Where I’m at: letting go of a dream

‘You can’t do three things.’ That’s what a colleague and friend told me years ago. We were in the USA, on a tour bus. What was the context? Over-stretching yourself. Too many fingers in too many pies. At the time I was a guitar technician for a rock band, and I enjoyed the job. It was pretty nuts, a twenty-something making good money, set loose on the world in a rock n roll environment. I was also in a band. And I had also just met someone who I was totally into.

A band, a girlfriend, and a highly demanding career. That triple combo requires a hell of a lot of attention and commitment. That girlfriend is long out of the picture, but I am since married, and I’m a dad, which is a pretty demanding personal life. And until relatively recently, I was still managing that career, AND chasing the musical dream, AND writing books. Yikes. You can’t do three things. Eventually something has to go. Eventually you realise your time is worthy of prioritisation, and that requires a bit of thought.

Introspection and reflection are both good and bad. Being self-aware and mindful of where you’ve been is certainly better than being clueless about who you are and where you’re going. But then, overfamiliarity and overthinking can breed contempt for yourself. Among all the reflection, there remains the unbreakable mantra: You can’t do three things. Christ, I’ll be 48 in a few weeks. That’s like 50! What the hell am I doing? What have I done?

As of right now, I’ve all but officially retired from rock n roll on the road, and I’m teetering on quitting musical pursuits entirely. I play guitar nearly every day anyway – other people’s guitars. I fix them for a living, and it pays the bills. The best thing is, I get to go home every night. You know, like a boring, middle-aged man.

Now tell me this: what’s the shelf life of dreams? I’ve been banging away on a guitar and writing songs since I was 16, and the older I get, the more I think ‘This just isn’t happening.’ It begins to feel like a waste of time. I’ve made tons of money working for bands, but never profited from being in one. Over the past several years I’ve been asking myself, ’What is this dream worth?’

I’ve been in bands with people who’ve gone on to do more than I ever did, musically. That’s a pretty big sign right there. Oh, and I’m a terrible singer. I’ve never even bothered to arrange singing lessons. I pretty much taught myself guitar, and probably picked up every bad habit you can think of. I haven’t taken any musical craft properly serious, beyond buying decent equipment. And now it’s like I’ve woken up and realised that I’ve been stuck in one mode, while my contemporaries have expanded their musical horizons. If I had taken music more seriously, and worked a little harder, I could’ve made it a success. Couldn’t I?

Success has remained elusive. And right now I’m not that bothered. And that’s the thing. I was never really, truly bothered. I may have appeared passionate, and taken artistic tantrums, but that was probably more of a general ego thing. I think I only wanted to succeed in music to be popular. I’ve always been envious of talented players who lose themselves in music. I can’t do it. My mind wanders, I become self-aware, and suddenly I find myself making mistakes. But you know what? Screw it. It’s probably just not meant to be. At least I’ve learnt something.

One of the many valuable lessons I’ve picked up in my career is that success in music involves being crammed into vans, planes, and buses, spending a lot of time with some people you wouldn’t choose as friends. Some are abusive, both psychologically and physically. Some are creeps, some are far too needy, and some just generally get under your skin. Why… why, as a middle-aged man, would I continue to pursue a dream that leads to such horrors? I am soooo over that. Hell is most certainly other people.

All by myself, during the Spring 2020 lockdown, I recorded, mixed, and mastered an album, and it nearly drove me potty. Worst is, I derive almost no satisfaction from its completion. I tell people I hate it. I’m not even sure that’s a lie. If going partly mad is something every musician is supposed to go through, you can keep it. Lesson: Hell is most certainly doing everything alone.

Unhappiness in the job you have is almost excuseable. You need to pay the bills. But driving yourself mad for the job you want is insane. Totally unhealthy. Realising this, my finger now hovers over the QUIT MUSIC FOR ALL TIME button.

So let’s say I quit music forever – should I get rid of all my gear? Guitars, pedals, speakers, amps, microphones… What’s the point in hanging on to stuff that doesn’t serve me purpose, and scarcely brings me joy? Some might say Ah, you never know – one day you might just need it. I’ve been telling myself that for years, and STILL haven’t taken one singing lesson, or even learnt to play other people’s songs. I’m clearly not making the effort. I think I’m honest and old enough to say that music (at least in the way I’ve pursued it) isn’t a genuine passion – it just doesn’t work for me.

So what DOES bring me joy? Right now it’s motorcycles. Okay, it was a childhood dream to own a bike, and maybe dreams have a shelf life, but I never pursued motorbikes until I reached 45, and both my parents were gone. Mum would’ve been horrified, and Dad… actually, it’s hard to know what Dad would’ve thought in his later years. Anyway, it was a childhood dream, but I left it on the back burner, so now it feels almost brand new – unlike music, which has obviously driven me a little bonkers. Even after I ditched the bike in an accident (my own fault) and nearly broke my damn leg, I love riding, and want to get better at it.

Biking is my money-pit hobby, and I’m fully aware I’ll never see any financial return or fame out of it. It’s quite unlike my quietly obsessive musical pursuit, believing one day I’d hit pay dirt and be a rock star. Yuck. Two very wrong reasons. Biking is so much better for me (despite my accident!). I love being out in the air on my stupid metal pony. The satisfaction is immense, immediate, and totally worth the time and money.

I feel now that I’m more interested in becoming a better rider than I was ever interested in being a better guitarist or singer. Despite all the writing, rehearsing and preparation in my band years, often on stage or in a studio I felt like I was winging it, nervous, flying by the seat of my pants, unprepared, putting on a brave face. Ultimately I think my ego let me and my bandmates down.

It feels a little uncomfortable to say these things, and for all I know, it could upset some people I’ve let down, but the past is the past. And you can’t do three things. So says the family man who runs his own business, tinkers endlessly with his motorcycle, and still writes the odd book. Wink wink.

So how about you? Have you recently realised that a long-term pursuit just wasn’t happening for you? Leave a comment, why not.

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