For the first half of this year, the question I answered almost every day was: When are you (finally) going to retire?
Since the midpoint of 2021, I spend all my time answering: How do you like retirement?
Just fine, so far — although I quickly point out that I’m “semi-retired,” which turns out to be a white lie.
It’s really been more like three-quarters retired, which has been OK with me.
After a lifetime as a workaholic, it turns out I’m pretty talented at doing nothing. It’s amazingly easy to fill a whole day with it.
When I’m not completely wasting time, I’m spending a lot more of it on music. I’m filling the hours playing acoustic guitar, electric guitar, even bass guitar in ways I never tried in the 57 years since I first picked up a six-string during the Beatles craze.
I had little time for this musical passion over most of my adult life, and my skills stayed stuck in neutral for half a century, dragging out my instrument only a couple times a year to play for a wedding or church service.
Earlier this year, a couple of old friends suggested forming a musical trio, and I answered: Wait until I retire. Since I left the office behind, we’ve played at a few small events, and lately we’ve become a foursome. We play the same kind of acoustic, soft-rock, folk-y music I’ve played in my living room over the years, so it feels pretty comfortable.
Next, I decided to volunteer for my church’s praise band, which previously was impossible because its practice night conflicted with my newspaper job.
Taking pity on this lifelong guitar-hero dreamer, the church music director let me go on stage and learn how to play lead guitar while a live audience was watching. This is not in my comfort zone at all, but it’s getting better.
After a couple of months, the music director handed me a bass guitar and said, “Take this home and learn how to play it.” So, yet again, I’m fumbling my way around an instrument in a very public way.
It didn’t take long playing the bass before I asked myself: “Why didn’t I think of this 50 years ago?” Playing bass is a blast, at least for me, if not for the listeners and my more accomplished fellow band members. But the answer to my question is obvious: A bass doesn’t work as a solo instrument. You need a band to go with it.
All of this new musical territory has provided a good workout for the aging brain, but I hope it’s also an influence on some younger people in my life.
At least one of our teenage granddaughters is very serious about music. She’s way ahead of my guitar skill at the same age, and in some ways, she’s already better than I am today. She’s got a sweet, soft vocal style to go with it.
Two more granddaughters are showing an interest in music that I hope will blossom. My wife, Betsy — a classic soprano — will keep encouraging them.
Our pre-teen grandson informed us last weekend that he’s dropped his music lessons to focus on sports. Betsy reminded him that his grandpa (me) is living proof that you can play an instrument until age 70. Try that with football.
Or he can take advice straight from me, who grew up in a sports-crazy culture and squandered too much of my youth trying vainly to impress my friends and father with physical feats. Through sweat and pain, I managed to max out my potential by reaching real mediocrity.
Instead, when my first high school rock band broke up (because the other three members got kicked out of school), I should have found another group. I should have spent more time in college gleaning tips from the talented guitarist-singer down the hall who went on to become a lifetime folk-music performer.
So, I encouraged our grandson with my own hard-earned perspective: “Girls like guitar players every bit as much as athletes — and it hurts less.”
A couple of years ago, it was morbidly suggested that I should be able to pass down a guitar to each of our three sons when I’m gone. It was great fun picking out two more — and of course I didn’t want to skimp on quality — although I asked if they wouldn’t mind waiting 30 years or so to collect their inheritance.
Lately, it’s occurred to me that it would not be fair to leave out the grandchildren in this great, final guitar giveaway.
So the next time you wonder how I’m spending my retirement, just look for me at the music store showroom. I’ve got a lot of shopping to do.
Dave Kurtz can be contacted at email@example.com.