*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine February 2016
Today I speak to you – YEAH YOU – you in your smelly, moldy, mouse infested basement, you in your bedroom in your bathrobe, you playing guitar six nights a week in the corner of a bar while people get drunk and ignore you, you lead singing for any band that will ask you, you writing songs and hoping to record them and change the world one day, you writing songs while you’re on the road starving to death in your van, you tracking and mixing for bands you can’t stand to listen to, you with the hairbrush in front of the mirror, you who thought taking flute lessons and playing in the middle school band would make you smarter. All of you.
Yes I’m talking to all you musicians out there nobody’s ever heard of.
Why do you do it?
Maybe you do it because you think it’s your ticket out of the 9-5. Maybe you do it because it’s the only thing that makes you feel alive. Maybe you do it because it’s the only thing that keeps you sane in this crazy terrible world. Maybe you do it because Mommy and Daddy made you take piano lessons and now you’ve got this talent that shan’t be wasted. Maybe you do it because you still hate sports and all that stuff about concussions. Maybe you do it because the roar of the crowd makes you cry. Maybe you do it because you still think it will get you girls. Maybe you do it because you believe this is what you were born to do even if it kills you.
And you keep doing it don’t you.
When I was 18 and living in L.A. trying to be a rock star, with absolutely no clue on how to go about becoming a rock star in L.A., I used to marvel at the lights and the energy on Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards while gazing longingly at all the fake and true rock stars and their super long hair. I ate Ramen noodles and scoured the papers for auditions. I lost 30 pounds and got really tan. I secured a real audition finally at a night club in town for a band of some sort at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday. The joint is closed so I knock. And knock. A burly guy comes to the door and asks what the heck I want. I explain I have a very important audition that’s taken me weeks to obtain, and I’m all the way from the east coast so please let me in now.
“You 21?” he asks.
“No. I have a very important audition though.”
“Drinking age is 21. Come back when you’re 21.”
“No seriously. I don’t care about your warm stale beer. They are expecting me and it’s extremely important.”
“Get outa here.” And he slams the door.
On my dreams.
It’s funny how when you’re 18, you think you’re this brilliant game-changer who’s got it all figured out, when in actuality, you know absolutely freaking nothing. For example, I didn’t know the drinking age in California was 21. I didn’t know that in order to play in a band in California, in a bar, you better be 21. I didn’t know that, looking down Hollywood Boulevard at night, at the rows and rows of talented, beautiful, glamorous would-be-nots, that I was really just one step away from a seedy and certainly illegal future if I didn’t get some work soon. I had been out there about three months, and those limp noodles were getting a little old.
So I came back home. Not a rock star.
Now what to do? Maybe you have a similar story. Maybe you would NOT have come home. Maybe you would have kept plugging away. Maybe you still are.
Last month, I learned you’re never too old to go back to school. I received complimentary tickets to see Aretha Franklin at the Mohegan Sun Casino because I throw twenty dollars in a slot machine once a year. I don’t go to many concerts because secretly, I usually just sit there mad because it’s not me up there. (OK, spoiler alert, my secret’s out.) But Aretha can sure teach you a thing or two.
One of the biggest complaints we musicians have is, in order to keep gigging, because we’re not Taylor Swift or Pharrell or Aretha Franklin, is we have to do covers so people in the audience don’t look at us like we’re complete aliens. “People want to hear stuff they know,” club owners often say. And we get that. Actually, some bands have completely given up on their own originality, because “people want to hear stuff they know.” I want to scream – “If you want to hear stuff you know, just play the juke box!” But it’s not that simple of course. People also want to see a “live band” for reasons ranging from “groupie envy” to “bass thumps in my chest”, to “super sexy guitar player syndrome.” But my point is, when you go see a super famous person, like Aretha Franklin, and she sits down at the piano and does her own glorious, super personal, Gospel-like version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, I, as a musician, ponder. She’s doing a cover. She most certainly has not been asked by Mohegan Sun to do a cover because “people want to hear stuff they know.” No way. She’s doing it because that song is first of all: awesome; second of all: it means a great deal to her; and third: she not only makes it her own but completely owns it.
My point is, you musicians out there who have made it through the last paragraph of my ramblings, is – don’t be afraid to show who you are on stage, no matter what the club owners say, or the guy slamming the door on you says. The audience is there to see your talent in full form (or else they would simply turn on the juke box.) Mix it up. Surprise them. Don’t hide your creativity and originality. It’s probably why you do it.