Here I am sitting in an auto body shop on Mallory Ave. All I wanted was an oil change but I got suckered into the $200 trans fluid extravaganza, naturally. They have a way, these auto guys. Very cunning. I can’t say no! Why? Because I am afraid. They smell me, I know it. Two reasons really: 1) I don’t want to crash and die and 2) I don’t want to buy a new car.
This girl behind the counter, she’s really something. Knows her stuff. Young thing, probably 23 or 24 years old. Some guy comes in grouching about his tires and how bad the shop screwed them up. She lays into him like a drill press! Torrent of know-how, talking lugs and nuts, bolts stripping and whatall might have caused the problem and take a seat please sir, we’ll have someone double check the work. And keep your pants on!
It’s good to get out and do things. Errands, you know? They allow you to save yourself, if only momentarily. Else, you’re liable to sit around and start thinking about your purpose in life or some other silly rubbish. Sends a goddam shudder up my spine. There’s a slam dunk competition on TV. Sponsored by Powerade. A girl just sunk a three. Nothing but net!
Remember that your life is a story. It has a beginning, middle, and end. That’s why humans are drawn to stories. Our lives are finite. When you panic or get frustrated about something, take a step back and just remember it’s part of a bigger book. Whatever scene is in front of you, put a mental picture frame around it, like you’re watching a movie. And you’re a character. The main character, in fact. This works for happy things too, great successes, moments where you feel alive or grateful. They’re just scenes. And if you think of them as scenes, it adds a dash of magic to your life.
After a while, there’s no sense in delaying a decision any longer. The only thing that matters is that you choose a path, and which one you choose doesn’t matter. The fact that you’ve gotten this far and remain at an impasse means you’ve eliminated anything that could be truly disastrous. You’ve left yourself with only good optoins. Now you must choose. But don’t flip a coin. Make the choice with your heart, in a moment when are feeling favorable toward one side or the other. Then just commit and refuse to slip back to ever reconsidering the path you have decided against.
Whatever needs to get done now, do it. Invest yourself into it completely. Dive in to each task with all the passion, conviction, and humanity that you would a live performance. There’s the old saying, any job worth doing is worth doing well. Put your mind to the thing. There is joy in work if you can bring yourself to it fully.
It’s lazy. And often it means that you’re not really listening hard enough. The problem with this is twofold. Not only is it disrespectful to the person speaking to you (and they will notice, trust me), but it’s also a disservice to yourself. Because you wind up just going along with things you don’t really agree with. You forfeit the chance to think for yourself. And often you’ll look back and realize that you’ve agreed to things that are not in your best interest, or undercut your work, or that you don’t truly understand. Better to lock in and engage. Listen hard enough to form a real thought you can articulate with words. Then you can be sure of what you’re agreeing to and why you’re agreeing to it.
You can’t fake it. You can’t pretend. It doesn’t work. When you’re singing, or writing, or playing you need to live every single note. That’s what gives it its value. There is so much meaningless stuff out there. So much that is glossy and fake. So much that is designed to deceive you.
To avoid contribuing to that noise, mean every word you sing. Every single one. It’s the same as having integrity when you speak to someone else. You have to mean the things you say if you want your work and your contribution to be worth anything to others. Stop simply singing pitches. Live the notes. Like Louis Armstrong said, “If you don’t live it, it wont’ come out your horn.” In this way, you need to become the song. You put everything you have, the whole of your experience as a human being, into it and then it becomes a gift for the audience. It becomes something you are discovering together, like the connection between a writer a reader. In this way, music your music will become a bridge that can connect people.
It’s an old tripe. Good artists borrow, great artists steal. But there’s more to it than that. You’re moving into a realm now where there is a passing down of ideas. Lyrical themes, chord structures, melodies, patterns, styles. It’s all part of a grand tradition. Think about the blues. It’s just 3 chords. The same 3 chords. Everybody is playing the same 3 chords from Howlin’ Wolf to BB King To Eric Clapton. What it boils down to is style. How will you personally express those time-weathered ideas? Use them, distort them, rearrange them, mutilate them, or just plain interpret them with your own unique ability and perspective. It’s like Dylan said, the old songs give you the code for everything that’s fair game, and everything that belongs to everyone.
It’s okay to say “I could never repay you for all you’ve done for me.” That takes grace and courage. You can’t be a leech or a bloodsucker. But you also can’t tow around a whole bunch of needless guilt or tiresome I.O.U.s you’re never going to make good on. Not because you don’t want to or you can’t, but because you just may never get the opportunity. Now, paying it forward is a different story. That’s how you make good on all your debts. You give what you can. You help others to the best of your ability. Show people what you know. Guide younger folks who can learn something from you. Do the things that others have done for you without expectation.
Why waste time trying to curry favor from people who do not have your best interest in mind? In my experience, believers may be few and far between but they are the people you need to surround yourself with. Don’t approach some critic or naysayer or somebody who you suspect has secret desires for your failure and try to elicit encouragement, help or praise. Deal directly with the people who you know understand what you’re doing and where you’re headed. There will be plenty of detractors and still more plenty of fairweather friends. Not to mention opponents disguised as allies. Share the work, but don’t ask for permission. Don’t ask for approval. The only person who needs to approve your work is you.