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Dear Little Bobby,
I’m a musician. I play shows. Or at least I used to. I stopped booking them because I cant. It’s just…I just…it’s too demoralizing.
Here’s the thing: You send a crap ton of emails out and beg, beg, beg to be listened to. Then maybe someone emails you back and then you get to lug your gear around to a bar or a coffeeshop and you pour out your soul while everyone is watching sportsy sports people sportsing on the TV behind you.
Don’t get me wrong, I love performing. I love performing when I feel as though there’s an actual reason for me, of all the music-making folks in the whole wide world, to be there. It’s so fulfilling to have a conversation through music—even with just a small handful of people—but so often it feels like I’m pouring my heart out into a dark, cold void.
You don’t want to tell your children that their father is “an idiot,” so you could tell them another truth, which is that their father is afraid.
It’s maybe the worst feeling, ever.
So now I’m kind of holding out for the good shows, the ones that buoy me up instead of dragging me down into the depths of loneliness and isolation, which is of course the natural result of feeling like I’ve been completely ignored. But now of course I barely play anymore.
So I ask myself (and you, Little Bobby), why the crap am I doing this? What am I doing with my life? Can I even call myself a musician anymore?
First off, some perspective. There are MUCH worse feelings. Just turn on the evening news or look at the front page of the newspaper to see MANY people who would gladly trade their problems for the problems of a struggling musician. But I have felt your pain. I lived that struggle for many years, or at least my version of it (not being able to get a show, playing to empty rooms, playing to audiences that did NOT want to hear me play, etc.). Many times I had to redefine “success” for myself. And these days I define it as playing music for ME, with friends. I play with friends because I enjoy it and we make each other better. But I do it for ME, because that is the nature of “art.”
I have been playing in our local Albuquerque music scene for almost 15 years. I have decided to not play certain venues because my performances did not lend themselves to those venues. I have decided to not play other venues because of poor management (and my “career” has outlasted MANY venues which suffered from poor management). All of THAT aside, when I have asked myself “Why am I doing this?” I have always answered, “Because I need to, I want to, and because I love it!”
I had a fantasy in my 20s of “making it” in the music business, and as time has gone on two things have happened to that fantasy: 1) I have seen how people who did “make it” actually crashed and burned soon after, AND 2) I have decided that playing with my band, in a nice club here in town, for people who enjoy it, IS “MAKING IT” regardless of fortune or fame.
I have “made it” every time that I play a show that I enjoy, which is not every show—but over time, it has become for me the norm and not the exception, thanks to my bandmates, my fans, and a few select venues that I enjoy playing at.
If you are unable to find a venue that suits you and your music, you have a choice to move to another city or to make it work where you are, possibly by focusing on the music and not playing shows. Using the internet, you can get your music to the other side of the world without ever playing another crappy show again.
But whatever you decide, I recommend that you do it for YOU, not for an audience, not for anyone else but you. Because that is art. The rest of it is crowd-pleasing for the sake of crowd-pleasing, which doesn’t interest THIS artist. At. All.
—Little Bobby Tucker
An artist…because I had to be one
Dear Little Bobby,
I have been married for nearly 20 years and have a wonderful family, but recently I have become very worried. I love my husband and I have overlooked our political differences for years, but he has been getting increasingly more conservative. He is now saying things like, “Trump is just what this country needs,” and, “Illegal immigrants are taking all our jobs,” to our children and they are repeating them. I don’t want to tell them that their father is an idiot, but I don’t want my children growing up with short-sighted, ignorant ideas about the world either. What can I do?
—Politically (And Otherwise) Frustrated
Dear Politically Frustrated,
If it were me and my kids I’d be all over this, like a corporate CEO on a tax break for millionaires. I’d be directly asking my xenophobic partner, exactly where did he, his parents, grandparents, their parents, etc.—from where did THEY emigrate? And if his answer isn’t “10,000 years ago, they walked over from Asia using a land bridge” then you’ve got yourself a problem…a big one.
I also wouldn’t stand for someone instilling unwarranted, baseless fear in my children, whether I loved that someone or not. You don’t want to tell your children that their father is “an idiot,” so you could tell them another truth, which is that their father is afraid. You could do everything in your power to teach them compassion for strangers. You are probably already doing something along these lines, but I want to strongly emphasize this. Inform them of the plight that Syrian refugees are undergoing right THIS moment. Specifically, teach them about children their own age, who are just like themselves that are currently fleeing war, persecution (from xenophobes), starvation, etc., and they could very well end up figuring out, on their own, that Dad is an idiot because he is living in fear of the “other.”
All that being said, I feel like you will have all sorts of other family issues as a result of Daddy’s fear. This is something to be addressed immediately, so maybe you could teach Dad something about compassion, too. You could start with the Gospel of Matthew chapter 25. If he isn’t interested in it, then your problems are only beginning to show.
Fear is for cowards