Friday, October 23, 2020

The $64,000 Question: When Is The Dream Over?


From the moment I first picked up an instrument in high school and decided that rock & roll was going to be my life, my social life immediately began to suffer. Friends with whom I had spent countless days, months and years playing sports or talking about girls were the first to notice my sudden unavailability after school.

Within weeks, they had developed new friends, eventually no longer thinking to ask if I might have wanted to join them on their trips to the mall, movies, or concerts and I still sucked at playing drums, yet I persisted, knowing that the trade-off for becoming a decent drummer might be that my ability to relate to my fellow teenage high school knuckleheads might suffer.

Even though I was aware of this trade-off and made my decision willingly, little did I know just how much I would lose my ability to relate to "the real world" once I became part of "the entertainment industry".

You see, the fact that this "rock & roll thing" had absolutely nothing to do with the real world was a large part of my reasoning for choosing that particular path in the first place. It was a decision that was made, quite frankly, not too long after my parents informed me in no uncertain terms that I'd be turning 18 soon and, therefore, would be an adult soon.

In other words, according to my very traditional parents, it was time for their oldest kid (me!) to become an adult and join the gruesome work-a-day world.

As you can probably imagine, I was not thrilled.

After all, my parents hadn't exactly made being an adult look like any fucking fun at all, what with all the moving from one town to another for some soul-sucking Sears & Roebuck manager gig. When he wasn't off "making some bacon", the one image I have of my father is of him walking in the door, kissing my mother, and then promptly collapsing in a heap on the couch from total exhaustion and being dead to the world for much of the rest of the evening.

If that was adulthood, I wanted no part of it, yet there he was letting me know that the time had come for me to be as miserable as him.

That's when I informed him in no uncertain terms that if he thought I was going to stumble down that very same path, he had another thing coming. 

No, music was my bag and my only goal in life was to be a working musician and recording artist.

The look on his face when those words entered his ear holes was one of complete dismay, as if trying to understand someone speaking to him in a foreign tongue and deciding that they must just be an idiot for not speaking English, like him.

I don't think we ever saw eye-to-eye about anything from that day until his death, some twenty years later at the age of 59.

If anything, his early demise only instilled in me a desire to cram as much fun as possible into one lifetime as I possibly could because there were no guarantees that any of us might live long enough to enjoy retirement.

Thing is, by that time, the wheels had already come off what remained of my rock & roll dream, which, by the ripe old age of 37, consisted mostly of rowdy bar gigs and dealing with sketchy weasels at all levels of the industry. The major label deal I had sought for so long had come and gone with jack-shit to show for it and I could no longer even remember what I'd spent the $150k in combined advances on.

My fellow musicians would laugh when I said such things and tell me that part of not knowing where all the money went meant that I must be doing something right, HAR HAR, and I believed them for a good long time. But then one day I realized that the stunning, and admittedly bat-shit crazy, rocker babes I had been attracting since my very first Chicago club gigs had disappeared and all that remained were the crazy ones.

The worst part was that I looked every single minute of my 37 years on this planet and yet I was still convinced that my life and career was progressing just fine. Also, by remaining in L.A., I could continue to bullshit myself that I was nowhere near as bad as a lot of folks in that town who had actually tasted fame and were still desperately seeking another dose, even as Father Time landed one knockout punch after another.

Hilariously, it would take moving back to my favorite city (Chicago), putting together the absolute
best version of my band (with Ted & Mike from Material Issue), and attempting to re-establish myself on the Chitown rock scene for me to realize that this wasn't a career, it was a fucking rut.

Even now, some ten years after that realization, I still find the pull of potential fame and fortune to be the drug I can never completely kick and that even casually strumming a guitar or busting out my favorite synth soon has me noodling on a new song that I immediately begin thinking could be "the one".

I've heard kicking heroin is tough, if not near-impossible, but it has nothing on the teenage dream of fame and fortune that lives inside most musicians. Just when you think you've kicked it once and for all, gotten your life back together, and rebuilt all those bridges you once burned, a buddy asks you to fill in for his drummer for a few gigs or help them cut some new tunes in the studio...you know, what others might call "harmless fun"...and the next thing you know, you're rocking out to a packed house and dreaming of turning in your two-weeks notice at work, leaving a loving spouse behind to hold down the fort while you hop aboard some fucking pirate ship with a bunch of lunatics.

When is the dream over, you ask?

Never.

For better, but mostly worse, rock & roll is a young man's game; a life sentence that never ends well for those who give their heart to it, but, if I may interject, getting there is never, ever boring.



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