For most of my career I’ve been a dedicated sideman, and that applies to both as a bassist and as a guitarist. I’ve worked in tons of bands in many different locations, doing my part for the group and serving the interests of the music we’ve been playing. Occasionally I’ve had the opportunity to stretch, and regardless of the genre I’ve made opportunities to have my moments in the spotlight, but for the most part I’ve played the role of the supporting musician and I’ve played it well. I have occasionally spent time pursuing solo gigs, where I am the sole focus, but haven’t piloted my own band project and the solo projects have always ended up being side projects rather than my main focus.
I did this initially because I was trying to break into scenes in different locations, and then for years sold myself short on my abilities for various reasons. I also have an innate desire to not be in charge, something I picked up an aversion to in the military many years ago. I do well following direction; give me a job and I’ll do it, so that aspect has always been pretty straight-forward and easy. I learned quite a bit through working this way over the years and I’ve become quite a good utility musician. This pattern has also allowed me to spend periods immersed in different types of music, which I also respond well to. It has kept things fresh and provided variety, which I need.
However, there are aspects to this approach which have had negative consequences in some ways. For one, I haven’t found that career arc that most people want to see. My track has been one band after another, some better than others, and some worse, but with no consistent climb. For another, when each band runs its course and inevitably closes shop, I’m left with a hole to fill. There’s no carryover thread that links things together, nor long term goals that are being met, aside from filling a calendar and then when the band is gone, so is the calendar. This is problematic. I’ve also become the chameleon when it comes to music. I function as each specific band needs me to which leads to a certain element of an identity crisis. There’s that question that some actors end up hitting hard, particularly those who ascribe to method acting, becoming the role. After doing this constantly, what happens to your own identity? Do you even have one left after adopting so many others?
After years of working in this business and constantly molding myself into what I have perceived as what others needed and wanted me to be, I am left with that ultimate question of what do I want. What do I want to do that is going to be the element of change that shifts my career into that arc that I define and pursue; what is that something that is going to provide the thread from this point on that is driven by me? We all hear people discussing the concept of reinvention, and we’ve all seen so-called reinventions appear that are essentially simply rebranding and slightly tweaking an existing entity that really ends up being the same thing it was before, to paraphrase Pete Townsend and The Who, “here’s the new boss, same as the old boss.” I don’t want to keep going down that road; there’s nothing fresh there.
The time has definitely come for my paradigm to shift and for that to happen requires that I cease operating under the business as usual stencil. When we get to the point where we’re starting to perceive the light at the end of the tunnel, we have to take stock of where we’ve been and what we’ve accomplished, and then assess that based on what our dreams were. If we are content with that state, then the light at the end is something we’d rather avoid, but at least we can feel like we’ve accomplished most of what we wanted to during our stay on this plane. This past summer the end of the tunnel appeared to be quite close by, and I must say that I found my tally to be, shall I say, quite dissatisfying. Thankfully, I’ve learned that the tunnel is still quite potentially long, but the period of assessment has given me pause. I have much that I still want to accomplish as a musician, a writer, and as a family man. In order to do so means that I have to take the driver’s seat now, not some time in the abstract future. Yes Mr. Dylan, “these times, they are a changing.”