I had dinner last night with a friend after picking up the green sparkle Ludwigs, finally. We talked about drumming and how hard it is to do it for a living. One of the topics that came up was the idea of talent becoming an obligation.
I told my friend that in my early 20s, life centered entirely around music. I had chops, decent ears, and a lot of energy, and I wanted to play drums for a living. The problem was, the rest of the world did not. Friends were getting married, having kids, buying houses, and I was starving and working on keeping a beat.
Friends were taking vacations, buying lots of toys, and living normal lives. I was pushing myself endlessly to become better, faster, stronger as a drummer, and nothing else mattered… but it was a very lonely experience. I couldn’t enjoy just any kind of car; I had to have something big enough to carry drums. I couldn’t go off for the weekend; I had to play a gig. I couldn’t just rent an apartment; I had to live somewhere I could set my drums up, which was an eternally almost impossible goal to attain.
This is not complaining… it’s just the way things were. But… sometimes, I really resented having musical talent. It really did feel more like an obligation, one I had to attend to. After awhile, I really wanted to taste other aspects of life. I became deeply involved with a book I had been researching, one that took me across the country to Washingon, D.C. for several years. I fell into a day job to pay bills, made flight manuals for the Coast Guard, got sucked into a love of aviation and dove into full blast to see if I could do it.
I moved to California courtesy a 1982 Harley, became a magazine writer for Easyriders and then for DRUM!, and then got into screenwriting, where I spent a few years seriously pursuing TV and movie projects. Never sold anything, but I went for it full blast.
Aviation evolved beyond a hobby and into a profession, taking me further and further away from music. But in 2003, my father passed away, and everything changed. I experienced the reality of loss and realized that time was too short to waste. I purchased recording equipment and a Roland TD 6 kit and decided to complete an original goal of recording an odd meter CD.
More flying came along, failed relationships, relocation to Los Angeles, and renewed attention from one of the biggest producers in Hollywood who was looking at a TV series I created. All the while, music lingered in the background, feeling less like an obligation and more like an eventuality.
More ups and downs with screenwriting, the loss of my mother, and an even louder call to remember not to waste time.
It was a motorcycle accident last year that really drove home the final point. There’s something pathetic and annoying about looking at your left arm hanging in a cloth sling, then looking at your drum set and realizing that it can all be lost in seconds. My arm is fine now, and I play as often as I can, but the life-long issue of having to tailor my life to my talents remains. What took me 30 years to realize is that I’ve been lucky, very lucky, that nothing happened to completely take me out of the game. I intend to stay in it for the duration.
Whatever comes of these efforts to play and renew music, it all means so much more now than it ever did. I would not suggest that you wait 30 years to discover this truth, however. Jump all over your talent and eat it alive. The obligation you have is to art itself; without you, it fades away…