Sunday, April 10, 2011

Another Cog in the Grinding Gears of Life

I’ve always struggled with what I do becoming too much of who I am.

It wasn’t an issue when I was young. Until I was 23 I was just trying to keep up with eating and shelter and gas and the occasional drugs. Well ok, the drugs stopped when I turned 21 but then I got married and one money sink turned into another. I worked out of necessity, romance was for getting laid not ordering life. I guess I took some pride in my cab driving. I had guts at least, working overnights and in the worst neighborhoods in town. Honestly I’m not sure guts were involved. I wanted to believe I was putting my money where my mouth was, that I was walking the walk, doing for the poor and the minorities what no one else would. But at this late date I wonder if I just had a death wish, that my lack of fear was just a replacement drug for those chemicals I would no longer do.

The rest of my youth was spent on whoever would grant me payroll. I washed and I cooked and I cleaned furnaces and I took care of horses and I shoveled shit in oh so many ways, and each one I romanticized a little but only to make them palatable, so I wouldn’t choke on the knowledge that I was nothing; just another dirtbag in a world of replacement bags.

And then I took my one chance out of the malaise, trade school, a job that required no heavy mental lifting but only a vocal gift and a smooth delivery. Though the finances were hell and my work life at the time worse yet, I sailed through school, graduated early and got my first job in a middle market, unlike most of my co graduates who found themselves in towns that couldn’t be found on a world atlas.

Without adding the boring details too many have already heard, things didn’t go particularly well for me, except for what was most important. I thought I was really good. Sure, I fought the feeling and I had plenty of reason to as I generally compared myself to the best in the country so I always came up quite short; but on those rare occasions when I could be honest with myself about my time in grade, my current place in the universe, I could be momentarily struck by euphoria.

Perhaps you won’t know what I mean when I say it’s hard to explain what discovering you could be something when all you ever knew was you’re nothing, did to me. When I was simply another mule in the train there were no self esteem issues, my mind was completely free to daydream about life as a superhero or a crossbowman in the army of Jean D’Arc. But when I started to hit the jackpot, attract attention, raise my sights, I opened up a gaping hole in my defense system. Suddenly, who I was had more and more to do with what I did, and whether I was a hero or a bum actually made a difference to me. So naturally, the wheels came loose as the imperfections piled up and eventually I gave up trying to pull a trackless train through the mud.

As luck would have it, just as I was rolling over to play dead, a job was opening within my eyesight that was made for me. The applicant couldn’t be too smart, would need to be willing to take plenty of verbal abuse, and be happy with not enough pay to cover his expenses. I was talked into applying after arguing against it for hours, and that same night I was sitting in a recording control room trying to figure out just what the hell had happened.

We’ll skip the historical minutia, but a few things are important. In spite of the fact that I didn’t really have a clue as to what I was doing physically, my work won four national award within the first six months. I had taste I guess, instinct maybe, more show than go. And over the next 26 years I used the exact same “talent” to get me by, virtually ignoring the science, muddling down the road with my shoes tied together and with a straightjacket for a waistcoat.

I ran a business. I wasn’t good at it as businessmen go, but I did afford many talented but unsung people a chance to test their dreams on someone else’s dime, and I took a lot of pride in that. Too much no doubt, as those that were recipients of what I considered my small scale benevolence would tell you. Whatever it was, was never enough; but I had this vision of myself as a good guy, a conduit, a step on the stairway to heaven, and that sustained me when others were intimating that I should be thinking as I once had, that I am nothing, only a new and improved version of it. Only, no fantasy lasts forever.

I had a love/hate relationship with my career. Imagine yourself thinking you’re a dummy really, a cog in the grinding gears of life, and suddenly you come out as a quite impressive man, a master of a craft. Yea, it went to my head. I bought my press, until people reminded me that I was just helping corporations sell more widgets to widget overstocked warehouses, and not actually creating art like I’d have loved to have thought.

I cowrote and created 70 some songs in that time period, not one of which I’d play for you today, not one that wouldn’t make me cringe at this point. But you should have seen me then. I was in the zone. I could write, lyricize, arrange, staff and produce a working piece of music from nothing in 24 hours, and never once was I told to change what I’d done. It was my moment of glory, even if I was the only person to have recognized it. I was somebody, even though I had help, and sometimes a lot of it, I was still in charge, I was still the engine of the train. My father, my siblings, most of my friends and even myself for the better part of my life… all wrong. It was an amazing time, made even more amazing by having people hire me for my talent in SPITE of my edgy personality and bad habits.

And then, it just faded, like dreams do; the morning came, I opened my eyes, and the sunlight drove out any doubt that the real world was back.

When Lyn and I decided to downsize as health was making our lifestyle too expensive, we rented a huge dumpster. There would be no space for what was, only for what would be. I had a basement full of magnetic tape. Interviews with jazz players and blues legends, mixes of video tape parodies masquerading as serious attempts at corporate sucking up, and stacks of 2 inch, 24 track tapes of songs produced over a 26 year career. It likely would have filled an average closet top to bottom. In the pile were gallons of forehead blood, shed for the cause, a million and one laughs and a few dozen hugs both grateful and elated, a boxful of my talent multiplied by my eccentricity, and pretty much every ounce of self pride that was available to me at that moment. In retrospect, it was not much; at that moment, it was who I was, not what I did, not a cog, but a wheel unto itself.

I didn’t sweat over it. I didn’t cry, I didn’t pout, Santa’s just fine with me. I really had no choice. I chucked it all. My two divorces had forced me to toss away years of my past, these were just a few more. I saved one cassette tape, and had the good sense once I got here to duplicate it onto a hard drive. But it’s just a representation of a few decades of concentration, just a handful of sonic photographs.

I sometimes think about it, my identity riding in the bottom of a steel container on the way to a landfill somewhere. I suppose I feel melancholy about it, as in I wish that dream had gone on and on. But I wish my superhero dreams would go on and on too. Or that one about me being elected president of the Dementia Bard’s Guild. It’s sort of an apples to platypus comparison I guess, a real life against taking the form of a fantasy character, but sometimes when life hands you lemons, you have to make a replacement defensive shield, so you don’t get citric acid in your eye. Or something like that…

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