I was sitting at a coffee shop outside of Los Angeles, with a musician I admired and one of his hardcore fans. The hardcore fan and I had traveled to see the musician perform on television.
On the way to the coffee shop, I had given the musician a tape of my self-recorded songs that I had promised to show him months before. He surprised me by putting the tape into the car dashboard so that it played over the stereo as we were driving.
With this signed musician playing my tape in his chauffeured car, I felt like something big was happening. The small fact that somebody was listening to what I had created made me nervous and excited.
As we sat at the table after the ride, I expressed my desire to start my music from the ground up, grow it locally, have a small group of fans and keep it real without fiending for the big time.
“That’s a very Bay Area attitude,” he said, slightly mocking me.
Being from a small town near the Bay Area and having escaped, he was very into being on a big label and doing the big tour and video thing he was currently doing. I looked up to him for the music that he did and the success he had had, but to me, that life sounded empty and scary – it felt like a lonely rat race.
Not that I didn’t want success. I did. I just didn’t want to give up my freedom, my family, my friends, my Bay Area roots, to get there. So the carrot on the stick, the rewards-based model, didn’t work for me.
And I still feel the same way today, which is why I’m nothing special to the mainstream media. If you’re looking for a celebrity pep-talk, this isn’t the place. I’m just a fellow creative person who writes from a corner of the Bay Area about the power of starting where you are, accepting what and who you are, zen and the benefit of living a creative life through your art – whatever that may be.
I’m promoting a creative person’s manifesto. Whether you’re just starting, have been doing it your whole life, have fame or don’t, we need you in this world that relies so heavily on art of all types, yet doesn’t seem to have a proper way of maintaining its artists.
I’m going to diverge a bit off topic into another little vignette, so bear with me.
I learned when I was a hitchhiking, free-spirited, vagabond teenager that wherever you go, there you are.
The idea of a teenage population has been a recent installation in United States history. It started in the beginning part of the 1900′s, when laws were changing in order to protect children from working in industries from childhood on, and really took off after World War II, due to a mix of post-war boom and the savvy marketers who had realized that this demographic was untapped potential.
Being a teenager is hard because you’re separated from other groups: you’re kind of an outcast in a way.
For me, being a teenager was just an inferno keeping me from doing what my adult friends (who were 18 and up) were doing.
Every time I got pulled out of my travels, I thought some terrible vortex was forcing me back to the Bay Area. I was constantly flustered because the new life I had created, the friends I had met on the road, were now gone.
Now, fifteen years later, I commend that 15-year old girl that took off with her older friends to follow her heart. I don’t regret any of it. I miss the freedom, but that was my window for adventure. And though I have my qualms with our capitalistic, production-based society, I don’t think that I would have been able to find out who I was without the teenage demographic being an accepted quantity in American culture.
I mention my teenage self because I’m doing many of these creative things for her: because she wanted so badly to be a successful writer and musician, but didn’t know how. She didn’t know that success is defined by your experience of it, that success in culture is often just a popularity contest combined with being in the right place with the right skills at the right time.
I’m not anti-success. I’m not anti-marketing. I believe you can make a living being a writer, an artist or a musician if that’s what you feel makes you a true one.
But I don’t believe that receiving money for my works is what makes me a true musician or a writer. I believe that creating something for me, that I am proud of, that aims to help others, and then giving it away in whatever shape or form, to however many people I choose, is the core foundation.
And I believe in starting small and appreciating the people you have now who are all you really have in the end. Life is short. Too short for us to really do everything we want to do with it. There is a small window for each of us and a lot of us make mistakes that we can’t take back.
But the act of expression is one of the most sustaining things I’ve found for this life. All of the things I have seen: boiling them down and regurgitating them through the medium of what is uniquely me; being able to appreciate what others have created; being able to feel that deep peace inside when you know you’re following the right path: this is what being an artist is to me. My life is an art. My creations are the byproduct. This is what I have and it is enough for today.