No Backup Plan

I have this thing, when I’m feeling very down on myself and pessimistic about human nature, where I really dig deep into the darkness. I watch hardcore true crime shows or visit websites that elaborate on the worst serial killers or Nazi concentration camps.

I’ll surf for hours, and I’m glossing over shit about, like, the Green River killer or even Manson. I’m talkin’ David Parker Ray. If you’re not familiar with this monster, you’d be doing yourself a favor by not Googling him and getting that shit in your head. He had a trailer in Elephant Butte, NM, he called his toy box, where he did things to women that will make your blood freeze in your veins. Fifty Shades of Grey, this guy called date night with his girlfriend, whom he presumably liked. She helped out in the trailer.

I skip Himmler and go straight to Mengele.

I reach saturation and emerge from this house of horrors viscerally aware that my life could be much, much worse. I could have it worse, I could BE worse. Hey, for some people it’s starving African children or Afghan refugees or lab animal testing, what can I tell you? That’s what works for me.

And then, confident that I’m not a terrible person, not quite the loser I felt like, I get back to work.

What’s much, much harder to find is what I guess I’d call “pro-active inspiration”. There’s a new start-up every week, seems like, revving up their PR machine with rhetoric, promising a future for the desperate. I find it incredible that there seems to be no end to the ways people find to get blood from stones. The most desperate of the stones being musicians, photographers, even reporters. I may be self-absorbed, but I’m not about to argue with a guy who enrolled at NMSU at 13 years old.

When I was 13, all I wanted was to hang out with musicians and try to be a competent one, which I did for 20 years before I realized that I’d achieved that but was barely making the living my parents assured me I would with my priceless college degree.

Let’s pause now before I give you the impression that I’m a whiny little bitch. Oh, I’ve had my days. I’ve had some days of modest, honest success as a sideman and bandleader that I wasn’t grateful enough for as I was living them, and many more days where I was beaten and bitter, righteously indignant that I was entitled to more for the dues I paid.

I took a look in the mirror. I saw a competent drummer with incredible peers to further reflect his competency. He didn’t have a clue how to make a career out of a vocation. Tom Tedrahn, the man I wanted to be when I was 13, thought it was hubris to think of music as a career. He thought “vocation” was a more realistic description. That just made me want it more.

I joined ASCAP. I incorporated my own label, against the advice of my attorney. I wanted to be a CAREER PROFESSIONAL. I paid thousands to attend  indie music business seminars and the Future of Music Coalition “summits” (oh, brother) and join the explosion of “services” that would assure my success in the brave new world the internet promised.

I learned more fucking bullshit buzzwords than I’ll ever be able to forget. “Monetize”: Oh, BROTHER. One of the most fundamental qualities of a cult is the bullshit vocabulary. Your secret language, so you know you’re talking to the real dudes.

Did I learn about the industry? You bet I did. I’m just sorry it took me the money and years it did to realize that the industry is rife with musicians who have turned their backs on music. She doesn’t like that. The most important lesson I learned – and it took me another ten years and essentially starting completely over with a different instrument and a different focus – is this:

People don’t respond well to negative emotions like guilt. “You gotta show up to this gig or we’ll lose it!” I emailed that once. It was true. And they didn’t come, and we lost the gig we had for almost two years, and when they did come to future gigs, they all said “ohhh, I miss that gig!” Oh GAWD I wanted to slap them so hard, but of course that wouldn’t have inspired them to come to more gigs.

“Be positive!” all the music blogs say. “A level playing field at last!” the aggregators claim. Bullshit. There are only two people in this world that matter to music: The musician (songwriter, performer, and sidemen) and the listener. Yes, sound engineers have to come in there, but I say they are a part of the band – when they aren’t industry douchebags charging for their name instead of their talent.

Okay.

Who are all the people who are gonna hear the drummer-turned-singer/songwriter-piano player? I’m a fucking WEIRDO. I know this. I’m getting weirder by the DAY, and I have no regrets about that. You know what? I have no regrets at all. If I had a backup plan, I’d probably be doing that by now. I don’t have a backup plan.

There is a real “proactive inspiration” service. It’s a street team of people, genuine individuals who don’t even have to argue abut whether they’re just getting old or whatever. Oh, sure, maybe they watch Idol or whatever – my wife watched Idol, and even kicked it for a while after I insisted it was the industry spitting in the face of every consumer – but maybe, just maybe (definitely, in the case of my wife), when they get the opportunity to hear something sincere, they’d skip that night of TV for something REAL.

A handful of them backed my Kickstarter project. Hundreds of them have tuned into my Tuesday simulcast. Hundreds of people like YOU. I’m nobody, but you tune in. You’ve bought downloads and albums. It’s not THEM, I realize today. It’s you, and only you, truly. Not just you alone, sure, but just a tiny handful of people like you, that you never even thought there could be, none of them thought you were there either. Just like me. And I want you to know that I love you, and would do anything for you to earn your continued loyalty.

I’m gonna get WEIRDER. I know this. I’m gonna write songs for you, for US, hundreds more.

“I believe whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you stranger”

One thought on “No Backup Plan

  1. Went through it with podcasting and social networking and blogging… amazing how it’s the same circle of experts suckering people into the latest new big-thing tent and hawking their For Dummies book before you notice there’s nothing but elephant crap and passed-out clowns. And sure enough, the snake-oil peddlers are convincing their fanbase to pound in the stakes for their next big-thing tent.

    I’d rather watch it all blow away in the dust than be someone I’m not just to “earn” a… download? Sale? Hit/ Like/ +1?

    Empty clicks, all of it. What matters is when you move the spirit, make a difference, and they let you know from the heart.

    I fear the day when the few remaining big-name mavericks like Ze Frank finally sell out and don’t bite that Corporate Mass Culture hand that feeds them.

    -ls/cm

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