Derek Sivers- the founder of CDBaby- the largest independent CD distributor around- once offered this sage and oft-repeated comment regarding adulthood and doing business- “Life is like high school”. I first heard that back in the 90’s and it struck me as odd but I must admit that it in my experience (and apparently in many others’) it has been proven to be true.
In high school all I wanted to be is a rock star. I spent most every free moment practicing my guitar and trying to put or keep bands together with a variety of high school- then older individuals. I admit that it’s never been easy to get a good gig or keep it together but I’ve always tried!
In my junior year of high school I started playing bass and found myself having a lot of fun with it. After high school I went straight to college to study Music Ed (as Applied Music wasn’t recommended at the time) as well as looking for more mature playing situations. I also made the “official” switch to focusing on playing bass and found myself to feel more naturally-inclined on it. I dropped-out of college after my freshman year and went on my first national tour- with some older cats playing cheezy covers in motel lounges. Though it wasn’t quite the “rock star” life that I had envisioned I got to do a lot of traveling, met a lot of new people, played the crap out of the bass and fell in love with touring and traveling.
My late teens and early twenties were a series of attempts to commit to cover groups hoping that we would write tunes, do shows and get “discovered” or as we musicians like to say “signed”. After doing just about all I could think of in the St. Louis area it was time for a change so I moved to Boston, gave up cover gigs (and musical income) and did my best to find a great group writing great tunes that was going to get signed. Somewhere in there I starting playing the Chapman Stick (then the Warr Guitar) (change) and started my own original group- Smokstik. Ooops!!! I also started doing a lot of live sound engineering. It was easier to pay bills mixing than trying to find paying gigs. (change) Ten years suddenly went by and though I had some great experiences I was still a broke musician with no “deal” so I decided that it was time for a change (again)- I moved back home to St. Louis.
I came back to St. Louis not really sure what to do next. I started making some connections and re-connections and did some mixing as well as looking for other playing opportunities. I tried going back to school briefly, I started a little local independent music label, opened a studio of sorts, started playing a regular-old 6-string guitar again, got really busy teaching guitar, started riding motorcycles, met a girl, started raising 3 of someone else’s kids, got married and….
Phew! WTF am I doing now??? If you’ve paid attention to anything that I’ve written in the last year or so you would see a man in search of a passion, a purpose, a driving force in my life pointing me in a positive and progressive direction. So wait- how does the apply to the “life is like high school” comment? Well- I’m adding a little bit of my own experience to it. Not only are there cliques, social strata, unfair character judgements, homework, sports and band but I think that our internal energies and motivations drive us in directions. We pursue or we wait. We are interested or we are not. I always felt that I wanted to pursue my passion like a skater shredding pavement after school. Grinding that deck hour after hour- day after day- falling again and again and again without fear in the pursuit of success- perfection. I have sought to pursue my life with that approach and I feel that my passion wraps me up like a warm and safe blanket and gives my life color, energy and purpose. The problem is that I have been challenged to make artistic success, passion and financial success follow parallel paths and as an adult with a great deal of adult responsibility I feel that I have no choice but to figure out a way to put all these elements together into a vivid and fulfilling life or else- punt.
I doubt that there isn’t an artist alive on this planet that hasn’t been told by a family member, friend or stranger to just “get a job”. The fact, however that we only live once. We are all born with potential, promise, hope and an expiration date. I feel that my life is a blessing and to spend it making a wage to pay the rent, mow the lawn and watch cable seems a waste. I want to LIVE- not just EXIST! Not having been born-into privilege my successes- and failures- are dependent upon my earnest efforts or lack thereof. I’m doing my best to figure out how to spend the rest of my life pursuing my passions with success and also providing for myself and my family. I hope that my efforts not only bring me and mine happiness and fulfillment but might also inspire others to do the same.
Maybe I think too much but the old saying “measure twice and cut once” contains wisdom and I don’t have time to waste. I think that change can be a very good thing- especially when it’s part of a plan. In our youth it seems that we had all the time in the world to pursue our interests so consideration and practicality was often secondary. Making changes requires a willingness to accept death. Learning to let go and get on with your life. Like the extra boxes in my garage or the shirts in my closet that I’ve never worn. I think that it’s time to do a little spring cleaning to make room for some new stuff. I’m ready to write a few new juicy chapters in my Book of Life!!!