Today’s entry was inspired by a piece written by Johnny L Brewer. Click his name to read.
My dream of being a musician started before I was 2 years old. I would sit in my own seat behind the drummer of my uncle’s band, The Sounder. They played around Indiana, and had bands open for them, like Johnny Cougar.
In first grade, we had to go up to the front of the class and tell the class something about ourselves. I took the teacher’s pointer and pointed at Hollywood, California, on the global map that spanned across the wall, above the blackboard. I told the class, “When I grow up, I’m going to move to Hollywood and play drums.” They all laughed, of course. That changed nothing for me.
School was a place where they did their best to crush any dreams or creativity that I had. They gave it their best go. I must admit, it’s what they do best. Teaching certainly isn’t on that list. Fortunately for me, they failed miserably. Thanks, yet-to-be-diagnosed Autism!
What was called “just a phase” persisted throughout my entire life. After high school ended, my dedication to marching band shifted to the dream of a standard rock band.
I had gotten a taste of what that was like in the winter of 1982, when I put together a rag-tag three-piece band to play just one song.
It wouldn’t be until the fall of 1984 that I would join my first real band in college. The Beertonez was a band that had a great deal of potential as a house party band, and I did what I could to see that potential through. On our last gig, we made enough money that I paid off my student loans for that year. It would end up being the period in music where I would make the most money.
I had big plans for the band, which included taking the act to LA to give it our best shot. Yes, this was somewhat naive. This was 1985, and I would later learn that Metallica had gone to LA at that time, and then ran back to San Francisco, crying about how nobody liked them because Glam was starting to take over. I had no idea.
Unfortunately, I was the only one who was up for tackling this idea. When the school year ended in the summer of 1985, pretty much everyone in the band just went back home. To me, the band was everything. But to them, it was just something to do.
There were other factors that lead to my decision, but my drive to be a musician was too great. So I quit college and decided that I’d work while staying with my grandparents and see what happens.
I joined a band called The Switch in late summer of 1985, as their guitarist. We would play some big gigs. The band had promise.
And then, my mother invited me to move to California. But before this move, I had an important discussion with my grandfather. He was a man who played something like 14 instruments. He played so many that I lost count.
He had also been really rough on me about my music pursuits. He would say, “That’s nice and all, but how will you pay your bills?” He was this super-practical guy who always did what he needed to do, and saw no use for such folly.
I told him that mom had invited me to move to California, and that this was my chance to pursue my dream of being a musician.
This was his cue to give me the hard talk about how I was wasting my time “chasing such nonsense” as music. He pushed me far enough that I barked back at him. “What do YOU know! You’ve never had a dream to pursue.”
Things suddenly got hauntingly calm and quiet. He told me that when he was young, he wanted to be a race car driver. He learned how to fix cars when he was a kid [and cars were a relatively new thing back then]. He knew cars inside and out, and wanted to be a race car driver. He really wanted to go for it.
But then he met my grandmother, they fell in love and got married. When my mother was born, he decided that it was time to put his dream aside and start working. He joined the Army, fought in World War II, and later worked in an auto factory [Delco Remy] for about 40 years.
As he told me this story, he fought back tears. There is something unique about a WWII veteran. They cry only when they truly mean it. This was the first time I had witnessed it. Heck, this was the first time I’d witnessed an emotion coming from him that wasn’t a chuckle at a dirty joke.
They were tears of regret. It was unmistakable.
That’s when I knew that I had no choice but to move to California and give it a go.
I would call him a few years after I got there and tell him about some of my adventures. Of course, he asked what I was doing to make ends meet, and I told him that I worked days and played out nights.
His responses to my stories sounded somewhat proud. He was glad that I set out to pursue my dream. Without saying it outright, he admitted that he was wrong to be so rough.
Just a few years after that, my grandmother would have a stroke, and grandpa would end up in a hospital for the last two years of his life.
One night, I was playing with one of my bands at The Rainbow on The Sunset Strip, when I thought back to my first grade class, and how they all laughed at my dream. Now, here I was, in Hollywood, on The Sunset Strip, playing drums in a rock band, and I actually got paid.
I was actually doing what I said I would be doing. Who’s laughing now?
I never forget.
I spent 33 years in California, pursuing my dream of becoming a professional musician. Of course, it didn’t pan out, as is the case for most musicians and artists in general.
Now, I’m an old man. I’ll be 57 this December. I left California two years ago, which was bittersweet in its own sort of way. I don’t have any fame or fortune. No top 10 hits. No big record sales. No popularity.
I also don’t have any regret.
Sure, I could find some regret if I tried. If I had stayed in college for two more years, I might have been active in some other bands. I might have been there for the heyday of a club called No Bar & Grill, owned by record store owner and fellow musician Jon Rans. I could have been there to perform with bands like Big Black and Modern Vending.
That would have been cool.
I also could have stuck around in Indiana after college. The Switch was a solid band, and it could have lead to a situation where I would have been a big fish in a little pond, like Faith Band, or Buccaneer, or Henry Lee Summer, or Roadmaster. I might still be gigging in Indiana today as some kind of legacy act.
When I was 15, I wanted to quit school and go audition for Henry Lee Summer [he was looking for a drummer]. I assumed that I’d get the gig, and then I’d be all set from there. I let that idea go, since I didn’t even have my drivers license yet.
There are lots of “could have” scenarios that I can cook up to generate regret. Who knows, those might have been some good times. I have no doubt about it.
However, what all of those potential scenarios are lacking is the act of going to Hollywood to give a big career a shot. Had I taken any of those other paths, then I would have been left wondering, “What if?”
I don’t wonder that today, and I’m grateful for that. With those other scenarios, I don’t have the “what if” issue because I have a good idea of how that would have gone down. And all of those situations would have left me in Indiana, which was the last place I’d ever want to be.
I could have bet half on the future. Instead, I bet it all. Everything. Went for broke.
All I have to show for it is a few recordings, a few videos, a few photographs, and a ton of stories about gigs, bands, venues, musicians, rock stars, and wild nights.
Whether people believe the stories or not is none of my concern. I have these experiences under my belt, and they serve to repel regret. For anyone who is open to hearing them, I think some of them are fun stories.
I have no regret. I knew what I wanted to do, and I set out and did it.
And how I made money is nothing more than a series of boring stories about horrible situations, mostly terrible people, and sheer ugliness that served no other purpose than to make someone else rich while I struggled, just like everyone else.
The money paid rent, bought food, and other things. It’s gone, like the breeze that was blowing last night.
In many ways, my life is ordinary. The only exception is that I actually set out to pursue my dreams. It doesn’t matter if I caught them or not. I got close to the sun and felt the heat melting feathers from my wings.
I gave it a shot, instead of letting everyone destroy the dream and subsequently giving up.
And it feels good to be writing about these stories. For the longest time, I feared writing about these stories because I had not gathered up enough evidence along the way to back up these stories. As a result, I felt that people would dismiss them as made-up fantasies.
Over time, I came to realize that I don’t care if people believe the stories or not. I’ll tell them, if for nobody else, then for myself. It’s a way to remind myself that I knew what I wanted, worked hard, and went for it.
Hard work does not always pay off, at least not in the ways one might want. I expected my hard work to bring me some results, like a living. Instead, I have the few things that I mentioned earlier; the recordings, videos, images, and stories.
At least I don’t have regret.
Some might read this and feel inspired to go for their own dreams. Other might read it and feel some regret of their own, believing that maybe they chose the wrong path.
The problem with that idea is that there is no right or wrong path. Every path leads to the same place.
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