Last night as I was sleeping on the pull out sofa bed at my in-laws’ I dreamed I was playing guitar with Elton John and when he left the stage it became an open mic night. Did I mention it was a dream, heh, heh? We didn’t have a plan on what to play; after all what do you play after doing a set with Elton John? So we went into a basic blues shuffle and I started to take a solo but the neck on the Strat I was playing felt like there was something wrong. At that point I awoke to find my left hand wrapped around the metal tube that made the frame of the bed, trying to form a bar chord. No wonder the “Strat” neck felt wrong! Occasionally, like last night, I get lucky in my dreamscapes and get to play with some great folks. Another night I dreamed that I was sitting on the floor playing with Emmy Lou Harris and Ricky Skaggs. These are the type of dreams that I don’t want to wake up from, but when I do I count myself lucky to have had the dream for a couple of reasons. First, they’re really cool dreams, and second because they remind me of the level that I really want to perform on; they are literally my dream playing positions and inevitably show the variety of my musical interests in the process.
Last night’s dream was unique in that I was playing in two very different situations, one of which was high function pro level and the other was very much local get together and see what happens. It was an odd juxtaposition because they were drastically different on so many levels, but it was a dream that within itself was portraying a dream versus reality situation. What I want, vs. what I get. For most of us our realities don’t match our dreams so we find a way to accept our lots and move on with them. Others actually get to live their dreams, but who knows, maybe they dream about having a week where they can simply hang at home and not have to hop on a jet to the next venue. All I know is I’d like to have that opportunity on a regular basis at some point before I shuffle off this mortal coil to paraphrase the bard.
When our dreams and our realities are out of phase and we have the opportunity to reflect on this disconnect we can either take the opportunity to try to figure out what is standing in the way and come up with a plan to get us closer to those dreams, or we can settle into acceptance of our lot in life and try to be content with it. A third possibility, of course, is to find the disparity between the two to be too great to overcome and too depressing to deal with, so we quit. This third option is clearly the most self-defeating because in allowing this perspective to cloud our minds we find ourselves losing something that has been a very important part of our lives. Yet another option is to do everything in our power to perform at the level we desire to, whether we are on the national stage or in a local corner pub. In many ways this is what separates the true pros from the amateurs. I once heard an interview with Huey Lewis where he stated that all he ever wanted to do was sing and play his harmonica, whether he “made it” or not. Obviously he made it to the international star level, but what drove him there was his love for what he did as much as anything else. He was committed to his art and craft, and was going to pursue it regardless of where that pursuit led him.
I truly believe that if we took a survey of most of the folks my generation considers as our idols (I was born in 1962), most of them were in it for the long haul whether fame came or went. In fact for a large percentage of them fame was fleeting. They were big names for awhile but were mostly forgotten yet most of them continued regardless, some hoping for the next big hit, while others kept going simply because that’s what they did and how they identified themselves. Some did go on and pursue alternative careers, but they were probably the minority. There is much that goes into becoming a famous musician, not the least of which is a hefty dose of luck. Sometimes musical skill wasn’t even part of the equation but the artist had something to offer that appealed to a group of listeners at the right place and time to elevate them to idol status. Regardless, most of them continued and many grew throughout their careers. If we look at The Who’s music from when they started and compare it to their peak performance levels there is no argument that they continued to push their boundaries throughout their careers as a group and as individuals.
Not all of us are going to become household names, in fact a very small percentage of musicians or performers of any kind do. If fame is what drives us to be musicians then we’re dealing with a very shallow motivator that will eventually in all likelihood break down and leave us lost along the roadway. Music itself, a love of performance, and the desire to make the best music we can make are motivators that can take us the long distance of our lifetimes regardless of what fame we might garner along the way. Love of the medium and the journey itself is where we should find our rewards, regardless of whether we’re actually making a living at it or not, and surrounds ourselves with the best like minded people we can work with does a lot to make that a reality for ourselves and move us toward our ultimate goals one way or another.