Last Sunday, I was in my studio/office/practice room working on editing a podcast project, when I got a call from my good friend E.J. We go way back; I have toured with E.J. in the band Maggi, Pierce, and E.J., and we have played together countless times. We even have our own band for when we play together called We’re Terrific. He was having problems with the Pro Tools files for his upcoming album, and wanted help setting things straight. For the last month or so, E.J. has had a key to my house, and has come in while I’m at work to chip away at mixing and shaping the tracks in his songs. I was about ready for a break, so I told him to come on over.
We were able to fix his files relatively quickly and began to discuss several of our projects we were working on. He brought up his latest album and a jam session he was hosting later that night. I brought up my podcast and my endeavors to get booked at specific venues. We watched a video I made of the open mic I played while out in San Francisco at the Hotel Utah, and commented on how engaged the audience was. People were laughing and cheering; it amazingly seemed like they were actually listening to the performer on the stage. We talked about how difficult it can be to find a venue and a vibe like that.
Afterwards, E.J. got ready to leave, but was waylayed by the piano in my living room. He started playing a few songs, and pretty soon I had my accordion and toy piano out and was playing/singing along. E.J. is a phenomenal musician to play with; he knows exactly how to blend into the sound of the other people he’s playing with, and he has a great ear for the melody and harmony. After playing two of his songs, we talked about a show we did a few years ago in which we played the complete Aladdin Sane album by David Bowie. This got us both giddy and we started jumping around from song to song from the album, first playing Time, then Lady Grinning Soul, and finally Watch That Man. We ended with a rousing rendition of Moonage Daydream.
It was in no way how I had planned my afternoon to go, and it was such a great reminder about what I love about playing music. There was an instant gratitude that we could have so much fun making music together. Later, after he left, I taught the first piano lesson in about six years. I was understandably nervous, but after I had taught my young student a song or two, he turned to me and said earnestly, “Wow, this is fun!” It got much easier after that.
So all of these positive experiences were coalescing in my head: the appreciative audience in San Francisco, the impromptu Bowie jam session, and a young person’s first glimmer of excitement playing music. It reminded me that despite any uncertainty I encounter while trying to find a way that works for me, there are shining moments of positivity which just feel right. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the unending series of forks in the road that lead to uncertainty. Is this gig going to be a waste of my time? Should I partner up with this person, or will it cost me in the end? How much money am I willing to invest in this indeterminate proposal? I need to remember that there are also times when the sheer joy of the situation erases any such concerns.
Times like these shift your barometer of determining success. Once you have this great moment of connection playing with someone, it’s hard to go back to the drudgery of playing with someone who you connect with less (or not at all). In that sense, sometimes I find these moments of joy scary, since they so often lead to disappointment and discontentment with the every day. However, I like to live by the principle “too much of a good thing is fantastic!” I believe that rather than being merely glimpses of the ideal, these moments can also be gateways to the shifts in lifestyle that make the ideal a more consistent reality. It seems so simple. You find a way of life you love, then you live that way. Certainly there are life events and obstacles that stand in the way of that, but I think too many of those obstacles come from ourselves and are merely illusions. Or, as my favorite card game tells it:
In concordance with these thoughts about positivity I’ve been having, this weekend I also discovered Jerry Seinfeld’s internet series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. In addition to being an entertaining look at Seinfeld’s relationships with his friends and colleagues, I found a similar sentiment in the episode featuring Michael Richards (aka Kramer). At about the twelve minute mark, Michael Richards talks about his first reading with Jerry Seinfeld and how there was that immediate connection: “I knew when I started reading with you, I just said ‘They can’t pass that up.'” It was great to see artists at that levels encountering that elusive feeling of “rightness.” Here’s the complete episode, which is definitely worth watching:
So all that’s really left for me to do is to make a choice. Do I accept these fleeting moments of positivity and connection as just that: fleeting moments? Or do I start making the changes in my life to make them the baseline by which I compare everything else? It sounds like a silly question: why wouldn’t I just try to make my life as rich as possible? But shifting my perspective to embrace the positive is more than just a mindset. It involves a lot of introspection, a massive amount of work, and potentially a fair amount of sacrifice along the way. I’m excited, though, about the possibilities of living the happiest and most fulfilling life possible. And I may not be ready to dive in head first, but I’ll at least continue getting my toes wet for now.