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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Who Needs To Be Honest, Anyways?

International security clearance stickers are like a badge of honor for musicians.

Honesty.  Starting this one off will be weird regardless of how or what I do, so I will just jump right in and tell you a story.  Good?  Alright.

A big hobby of mine is playing stringed instruments, as some of my readers already know.  There was a point in time when I wanted to follow the dream of playing music as a job but decided to just keep it as a hobby (there is a bigger story behind that, but stick with me).  When your friends know you have a guitar collection and play music in some respect on a daily basis, they tend to invite you to gigs of their friends, friends of their friends, family, and the like, pretty regularly.  Quite some time ago, after I had stopped playing publicly, I was asked by a friend to see someone she knew play a show at a small bar on the outskirts of Atlanta and since I had nothing else happening that night, I agreed to go.  With a few hours to kill, I looked up her friend's band on Google and listened to a few tracks they had posted online to see what I was in for (shout out to Myspace! No? Ok).  

The guy playing the gig was a friend of her's through association and we met a up with a few of their mutual friends once we arrived.  This was one of those situations where the place was pretty well full of people, but most were interested in their drinks, friends, or food while the music was more of a background ambiance (musicians call them "wallpaper gigs").  We all sat there, talked, and listened to the band's full set as the group I was with slowly trickled down to just my friend and myself.  When their set was over, my friend introduced me to the front man, who then sat down while she migrated to the restroom and the rest of the band went to the bar.  He and I threw a little small talk back and forth which eventually turned into him saying: "So, I hear you play guitar?" followed by some more back and forth conversation about music gear and eventually leading to him saying: "We should totally hang out some time and jam." and that is when things became unnecessarily ugly.  My response to his offer was a simple and respectful "I appreciate the gesture, really, but no thank you."  With a confused look across his face he responded with: "You don't have to be nervous about playing with us.  It'll be fun."
Take into consideration that at this point in time I had regularly played in front of fairly large crowds from the age of sixteen to twenty-one, including an eight-day stint in Jamaica specifically to do that.  The guy I was talking to knew nothing about me other than the fact that I owned at least one guitar and played it.  Still being pleasant, I said:  "It isn't that I would be nervous;  your style just isn't my flavor."  which was met with "What do you mean?".  The conversation took the brutish turn when I responded with: "I have nothing against you or your band, I just don't like your style of music, personally."
You would have assumed I strangled a kitten in front of him.  The expression fell off his face and into an awful pout (keep in mind, this guy was about twenty-four years old at the time).  He immediately stood up and joined his band mates at the bar, without saying another word to me; yet they all continued to look in my direction at random intervals.  Awesome.

My friend eventually came back, we said goodbye to the band, none of them acknowledged me, and we left.  After getting into the car, she asked what had happened and I told her.  She continued to tell me that he was upset and had told her I was extremely rude to him and insulted his band.  Did I?  Not in my eyes.  Before you say I was rude, hear me out for a minute, please.

The reason I say I was not rude to the guy in question is because I was simply being honest with him about the suggestion he made that I was not open to.  I do not have an ego, and none of this has anything to do with me thinking I am a better musician than them because I only do music for fun now, and no other reason;  I had no intention of offending him in the least bit.  His suggestion that we get together for a jam session was most likely an empty gesture, because the same thing happens to me constantly.  I meet someone who plays an instrument, the conversation stalls momentarily, and the other party asks to meet up.  We exchange cards, numbers, and two months later, I find the card in my wallet before throwing it away.  Neither person had the intention of following through because we had no immediate, creative draw to each other, and in the dozen or so times I have been asked to jam after a forced conversation, I have never been called to do so; nor made the call myself.  Empty gesture.   

The moment this guy brought up playing together, I knew there was no substance behind it, so instead of going through the musician's routine of back and forth, I decided to skip the fake small-talk expectation of exchanging information and went for honesty instead.  What a concept.  

Initially, I tried to show my disinterest a little more indirectly, but apparently confused him instead and had to resort to a more literal approach.  The guys in this band could be the nicest people on earth and I respect that;  I would just rather show my honest opinion, because when you are in the public eye in some capacity, not everyone is going to like you or what you do (ask a musician who is also a writer and custom furniture builder).  None of what I said was brash on my behalf, nor was it even criticism;  personally, I did not like their music - simple, but apparently some people do.  Had I wanted to be mean, I could have easily said "I listened to your EP earlier today and it appears to me that your sound engineer needs hearing implants." followed by asking how a person can possibly sing through their sinus cavity instead of their larynx.  Had any of that come out of my mouth, I would have owned up to being rude, but I am a better person than that.

A few weeks later, my friend told me her musician buddy was telling the story of our conversation to everyone in their shared circle.  Apparently, the fact that I do not like his band really bothered him and she began thinking about the situation for herself.  According to her, the band had been playing the local scene for about two years, but she was not aware of any time they had been told they were not liked.  The people who followed them to their gigs were close friends with some family members occasionally thrown in the mix and most of the other people in the venue had either food, drinks, or conversation on their mind; not music.  From the outside perspective, it appears to me that they had never dealt with what I had respectfully and honestly said to them, so they had no idea how to deal with such a thing.  Whoops?

Where am I going with this?  What was the point?
I see this all the time, and not just with music, but anything we put an effort into on our own; people in my generation who have no idea how to be accepting of someone not being interested in what they are doing.  Some of this stems from the fact that they allow their head to become a little too big when encouraged by those who are in their circle. Unfortunately, sometimes the encouraging parties are either too stubborn to see any room for improvement or have made a choice not to say anything critical as a way to spare feelings. 

Moms are great, my mom is a big fan of mine and in her eyes, there are few things I do not excel at in life because she is my mom and that is what she does;  but I also know she is naturally extremely biased because of who she is to me.  Encouragement is great, but sometimes we have to look outside the realm of those we are close to for creative opinion related to the things we do on the path to our goals.  Does that mean you should listen to everyone who has something negative to say?  Absolutely not, but be sure to keep yourself grounded in life and be able to hold a sense of humbled thoughts and humility about whatever venture you are chasing down in life.  As someone who is constantly writing, I get nasty emails on a regular basis from people who disagree with me.  If these messages have actual substance to them, I keep their opinions in consideration and often times respond to them as a method of asking what they would do differently instead of getting upset and shutting down like so many other people I see.  

When I write things that say "Keep yourself grounded."  or "Keep one foot in reality." the underlying idea of this blog you are reading right now is what all of that means.  As an entire generation, we have to get out of the mindset that everyone shares the same opinion as our mom, or those of our close friends. 
We need to keep ourselves humble enough to remember that everyone has a personal taste and opinion, but grounded enough to realize the differences between those we should be paying attention to and those we should not.

Life is not all mushy, squishy, happy-constant-positivity.
If it were, there would be no struggle.
If it were, there would be no need for education.
If it were, there would be no responsibility. 
It never will be.
We have to make the best of what we have and take the bad parts with the good.

Stay Grounded.  Stay Humble.  Stay Passionate. Never stop Growing.
Know the difference between honesty and negative criticism.

Always tell women how beautiful they are.

Grace and Peace,
   -Drew

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