Risk and Reward… or Punishment

“If you would have taken a big risk and worked really hard, then you would have gotten somewhere if you were really any good.”

Someone actually told me this, to my face, when we were talking about the difficulties of getting into the “music business.”

It felt as if they hadn’t listened to ONE thing that I had said the entire time. I told them how I left the Midwest in 1986, moved to Bakersfield, CA with family, and then hitch-hiked to LA to put in the work.

This person knew some of my more detailed, personal stories, such as the nights where I’d cry myself to sleep because I was so hungry that the pain was becoming overwhelming. They dismissed the times that I ate out of garbage cans, or slept behind dumpsters.

They didn’t understand anything. While this was upsetting to me, it was not surprising, mainly because we are raised to think this way. We are raised to be judgmental. We are raised to point at a person who falls, instead of rushing to help them up. We are raised to laugh at people when they fail.

We are also sold a great number of lies, some of which are more powerful than others.

You have no right to call yourself a musician unless you are earning your living with it.

Anyone who has an American “education” will recall our teachers and parents telling us that we can be whatever we want to be, but only if we work hard.

This was the type of talk that got me excited about becoming a musician. It seemed a legitimate enough of a job to me. But this message got confused by a second message that was very conflicting, and was delivered to me first-hand by my grandmother.

“You want to be a musician? That’s nice. But what will you do to earn a living? To make money?”

My response was that I’d be a musician. It’s a job, it pays money, and it’s what I want to do. Sure, I’d see famous musicians at work, but I also saw regular local musicians working.

I knew nothing of the dirty, dark secrets. But I would learn the hard way.

One is already noted in the previous heading, that you can be whatever you want to be. This lie was told to me by many adults, including my first grade teacher. And she went BIG with the lie, telling us that we could even be president of the USA one day.

When you become an adult, you realize that the only way to get to that level is if you’re already rich, and are a career politician. Sure, being a career politician works against the very philosophy that makes up the supposed grand lie of America existing. They’re supposed to get elected, serve the public for their term[s}, and then go back to their regular jobs.

With that job, there are no exceptions to the rule. But in music, there sure are exceptions. Most people make it because their parents or family were involved, because THEIR parents were involved, and so on.

They might be really good and talented. Understand that there are musicians just as good as them, if not better, who will never, ever get anywhere because they don’t have that hook-up; that connection. You know, that thing that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with music, at all.

But you can also get “in” with people who will rip you off. I’ve talked about my guitar teacher before. I won’t post his name here. He first got big in 1969 and had a huge selling album. That was followed by many amazing world tours and other great albums.

But he realized one day, “I have a handful of top-selling albums under my belt, on top of a series of successful world tours, and yet here I am, standing in line to get food stamps, while hoping that my mother mailed the rent check.”

In his situation, he fell in with someone who was out for themselves, and who ripped him off without even blinking.

Oh yea, you can bet that he’s hyper-bitter and VERY pissed about it, to this day. He’s in the Rolling Stone Top 100 Guitarists of All Time and still makes some incredible music. But he teaches to earn a living, because even HE couldn’t make it in the music business.

If he couldn’t make it, then I have to wonder what hope there ever was for me.

He’s one of many, many victims who believed another big lie: Being talented will bring you great success. This is a Meritocracy lie.

And the Meritocracy relies on another closely related lie: Hard work always pays off.

No, it does not. It is VERY possible, as well as likely, that you CAN work really hard and still get nowhere.

It’s something that most people don’t think about until they realize that they’ve been busting their asses and have NOTHING to show for it.

Have you ever heard a really shitty song on the radio, and wondered how it got so popular, or how it made so much money?

Anyone who is a musician has most definitely experienced this.

At the same time, we also experience those incredible musicians and songwriters who pour their hearts into their work, and who see it go nowhere.

With Mike Schnee [as Chissum Worthington], aka Wormstew.

To avoid the appearance of bias, I will not reference any of my own music. Instead, this example is from a friend of mine who is still creating fantastic music and entertaining crowds to this very day. From my perspective, there are many musicians and songwriters out there who are by far superior to me, and they still never reach that place where society will judge them kindly.

I have consistently cried every single time that I have heard this song.
I find it heartbreaking that he has not been rewarded for his talents and hard work.
My body’s filled with blood and bones, and wrapped up in a skin
Amidst a field of bloody bones, she played her violin

My inability to make it is one thing, and it’s easy to have a great deal of bias when looking at one’s own self. Watching others struggle, when they have more talent and what I think is a better chance, is nothing short of disturbing. It’s yet more confirmation that I wasted my time pursuing music.

By American Capitalist society’s standards, I most definitely DID waste my time. Why? Because I wasn’t making money. I had always worked jobs to support my efforts, which were very expensive.

Did American Capitalists respect that I not only worked hard on my dream, but also worked really hard at a more standard job? Of course not. To them, I was just a failed musician who had no choice but to work shit jobs.

That’s our society, in a nutshell. Toxic. No wonder there’s so much suicide in our culture.

Logically, to me, I know that I did what I felt I had to do. I pursued my dreams, and then didn’t work out for a variety of reasons. I may not have a great deal of money, or a retirement account, but there is also one other thing that I don’t have.


Sure, I didn’t get very far with it, or really anything else. I didn’t have the proper connections, or family who was involved, or an entertainment lawyer with the right nude photos of the right producer. I didn’t have the LUCK that so often plays a role in ALL success. I also showed up too late to the game, as the music I played started fading in popularity in 1986, the year that I went to LA. And I didn’t know that one year earlier, Metallica left LA with their tails between their legs, crying about how people in LA “don’t like” them.

Yes, talent is required. Without the luck, the talent isn’t “successful” in the way that Americans expect. But DO NOT discount luck. Ever.

And also consider the environment and infrastructure. Tosin Abasi, one of the modern-day players who re-shaped the guitar in a way similar to Mr. Edward Van Halen, has said in an interview that it wouldn’t matter how hard he worked or how good he was, if the proper infrastructure wasn’t in place.

Much like Hendrix or Van Halen, Abasi is one of those genuises who is able to change the landscape of music. Most people in the music business are not at this level.

Being in my Autistic shoes in America is not a happy or fun place to be. I have to constantly remind myself that I lived my life as I wanted, that I pursued my dreams, that I tried my hardest, I did my best, and there was no reward for me at the end of it all. I have to realize that this happens more often than not, which is why it is impressive when someone actually gets somewhere.

If I do not remind myself, then my mind will get poisoned by all of those misguided and negative people who have nothing better to do than to crap on people who actually took a risk and found out the hard way that risks and hard work do not always pay off.

They crap on people who tried and failed to make themselves feel better. Most people I grew up with didn’t have interesting dreams to pursue. They’d inherit dad’s gas station or work on dad’s farm, and they’d have a level of financial success in taking on the family business.

I don’t need to crap on someone else in order to feel better. What I MUST do, however, is acknowledge a system that mostly works against people and keeps them financially broken, adding humiliation and depression to the mix. I have to acknowledge those who are not capable of acknowledging these lies that have been sold to us in order to drive us in a certain direction to facilitate our control.

It is not a conspiracy. It’s right before our eyes. The Meritocracy is not real, and hard work does not always pay off.

You see that rich guy rolling down the street in the back of his new Bentley limousine? Well, if you work really, really, really hard, working through days and nights, weekdays and weekends, forsaking your spouse, children, and loved ones, missing birthdays, holidays, and special events, ignoring invitations to parties or vacations, foresaking ALL friends, and keep on pushing… then maybe… JUST MAYBE… one day, that rich man will have a SECOND Bently limo.

Linds Redding did just that, working harder than anyone else while forsaking all that is noted in the previous paragraph. When he got his cancer diagnosis, he realized that he has wasted his life over nothing. He wrote about it HERE.

Linds has been dead for a very long time. But you are still here. I recommend reading his blog and taking in his hard emotions. Then, look in the mirror and be honest with yourself about your life, what you’re doing, where you want to go, and what you want to be.

Whatever you do, DO NOT shape your life based on the lies that have been sold to us. Because the hard reality is that Capitalism may start out with the exploitation of legitimate merit for the purposes of growth, but it ends with aristocracy, inherited wealth, and inequality. There is no more growth for our Capitalist society. All that remains for it now is death.

And America is in a phase known as End-Stage Crony Capitalism. So if you pursue a dream or start a business, work hard, and it goes nowhere, this is why.

It’s not an excuse, but it is an explanation. Just remember that the system is by far larger than you, or any of us, and that you are subject to its whims and erratic tides. So look at your failures, examine them, and make adjustments if you can and try again. But at some point, one must eventually accept that the system is not set up to be working in their favor. Some will make it, but they are the exception. The exception DOES NOT negate the rule, and in fact fortifies it.

Just try to not be too rough on yourself.

If you like what I write, then please consider sending a one-time donation to me via PayPal. Please use the following link and click SEND to donate, and thank you for reading! https://paypal.me/drumwild

Published by DrumWild

Writing about drums, music, and philosophy.

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