate goal, I thought. If I could just learn to play and sing ONE song from beginning to end I could die satisfied. I now can play and sing dozens of songs and have written and recorded a few of my own. All because I found this hobby that moved me and satisfied something inside me.
Music has taught me SO many lessons. I learned that if you think something is impossible, think again. I learned that you become good at something without trying so hard – by being present and enjoying the process rather than reaching for some idea of a goal. I really never imagined I would be writing and recording songs and playing and singing in front of people. It just naturally occurred once I fell in love with the process of practicing music.
Music is the one and only universal language that connects humans from every culture and society. I believe it is a primal instinct. I can’t explain the science of it, but learning music made me smarter. It has something to do with engaging in right- and left-brain activities at the same time. When you are playing guitar and singing, you are engaged in 4 specific tasks (maybe more): 1) left hand forms the chords on the neck of the guitar, 2) the right hand strums or picks, 3) another part of your body – your foot – keeps time, and 4) you are remembering to sing words in pitch, all while emoting and connecting to the underlying feeling and emotion of the song. I don’t know how to explain it, but I started to read things faster. I’d memorize lines more quickly. I’d get a scene up on its feet faster.
I was so grateful when Everett Lewis asked me to star in a film he wrote with me in mind, THE PRETTY BOYS. He asked me to play the lead singer of a ‘70s era glam rock band AND he asked me to write songs for it. What?! I saw an opportunity for growth and couldn’t say no. I asked my music teacher to help and brought his twin brother on board (they are Andy and David Williams and they were once a music group called The Williams Brothers). We worked together for many months and we wrote and co-wrote a bunch of songs. What a trip! Most famous, A-list actors don’t get an opportunity like this: to star in a film and write and perform original music. THE PRETTY BOYS is due out on DVD June 2012.