It's easy to sit around and analyze your "career". Things you wished were happening, the recognition you seek. Conquering the whole music structure. It's an inverted world, this music thing. There are a lot of non-realities that we base our aspirations on, and that paper-thin layer becomes tougher and tougher to balance your goals on.
So why am I bothering with this? Well, I just spent a week inside the ruby red walls of the Velvet Elk Studio, working with a young band of 17-year olds. These were not only good kids, but genuinely talented in a way that I just don't think I was at that age. Just took me a bit longer to reach my stride. But the energy they infused into the Velvet Elk was infectious. My friend Chris Keup and I, while feeling all of our "aging rocker" years around these guys, also felt confident in our place and our history with music. These kids respected that and it was a communal experience. The result was a recording that sizzles with all the raw energy that only these still-to-young-to-drink folk can do. The music reeks of piss and vinegar, and I'd be shocked (ok, maybe not shocked, as this IS the music biz after all) if I won't be paying to see them on some arena tour soon.
That all being said, they are also 17. And extremely antsy for immediate success. Hell, I'm in my 30's and STILL saying to myself that "this will be the year!" My friend Allen and I make it an unacknowledged tradition to call each other up in the first week of the year and let it be known to each other that "this will be the year we make it!" It's sort of that thing where we laugh at ourselves but silently pray that it will actually be the reality. Of course, I fully expect to count down the days until we utter the rallying cry to each other again the following year.
And why is that? Because the success IS happening. It's just at a gradual and rolling pace. One that I realize is exactly what works for someone like me. I seem to magnetically shy away success or "selling myself", yet here I am with my Velvet Elk Studios in the woods. A dream I've had most of my life. It exists. And it didn't pop up in one evening. It grew over 20 years. Just....arrived. I simply found myself surrounded by it. And when one of these guys notes that, "Dude! You're livin the dream!", well-it's hard to think otherwise. I am living the dream. I'm playing and recording music for a living. And where it would be incredible for hundreds of people to show up at my gigs, or buy tons of my records. And whereas I still strive for that. I try and do it with the knowledge that it's all icing on the cake. You don't know that at 17. But it's the truth.
So with all the talk this week of "big record deals", tours, girls, and the "f@*k yous!" that would accompany said record deal, we managed to have a blast. A truly communal music experience with no attitude or pre-conceived notions. Chris and I don't know any better than these kids about whats cool or sounds cool or is a hit or should be a hit or how to make it sound like a hit. We all only knew that what we were creating made us smile. And in that, we were all the same age. Wide-eyed and naive.
So I pulled out my tried and true infamous Mom quote from my teenage years. You see, there really wasn't a time I can remember in my life where I didn't know I would do music. As the cover of my new album attests, I was "working on the band" from the get go! And by 15 I was already beginning to state that "this will be the year I make it big!" I remember, at 19 years young, distinctly comiserating with my best friend and bandmate at the time that "if we don't make it before we are twenty, it's over!" I love that. I love that I had a point of view in my life where my focus was so singular so as to make me believe my life was "over" if I wasn't the new Bono by age 20. I can see that in these guys a little as well. Oh yeah, so back to my mom...
I would share with her in my early anxieties of making it big. It was always the same conversation, and she would entertain that conversation every time without hesitation. She was always, and still is, so unconditionally supportive. But one of these times, as she's listening to my "struggles", she says that I should always remember that "it's the journey, and not the destination, that is most important.
Ok, a little new-agey, but damn if I don't remind myself of that all the time. And it felt right to bring it up to these guys. And with the studio full of activty these past few weeks, and all the music being created, and all the fancy and vintage lights blinking their approval (or occassional disapproval!), and all the speakers crackling to hold their own against our sonic demands, I was reminded that I had indeed "made it." And I'm still making it. I know that Allen and I will restate our tradition next January. I suppose it's ingrained in the code of our long term friendship. But I'm starting to believe there is a confidence and unacknowledged gratification between us that the making it part is happening. And our annual rite of passage serves to remind each other of that. Life moves too fast to not revel in the tiny successes and victories, because the destinatiion is forever changing, but the journey remains in place.
Or something like that.