Reflections on a year spent touring part 1
Let's start with the math. It's Aug 1, 2016. Since this time last year I played 160 shows. I put out a 14 track record Leaving To Returning, released a 3 song single Never Met a Girl I Didn't Love, wrote and recorded the 3 song single The New New Colossus literally in my van, attended and played at Folk Alliance International, attended and played at SXSW, recorded a new 12 song record to be released in October, put out the first single "Blackout," released The New New Colossus as a cassette EP on Infintesmal Records, secured management, built a new website (with the help of said management), wrote another dozen or so songs nobody has heard, became vegan, stayed sober (14 1/2 months and counting), saw over 100 movies in the theater, and still found time to jump off a ten foot cliff and swim in a quarry at 1:30 in the morning during an electrical storm with a beautiful woman. People only ever ask about the girls. Here's a secret, music is a business. If you're in it for the ass I wish you the best. I'm trying to make it to the cover of Tiger Beat magazine. My manager told me yesterday that's still on the table. Sometimes she tells me what I want to hear.
Oh to be as unique and privileged as me! Fairy tale rock n roll dream! Sure. I mean I own an electric guitar and an amplifier. But here's the truth. I left New York City September 1 last year with $337 dollars in my wallet and $76 in the bank. Most people would call that the "wrong amount of money" to set out with. But I stayed on the road for 11 months. I slept in the van, I slept on floors, I slept on filthy dirty couches, and the most insane motels you can imagine. I ate peanut butter, corn tortillas, and organic apples in my van 3 meals a day, day after day. I got a Starbucks gold card so I had access to internet and free coffee refills. I spent 8 or more hours at one of their locations more or less daily. I brushed my teeth in Walmart bathrooms. I stayed in houses that were so gross I wouldn't take a shower even if it had been a week. I played one show, then I played the next show, then I played the next show. Nothing else mattered. Sounds like a metal song. I met friends along the way who made things easier (like way fucking easier). But they don't come in until the next post. Keep your pants on (or maybe don't....)
I discovered that pursuit of a goal has to be absolute. That is if you actually intend to turn that goal into reality. I defined what "awesome" meant because that's what I wanted to be. It was clear it was gonna be hard. Really fucking hard. I asked myself these questions: How much will you give to get what you want out of life? How far will you go? How much rejection will you take? How big of a fool will you play? What are you willing to say goodbye to forever? Who will you walk away from when they are in the way of where you're headed? What price is too high to get what you want?
I didn't take a vow of poverty. Quite the contrary I look forward to living very comfortably. Did I mention how amazing my manager is? But I'm willing to be poor, for as long as it takes (even if that's forever). All the money I make is in service to my dream and making it a reality. All of it. I don't know any other way to behave anymore. I lived in New York City for a decade spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on rent, having a good time, and stuff. I used to have stuff. At one point I think I had four spatulas. You know what? You don't need four goddamn spatulas.
So there is a paring down period. What can you strip away? I asked. What don't you need. What is functional and valuable that you don't use? What can you get rid of that will hurt but not change your life? What are you holding onto that doesn't move you closer to your dream but you permit to define you? Those things had to go first. Not all of those things are tangible.
How do you survive on the road (or in service to any dream)? You close the back doors. All of them. You GO. You DON'T STOP. You permit nothing to get in your way. I've discovered as I've met more and more people that the behaviors I adopted to create the life I desire apply more or less universally. The answers are different if the goal is to be a CFO or to work for Doctors Without Borders. But the questions are the same.
I met a woman in Ohio who has her hand in a lot of pots. She does things that help people. She has some money. Unfortunately her idea of "people in need" is battered women, starving children, and refugees, not songwriters who can't afford to make a record a year without going into debt and who consider splurging getting a vegan burrito from Taco Bell. She said to me after we talked for a while, "So you gave up the American Dream to go after the American Dream." I thought that was pretty cool. Also, since it's not the 50s, I think that applies to most folks. Because it's not just the music business that is all fucked up. Whatever you want you have to GO GET IT. Not everyone's dream requires driving around the country and literally kicking up dirt, but you 're gonna eventually be kicking up dirt one way or another. The world has changed.
This post isn't about the world though. It's about me. It's about me being a completely normal guy from a middle class family trying to do what I define as extraordinary and refusing to fail. I'm not unique. I'm not special. I'm just old enough to have defined what I want. I'm also old enough to realize that death comes for us all. That doesn't scare me. It gets my ass out of bed every morning. It keeps me working like a crazy person because I only get one shot at this shit.
Being on the road you begin to realize how fragile life is. You see things, car crashes, dead bodies on the highway, broken people who probably weren't always broken. You see substance abuse, loneliness, and neglect. Sometimes you hear about babies being born and people being healed of diseases but more often you hear about miscarriages and parents passing. You see friends who have people very close to them die. Suddenly. You have friends die. Life is so short and fragile.
It took me a long goddamn time to figure out what I want out of it. And now I'm taking it. I'll say it again, I'm not special. None of us are. Also none of us have very long. Death wants us and it will win. So dream big. BIG. Once I figured out that I was my own worst enemy everything changed. I want to say that's true for all of us but maybe your husband is an enormous fucker who cheats on you with prostitutes or your mom's a bitch who always calls you fat. I don't know.
Anyway, I haven't got there yet but I'm way passed the beginning and I'm not looking back. I keep moving forward, writing songs, trying not to be too big of an asshole, while staying firmly planted in the present. It's about the journey. Most people who are around now won't be around at the end anyway. Remember the very end of Mockingjay? That shit was so stupid.