Last night I had the unbelievable opportunity to be in the audience for my favorite songwriter of all time, Elvis Costello, as he talked about his just released autobiography, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink. Needless to say, as a man known half jokingly as a “chainsaw through a dictionary”, the fact that he wrote it – alone – meant that I’d be in for a literary adventure ride. It now sits beside my laptop on my work desk, waiting to be cracked open. Did I mention it’s an autographed copy? As usual, I digress.
Aside from the fact that Elvis is still king of all things musical, and that I want him to fire his terribly talented bassist, Davey Faragher, and hire me, my real takeaway from last night was this: let it go. During the interview and conversation with Slate Magazine’s culture editor, Dan Kois, Costello seemed at ease – daresay relaxed. And I don’t think it’s because he is resting on his laurels letting his fans praise him. Rather, and more to the point, he’s made peace with himself and his lifetime of experiences. Not only does he eschew nostalgia (until he was 8, the kitchen sink in his family’s basement flat was his bathtub), but he accepts that he is now a very different person with different perspectives, all shaped somehow by his lifetime of globetrotting tours, limitless and inspired songwriting and recording, and, in his words, “attempting to solve the world’s alcohol problem – by consuming it myself.” He has made many public blunders with the press, his less-than-careful choice of drunken espousing, and his particular world views as seen through his often embittered and defensive lyrics. Yet, he bares it all, without apology, chalking it up to life on his own terms, as he saw fit to live then, and now. Yes, he’s older; yes, he’s the father of twin 8-year-old boys whose favorite songs range from ‘that viking song by Led Zeppelin’ to the Minecraft version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”; and yes, his wife is Canadian-born jazz musician Diana Krall. He traveled to here and now via his curved, often jagged path. And maybe one not so dissimilar to mine or yours.
Bookmarking last night’s experience, I read an advice column in today’s paper about a woman who decided to research what happened to kids that bullied her from kindergarten through high school. Disappointingly, the main offender seemed to be living an idyllic life, with a lovely wife and children, a successful career, and seemingly financially carefree – by Facebook standards. The columnist offered that it’s the bullied that hasn’t moved on; that the victim peeping into the bully’s life, wishing to see everything rotten and pathetic, the victim is still allowing herself to be bullied – unknowingly by this person, who most likely hasn’t had an ounce of thought about the victim since leaving high school. And let’s face it, assessing another’s life through a social media profile will offer the “creeper” a distorted, if not terribly skewed vision into a created reality.
So what does all this have to do with music – or me as a musician, for that matter? In fact, it has quite a connection. For me, music is therapy; whether performing it, recording it, or simply listening to it, it helps me on many levels. When I’m actively gigging, I have been able to sculpt my rig and gear to the point where I am fairly portable, regardless of venue. Over time, I figured out what was truly necessary, and what wasn’t. Also, I’m my own “roadie” so avoiding the excessive is paramount. Throughout all the shows, all the artists with whom I’ve worked, all the cities where I have played, there is always something – or someone – crossing my path, sometimes purposely, saying to me, “What the f… are you gonna do about it?” Just typing this, I feel adrenaline surging within my chest, my pulse quickening, and my breathing becoming rapid. Professional as I may be, I’ve been bullied, on and off stage, in many times of my life; from being the shy, nerdy, awkward fourth-grader who found sixteen different paths home from school to avoid getting beaten up, to the musician taking a fill-in gig supporting an insanely manic and bipolar guitar player who enjoyed cursing at me for all to hear, across the drum kit, during a set, the only way I survive is to let it all go.
At the end of my day, the bullshit has no impact on anything but my own fragile ego. And it’s no one’s business that it is fragile, or what it took to become that way. In my experience, if I try to err by taking the “high road” and be the “bigger person”, I (eventually) feel better, my playing improves, and I earn more respect along the way. It’s not easy – I don’t always do or say the right thing. I still have pent up anger towards those that bullied me as a child. But stating that is the only time I’ve shown it.
The bottom line is this: there’s stuff I can control – my playing technique and skill, my ability to listen and learn, my clothing choices – and there is so much more that I cannot – other’s’ skill/outbursts, my height/hair loss (!). I can choose to burden myself with the crap I cannot, and will never, control, OR I can challenge myself daily to become a better musician, a better friend, a better husband, and a better father. That’s what counts for me and my well-being. What “gear” are you hauling that you could let go? Figure out how – ask for help if you need it – you’ll be surprised at how your perspective on everything will become more clear, and more will seem possible.