I wanted the title of this piece to be When You Crash. AND Burn. AND Spontaneously Combust. But that was way too long. So I settled for this. At least the flames part seems like it’s gonna get the point across.
I never really thought it would happen to me. Some of us, after many years in the musician’s life think we’ve become invincible. We plug along year after year in the spirit of crusading for our art. And we get really good at it. The years of hauling outrageous amounts of equipment everywhere you go, and reckless amounts of sleep, and getting back up again after rejection after rejection just feed a fire that always feels like its just about to go out, but somehow comes back roaring strong.
But sometimes – it doesn’t. You totally crash and burn. It can be after you’ve made the best demo of your life and people trash it. Or after the band you’ve been building for years gets taken down by one of those self-involved diva losers. Or that you’ve been slogging away in a day job for most of your life believing that someday you’ll catch a break and the reality hits that it’s not happening.
Or that you’ve built a pretty successful life doing what you love, and suddenly, it’s just all too much to humanly keep up with.
That was what happened to me. And as much as I try to stay inspirational around here, sometimes reality has a better story to tell so…here’s mine.
I crashed hard last month. Hard, fast, and without a lot of warning. Physically. Emotionally. Psychologically. Overnight I was a wreck and it was damn lucky I don’t own a gun.
It came after having made a very bad decision to join a band that, while well known to be carrying a lot of drama, also had some great gigs booked and some real potential for success. It was a hard decision. Because I honestly already didn’t have the time for it. But I wanted to get back onstage and play. And this band seemed, at first selling, worth the effort. So I took the gig. And started working.
Long story short, after 6 weeks of killing myself in the learning/memorization process, two strong rehearsals, and a photo shoot – four days before the first very well paying weekend of gigs – two members of the band quit and dismantled what had amounted to almost two months of constant work for me. We’ve all been there. They had their reasons. But besides being pissed, I was utterly exhausted. Because this wasn’t the first time it’s happened. It’s like a constant occurrence lately. Musicians can blame the economy, but I blame ourselves. We are just too easily played by the world. We should really start to get a clue. Which is a topic for a whole other blog.
I woke up the next morning pretty much unable to move. My whole body hurt. My mind had shut down. If I had any energy, I would have cried. But even that was too much to do. I barely moved that day. Somehow I got up and walked my dog. Meandered to the couch and laid there in a stupor most of the day. I wanted to die. Literally.
I spent the next two weeks doing nothing but eating Thai curry and drinking wine. I struggled to keep up with Live2Play work. Showed up to teach and mustered a smile while there. Picked up more Thai food on the way home and sat on the couch gorging on it and catching up on whole seasons of Master Chef and Hell’s Kitchen all night. I discovered some awful show on Hulu called The Lipstick Jungle and immersed myself daily in the lives of three insipid New Yorkian vamps. For the first time in my life, I wanted to be a normal female person worried about babies and fitting in and which gazillionaire I could marry, and the ever looming dilemma of what to wear to someone’s wedding.
I didn’t touch any of my instruments. I cancelled a charity gig. I bailed on a bunch of personal commitments. I stopped writing.
The moral of the story is failure doesn’t always come clothed in what it might seem to. It’s not all roses and champagne when you actually manage to get paid enough for your art to survive on it. The challenges keep coming. I would think that even the enormously famous successful artists out there would say the same thing. I wrote a blog once called “Do What You Love and Brace Yourself” and that couldn’t be more true when/if you actually start to succeed at it.
The most important thing to remember when you crash and burn is you need to back off. Do things you haven’t done in awhile. Take a walk. Sleep in. Meet friends for dinner. Play for fun. Write the most scathing status update you can imagine to let the world know just how fed up you are with the bullshit. And breathe.
If you’re lucky (and I was) in a few weeks, you’ll be back to normal. And it will have taught you something – mostly – where not to spend your time anymore. Maybe also what your real priorities in life should be. Who your friends are. And whether killing yourself for money or for other people’s goals or even – for your own dream – is truly worth giving up everything for.
The life of a musician isn’t any less about balance than it is for other people. It’s just harder to achieve. Thrown a world of blinding extremes, we are constantly expected to roll with all the punches and still create magic. And to a great extent – it’s the job, so you don’t have much of a choice but to do it.
But our survival also relies on becoming more aware of how life’s most basic necessities: food, rest, relaxation and health – can help strengthen our art and our community. After all – drama feeds on fatique. And vice versa.
The flames have been put out. For now. And I’ve got my drama retardant suit on for the rest of the year and for 2013.
Join me over here in Sanity Land when you can. Maybe it’s time the world started seeing the side of us with clothes that aren’t perpetually on fire.