Nov. 11th, 2012

ghosthound: (Default)
You ever look at someone and worry you may become like them if you're not careful? If you seriously aspire to a career in the arts, you've got to be ready to make sacrifices. Sometimes these sacrifices can take strange forms. Sometimes life takes a weird or horrible turn and you've got to adapt to it or fall victim to it.

Two such people come to my mind when I think about this.

One of them is a guy named Rowen. He's in his sixties and has been a musician since he was fifteen. He plays damn near anything that can even loosely be called an instrument and has gigged at least once a week since he was twenty. That's beyond incredible. He's a die-hard musician and, in so many ways, I respect him. He never gives up his standards and hasn't given up his goal of being a career musician even though it's yet to happen for him.

The aspect of the man I don't want for myself is his blindness to his situation. It's all well and good to be dedicated, even intensely so, to a dream. It's rather another thing to never change your approach. Rowen plays progressive rock where everyone on stage dresses like wizards and makes songs about the Sword of Shannarah series... Almost exclusively. Calling it a narrow focus is an understatement. The guy can't evolve and won't adapt. Truth told, I don't know how he gets gigs every week for his music, beautiful and well-constructed though it may be.

Hell, I remember once being paid by the man to help him lug his and his band's gear to a country music festival at a rural Pennsylvania county faire. I don't EVEN know how he landed that gig. The look of discomfort on the audience's faces, though, made it beyond worth it. That shit is hilarious.

I feel bad for Rowen because he is often the focus of a lot of shit-talking by people in my city's music scene. It's pretty well-known that certain things are assumed about you if you're an aspiring musician. Up until a certain age, somewhere between 35-45 it seems, you aren't given that much grief if you don't have your shit together. If you're poor, it's assumed and, if not celebrated, tolerated. After a certain age, though, people think you've got to give up the ghost and move on with normal life because you just couldn't hack it.

Rowen decided that he would thumb his nose at this. But, in doing so, he seemed to have to give up a lot. Never had kids, never got married and never owned a house. In my opinion, these things aren't so bad. To hear other people talk about him, though, you'd think he was the anti-christ that never grew up. You see him and ask yourself if you can really be that, forty years or so down the line.

Another guy I knew was rather different. His name is Steve. I met him when he had just turned thirty. He worked at the same place I work now and have since I was in high school. He had just transferred from the night shift to the day shift. I learned his back story over the course of the year I worked with him. It's fucking tragic to say the least.

So, he's eighteen, a heavy metal guitarist in the 90s era jackson-shred sort of flavor. He's got dreams of going to Berkley for guitar and he's just graduating highschool. Both parents die in a car accident. He, now a legal adult, inherits all their debt, a townhouse within walking distance of work, a job he has had since he was sixteen, and a whole world he isn't ready to handle yet. He has no driver's license and is terrified to move somewhere else. He takes the night shift because it pays significantly more, although, at the time, not enough to properly take care of his needs, and he goes about trying to survive.

Ten years pass. During this time he has been completely cut off from the world. He can't afford the cable bill so he keeps re-watching the same VHS tapes again and again. He can't afford but one new album every two months so his music exposure is suddenly hyper limited. He has to buy clothes from the thrift store that is an hour's walk from his home because he has no friends and no way of getting any farther than walking distance.

His experience on night shift isolates him profoundly. Music kept him alive, he told me, kept him from killing himself. The really tragic part of that, though, is that he practiced in complete isolation. This caused him to make very little improvement over those ten years. He had song books full of metal tabs. He learned them all. He taught himself every song on every album he owned by ear until they were perfect. When it came to metal, he was a machine. The sad part was, that's all he was.

I had a friend who was getting rid of an old computer, a PC that was maybe two years old. I convinced him to give it to Steve who just recently got a raise and, thus, enough money to pay for an internet bill a month. I had to teach him to type, what the parts of a computer were and how to use the internet. I remember him bawling his eyes out watching youtube videos of fifteen year old kids playing music that he, in isolation, with no help or other perspectives, wrapped in a cycle of depression from the loss of his parents, took him years and years to learn.

Now I work the night shift. I feel myself growing more isolated, sometimes. He walked the same windy corridor of a road to the same job that I do. He waited for the time to punch out and go home to his art, just like I do. I may do two arts instead of one but I feel it's the same. It kept him alive on bad days, kept him from killing himself. I've never been as harrowed as he was, I don't think, but I do have my darker days. On those days the only thing that keeps my mood up is the knowledge that I'll get a book to read, time to run my hands across the fretboard and the tick-tick of a keyboard as I spill my fiction into a word processor. It keeps me going.

I wonder, sometimes, if the night and the dark and the cold will swallow me like it did him. I remind myself that it can't. My parents are still alive. I have a support structure that exists for me and my debt-ridden and dream-filled self. I wonder if I'll end up old and unfulfilled in my dreams taking off like Rowen. I wonder if I will fall into the night and hermitage like Steve did.

I count my blessings, though. I feel bad that I always use Steve as a reference point for how bad things could get. Ten years without contact with other people and only a select few resources and no understanding of the world... As much of an old school Count of Monte Cristo fan as I am, as much as I have sometimes romanticized the idea of being imprisoned with nothing but time and learning materials for a period of time and being forced to become AWESOME, his story serves as the perfect counterpoint.

It also serves to show me how much I honestly love the internet. Six months after Steve got a computer he moved to Baltimore to join a metal band. He is now making a living off of music there. If his story didn't have a happy ending I really think that my perspective on life and music as a career would be a little different. But it changed his life. It let him reach out and reminds me that I can, too.

Forgive the disjointed nature of this post. I am exhausted and more lazy than I ought to be about my prose.


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