Last Call: As in Music, So in Life
Seven meditations to help with any kind of gig, musical and beyond.
I got hooked on music as a kid. It was like I was driven by genetic predisposition—I fell hard and have been chasing the dragon ever since. Although we’ve had our ups and downs over the years, playing music means more to me now than ever, but the reasons evolve. At first, I played for the endorphin rush. Then it was part endorphins and part seeking approval or employment. Today, it’s still all that stuff, but music also keeps re-teaching me life lessons. As in music, so in life: The same rules apply.
1. “Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”—Miles Davis
Music has taught me that, despite my best efforts, my fingers often go places I don’t want them to go. But those seemingly “wrong” notes often lead to much more interesting music. Just like in life, there are no mistakes. Marry the wrong person, get fired from the dream job, make bad investments, destroy your health. Every seeming misstep leads us to where we are supposed to be. It’s all how you play the notes following the outside note. Get comfortable with things not going as planned. The detours might be the most interesting part of the trip.
2. Play well with others.
Unless you’re a lifelong committed solo-act and/or hermit, you must play well with others. Which means you must be a good listener, you must be dependable, sometimes you must let others go first, and sometimes you have to comp hand-cramp chords while others have all the fun playing solos. Interaction with others, as frustrating as it might be at times, makes everything more interesting. I get the appeal of being a one-man band. Nobody to disappoint you, you’re not stuck carrying anybody else’s gear or baggage. It’s all clean and simple on paper, but without somebody to throw around ideas, you’re left building off just what you already know. Conversations tend to be more interesting than monologues. Recent studies suggest that good social relationships are the most consistent predictor of a happy life. To get the most out of life and/or music, you must play well with others.
3. Enjoy each moment.
Because I couldn’t just pick one, here are three wisdom nuggets from philosopher Alan Watts.
“No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve as it goes along, or that the whole object of playing is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them, we may forget altogether to live them.”
“The musician whose chief concern is to make every performance better than the last may so fail to participate and delight in his own music that he will impress his audience only with the anxious rigor of his technique.”
“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.”
4. Love what you’re doing and you’ll never work a day in your life.
A total cliché with deep truth. I genuinely love most of my work. This whole music scam is great. I intend on running with it as long as somebody has the bad judgment to hire me, but it’s not without drudgery. However, when passion drives your career, the drudgery is a lot more tolerable. Turning your passion into a career will probably mean you’ll experience some poverty, but it’s worth the tradeoff. I’d rather collect experiences than things.
5. Things take as long as they take, rushing rarely makes it better.
A quarter note at 120 BPM takes as long as it takes. Learning an instrument takes as long as it takes. A career takes as long as it takes. Sometimes, slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be. If you try to rush it, the experience is undermined. If you’re stuck in traffic or playing a long, slow ballad, try to be comfortable with the pace of your experience and enjoy it for what it is. A traffic jam can be a total Zen experience.
6. You must be present to win.
There are few guarantees in this world, but one truth I can almost guarantee is that if you don’t show up, you’re not going to get the gig. Fortune favors the bold.
7. Play on.
You’re onstage in a club when a chair-smashing, pool-cue-swinging fight breaks out. What do you do? You play on. Like the house band on the Titanic, you play through whatever life throws you. Because when you’re in the zone, truly present, making music, you’re transported away from that shit show. There’s no future, no past, there is only the eternal now. Same with great sex, or night driving with the headlights off, alone through a star-studded night with “Whole Lotta Love” blasting out of your Kraco speakers, or that feeling you get when you smell rain.