watching from the bleachers



now playing: shawn colvin, “ricochet in time”



tomorrow is a sanctioned day off from work…last three day weekend of the year. well, last weekend of the year, for that matter.

i talked to blake for a while yesterday as he was driving home – he and i have this game we play where we leave messages on each others’ voicemail, assuming voices of people we both are most definitely not. his favorite seems to be my “bluesman”, which could in reality be pretty much any elderly black man with a history of drinking problems…every time i do it, i remember a train ride to chicago not too long ago when i was sitting a few seats away from an old man who grunted and groaned all night long – after a while, i started doing his noises every time he’d make one, and i had the people around me cracking up after a while. i’d like to say it got less annoying after it got dark and people started to drift off, but that wouldn’t be true.

every so often, i’ll share a thought with blake that gets a reaction along the lines of, “that’s your next song…”. and of course, that doesn’t happen – since i don’t really use that muscle anymore (which brings me to another conversation i had with pete errich of shame earlier in the week, but i can only cover one thought at a time in my old age…stand by).

yesterday, he’d asked me if i was playing for new years’ eve, and i said (with very little effort to hide my satisfaction in saying so) that no, i’d be sitting at home this new years’ eve – maybe watching regis sub for dick clark, but most likely not…maybe watching a movie, piddling around the house – i still have a couple of computers that i need to get off the table (to include my own, eventually), and i’ll probably work on clearing that up this weekend, plus cleaning up the studio and getting rid of the christmas debris that still permeates the house…he replied that he wasn’t really planning on doing anything, either, save for going to see his brother-in-law’s band at the north star tonight – he started down the “if you’re not doing anything” road, and i squelched him before he even got started – at which point he pointed out my obvious glee regarding having nothing to do this weekend…i said to him that i think that all of us are born with a certain number of counters on our personal abacus, and that we get a certain number of new years’ eves, a certain number of st. patrick’s days, a certain number of cinco de mayos, et cetera – and when they’re used up, none of this stuff holds any appeal anymore. personally, i’ve spent so many nights in bars that if i never went into another barroom in my life, i’d be perfectly content with such a fate. when i was younger, i saw it much differently than i do now…it felt good to be out and alive in the world, “observing the human condition” as it were, and swinging for the bleachers – i used to think that people who sat at home and did nothing were sad shells of their former selves, feigning contentment with their miserable, accepted lots in life and living empty excuses for an existence. i was convinced that they’d given up on life and were just making do with whatever came their way.

a little perspective certainly clears things up for a fella.

now, i think the 50-year-old guy sitting at the bar with the gold chains around his neck is the more pathetic of the two potential scenarios – the poor bastard pretending to be half his age while he ignores his receding hairline and expanding waistline, trying to be something he’s very obviously not (to everyone but himself, anyway)…

…and i’m pretty sure that i’ve used up an awful lot of the beads on my abacus, where the need to be “out” is concerned. it just holds no appeal whatsoever for me anymore. i actually remember thinking about this on christmas eve, when ragu and i did the coachlight show…looking around the room at some of the folks who’d come out for the show and wondering what it was that brought someone to a bar on christmas eve afternoon. given my druthers, i’d have probably still been at the mall watching the kids in line to see santa. much as i enjoy playing with ragu, i wasn’t gonna pass up the opportunity – but i could’ve certainly thought of some other things to do that day that didn’t have anything to do with being in a bar.

and oddly, i don’t feel like the pathetic picture i used to paint when i was lumping everyone who chose a more sedate path into the “boulevard of broken dreams” class…i feel like i fall a little further back up the chart – perhaps somewhere in the vicinity of the main character in jackson browne‘s “the pretender”:

i’m gonna rent myself a house in the shade of the freeway
i’m gonna get up every morning and go to work each day
and when the evening rolls around
i’ll go on home and lay my body down
and when the morning light comes streamin’ in
i’ll get up and do it again…amen

i want to know what became of the changes we waited for love to bring
were they only the fitful dreams of a greater awakening?
i’ve been aware of the time goin’ by
they say in the end, it’s the wink of an eye
but when that morning light comes streamin’ in
i’m gonna get up and do it again….

i remember him saying that one of the inspirations for that song was a studio guitarist he knew, fred tackett (who’s now a member of little feat). he said that while they were working on the record, fred would come in every day, plug in, and play the perfect part for whatever was on the burner for that day…”he was like an appliance”, he said…”you’d plug him in and out came the part.” he said that contemplating what fred’s life must’ve been like was what led him to consider the central character of the song…since he’d never really had that perspective on life.

when i was younger, i used to think that song was written from a sympathetic point of view – and certain parts of it still feel that way to me. but i think now that the song could just as easily be thought of as a celebration of survival in the face of what the world throws at you during the course of its massacre of our collective innocence…

…aaah, the laughter of the lovers as they run through the night
leaving nothing for the others but to choose off and fight
they tear at the world with all their might
while the ships bearing their dreams sail out of sight….

i’m gonna find myself a girl who can show me what laughter means
and we’ll fill in the missing colors in each other’s paint by number dreams
and then we’ll put our dark glasses on and we’ll make love until our strength is gone…

…i’m gonna be a happy idiot and struggle for the legal tender
while the ads take aim and lay their claim to the heart and soul of the spender
and believe in whatever may lie in those dreams that money can buy
y’know, true love could have been a contender….

my take on the song from my perspective now – as i stand on the precipice of waving goodbye to my thirties – is that each of us has a finite amount of impact upon whether or not we’re able to actually achieve whatever our personal dreams or goals might be, and that there’s a certain dignity in living well with the hand we’re dealt. “you live your life,”, he once said…“you don’t fit your life to some ideal…at least i don’t think so. i mean, if you can, then i’ve been burned…”

the bigger question for me has been one that wasn’t addressed at all in jackson’s song, but was asked in another song by a different artist…

what do you do when your dreams come true and they’re not quite like you planned?*

i’d probably phrase it somewhat differently…in my own situation, it’d be more akin to “what do you do when your dream reveals itself to be much less fulfilling and much more complex, frustrating, and burdensome that you ever thought it’d be in your wildest dreams?”

of course, that doesn’t really sing, though, does it?

when i was a kid, the dream was, essentially, to be dan fogelberg – to make an album every year or so, go on tour, live on a ranch in colorado and have a summer house in maine and do the “happily ever after” dance. as i grew up and actually started exploring the realities of the road and the changes in the music business, i altered my ideal considerably – instead of being dan, i wanted to be john gorka instead. john made records aimed at a specific, yet substantial audience that were well received by those sympathetic to the genre, he was able to tour regularly and play for people who came out specifically to see and hear him – not to watch the football game on the big screen or to partake of fifty cent drafts – and he was able to do so under the radar of the mainstream, and – one would assume – live a somewhat normal life in the process. i was a father now, after all, and the thought of occupying the guns ‘n roses echelon of the music business was both unappealing and completely unrealistic. even dan fogelberg himself no longer occupied this rung of the food chain, and was making some of the most awful music of his career at this particular point in time (and frankly, he’s never really recovered from it).

but as i played shows and made records and courted management and legal representation and so on and so forth, i found that life on this rung of the food chain was really no different than i would think it is further up…it’s just that the sharks down here wear different clothes. it’s no less competitive, no less frustrating, and no less soul-scarring.

so…when you arrive at a point in your life that finds you looking upon the only thing you’d ever really wanted to do with your life as something that’s no longer an option, what do you do then?

my personal answer has been to find a way somehow to distill the parts that i loved and separate them from the parts that i detested in a way that would allow me to continue to materially participate in my dream somehow without totally turning my back on it…so now i play as a sideman for other artists and in cover bands. and i don’t deal with managers or booking agents or venue owners or talent buyers or the bartender who books the bands or the pierced punk from campus activities…all of them are out of my personal loop now.

and, oddly enough, i’ve managed to reconnect with the things that i loved about doing this in the first place as a result.

the doubt that lingers as a result, though, is the question of whether or not that makes me a failure in the eyes of the world….”didn’t have what it took”. “couldn’t stick it out”.

“not good enough” doesn’t really enter the fray, because there’s no doubt (cocky as it may sound) that i was good enough to have gone whatever distance it might’ve taken for me to feel as though i was a success.

and, in this day and age, what is it exactly that defines “success” anyway? selling an assload of records or concert tickets? being on mtv? sleeping with paris hilton?

i’ve reached a point in my life where none of those things are worth the accompanying strife that they introduce into your life (not to mention the potential communicable diseases).

i play music because, simply put, i can’t conceive of a life that doesn’t involve playing music. i don’t know how not to. it’s part of what i do, of who i am. it’s as natural a part of my being as breathing in and out, and no more separable from my life.

so that’s why i do it. not because i crave the trappings that accompany what we consider to be success, but in spite of them.

pete called to ask me if i’d considered exploiting my publishing for the songs on our mutual angels and whatever other songs i had that were completed…he’d just gotten back from a co-writing session in new york with a lyricist and he was somewhat excited about what they’d managed to come up with, and he wanted to send me the songs to add parts to…and the subject came up of publishing.

pete loves me, and the feeling is mutual.  pete has managed, through some means i’m not privvy to, to actually hold on to the enthusiasm that you see in the eyes of the kid who just walked into the music store with his guitar in his hand, on his way upstairs for his lesson. he’s still very much hungry, but he also still has that twinkle in his eye that he had when i first met him, playing in a band with his friends from high school and working at a record store. i dig that about him.

but, the thing with pete is that he’s often trying to gently elbow me back into something that i’m perfectly content to watch from the sidelines…he seems to take it personally that OMA wasn’t nominated for a grammy, and he’s still out there championing the record whenever the opportunity presents itself….and i thank him for that, really – but i personally don’t have any more gas in that tank. i’m planning on making it available again through the website for anyone who wants a copy of it that doesn’t have one, but that’s really about it. if i were to decide to make another record – a concept that i’ve flirted with of late – it’ll be done in the same spirit. i’ll make the record, post most (if not all) of it on the website for people to download, and sell actual copies to anyone who wants the better-sounding end result, and that’ll be it. i won’t be driving to new york city on a tuesday night to play four songs at the living room for no money and getting back home just in time to shower and go to work anymore, ever. it didn’t work for that record, and i doubt it’ll work for any future records.

this isn’t to say that i’ll be dragged kicking and screaming against my will into any opportunity that might present itself, but i’m perfectly content to watch the battles in the trenches from my seat in the stands, when it comes to duking it out with everyone else whos’ fighting and clawing to get to the front lines.

there’s a lot more serenity up here than there is down there.

*from after the thrill has gone, words & music by don henley and glenn frey

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