For every spectacular live stage performance you watch that seems like it was seamlessly evoked from thin air, you can bet that there were hours and hours of time spent in dark, crowded practice spaces going over those same songs again and again and again.
The performing life is odd. I don’t even know how to describe it. Especially for a person like me who is a library assistant (pretty much a librarian without librarian pay because I don’t have my MS degree) by day, musician by night. Most days I spend sitting in a quiet, old, dusty building in the middle of a semi-rural neighborhood in the Bay Area, helping old people find books about how to not die and kids find books about farts and diaper superheros. I have to make rent somehow.
At night, I am in a practice space with other musicians (the members of my band Kyrsten Bean, and the members of Nicky Garratt’s band Hedersleben), working on either songs I wrote or songs my band mates have written and we have all collaborated on. There is a lot of drilling of the same parts over and over again, debating about what works and what doesn’t. We record our practices and then I listen to them while I’m driving to the library the next day, to work so I can buy food and gas to fuel my life.
On Thursday night, Hedersleben had our first little sampler show at the Oakland Metro. It was a blast. I met a lot of awesome musicians in the bands that played after we opened, and in the audience of people who had come to check out this krautrock thing we are doing. It felt very good. I didn’t sleep much that night. The next day was the slowest day ever at the library. I sat at the reference desk or in the back room staring at the walls or ceiling, catching up on library projects, helping patrons, but mostly sitting. Staring. Wondering if the night before had really happened.
That night after work, I went over to see the launch of my friend Joe’s book, Junkie Love. I helped with the trailer for that one by playing a junkie. My friend Joel was the star. It was filmed in my bedroom.
I was nervous to finally watch it for the first time in a room with 81 people, but when I finally saw it I was impressed. It’s a little love story. About what a junkie thinks love is–about dope being love and love being dope.
Here it is, anyhow:
It was the same thing that night. I went to the book launch, it was exciting to see my friends kill it with their readings and to watch the trailer I had been a part of.
After the reading, I bumped into Alan Kaufman, who had come to support Joe. We ended up having a conversation about performing life. I don’t know why I felt compelled to vent to him about it, he merely asked me how it had been filming the trailer in my bedroom. I told him that it had been heavy, and I’d felt like crap for a week afterwards. He totally got it. Alan is a beat poet, wrote the book Drunken Angel (which I am just now cracking open and is amazing). He’s been there.
I told him about how I’d just had a performance the night before, how exciting it was. We had a guy from a record label come out to see us, everyone loved it, I was on cloud nine. There are tours being booked, details being finalized. We are recording an album at the end of the month. I have a show with my own band being worked on for May 30 as we speak. So much of what I love. So much awesomeness. Then I spent the next day sitting at the library.
“That’s awful!” said Alan. I looked at him, and I knew he meant that exactly how it feels to me. That it’s not working at a library or being around books that is awful, it’s the contrast between being in the middle of a cosmic synergistic excitement hub of splendor and then having to drive to work the next day and sit and stare at books.
I’m not complaining, don’t get me wrong! I love libraries. It’s just a strange, deflating transition. I find myself sitting there asking myself if any of the excitement actually happened. Which of these scenarios is my real life? The one where I am on stage in my element, doing what I love, carting gear in and out, talking music language with fellow musicians, or the one where I am sitting still at a reference desk at a library in the middle of nowhere, a city most people don’t even know exists in the Bay Area as it’s unincorporated.
It’s enough to make me feel stark raving mad sometimes, the ups and downs. I love my life. I love doing music. I love that I took my dreams of childhood and am finally bringing them to fruition. But there are things I got to talk about with Kaufman that he just got immediately. Doing performances and then sitting in your room for days trying to decompress. Having your ego fed, having it inflate, and then having the pin stuck in the balloon as the air fizzles out over the next couple of days. Our conversation blew my mind, was just what I needed. Joel, who had rode with me to the event, didn’t need a ride home, so then I went home to my diet coke and gluten-free cookie and stared at Facebook. Then I went to sleep, and got up to go work at the library.