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Life, viewed sideways. Emotions, amplified. Answers, questioned. Me, between the lines.

- A Wounded Heart, Who Can Bear?
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- A Hole in the Universe
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- Working With Broken Machines
- Happy Anniversary, Baby
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- Running the Film Backwards
- Identity Crisis ("Who am I?")
- Can We Ever Really Admit the Desires of Our Heart?
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- Having Your Heart Caressed By the Creator
- Working With Broken Machines
- A New Leg to Stand On
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- We All Have a Great Capacity for Loss
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- Exotic in Thin Air (Part 3, The Pan American)
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- Exotic in Thin Air (Part 5, The Andes Express)

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"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."

Walt Whitman (1819-92)

"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."

Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)

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Monday, December 06, 2004

The Choice

Function: adjective
1 : of, relating to, or constituting a diameter : located at the diameter
2 : completely opposed : being at opposite extremes [in diametric contradiction to his claims]
3 : a situation that can force a life changing choice

Just shooting from the hip here, but I'm gonna bet that you haven't bought my latest CD from your local Sam Goodies or Tower Records yet.

Of course, the major reason for that is that there isn't one.

Now. I'm going to tell you a story that explains why there isn't one.

All the important parts of this happened in the winter of 1977-1978. I was a Freshman at Furman University that year, and like all freshman years, things were a bit wierd at times.

I found myself among a type of people that I had not normally "run with" as a rule. These were the preppy types with lots of Daddy's money, and the jocks and frat guys who could do no wrong. These were the guys who wore only the latest fine fashion clothing (at the time it was Izod, so if it didn't have any little alligator on it they wouldn't touch it) and the girls who were utterly convinced that they were a species not only apart from the guys, but some distance measured in light years above them. And then there were a few of the people who are so smart that they hardly ever notice anyone around them. Not that they're rude or stuck up, they're just thinking right now, thank you.

I was the wild card. I was one of the ones that refused to be pigeon holed and fit in. There was nobody like me out there. As far as I was concerned, that made me a special commodity.

And I played it to the hilt.

Pretty soon I was able to find some others that lived on the periphery of all this culture. Some of them would become my best friends for my entire college stay.

Which brings us to the January-February term. Somebody told me that the school had a "coffee house" program and that students could do concerts for free by simply asking. So I asked.

And true to form, I decided on a big production. My friend David, who was to be in every single coffeehouse I ever did, helped me assemble a group of gifted musicians, and with only a couple of weeks practice, we blew the socks off of everyone that showed up. Which was quite a few. The usual coffeehouse was some guy with a piano...we had guitars, electric guitars and bass, piano, saxaphone, drums, you name it.

I guess you could say we "rocked." We got a standing ovation.


The day after, we went into a recording studio and laid down four tracks. Now, this was way before the days of CD's, even before the days when cassettes were widespread. The "medium of choice" was 8-track, or really professional results, vinyl LP's.

Oh, for you spring chickens out there, those are "records." The black things you see in antique and second hand shops with the hole in the middle.

We sat down and mixed all the tracks, then the studio gave me the price to produce 100 or so EP's, which were half length records with only four songs on them.

I called my dad, so excited I could pop. I let him know that we had performed, been to the studio, recorded the tracks, everything. But now I was out of money and I needed the couple of hundred dollars it was going to cost to have the EP's pressed. He was always good for a couple of hundred dollars when I really needed it.

"You are going to have to choose," he said. "It's either going to be school, or you are going to pursue music. One or the other, not both."

I was stunned. I couldn't believe it. They weren't mutually exclusive at all. I could do both. But he wouldn't see that. He had never in my life acted this way, but he wouldn't be budged.

And I had to choose, right there on that phone. My dream, or someone else's dream. Risk, or greater safety.

My heart burned for the music.

I was the music. It was my lover, my confidant, my friend, my self.


I hung up the phone, dreams dead, surrendered. From that moment, I would never quite be the same. I could never live up to that image, that life I had just chosen that really didn't belong to me. I knew that. All I felt inside was this big gaping wound, like some fundamental part of myself had been ripped screaming from my gut leaving a vast and gaping silence.

I told my friends, who were understandably upset. We had done a good job. It was good stuff. But no one had the money to take it further.

The rest of that winter was bittersweet for me. School was hard, life was cold. On weekends we would hit the local club scene when we could afford it, or just hang around the student center when we couldn't.

My roommate took calculus that term, which at Furman was a beastly hard course. He took to spending great amounts of time studying at the library, which was fine with me. I studied, but above all was able to play my guitar all by myself in my room, comforting my torn soul, somehow making amends for my failure.

Or at least trying to.

Now, all these years down the road, I wonder if I made the right choice. And I'm not so sure I did. Sure, I have two university degrees now. I have a wonderful wife and family. Pretty soon I'll even have a job again. But, the intimacy, the thrill, the touch of wild that was the music...

I can still catch it, every so often, when I'm listening alone on my car to someone who didn't fail at the choice. The Internet Live Music Archive is full of these people. I'll plug one of them in, and in their raw concert I am transported back to a time when the spotlights burned my eyes too, when people listened to what I did, and were transported to other places.

There are times in our lives that are seminal. Choices we make from which there is no turning back. On the phone, that night with my father, I had one of those.

Right? I can't tell you.

But don't look for that album, it ain't coming.

If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.
- Robert Fritz

Permalink: 12/06/2004 09:15:00 PM |
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