For twenty-one excruciating minutes in a southbound cab last night, I was pretty sure that my performing days were nearly done.
I was explaining the treatment for my “Mr. Rogers & Me” documentary to Christofer Sunday afternoon. Like my ill-fated “Jackie Chan” music video (we shot and released it, but Chan’s lawyers sent a cease and desist), and my screenplay, “Mo’ Hart,” “Mr. Rogers & Me” opens with me waking up. This, my brother thought, is pretty lame. “We’re just shooting the same thing over and over again,” he said.
I told him that I think that much of any artist’s work is the same thing over and over again. Look at Van Gogh’s sunflowers. Or Cameron Crowe’s emotionally-charged, musical road trips. Or Jimmy Buffet’s songs about sun, sand, and booze. I think that most artists continue to refine their vision, or their story, as they grow. That story ideally changes over time, and becomes more evolved. I think all of us are working out our individual stories over and over again until they change, or evolve.
And so there I was, in the back of the cab, sweating about the first of three residency shows. Will anyone come? Will the club be happy with the turnout? Will they ask me back? Will I remember the words? Will I remember the chords? Will Chris and I train wreck? Don’t forget to smile. Don’t forget to have fun. Don’t forget to talk. Don’t… don’t… don’t…
There were six people in Rockwood Music Hall when I walked in the door. Two were on stage. Two others were behind the bar. I was not reassured.
I ordered a beer, and then another. Chris showed up. Then Abbi. Then Meg and Matt. Then Alyssa sauntering in. Then Liz and Katia. Then… then… then…
With no spoken intro, and no fanfare — I didn’t want to give myself a chance to say something stupid — Chris and I began “Harder To Believe.”
It is, to be sure, increasingly harder to believe. People — especially ones who have known me since I was in high school or college — say all the time, “It’s so great that you’re still performing!” I know they mean well, but somehow it feels like something someone would say to someone in remission. “It’s so great that you haven’t died!”
I know, I know — that’s pretty f’in’ macabre. What I mean is, everything conspires against holding onto one’s dreams, esepcially an adolescent dream like rock ‘n roll: you gotta work for the man, you gotta pay the bills, you gotta shift you priorities. Persistence is tiring. Anxiety is exhausting. I worry about every facet of my music: each lyric, each moment of each performance, the fontography on albums and t-shirts, the liner notes, the band, the audience, the venue — honestly, I’m having a difficult time even writing this list because it’s all so granular. It’s difficult to explain.
Point is, every time I climb the mountain, I’m afraid of storms. I’m afraid of rock slides. I’m afraid of dying up there all by myself. But a funny thing happens every time I climb: I enjoy the journey. I relish the view. I breath easier from the summit. And when I descend, I want to do it again.
So, yeah, I guess it’s the same shot over and over: me on a stage with a guitar. But at least the picture is evolving.