In all the years of playing music, I remember one particular show above all others.
It was a show on a college campus, with three bands at various stages in their music careers.
The closing (big) band had been on national radio, then later were let go from their label. They were nice any time I ran into them outside of shows and during shows for the most part. Before this particular show, they decided to spend all of their time in the green room, right up until the moment they set foot on stage.
This move didn’t particularly bug me. It happens from time to time. I’ve felt this way before and acted on it, especially during a longer or more grueling tour.
The second band had just recently been signed to one of the big 5 labels on a sweet deal. Prior to signing, I’d met and connected with them more than once. I’d been to their shows. A few of them had come to mine. We worked with the same producer. We had an amicable relationship.
But once signing a contract, they seemed to have the impression they no longer required the assistance of any band or individual from their hometown anymore. They were bigger than that. So they too spent the entirety of the show in their own separate green room, both prior to playing and after they finished and the closing band went on stage. Nearest I can tell, they felt like they were above speaking with people before the concert.
And then there was the local (opening) band. These are guys I knew well. We had played shows together. We loved running into one another. We were both fighting for recognition and felt as if we were on the same footing, just beneath the cusp of success. We worked hard. We looked out for one another. We helped each other out. We played shows for free to help the other bands draw for big events and they did the same for us.
I stood outside with local band and we discussed how frustrating it was that newly-signed band and formerly-signed-big-radio-band refused to come outside. We talked about how we’d never do that. If we ever made it to that level, we wouldn’t ignore the people who helped us get there, and we’d still show love to those who weren’t as far as we were. I had respect for these guys. They seemed to have respect for me.
And then they too got signed. And they stopped returning my phone calls. Stopped responding to my messages on facebook. Stopped asking me for help or offering it.
A few months later, they put on a show in their hometown. They asked “next local hot commodity” band to play, a band they had openly professed to dislike prior to this moment for being the epitome of everything we were angry at. Next hot commodity band was always nice to bands above them, and they were downright awful to everyone else. My favorite local band wanted draw, and apparently felt as though my own group was not capable of giving them that. They outgrew me. I couldn’t help them anymore, so they decided our relationship was worth terminating.
Now, I’m no stranger to how the world works. I’m not ignorant. I get it. And how the world works isn’t what made me angry. Because there will always be this hierarchy. There will always be a “next hot commodity band” and a “favorite local band” and a “newly signed band” and a “big band.”
What made me angry is that we (local band and I) talked about how the world works, and how messed up it is, and how we weren’t going to be that. And then they became that anyways.
Now, I’m not a bitter person or a grudge-holder, but I’d be kidding myself if some part of me doesn’t still sort of hope the worst for them. I still think about it when I see them come to town, or post pictures about their adventures or their lives. I still wonder if they got what they wanted, and if they knew what they wanted all along. Maybe while we were talking, they were thinking about how they couldn’t wait to spend all their time in that green room. Or maybe they were thinking about casting me off the moment they moved to the next round.
I have to correct myself openly when I feel this way. I need to say the words out loud. I love them. And it’s not because they did something notable or because they had some modicum of success. It’s because they were good people once, and I have to believe they’re still trying to be good people now – whether I feel it or not. I can be frustrated. I can feel angry. But I shouldn’t abandon them, despite what happened.
Because someday I will be in their shoes. Someday I will be faced with the challenges they faced, and I’ll have to make my own choice. Because one day they might come to me and I might have a choice to make – to continue the cycle or to break it.
And that’s why the process gets repeated, isn’t it? Because I was mad at them for what they did, and later I get to do it myself. And it’s not just them, no. I get to repeat the whole process for any other new band or artist or writer who happened to meet me once. Because that’s how the world works, right? The world is just a big jumble of cause and effect.
Step 1) Get screwed.
Step 2) Pay it forward.
And if I do that… the world will stay the way it is. The way it always has been. If I give into that feeling, that desire to return blow for blow – nothing will ever change.
I don’t believe in karma.
It just isn’t my thing.
I believe in killing with kindness. And I don’t mean only those who can help me, or those who are ahead of me, or those who would make valuable friends. I mean everyone. I mean the high school student who just now learned they wanted to write books. I mean the kid in the college band who can barely organize his fingers into a G chord. I mean the somebodies AND the nobodies. Because I am a nobody. And I am a somebody.
If I believe we’re better than this – then I have to be better. And that means I have to go out there and achieve the things I want to achieve, and prove that it won’t make me a hypocrite. I need to put my money where my mouth is.
And this particular blog entry?
This is accountability.
And I expect to be held accountable.
This is proof that before I become whatever it is that I will become, I said these words and I meant them. Because I have plans, and I want progress, but I won’t have that progress tainted by tossing people who are no longer valuable by the wayside.
Because right now, in this moment of nobody-ness, I am valuable.
I may not have sold a book to a publisher, or earned a Grammy, or been on the radio, or done anything that the world deems as worthy… but what I’ve accomplished in the view of the public doesn’t define me.
I am defined by moments like this one – moments when I decide who I am and why. And the only thing that changes later, after I get my first Grammy or I sell my first book or I get my first major writing credit, is simply whether or not I continue to be that person.
And if you think for one moment you aren’t valuable, you’re wrong too. I don’t care what you’ve accomplished and what you haven’t accomplished. I don’t care what you think you deserve. I only care about one thing – who you were before and who you are now.
Are you changing for the better? Are you trying to make progress – to work towards being the type of person you wish others would be? Are you searching for truth? Or are you seeking your own gain?
Because if you’re trying, if you’re seeking, if you’re working on it… you’re worth your weight in gold.