One of my old friends from my Lubbock punk rock days writes:
In my life I played drums, keyboard, and sang for over 20 years. I co-ran a record label, co-ran a booking agency, toured, put out over eight albums, ran a button making company, wrote zines, I created non-stop. My heart hurts thinking about it all. There are words I have not been able to articulate yet and maybe won’t ever. Even though it has been years now since I played it still feels so complicated and I feel lost as a musician and haven’t found my people to play with in Savannah yet.
And so I responded:
Sorry to write a novel, but your post triggered some thoughts in me and I thought that I might respond as I process those thoughts and feelings.
I’ve never been what I consider to be a “successful” musician.
I’ve never been involved with anything that had, say, a functional touring show. I’ve never had any commercial success, for sure, beyond being able to pay for instruments and gas. And I’ve certainly never figured out where I fit in the big scheme of artistic production beyond the crude label of “DIY”.
Of the several dozen bands I’ve spent considerable time playing in, I have only felt like I was with my people in a few- and even in almost all of those I was almost always holding space for the other people in the band such that I was still just playing “other folks’ music”.
The feelings around making music with other people have been so complicated and even fraught for me that I’ve gone through periods where I simply can’t.
I wish I could say that “successful” was all the highly-satisfying play that I have done, because I really have had a lot of luck in that respect. I’ve created a lot of things in life which I enjoy immensely. That notion of “success” doesn’t really seem to capture something which feels important to me.
As I have gotten older, the best I can say is that I’ve become quicker at noticing bad boundaries around the spaces I have held for other musicians so at least I can engage in playing without triggering resentments, which is an unfortunately circumscribed activity.
Now that my children are mostly grown, I’ve been engaging in a lot more music and production at different levels. I no longer feel the need to have as reliable an income, a steady place to be, and that’s felt liberating to just go to another town for a couple of days and do work. I hope to be able to roll that marginal success into further and more-artistic travels, though it’s not a very certain activity in the slightest.
Still, I look back at the last couple of decades and the amount of work I have put out, almost all of which was completely ephemeral, and I don’t really know what to make of all that- why I did it, what I thought I was going to get out it, or even what I actually did get out of that work. It’s a bit of a holy mystery and when I think about it too long I get a bit lost.
Anyhow, I am sure that your own hurt from your career as an artist is unique to your own struggles and wins and losses, but maybe there is some solidarity to be found in all that struggle.