I started playing drums on borrowed gear when I was in elementary school, and got my first set of my own when I was thirteen. Almost 32 years after that, I’m still playing, in a band that basically does first-generation garage, surf, and psychedelia, along with a couple of originals in the same vein. It’s my favorite kind of music, even though our appeal is pretty narrow — at one show before an (ahem) older crowd (the average age was somewhere around dead), a friend of mine said, “You know, these folks didn’t even like music like this when it was new.”
So I’m in my mid-forties now, and I realized almost two decades ago that I was never going to be a rock star. This project should be a strictly-for-fun kind of deal. Don’t get me wrong — it is fun, and I’m getting to play music I love. But I notice in myself a dangerous tendency to be That Guy, the musical equivalent of the guy who played on his high school football team and gets a little too fired up and demanding of himself and his teammates at the backyard game of two-hand touch. I get ticked off if other guys in the band clam their parts or noodle around too much during rehearsals, and I grind my teeth at mistakes even if I know the audience won’t catch them (one advantage to playing relatively obscure stuff.)
That’s not a side of myself I like much (and it’s closely related to my tendency to get hideously competitive, which I also don’t like much), so naturally I try to find a lot of ways to rationalize it.
- “Well, I get angry at my own clams, too.”
- “I don’t care if no one’s getting paid — if you’re in front of people, get it right!”
- “These songs are easy — we shouldn’t be screwing them up.”
But really, I think it all comes down to the part of me that is too easily embarrassed. It takes a certain level of ego to perform, whether I’m behind a drum set or in front of a classroom, but the corollary to that is a hypersensitivity to failure, a difficulty in accepting imperfections — in others, yes, but especially in myself. This, of course, is foolishness of the first water, because I know intellectually and through hard experience that no human effort (and especially none I’ve made) is perfectible.
But where does this leave me as a weekend musician, placing champagne demands on our beer-level talents? In this case, it leaves me going to the gig, hoping I don’t get in the way of the music, and hoping against hope that we can get through with only a few clams and no train wrecks. The advantage I have is the knowledge that if I can put this out of my mind, the music will flow and that’s what its supposed to be about, right?
Maybe the ability to will oneself into that state is what they mean by aging gracefully. And maybe one day I’ll get there. But I haven’t yet.