Not long ago I received a curious message in my ever open in-box from a blues musician.
No, the message wasn’t a review request, a complaint about my use of Capital Letters, demands for money or another potential left field romantic disaster. The gist was that the musician wanted to let me know that they had cut and pasted a quote from an article of mine next to the mirror in their bathroom, so that they could read it every day.
It won’t surprise you to learn that I have been pasted many times and in many places, but this was a little different.
On checking, the quote was a simple reassurance to musicians everywhere about how good they were/could be/will be and how most people understood that. Although it was certainly not a Gnomic Pronouncement from the mountain, it does, on re-reading, accurately reflect my views in a commonsensical sort of way.
I have never seen myself as a Wise Monk of The Blues – the saffron and celibacy stuff is a bit extreme – but whether it be playing, running a club, a fan, carrying amplifiers or being a photographer groupie – my own experience has taught me that the potentially overwhelming nervousness and insecurity needs to be laced with a heavy dose of pragmatism and common sense to beat off the jangles and get you through.
You don’t need to post daft quotes about Dealing with Life on Facebook to realise that having a Common Sense Factor in your life can fix a lot of things.
Those who simply watch and listen to music, whether occasionally or regularly; those fans who follow their favourites everywhere; those who have them on a pedestal, buy every album and are in constant awe at the talent and pleasure they bring into our lives, should remember one thing above all others….
Those god-gifted talents that stand up there on the stage, doing amazing things with their voices, their songs, their extraordinary instrumental skills and their smiles are, in the final reckoning, just like you and me. Like you and me, they can shatter and break; they can be full of angst; full of insecurity; full of fear about not being liked, of worry about not being understood, a bag of nerves disguised with jokey braggadocio – while they stand under a cloud conjuring up sunshine for the audience.
The difference between them and us is that they have to get up and do it again tomorrow in front of a whole load of different people.
If they are lucky, their giant talent and confidence will help them shrug their way through. For most of our heroes though, as well as learning and honing their prodigious talent, they have to stare down the Dogs of Insecurity, Failure and, in their own eyes, Not Being Good Enough. You and I know that for the most part they needn’t worry. We, their audience, tell them that constantly and that in turn is, for every artist, what gets them through and makes them go on and strive to be even better.
I know many musicians who, even after decades in the business, will come up after an absolutely barnstorming performance and ask “Was that alright, then?” The waves of appreciation and the sentiment of being loved for what you have done are not only hugely important for any artist, but for many the need is constant and demanding.
Of course, adrenalin highs and nerves are often cited as twin promoters of a fine performance – but conversely, we can all rattle off examples of where that pressure, that constant need for re-assurance has become a huge burden that is hard to cope with. Thankfully, those cases are rare and are often linked with other personal factors about which we, their audience know nothing.
Nevertheless, we should never lose sight of the fragility and ego-threatening pressures of being a musician. This is their life and, for most, part of it, the bit that makes it all worthwhile is getting a return for their talent and hard work – not the return of a big bank balance and a billion sales (which is nice, of course) – but the return of love and appreciation. A small acknowledgement of talent, a bag full of reassurance, the symbolic pat on the back, the virtual hug and the quiet word of admiration. Go and tell a musician today how much you like their work.
It’s not difficult to understand. Common Sense really – an artist’s talent needs to be appreciated. Handle it with Care, Acknowledge that it can be a Fragile thing. Treat it with Respect and it will last for ever.