Ever have one of those moments when reality just sort of whaps you upside the head? I had one of those the other day. I was whapped upside the head kinda hard, too. Reality hurts – it’s kinda sharp and pointy…
Many of you know I have an inordinate fondness for the Chesterfield here in Sioux City (a club owned by a buddy of mine). Not only do I enjoy going down there to see the nifty bands play on weekends, but I kinda like hanging out there on Wednesday nights for the weekly Jam Sessions. In fact, my buddy (a former band-mate of mine from the Smokin’ Clams) who owns the place hired me to take photos of the Jam (you can see ’em here if you want).
The problem is that I still see myself as a musician – not an audience member or a photographer. Unfortunately, that is NOT the perception other people have of me…
You see, I haven’t played in an organized band in well over a year now. Many of the people who come to the Jam have never seen me play. In fact, I’m getting to the age and crustiness now that hardly anyone even remembers half the bands I’ve been in… (“Oh really,” says the disinterested youth to the aging hippie, “who did you play for?” The hippie swells in pride and answers, “Well, lemmesee… I played for Backroads, then I played with Stinger for a while, and Big Lizard, and Hippie Go Lucky… Why are your eyes glazing over like that?”)
Anyway, I’d usually show up at about eight-thirty or so every Wednesday so I could catch the tail end of the Smokin’ Clams’ gig (they host the show, so they get up and play until other musicians show up). I always figgered they’d invite me up to jam with them, seeing as how I played bass with ’em for years, but they never did. That’s okay – I’ll be here next week. They must not have seen me standing there in the back.
Eventually another group of musicians will get up and start jamming. I’ll start taking photos and mingling with the musicians in the crowd. “Are you guys gonna get up and play?” I’d ask. “Yep,” they replied, “as soon as we can find a bass player…” I guess they never saw me play before.
About midway through the night, each and every Wednesday, there will be a lull in the action for some reason (probably when the musicians with jobs head home for the night, and those without jobs are just showing up). Smokin’ Clam Tim will at that point invariable point to the Clams’ guitar player, me, and a random drummer and say, “why don’t you guys go do something?” So we’ll trot obediently up to the stage and commence to standing around saying “so, whaddaya wanna play?” to each other. I realized this last week that the guitarist has picked the same songs to jam with me every single time we’ve jammed together – “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent and Led Zeppelin’s version of “You Shook Me.” I guess I always thought he chose those songs because he knew I play them particularly well. But I was a little sad this week when I overhead him say to the drummer “…’cause he can’t remember anything else,” whilst looking my direction.
That’s when I realized that I’ve turned into an audience member. I’ve lost my touch. Not only am I not playing in a band, but I really haven’t practiced much, and it shows.
So, each and every Wednesday I’d walk into the Chesterfield, feeling proud of my past accomplishments, thinking people saw me as a bass player on hiatus, only to realize last week that they really only see me as the creepy old guy who keeps taking pictures all the time. They humor me and let me play once in a while, but it’s out of a sense of societal duty, not because they actually want me to play.
The question I’m facing (and think I’ve answered) is simply… Does that bother me?
For the last twenty years I’ve seen myself as a bass player, a musician. When people would ask me what I do, I’d invariably say, “I’m a bass player. Oh, and I’m the Art Director at Record Printing, too.” Am I ready to change my perceptions of self? Am I ready to give that part of me up?
I think so.
While one corner of society has slowly gone a different path, I’ve been fortunate enough to get involved in several organizations that give me a very deep sense of fulfillment and fellowship – notably the American Legion Riders (ALR). (I was talking to Dagmar the other day. “Would you quit the ALR to join a band?” she asked. I thought of standing in the spotlight again… Then I thought of bickering with soundmen, constantly hauling equipment, endless repetitive rehearsals, the inevitable painful breakup bands always suffer. “No,” I answered. “No. If I’m ever in a band again they’ll have to work around the ALR’s schedule.” The spotlight isn’t as large with the ALR, but it’s much more intense as we gather to honor a veteran at his funeral or meet a returning soldier at the airport. What we do isn’t seen by many people, but it means something to those who do see us. And the main reason I value the ALR so much is that every man and woman in the group would gladly ride a hundred miles to do what we do even if no one’s looking.
So if my priority is with the ALR instead of music, why should it bother me that people in the community no longer associate me with music? I don’t know, but now that I’ve thought it all through, I don’t think it will bother me. At least not quite as much. My identity is MY identity. It’s intact, and I know what it is. Doesn’t really matter what other people think I am…