I’ve been a musician my entire life, and I spent 33 years in Los Angeles making music. These are two topics that go hand-in-hand for a variety of reasons.
The thing that these two topics have in common with everyone is that people have different attitudes about them. Sometimes those attitudes can be toxic or destructive.
In this entry, I’ll write about my experiences, approaches, and ultimate decisions regarding these two items
SOCIETY AND CELEBRITIES
For as long as our modern media has been around, the average person has put celebrities upon a pedestal. Some even engage in worship. Many would call themselves a “fan,” which is short for “fanatic.”
Before media, this may have happened with royalty. I don’t know for certain. I’ve not concerned myself with royalty since 1776.
But I’ve met LOTS of famous people. I have gotten some autographs and some photographs.
When I first moved to LA in 1986, my internal dialogue about celebrities was “be cool” and “don’t be a crazy fan.” This was because I almost immediately met people who were friends with celebrities.
This is because celebrities are regular people and they will hang out with their friends and do things. They go to the store to buy their own groceries at times. They go to clubs and bars. They go to Starbucks. They are pretty much everywhere.
Fortunately for me, the early celebrities I met were mostly NOT musicians. This bought me some time to fine-tune my approach.
TREAT FAMOUS MUSICIANS LIKE ASSOCIATES, NOT CELEBRITIES
This approach involved talking about music and music-related items in a way where mutual concern existed. We would converse for a while, hang out, whatever.
Maybe later I’d ask for an autograph or a photo, one or the other. For every autograph or photo I have, there are dozens upon dozens of meetings and time spent where I have NO photo, no autograph, and no evidence of anything. All I have is my memories.
Like in 1989, when the owner of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Hollywood saw me waiting in line to get in one Saturday night. He had hired me as a Pee-Wee Herman impersonator recently, and wanted to get me in the restaurant quickly.
He treated me like a celebrity. It was cool.
He asked if I minded sharing a table, and I said that was fine. We ended up sharing a table with Stevie Wonder and his family. I learned that he has a brother who is also blind.
We talked about music. Stevie said that he had a songwriting project coming up, where he had to write and record something for a homeless children’s charity event that was to be sponsored by HBO. I told Stevie that I could write lyrics.
So there I was, in a major restaurant in Hollywood, sharing a table with Stevie Wonder and his family, writing lyrics to a song that he was going to record.
Ultimately, the deal fell through. All the same, I got to have dinner and write a song with Stevie Wonder. It happened because I was open to new experience, and because I had the capacity to treat him like an associate instead of a fan.
This was exciting to me, not because Stevie Wonder is famous, but because he is a successful musician. Any time I can interact with a successful musician, I stand to gain some knowledge along the way.
There is a danger for celebrities of all types, where a “parasocial relationship” develops. This is where a person invests a great deal of time and emotional energy into a “relationship” with someone [typically a celebrity], while the other party has no idea that this is happening, at all.
I’m nowhere close to famous, and I’ve experienced the bad side of a parasocial relationship, where a woman believed that I was famous, and that I was just downplaying it so that she wouldn’t feel intimidated. She had an entire scenario playing in her head that wasn’t playing out anywhere else.
I have many, many celebrity-related stories to tell, that are part of my life experience. I tell them if they are interesting. But for me, I have very rarely been star-struck. Yes, it happened a few times during my first year. I found that being star-struck lands you in the same camp as everyone else, including those who build parasocial relationships.
Not every story is positive.
I once went to a drum clinic that was a drum-off of sorts. It was the college-educated drummer [Terri Lyne Carrington], vs. the street-educated drummer [Sheila E].
Their “drum-off” performances were almost like a staged rap battle. There was no real animosity or “better than” attitude on the stage.
When the performance ended, manager Glenn Noyes said that everyone could go into the store, take pictures, get autographs, and get deals on gear. That last part was why they did these things.
I go in and get into a line relatively quickly. I’m not sure where this line leads. After a short while, I figure out that it leads to Sheila E, signing headshots.
My attitude about drummers was that I would ask for a photo because I wanted to document the drummers that I’ve met. For every photo I have, there are dozens that I do not.
When I got to the front of the line, Shelia E signed a head shot. I asked her for a photo. She said that she wasn’t taking photos. I noted that Glenn said otherwise. She pushed the headshot to me and said, “Here you go. Take it or leave it.”
By this point, the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth, so I left the autographed photo behind and walked away.
As I was looking around, I saw Terri Lyne Carrington, just hanging out. Nobody was talking to her or asking for an autograph. This is because Carrington isn’t a celebrity like Sheila E. Realizing that I had Terri Lynne Carrington to myself, we spent almost 90 minutes talking about drumming, completely uninterrupted.
I didn’t ask her for a photo, because I had already gotten turned off by the idea of taking any photos that night. All the same, I had a pleasant interaction.
Most drummers I meet understand it when I tell them that I’m a drummer and would like to have a photo.
Sometimes it would be at a drum clinic, where they would expect to take photos or sign autographs. In other cases, there was a show and we would be hanging out afterward.
The bottom line on this topic is that celebrities are people, too. They just have a job that pays a great deal, and that job also makes them highly visible. It’s someone you recognize.
ATTITUDES ABOUT MUSIC
When you’re a musician, you have to be aware of your attitude about music and make sure that it’s contextually sound.
When I was a young drummer in high school, my focus would be on things like solo competitions. My goal was to compete and win.
By the time I got to college, my focus shifted away from solo performance to performing within the context of a band. In my college band, my focus was to find big parties, play at them, and make a few bucks along the way. It would end up being the most money that I would ever make with music.
When I moved to Los Angeles in 1986, my focus was to find a band on its way to success and get involved on any instrument they needed. I’d play drums, guitar, bass, keyboards, or whatever. My goal was to be involved with a band that was signed by a major label, and to have a career. I cared nothing for fame.
In the mid-90s, my focus was on songwriting and recording, with the hopes of building an industry-focused recording project that would attract top-notch musicians.
By the late 90s, my focus shifted from industry-driven projects to doing things that I loved. I would find a band, and if I liked what they were doing, then I would work toward joining that band.
This phase would last from 1998 until late 2013. During this time, I would not only join bands, but I would also fill in for bands that were having temporary drummer issues.
Around 2005, I was drumming in 3 bands, but also playing at an open jam night, put together by my good friend and fellow drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz.
The end of 2013 saw the end of my live drumming with bands. A few months later, in late March 2014, I experienced a labrum tear that would keep me off the drums for a few years. So my focus changed from drumming live in bands, and live performance in general, to taking guitar lessons.
Sometimes life gets in the way. I had gotten downsized at work and was having trouble finding a new job. Sensing that I’d never get hired for another good paying job again, I decided to move to Oregon, where I could slow down and do other things.
A DEFINING MOMENT
Before I get into what’s happening now, there was one experience that I had around 2012-2013 that influenced what I am doing right now.
From late 2010 to late 2013, I had been working on building a recording studio with a “friend” who turned out to be a Malignant Narcissist who ripped me off for everything I had contributed to the construction and implementation efforts.
When this project was almost completed, I went up to San Francisco to jam with a friend who was a former MySpace co-worker, named Aaron.
Aaron is one of those guys who methodically considers everything that he does in life. Aaron picked me up at the airport, and I was telling him all about the recording studio that we were building.
He said that it sounded “cool and all,” but he also said that “music isn’t about recording.”
I had been recording my music since I was 13 years old, when I had my first session at an 8-track studio. I would use a tape deck to record live shows, either through the air or off the board. My GOAL was to be able to record. When home recording became achievable and affordable, I set out to make a decent home recording studio. And then, I was helping to build an actual physical stand-alone studio.
And now you’re going to tell me that it’s NOT all about recording?
As he explained it, “Recording music isn’t the future. We will soon be entering a time when people will not purchase music like they did in the past. Recordings will exist merely for the sake of posterity, but recording is not the point.”
We got to his 3-bedroom apartment, and he showed me his live jam set-up. He had four stations set up for four instruments. Each station had its own “Jam Hub,” robotic desk that moves up and down, 32-inch touch screen, and headphones.
In this set-up, each person could control how much they hear of whomever else was playing. They could raise or lower their own levels going out. Everyone had their own mix.
Everyone involved would have a different experience.
We jammed for a bit. When we were done, Arron continued sharing with me his wisdom.
“There. That was fun. It was an experience. No recording, because a recording doesn’t matter. The moment happened, and now it is gone. We can return to this later and have a different experience.”
This got me thinking back to all of the times when I wasn’t recording. I didn’t record any of my ISSMA competitions. I had many jam sessions where I didn’t record anything. I was playing at the open jams every Thursday night with Bermuda, and most of the time I didn’t record, although I did get some video.
In those situations, recording was not the point. Being perfect was not the point. Getting a record deal was not the point. Being a rock star was not the point. Being the best in the room was not the point. Getting a medal or award was not the point.
So what was the point?
The point of it all was utilizing music as a form of social interaction, as well as a vehicle for personal wellness. There was a point, an instance, a need. This need ranged from keeping myself occupied while learning, as I did in school, all the way up to engaging others within the social context of a group performing music.
It was about the moment. A moment that would happen and then fade, turning into a memory. In these moments, recording is acceptable, but it’s not the primary goal.
Recording is not important. Perfection is not important. Even the idea of having a song is not important.
The importance comes from the interaction and how the experience feels to me.
WHAT I AM DOING NOW
After I quit taking guitar lessons from Zoot Horn Rollo in 2018, I spent a few years working on myself. The situation was such that I had to mostly set music aside.
The pandemic knocked things back by a year, after it interrupted an audition that I was going to have with a cover band that plays out and makes money. I might do something like this down the road. But this is about what I am doing right now.
Catherine has a co-worker who plays drums. He has been playing with this guitar player for quite a while, and they’ve always wanted to have a bass player. They had even considered bringing in a friend who knows nothing about music to teach them how to play bass.
Yesterday, I met up with them in a garage for a jam session. It’s my first musical interaction with other people in years.
The drummer records the sessions and puts them online on YouTube.
I think the other guys were concerned about me being a seasoned musician. “Whatever,” as I so eloquently put it.
I went into the encounter with no judgments or expectations.
As it goes in these situations, someone plays a riff and everyone else joins in. People find their place in the jam, and a groove can sometimes develop. Then, there’s the “feel,” in that moment. It serves the moment before it goes away.
The recordings aren’t about how “awesome” we might or might not be. It’s more of a photograph for posterity.
When I was in Hollywood trying to build a band for commercial success, you can bet that I focused on things like solid musicianship, presence, and so on. There were too many things to think about and it got exhausting.
But in this situation, none of that applies because it doesn’t matter. This situation is all about hanging out, jamming, coming up with ideas, and enjoying the entire thing.
The context is fun, and the goal is to make that happen.
I have played with musicians who are better than me, equal to me, and worse than me. None of it matters. What matters is what they’ve got to say with their instruments and how effectively they can say it. Our ability to communicate is a deciding factor on how it all goes down.
If it’s fun, then I do it. If it’s not, then I don’t.
For me, this gathering is based solely on the social elements, some live jam musical elements, and how much I enjoy the experience.
So far as that goes, we’re jamming again this afternoon. As it turns out, they had something to say with their instruments, and I enjoyed the “conversation.”
I might keep doing this for a few years, or maybe just a few weeks. Who knows. Anything can happen. I may end up with a work schedule that conflicts and prevents me from participating. Anything can happen, so I don’t worry myself with any of it.
What can happen right now is what is important.
The moments happen. They exist. And then they go away forever, leaving nothing but memories, and sometimes a few pictures or a recording. Anything left behind only serves to stimulate the memory. It’s not for sale, not to impress, and not really for anyone else.
Did you enjoy your life? Did you enjoy the ride? Did you take on the adventures and chill moments that you wanted?
Those are the important life questions for me. They are the kind of questions where you cannot lie to yourself, because you’ll know that you’re lying.
Whether it’s writing song lyrics with Stevie Wonder at a famous restaurant in Hollywood, or jamming with new friends in a garage that is used as a garage, enjoying the time and building a new memory is what counts.
The experience matters. Everything else is fluff.