I was out visiting my aunt and cousins yesterday, for Easter Sunday. They’re some of the few relatives I have left in the Bay Area–most of my other aunts, uncles, and my maternal grandma have fled to sunnier, cheaper climes, such as Nevada and Idaho, places I don’t dream about living. Places where they can afford food and housing and live near each other without turning into working poor raving lunatics like myself.
Two of my cousins are musicians. One, 16, is into lead guitar, and he gladly played Led Zeppelin, Queen and The White Stripes for me while I fumbled along on my acoustic. The other, 18, is into bass, but studies music theory, too. He reads books about chord progressions and keys and baroque music and other stuff I always got bored trying to wrap my mind around in book form.
They’ve got their whole life ahead of them, these two, but already people are saying, “Oh, you want to be a musician, huh?”
I told them that people will always say that. Any time you decide to go for something, no matter what it is, people are going to tell you to be sensible. That’s what people do. They try to keep you the same, because change is too hard for most of them, or because they’re jealous. Or maybe they tried and failed and are bitter. Or maybe they think it’s a stupid idea to go for a career in something so many people want to do, that has so little hope of success.
The 16-year old was telling me that he doesn’t think anyone likes his music, it’s too different. He’s really good at guitar and singing and all of that, so I’m positive it’s not because his music sucks, but probably because most people don’t get music that’s not like music they already know.
I thought of myself quickly at age 16, not even out of reform school in Jamaica yet, singing Janis Joplin during our “music hour,” and dreaming of the whole world ahead of me, when I could finally be that famous musician I’d always wanted to be. Then I flashed forward to now, almost 31, and the way I look and and am different, older, harder, more like an adult. That little voice in my head that said quickly, “You never made it,” was instantly silenced when I told him this: “There will always be someone who likes your music. The important thing is that you believe in your music.”
I told him about how I used to play my music at parties in Utah, when I was going to college, and the room would be silent, everyone going, “duh, I don’t get it,” and when some ska or pop came on the radio, everyone would instantly start dancing again. Granted, my songs weren’t very good back then. But hey, had I known how long it would take me to write songs that were actually good, I probably would have quit. Nobody wants to know how long it’s really going to take!
I told him that if you’re a lifer, it doesn’t matter. Keep writing your songs. Keep putting them out there. Keep playing with other musicians. And there’s nothing better than that moment when you’re in the studio, and other musicians are laying down drums and bass and vocals to the songs that you wrote, helping you with your own Frankenstein creations. Or when you play your songs for people and they do get it, and they want to help you.
Those are the things to look forward to.
I also mentioned that one thing I wish I had done better was not being so afraid. After I got rejected by a few people I really admired–nothing to do with my music, but everything to do with them being musicians, if that makes sense–I hid in my little shell and didn’t come out for quite some time. I told him to do anything but hide out in his bedroom, to go out and play with other musicians, try and fail, but keep trying, don’t give up.
Made me feel good that at least my experience can help someone feel a bit better, have some sort of direction. I still don’t know where the hell I’m going. I thought I did when I was 18–I was headed to the big time, the be a part of the music industry.
Then I decided that was stupid, and would never work.
Now I just write music, come what may.
In other news, a story I wrote a while back was just published in PoV Magazine, called Slide. Check it out: