Wednesday, December 6, 2017

You Call That A Career?! My So-Called Life In The Fast Lane!

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From 1985 to around 2008 or so, I lived and breathed rock & roll.

No job, no girlfriend, no apartment security deposit was as important to me as my next guitar, my next CD purchase, or, for that matter, my next recording session. Not only was I a rabid consumer of music, I was consumed by music.

And when I wrote a song about stealing a beautiful woman from some other dude, or getting drunk and speeding down the highway with the cops on my tail, I wasn't making any of that shit up, I was living it. And when my girlfriend found out and threw my shit out on the lawn, where the neighbor dog proceeded to take a steaming shit on top of my most prized possessions, I wasn't making that shit up, either.

See, the last thing I wanted to do was sell the world something that was illegitimate, like Billy fucking Cyrus pretending to be a bad-ass or Madonna playing a Flying V guitar. I thought it would make a difference, but, as it turns out, being the only guy in the drunk tank who has read, much less lived, every Hunter S. Thompson book is a lonely feeling.

I thought that people would listen to my music, hear the insightful lyrics, dig the fucking legitimacy of the drama and the vitriol, and respond the same way they do whenever Jeff Tweedy sets one of his burrito farts to music.

They did not.

I thought that the industry would see the illogical dedication with which I once again robbed Peter to pay back Paulina, from whom I had borrowed almost all the money necessary to make one last desperate stab at the brass ring before the window of opportunity slammed shut on my fingers forever.

They did not.

I thought that the musical press, ever vigilant in their search for softball rags-to-riches stories to lob at their readers, would jump on the bandwagon, too, helping me promote an album for which there was no promotional budget.

Again, they did not.

The stories of my drunken antics got to be so legendary around town at one point that I could not walk into a club without either being tossed out or served free drinks just to see what trouble I could get into.

Watching myself become a rock & roll cartoon didn't sit well at all, so I traded metal skyscrapers for ones made of stone and dirt, but life in Denver, Colorado bored the living shit out of me. I kept driving up into the mountains searching for meaningful inspiration but found only fools gold and hippies.

Not my fault, I swear.
An invitation to a music festival in L.A. changed my opinion of a city that I had previously avoided like the plague. I moved to Hollywood at the first opportunity and felt myself exhale for the first time in my life: I was home.

In Hollywood, I found hundreds, if not thousands, of kindred spirits, all broken in our own way and searching for meaning where there was none.

Shit that would have landed me in jail anywhere else didn't even register on the Richter scale in L.A., which was both intensely liberating and oddly depressing.

When everybody in town is twice as fucked up as you are, your cries for help fall on deaf ears. After all, your deepest flaws are almost charming to those whose proclivities take them to some truly dark and heinous corners.

I used to visit such corners in much the same way tourists gravitate to Disneyland. The thrills they might get from Magic Mountain I got from venturing into parts of town where danger lurked behind every shadow. On many a night, I came face-to-face with such danger and in its eyes I saw recognition.

An honor among thieves, if you will.

L.A. allowed me to take inventory of my own psychic damage because, compared to everybody else, mine was strictly amateur hour by comparison. Not that I didn't do my darndest to catch up.

One day, my girlfriend, whose trust I had long broken, asked me why I was so hell-bent on destroying the life we'd built together. I had no answer, but the next day I wrote a song that laid it all out in black-and-white. She took one look at the lyrics and mouthed the word "Wow" before walking out of the room.

Watch any great songwriter talk about their creative process and, at some point - without exception - they'll all get around to admitting that their best songs basically wrote themselves. More times than not, they'll say that they didn't so much write that one great song as simply catch it out of the sky.

I had never experienced that sensation until I wrote "I'm A Fuck-Up". As I gazed back at the lyrics I had hurriedly scribbled on a legal pad, I suddenly realized that I had psychoanalyzed myself better than any high-paid psychiatrist ever could.

Unfortunately, saying "fuck" 28 times in a single song kinda removes any hope for commercial radio play.

It was still a good enough song to gain me one last smattering of label interest, but after one four-hour meeting with the label suits to discuss what word I could use in place of "fuck", I realized that I would never be ready for the prime-time adulation I had once craved.

After ten or so years of burning every candle, bridge and relationship at both ends, with not a damn thing to show for it, I realized then how much worse it would have been if I had found fame and been afforded a team of professional enablers.

Chances are I wouldn't have been around to feel the joy of catching that one song from out of the sky, even if only 54 people have clicked on the damn YouTube clip since it went up ages ago.

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