If I remember right it was the summer of 1991. I stilled lived in my home town of Waimanalo, Hawaii. I was a junior in high school, and I was the singer of a local band. Like any young musician I dreamed of being a rock star but the reality of actually one day landing a record deal seemed a million miles away.
As beautiful as Hawaii is, it’s always been the kind of place for which the saying, “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down,” is pretty fitting. Let’s just say that there weren’t many of us walking around with long hair and leather jackets, especially back in 91, and finding band mates was not an easy task.
Musicians in short supply, I found myself in the center of a struggling music scene made up of guys that were for the most part, much older than I was. This meant that I was often volunteered up as a roadie, driver, or whatever else anyone needed in a number of the local bands who were much further along than I was. Truthfully I just wanted to hang out. I wanted to be in the clubs, hang out with guys that were more or less rock stars in my eyes, and just soak up the real world of music. I looked up to these guys and I felt indescribably cool just to be hanging out with them.
Well, on one of these excursions I was hanging out backstage for the Battle of the Bands at Hawaii’s state fair and waiting for my turn to help load gear up onto the stage. I wasn’t playing or anything, I was just there so the drummer of one of the bands could look famous enough to have some kid carry his gear. And once more, I was stoked to do it.
Some of you may be to young to remember her, others not so much, but country music legend Crystal Gayle happened to be the headlining act that night and she had just finished up her set. I was sitting on the tailgate of a friends truck when she happened to drive by, exiting the venue. As she drove past she saw me sitting there and waved before disappearing into a cloud of dust and break lights.
Now truth be told, I can’t really claim that I was the world’s biggest Crystal Gayle fan or anything. But isolated as I was as a teenager in Hawaii, that was the first real rock star (or country music star as it were), I had ever seen. And she had just waived at me. I kept my excitement to myself (already well versed in the too-cool-for-school facade), and just took the whole thing in.
I can remember sitting there in the backstage “musicians only” parking lot with my guitar player, and an absolutely awful cheeseburger in hand. I had seen behind the curtain of rock and roll. I was not just a guy who sang and played a guitar but I was a guy who now knew what it was to load gear, hang out backstage, and breath in the dust kicked up by Crystal Gayle’s car. Now I realize that this might sound so absolutely small-time in the grand scheme of things, but I was floored. I absolutely loved it.
Fast forward two decades, 3 record deals, several tours, Woodstock 99, and a million other musical experiences along the way and it’s still that feeling that I crave when I think about my life and career as a musician.
I don’t mean to sell the creative process short. Needless to say, it’s essential. For the listener it’s everything. But to some extent almost anyone can make music.
But when it comes to BEING a musician, it’s that muscle memory. It’s knowing the rest stops along the 5 freeway by memory because you’ve toured that stretch of the country so many times. It’s the familiar smell of stale beer, cleaning products and piss that hits you when you enter a bar in the afternoon before the air conditioners have been turned on. It’s the feeling of that hangover as you drive blurry eyed and dry mouthed to the next city on your list of tour dates. It’s hanging out in the laundromat across the street from the show while you wash your clothes and wait for the headliner to finish their set so you can get paid and split for the hotel. It’s the familiar weight of your guitar case in your hand. It’s the camaraderie you feel with your tour mates and the melancholy of knowing that despite promises to the contrary, you’re never going to keep in touch. And it’s a million other little subtle experiences that define what it means to be a musician. At least that’s the way it’s been for me. It’s not the guitar chords, or the number of albums sold, but rather it’s knowing those things first hand that makes me a musician, a veteran. And it’s knowing that you are one of a small percentage of the population to not only have seen, but to have lived behind the curtain that makes this whole crazy thing worth while.
But perhaps even more importantly than all of that, it’s YOU, the listener, that makes all of it matter.
I look forward to many more sometimes-hard, sometimes-ugly, always-worthwhile experiences along this musical journey. Here’s to hoping that you are part of that journey.
If you’d like to hear the most recent milestone of that journey, click here to listen to my most recent album, ‘Elephant Graveyard’.
Thank you for being a listener and for making it all matter.
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