Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

I meant to write something lighthearted this month. Something about my hobbies, my D&D campaign, my celebrity toenail collection maybe. Something fun and engaging and witty and fluffy.

Problem is, I’m not lighthearted right now.

This job has some amazing upsides; the chance to stand on a stage and make music for dear friends and congenial strangers, the chance to sing things in my heart that ordinary words can’t adequately convey. Or the moments when everything just comes together perfectly, when phones get laid down and all eyes turn towards the stage. Sharing that stage with two brilliant musicians and beloved friends. The times in rehearsal when we’re just kinda noodling around one minute, and all of a sudden magic happens, and we all just click into the groove together… Nothing else I’ve ever done in my life affords me those moments. They’re transcendent. And sometimes I catch a glimpse of someone in the audience experiencing some of those same things, and knowing that I helped give that to them, just…wow.

I love being a musician. I live for those moments. They sustain me. They keep me sane. I’ve wanted to be a musician longer than I’ve wanted to be anything else in my life.

But man, sometimes this job is a motherfucker.

There’s a lot going on behind the curtain. It’s a business, after all. We don’t talk a lot about it, most people don’t really want to know anyway. They’re happy interacting with our on-stage personas, and that’s absolutely fine. But there’s a LOT, folks. Everything from bills that need paying, venues that don’t yet realize that they need our services, new material to prepare, plans to make that will (hopefully) propel us into the future we want. Who gets paid how much at each gig? Who’s writing the setlist this week? Who’s watching the inbox? Where are we recording the next album? Who’s handling promotional stuff on social media? Who’s updating the website? The list goes on for days and days. We have some of the most amazing support staff in the world and I don’t know how we could possibly function without them, but the bulk of the work is still on our shoulders.

We rely on each other, my bandmates and I, to get all the things done. We try to divvy up tasks and duties according to preferences and proclivities, which just seems sensible; I would no more ask Erin to mix the audio on our latest video than she would ask me to untangle a glitch in the code on the website. We each have our own jobs to do, need to do, in order to keep things running. You know, just like every other business.

Except it isn’t just like every other business. The specific nature of what we do and how we do it requires things most other professions don’t. Things like actual emotional connections between the three of us. It’s an emotional business, after all; venues hire us and fans come to see us and strangers notice us because we make them feel things. So we have to be more than coworkers, more than friends, even. We have to be a family. I’m sure there are other musicians, other bands, who would strenuously disagree. That’s cool, but this is how *I* know how to do this job, to be what I am. I believe my bandmates feel the same way. 

A person’s family of origin is a crapshoot. When we’re born, we have no way of knowing (or controlling) who and what our family is going to be like. Could be Mike and Carol Brady, could be Al and Peggy Bundy. (Hell, it could even be Ted Bundy and…well, we don’t ever talk about Mom, in that case.)We learn what we can, make the best of what we must, and (hopefully) grow into some semblance of adulthood. And we continue to form close connections, most of us. Some start a family of their own, with 2.6 fences and the white picket kids. Others join or build communities that meet that need for connection. Some do both, and BOY are they busy.

Families are made of human beings, though. Brilliant and beautiful and deeply, deeply flawed human beings. And human beings, often with the best of intentions, let each other down. Hurt each other. Put their fears before family. It happens. It happens more often in a family than in any other kind of situation precisely because we DO make the choice to love, to let other humans into who we are. We’re more vulnerable to each other, so there are more and greater opportunities to hurt each other. 

I prefer to avoid conflict where possible. Most people do it wrong, needing to be right rather than identifying and fixing the problem. I’d much prefer a calm and coherent conversation, long before a problem becomes dire or unmanageable. And that sounds all smart and mature and maybe even a little noble, right? Hooray for me. But what it really means is that I’ll sometimes go to great lengths, over long periods of time, to avoid conflict with my loved ones. I’ll have that calm and coherent conversation when I can, and then pat myself on the back and assume that the problem is in fact solved. Even in the face of evidence to the contrary. And resentments build over time, and take up residence in my head. Occasionally I’m able to shake it off and move on. Other times, I’ll revisit the conversation, perhaps a little less calmly, and try to get shit done. And sometimes, a lot of the time I’m sad to say, I’ll let those resentments pile up. And the pile grows, and festers. And that, dear reader, leads me nowhere that I want to go.

Stuff like that can tear a family apart.

I don’t care to go into details here, they really aren’t relevant to anyone but Us, (and perhaps only to me) but I’m in a really rough place right now. With the band, with my family, with myself. And as I’ve been writing this, I’ve realized that I have, to some extent, been complicit in the problems that put me here. I don’t know how I’m going to get out of this place; I’m not sure I can. I’m hurt, and I’m angry, and I’m scared, and I’m so very tired.

Too long, didn’t read? I’ll boil it down for you, giving you the same advice I give to every newborn my dear friends and family place in my arms for the first time:

Don’t be like me.

3 thoughts on “Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

  1. Pam Greenway

    You are one of the people dearest to my heart and I think that more people could stand to be like you.

  2. Dorrie

    I have known you a long time and have seen you make amazing progress in yourself and I am so fucking proud of you for it and for being open about your road and struggles like this. You have been a Champion for my mental health and so many others, and seeing you advocate for your own mental health and take care of YOU warms me from the bottom of my heart and…..(insert your favorite joke here ).


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