Stress, not only is it bad for your health, extreme stress can change how you think, feel and act. Unfortunately for me, I know this all too well. Years ago I owned a small sound and light production company. After I would spend 60+ hours a week in my high stress, 100% commission, role as an account executive in the industry of mortgage banking, I spent my weekends working with local bands. While this was supposed to be the fun, for the most part I allowed it to fill me with the very thing I was trying to escape, stress.
I’ll never forget the first time I walked into Rumors Nightclub at the Brookfield, Marriott. I had recently turned 21 and decided to join a couple friends for a night of live music. Though I can’t remember much about that night, like who I was with or why we decided to go there in the first place, I do remember the band. Their name was This is This, a local cover band. They were a young, talented, fun, high energy rock band that covered a fairly eclectic range of music from the Chili Pepper’s, “suck my kiss”, to Toto’s “Africa”. The thing about This is This, is that they didn’t just play the songs, they WERE the songs. I was in awe. I loved them, their vibe and the atmosphere they created. I enjoyed it so much that from that night on, I became obsessed with live music. I grew my hair out, bought a bass guitar and began fostering my own inner “rock star”.
Because Milwaukee was fairly small, I quickly discovered that the live music scene was alive and well. Each weekend I would travel the local circuit discovering new bands and clubs. Mirage, Rhythm Method, and This is This, quickly became my favorites. Not only were the bands incredible, so were the girls that followed them. It was a single, young man’s dream. I loved it so much that I am certain the bands felt as though I was a stalker, I wasn’t, I was just obsessed!
Over the years my obsession quickly grew and before long I started a band of my own. Though we were no were near as good, it was still a blast. My parents, God bless them, allowed us to take over their basement. We went big! A full PA system, drums, keyboards, guitar rigs and of course the most essential ingredient, a massive bass guitar rig. Unfortunately for my parents, we practiced often. To this day I don’t know how they handled the noise or the shaking of the house. While we shredded down stairs, they sat directly above us and attempted to watch Hill Street Blues. I can’t imagine that they ever heard a word. The crazy part is that no matter how long we rocked out, they never complained, not once. Honestly, I’m not sure how they did it, but I am very grateful they did, it was so much fun.
Those early days, were magical. I can remember how fun it was to play “Plush” by The Stone Temple Pilots. I’m pretty sure that it was the first song I learned on my new, bright green bass. I was a long hair flowing, work boots wearing, rock star want a be caught between prep and grunge. There was no stress, only fun. Unfortunately, that didn’t last for long. Not long after we had just played our first gig, the drama associated with being in a band, started to unfold. My best friend, our drummer, had an opportunity to join a more established and quit honestly, much more talented band. Our singer moved away and just like that, my fantasies came to a screeching halt. Not to be discouraged, I called several friends and before you knew it, one thing lead to another and we were back to the grind, running down our dream.
Why I couldn’t just enjoy it and have fun, I’ll never know. Being in a band seemed to be a constant clash of egos, personalities, schedules and ideas. It was an on going search for places to play and gear to buy. Nothing was ever good enough. I became so addicted to the idea of replicating the bands I admired, that I stopped having fun.I even stopped listening to music! While my rock star fantasies would continued for many years, it would never again be as pure or as fun as playing “Plush”, for the first time, in my parent’s basement.
Though it wasn’t always fun, it did change my life. It was through playing a couple songs one night in Whitewater, WI with my friend Craig’s band, Live Bait, that I met my now ex wife and mother of my child. As fate would have it, not only was she out of my league in every way, she was also a very talented singer. Before you knew it, we were in a band together, married and living the dream.
Behind the scenes, bands aren’t always a good time. There is a lot of stress that comes with managing all the moving parts. You have to juggle schedules, handle personalities, replace members, buy equipment, fix equipment, find places to play that are willing to pay you enough to make all the band members happy, market so that the places that are playing you also make money, make posters, deliver posters, create mailing lists, choose songs, buy clothes and oh yeah, after that, when you have time, practice.
When you’re in a band it seems like you are always looking over your shoulder trying to stay ahead of the new band that is trying to “take your gig”. Though it shouldn’t be, it is a very competitive industry. At least that’s how I saw it.
After many years, bars, festivals, musicians, bands and songs, it was finally time to hang up my bass for good. As one of the leaders of the band, I was simply tired of trying to keep everyone happy and all the parts in motion. It was at this point that I decided to “reduce” my stress, leave playing behind and move to the other side, production.
Interestingly, I repeated the exact same pattern. What started off as one of the most fun, fulfilling and rewarding things I had ever done, turned into, “If I ever hear “Jessie’s Girl” again, I am going to stick a knife in my eye!
Dealing with bands, the club or festival’s schedule for load in and load out, gear maintenance, booking, personalities, deadlines, opinions, a failing marriage, and time away from my son, became too much for me to take and I quit. Cold turkey. To this day, may years later, I haven’t looked back. Although there have been opportunities, the scars and stress of those days run too deep.
Today’s verse is Proverbs 29:11 “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end”. What I learned about myself, over the many years I spent chasing down my rock and roll fantasies, was that I am no good under stress. When I am stressed or feel overwhelmed, my alter ego comes out and that guy is a dumb, overly perfectionistic,opinionated,scary, big mean bully. The crazy part is that when I allow him out of the box, I know the damage he is going to create, yet I struggle to put him away. It’s like watching a car accident from the distance. You know it’s going to happen but you’re helpless to stop it. Though some people have the ability to calmly manage difficult situations, I’m a work in progress.
If you are anything like me and stress turns you into somebody that even you don’t like, I invite you to join me in the wisdom of this verse. Next time you feel as though you’re ready to explode, stop, breathe, step outside of yourself and seek the perspective of the other people involved. Instead of reacting to the situation (like a nuclear explosion) calmly and maturely, respond or walk away until “cooler heads prevail”.
Lastly, I just want to add that when you love something, like I did live music, sometimes that’s enough. Try to resist the temptation to make it bigger than it has to be. And if you want to push yourself and go for that dream, do yourself a favor and enjoy the ride.
Thanks for taking this journey with me down memory lane and thanks for accepting me as I am with all my flaws exposed.
Have a great day!
PS- If you are a musician in the Menomonee Falls area, give me a call, I may be open to a few bars of “Plush”.