I have squandered my gift. Well, maybe not squandered, but I’ve certainly taken it for granted. At the very least I am guilty of complacency. And see, the thing is, even saying it’s a gift makes me feel a bit egotistical and self-aggrandizing. I am uncomfortable with it, exactly because there was a time in my life where I took it all very seriously and did, in fact, consider it a gift. Perhaps I misused it. I did. And I let it consume me and cloud my vision of what healthy looks like like. That was a long time ago. Now, I just do this thing, it’s innate, my friends and family expect it, don’t even give it a second thought, so I guess I don’t consider it a gift or even consider it at all much anymore. It’s just something I do, but what else could you call it?
Music, specifically the urge, (the compulsion really), to create it and play it and perform for others. It is something I’ve always wanted to do. My dad said that when I was just three years old he asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I told him I wanted to be an entertainer. Pretty weird. Regardless, I have always wanted to write and play music. And, at certain moments in my life I confused that with wanting to be famous. Which is part of the problem, but I’ll get back to that.
When my friends and I gathered tennis rackets and costumes to lip-sync to our favorite records it was painful. Why? Because I wanted to get it right. I wanted our show to be perfect and as close to real as possible. They just wanted to have fun. They couldn’t see the artistry and vision involved. It was very disappointing. And I’m sure it was just annoying to them!
When I finally got to do the real thing it was, at times, disappointing as well, because everyone has different ideas about what is necessary and how to go about accomplishing our goals. A lot of times, I found myself surrounded by people who had very different ideas about what was cool and why we were even bothering. Not that I was a visionary, but I could see it, smell it, taste it. If we just practiced a bit more and put our minds to it, we could play some shows, people might come, and it would be worthwhile. Truth be told, though, practice is kind of boring, especially when you aren’t very good. But it could be awesome
And, eventually, it was.
For a good seven years.
But then I decided it sucked. I decided that it wasn’t worth it. I wanted to be done. The idea of making it ruined things, as it does. Everything I had been working toward fell apart. The music business is awful. I moved on and, with many bruised egos, so did everyone else. I pursued a grown up life. I went back to school. I moved away. I was done with music. (So I claimed.) I was determined to fit in, I desired to be just like everyone else who quits playing out and sells all their equipment and talks about how they used to be in a band.
Except that I didn’t sell all my equipment. I just sort of packed it away, along with my real feelings.
And I never stopped playing, though I pretended I did.
I moved to Colorado where I was serious about school. I worked and enjoyed exploring my new surroundings, but I still had my guitar and I’d play in my room, alone. I went to an open mic and couldn’t stand NOT performing. But I couldn’t stand the way I was treated by the host who acted like I was some newbie. How could he know my history? I drifted on to Arizona where my roommate played bass and we would jam a little. I was still serious about school, but we found some other people to jam with. It was just goofing around.
Except it wasn’t.
I tried to keep my love and desire for playing and performing hidden away like some shameful secret. As much as I tried to tell myself that I was done with it, I could never quite escape the overpowering urge to play. I even tried going to Mexico for two months without a guitar. In the first week, I wandered into a music shop around the corner from where I lived. I paid entirely too many pesos for a crappy acoustic guitar. I went home and played on the patio overlooking the community pool in that nice family compound where I stayed in the middle of Mexico. It felt so good. Like breathing.
Back in Arizona, I began going to open mics. I practiced, alone, in my bathroom. Now, I enjoyed being underestimated. I relished playing the newbie with an “Ah shucks” demeanor. It was like the ultimate performance. I enjoyed surprising people. Maybe I had also learned a bit about humility. So, it was OK to be unknown and regarded as someone new, untried. Better to prove yourself than to be a disappointment or a commodity.
Still, I went kicking and screaming back into the world of music and bands and DIY rock & roll. I was happy being solo, but the guys I was meeting were fun to play with. Why should we get serious about it? Let’s just have fun! There was a feeling of exhilaration I hadn’t felt in a long time. In a drummer, (of all things), I found a partner who complimented what I did. I complimented him. We were exactly what the other needed. Along with my roommate we were three. Then we became four. That was sixteen years ago. Since then there have been ups, downs, and everything in between. We have grown-up, adult lives with responsibilities and demands on our time. We keep at it, even though we don’t give it much thought. We have seen quite a few guys come and go. And at this moment, we’re back to the original three. Funny how things work.
That brings me to my primary point.
I have spent too much time trying to downplay what I do, out of some sort of misguided attempt at being humble, that I may have forgotten that it is an amazing gift. I may be guilty of ignoring it altogether and, in so doing, taking it for granted. In the process, I’ve now come to see that I have done myself a disservice. I am what I am. I consider myself an independent thinker, but I must admit I have been swayed by society’s expectations and the ticking of time. I suppose, at some point, everyone expects that you have to give up on the dream. At least that’s what convention tells us. I don’t want to be the old guy trying to be a rock star. I don’t want to be a punchline. We aren’t out there trying to shake the foundations of the music world, but it sort of looks like it. I think most people view performers as people who seek fame, even if it isn’t true. We’re just trying to make something beautiful for a minute, not get a record deal. Yet that seems incongruous to many folks.
But, so what?
“To thine own self be true,” is how Bill Shakespeare put it. That is easier said than done. We owe it to ourselves in this short life to do what we love and share our passion with others, regardless of what people think of us, as long as no one gets hurt. We have our own paths to follow, our own lives to live. I’m not trying to be the next big thing. I just want the chance to rock out a bit, like I did when I was sixteen and twenty-three and thirty-two. Like I wanted to when I was three! I’m just trying to feel sane.
How else can I explain it?
It really is a choice between sanity and chaos. Music for me is life, even if I haven’t been honest about it in the past. I am unable to walk away. Even if everyone else cashed in their chips, I would still be playing. I would still find a way to get these feelings off my chest. I would still yearn for a few minutes, now and again, to set my heart and mind free through music. I don’t need to brag about it, but I need to do it. I can’t stop myself. And I shouldn’t, should I?
So, I will consciously embrace what I do. I won’t worry that others may see me as a sad, middle-aged hack. I’m not, so why worry over it? I won’t pretend to be a normal, mild-mannered member of society when I’m not. I’m a musician, damn it! That’s pretty far from normal right there. Most of all, I can’t, I won’t take it for granted. I should be honest and give my all every chance I have to play. Every performance is an extension of the gift I have been allowed to receive. I should make the most of them. After all, how many more chances will there be?
There’s a little light in all of us, I think. And in our light is love, so don’t hide it. We should let it shine without reserve. We should be proud of our contributions to the human experience, whatever they may be. I am a lot of things, but at my core I am, and always will be, a singer and songwriter. And that is a pretty frickin’ cool thing to be able to do! I will try to remind myself of that more often.
*With apologies to the Beatles.