The Gratitude Attitude
It's amazing that in December, as many people prepare for holidays rooted in peace, love and light, there are so many frustrated, angry and freaked-out folks on the streets. It has a lot to do with the tenor of our times; the news encroaches upon our peace and the realities of our ever-complicated life knock relentlessly on the windows and doors of our collective existence. I like to think that music does indeed soothe the savage beast, whether said surly creature is very real, tangible and stalking you or in your head and stalking you nevertheless. Music is not only a life-saver; it's a life-prolonger. It opens the doors to peace and understanding. It gives us reason to hope and the eyes and ears to receive joy.
Not a day goes by that I don't thank God for the gift of music and the ability to make it, teach it and share it with others. It's a humbling place to be and I take every interaction with others as an opportunity to be thankful, helpful and grateful for the connections.
Sometimes, I think of Life as a big video game. I don't play them much anymore, except in arcades occasionally, but I know how they work and there's usually some kind of magical arrow that manifests on screen if you're getting too far off course. When doors open or close in the day-to-day, I see them as navigational interludes and try not to get frustrated if situations don't align for some reason; there usually is a reason that I'm just not seeing. But when that bold light shines down upon your path and makes it clear that you should just keep right on trucking, I'm always amazed at what the universe hands down to me.
There was a time, not too long ago, that I was on the opposite end of this emotional/spiritual/physical/social spectrum. I was poor with no direction, immature with no correction and clueless with a lack of introspection. Blundering my way through life and ignoring the big magic arrow that flashed repeatedly in the corners of my peripheral vision. I couldn't function very well and independently in society - I relied heavily upon the compassion and kindness of others while I attempted to sort things out. Only in my wildest dreams was I successful, but those glimmering images of victory were constantly rippled by cannonballing boulders of "yeah right" that came crashing down into my Lake of Dreams. Realistically, I thought myself fortunate if I could just get a gig somewhere and not clear the room. I never thought that my career would literally make it possible to live any kind of dream. Yet, I pushed on, listening to the inner calling that urged me forward, out of the fog and into the bright, blue expanse of day. If it weren't for music, I would be dead right now.
After years of floundering and spinning my wheels, things began to click in 2005 as I edged ever-closer to building a full-time life out of what had been, up to that point, a pie-in-the-sky dream. And over the years, I've been constantly amazed, awed and astounded at the reception to my late-blooming efforts. Urged on and encouraged by family, friends, peers, students and that magic arrow, I find myself at the end of 2015, exercising hindsight, and marveling at the miracle and magic of modern music (dude, what is it with the alliteration this morning?) In 2011, I received a major blast of love and gratitude when a number of folks came together to help me raise funds for a tour transport vehicle. The result was "Rita", my 1991 Winnebago Warrior, who has faithfully carted me from one side of the country to the other over the course of 135,000 miles. Every mile, I've been thankful and grateful for their belief, encouragement and support. There's nothing like the uplifting winds of people who invest in you; nothing like it in the world, especially for an artist. It's a confirmation and validation that just gives you all of the updrafts you need to fly and soar.
It was in the fall of this year when I realized something. I had finally come full circle from being the couch-surfing outcast with no plan to the owner of a business that was actually thriving. In the immortal words of David Byrne; "How did I get here?" So, when I decided that the year had actually been fruitful enough to warrant retiring Rita and buying a new rig, it came as something of a shock. I haven't had a car payment since 1986 (I paid cash for my Geo Metro in 1991) but I felt like the returns of the recent past, and the promise of the future, was positive enough to step out on that limb, scary as it might seem. I began the process of applying for loans and shopping for a new rig.
People talk and it does get back to me. Since first appearing on the folk music scene in 2007, there has been a lot of speculation that I was simply a hobbyist musician. They figured that my wife, Jae, was paying the way and that's why I was able to tour so frequently. In the earlier part of my so-called full-time life, this is true. Since we'd been together, I'd held odd jobs (construction supplies transport driver, catalog designer, etc.) to keep the money coming in while still working on my art and developing my skill set. I took my love of videography and turned it into one of those part-time pursuits, which eventually began to show lucrative fruit enough where I could cease working for others and go into business for myself. That's when J.O.B. Entertainment Inc. was founded. After a while, I was fretting over not getting enough video jobs when Jae turned to me and said, "you're making more from music than you are with the video." I haven't stopped putting all my eggs in the music basket since and, today, I run my business at a profit, not a deficit. (Of course, not having employees increases your bottom-line somewhat.) This is a self-supporting endeavor; has been for quite some time. But I was still shocked as hell with the events of the past week.
Applying for loans without a co-signer and qualifying for the most expensive purchase of my life was a distant hope. I'd been rebuilding my credit with Jae's help over the years, so I was cautiously optimistic about my chances. When the first loan was approved, I about fell over. When the dealership also came through with a full funding; I was floored. A new rig wasn't even supposed to be in the cards until spring! Now, on Monday, December 21st, 2015, I'm heading over to pick up the keys and bring it home.
"It" is a 2008 Fleetwood Tioga Ranger that was a rental unit for El Monte RV. The company offers its older rentals for purchase and I've read reviews on how satisfied folks have been with their buys. Since El Monte wants their rigs to be in tip-top shape for their customers, the vehicles have immaculate service records kept from Day One. This particular rig is super-clean and in fantastic shape - such an upgrade - and I'm still in shock that it all came together so quickly. In fact, after heading out to look at the rig on a whim and beginning the process, I couldn't have planned better for the news to come on my birthday that I was now the owner of a fairly new motorhome. I haven't even sold Rita yet; how does this happen? It was a confirmation of cosmic proportions, a big blinking arrow that pointed straight ahead and said, "you're doing things right, so keep it up." I should be scared and nervous because I've never bought anything so expensive in my whole life! But, I'm oddly calm, I guess, because all I have to do is just keep doing what I have been doing and continue to kick it up a notch or two each and every day.
But, frankly, none of this would be possible without the people who invest in me. From family and friends to the fans and students; from the booking agents and festival organizers to the print publications and promo/marketing channels, they have all contributed, and invested, in my stock and I am absolutely forever grateful. It has changed my worldview and attitude over time, from totally the mindset of an artist ("hey, I'm making art, come appreciate me!") to the ethos of a servant ("what can I do to help make your life more satisfying?") The relationship between an artist and those that embrace them is an extraordinary connection and I am blessed to have the opportunity to experience it. Rather than get a swelled ego about it, it just makes me want to do better, be better, serve better. This career in music is nothing like what I dreamed of once upon a time, but it is infinitely more fulfilling and real than anything that I ever could've imagined. I never take it for granted and every day is another chance to do something for someone else. That's actually a lot more motivating than doing something for yourself.
So, thank you. If you're reading this, you're probably one of those supporters who has helped me get to this point. Thank you, again. As my life gets a little busier with each new day, I struggle to maintain the openness and availability to others that has brought me to this point. I don't really want to hand over all of my operations to a management team and I'm not totally down with the idea that I may not always have as much time as I'd like to interact with each and every person who reaches out. But I'll continue to try and be there as much as possible, which is why I spend so much time at festivals and other events just cruising around and being there for those visits and moments. I never want to lose that because it's the perfect point of contact to express my gratitude to everyone who has, literally, made me who I am today. If I ever lose that, I will lose a fundamental part of my core.
If you don't get an e-mail right back, don't worry. It'll come, eventually. If the phone call goes unanswered, please try again. If you knock and there's no answer, come back around and knock again. I'll open the door to you just like you've opened the door to me. And we'll connect and interact.
And I'll let you know, somehow, just how grateful I am for you. Thank you.