When I was younger I made a few aborted attempts at music but, at the heart of it, what held me back was my fear. It was my fear that some people wouldn’t like what I was doing or that they’d think I wasn’t any good. I was so afraid that these people would be whispering behind my back and secretly mocking me for my foolish ambition that I didn’t really try. In the end I can only blame myself for not pursuing it any more than I did. I limited myself greatly with my fears and that’s why I wound up here, just now beginning my musical career at the start of my 40’s. Through my twenties and thirties I did begin to suspect I had a true talent for music; that I had a real genuine ability that wasn’t found everywhere, still, my initial attempts at playing for other people were quick and relatively unenthusiastic. I had heard so many musicians who really, honestly thought they were great but they weren’t. They would brag of their abilities before taking the stage somewhere and seem genuinely happy with their dismal performance. Was that me? How could I really know for sure? Some people just say “nice job” or “good work” because they don’t want to hurt a person’s feelings, I know I’ve said it, so I wondered…
I believe it was 2012, when, through an odd set of circumstances I became Facebook friends with Steve Tannen of The Weepies. He’s a musician I greatly admire and to connect with him was really an amazing thing. We exchanged a couple of messages and I mentioned that I was a musician but didn’t play publicly as had never been brave enough. He encouraged me to do an open mic saying that at least being on stage would help me improve my music. I knew a local coffee shop hosted a weekly open mic so about two months after that conversation I finally gathered the nerve to sign up. I was 39 years old and had never played at an open mic. I’d let fear dissuade me.
I think I was 6th or 7th on that night. I listened to the other acts in the loud coffee shop environment, many of whom were fairly good although a couple were cringe worthy. The small venue was crowded with standing room only and the social atmosphere meant there was always chatter in the background. That actually made me feel better, not every eye would be on me. People may not even be able to clearly hear me. I could play as if no one was listening; as if no one were evaluating me, and it made me feel less nervous. When I took the stage I briefly introduced myself and began to play my guitar. I don’t recall what I played but, as I began to sing, the room went silent. I mean silent. This was not at all what I expected. They were all watching, listening, judging. Shit shit shit. As I played through my three songs I was relieved when a bit of conversation resumed during my third song. I returned to my seat with shaking hands and it was then that people started coming by with compliments, like several people. One lady came up to me and gushed
“Where have you been? Where else do you play? I have to see you again!”
Ok. That was weird. The compliment was a bit heavy handed for an insincere platitude and it was then that I began to really believe I might not suck, that I might truly have a legitimate talent. A little bit of validation in what I had already suspected was what I needed to start believing in myself. Suddenly, I felt I could fully explore the idea that people might want to hear what I had to play. I could allow myself to be expressive and there would be someone out there who would want to hear it. There would be people who didn’t doubt me and suddenly I didn’t feel so vulnerable.
I faced my fear and allowed myself to be judged that night and it makes it easier for me now to go on stage, to know that while not everyone will love what I do, some people will actually really like it. Those are the people I’m playing for. I simply can’t please everyone, time and experience have taught me that, but it helps tremendously to be legitimately validated in my music, even if it’s by a few people. I can fully and authentically believe in myself knowing that there are a few of my ilk out there that totally get and love what I’m doing.
I just needed some believers.