JEFF SHATTUCK MUSIC

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• The Cerebellum Blues Story: Chapter Six, The Music Starts.

In preparation of my album launch, which should happen in May, 2011, I'm recapping how I got back into music. In this chapter:

The English Gardens / The music starts / Neurological notions

From 1991 to 1994 I lived in Munich, Germany, and sometime in 1993, after I had decided to return to the States, I was walking in Munich’s English Gardens and thought of an idea for a song. It was called People Change and the lyric forming in my head combined experiences I was having at the time with past experiences and imagined ones. I was deep in the Gardens when the idea first came to me, and so I walked with it for a good long time, turning it over in my head and mulling what it might sound like, as all around me breezes blew through trees, sunlight glinted off green grass and water flowed on my left, then right, then left again, as I navigated the paths alongside and in-between canals of Isar river water. I never finished the song. At one point, months later, I thought I had, but I had not.

In the years that followed, I worked on the song every now and then. I was convinced it had potential, but no matter how hard I tried, I just could not get the song to a point where I was satisfied with it. I would work on it, get nowhere, then head into a downward spiral, usually ending in a completely desperate feeling of engulfing sadness and despair (truly, I’m not exaggerating). In time, I let the song defeat me and started to think of it as yet one more reminder of why I should just give up on music once and for all. Music caused me too much frustration; to want to be good at it and yet never be able to reach a point where I thought I actually was, just drained me of enthusiasm for the stuff.  

But then there was this day, over ten years after that afternoon walk in the English Gardens — not too long after my brain injury, maybe a few months — when I was lying on the couch and noodling on my guitar, and I played the opening riff of that old song started so long ago, so far away. I played through the first verses and choruses and got the point I had always gotten to, a dead-end, a wall, and I... did not stop. I tried a few things and while I did not finish the song that day either, the process of trying to write a song felt different. Possibility was ever present, and I felt I could finally do it. Why would this be? I started to think about my brain injury and about what I had learned about the brain so far. I also thought about my situation (not working, thinking about more than just advertising for the first time in ages, allowing myself emotions beyond fear and apathy). I started to form a theory.

When you have an idea, research shows that it starts deep in your emotional, old reptilian brain and moves up into your new brain, which adds structure to your idea and thinks up ways to express it. My brain injury had not only damaged my old brain (the cerebellum is pretty primitive), but also it had disrupted the connections between the old brain and new. In other words, for better or worse, my brain processed inspiration differently from the way it had before. Also, I was in a deeply emotional state, so my old brain was intensely active. Combine it all, and I was someone in a highly emotional state whose brain had been changed in terms of how it processes emotions, transforms them into ideas and figures out how to express them.

Obviously, this could have gone two ways, one, where I lost some (or all) ability to transform emotions into specific ideas or two, where my ability was enhanced. I think I got “lucky”, and ended up with the latter, because after that first day of playing People Change for the first time in far too long, song ideas started to flood in and by the end of 2006, I had written/started probably 20 songs. For someone who hadn’t written a song in well over a decade, this seemed significant. In the coming years, I would ask several neurologists about my theory and while none agreed with it 100%, they all thought it made some sense.

People change. I was proof.