Music, Desire, and the Trap

At my beginning, there was music and desire. That was enough. All I thought about was guitars, bands, writing songs, and performing. Then, other factors crept in, corrupting me and my pure little world. The feelings of self doubt that plague most performers started and stayed with me. My biggest fear was not being good enough. Still is, really. Trying to cope with those feelings led to to the self-medicating euphoria of drugs and booze, which were fun for a while. Soon, however, they took over my life and got between me and my music. Not feeling anxiety and inadequacy became much more important than just about anything. That pursuit of not feeling became the trap I fell into as time went on.

I think this happens to a lot of performers. Our emotions, which give us so much creativity, can also be our downfall if we can’t control them. Those same feelings that often drive our best work can also knock us out cold if we let them get the upper hand. We need to balance maintaining the healthy ego we need to get on stage or record but without feeding the negative mindset that comes from believing our critics and doubting ourselves. Easier said than implemented, I know, but the dangers of becoming an ego-ed out monster or, worse, a quivering pile of doubt and fear, loom so large that getting our heads right is of crucial importance. In my life, the things that got me off center were low self-esteem in anything but music, a difficult home life, and trouble relating to my peers. Self-medicating allowed me to adopt a different personality, one that people seemed to like more than the sober, nervous me, which was ok until that personality took over.

What got taken over was my desire and drive. Rather than driving towards bettering my skills and my music, I drove directly at not feeling those old negative feelings, no matter the cost. When this really kicked in for me in the years following high school, there were periods where I didn’t play or practice for weeks at a time. I got lost in the haze. I got trapped in that new personality, content to have a social scene and the ability to keep my weakness on ice. I consider this to be the single worst thing I ever did in terms of my musical life. At a time when I should have been going hard, I was partying hard, too hard, in an effort to repress and forget my own life. I was still in bands and gigging, but was just drifting thought it all.

This was the trap, my trap, and some of yours, too, I bet. Rather than owning my shit and improving it, I hid from it, gradually drifting off course until my life became about getting high and oblivious and I almost became a drunk non-musician. I lost a decade to that negative personality, years I will never get back. My lesson from this experience was that what needs to happen is life and our minds must be dealt with and not repressed. That does not mean that we have to live sober, but it means that we have to accept and improve ourselves and our lives rather than hiding from them. This type of mental game mistake derails more musicians than anything. Most of us don’t fail because our talent runs out; playing music is the easy part. A weak mental game will kill your career before it starts. I address this type of thing in my guitar teaching practice, which is pretty non-traditional, and feel these issues are just as vital as learning theory, reading, and technique to a developing artist.

Of course, partying too much is just one of many things we can get trapped in. What are some you have encountered?

  • Ulrich Frey

    My Name is Uli, and the main negative critique I get is from my mother. My fellow musicians at YT, for instance, stay rather silent, but even that drives me crazy. I confuse silence with being not worthy a comment. Since 4 weeks I take antidepressive medication, which would still enable a healthy life if that was all I used to calm myself. My mother raised me a strange way and gave me enough self-insecurity to have a big ego. Aggressive /autoagressive behavior is self-insecurity. But now the time has come from detoxing, cigarettes first, since they ruin my voice and even my microphone 🙁

  • I think you are reading my mail:) I started out of the gate in rock n roll at 22, playing guitar and getting sucked into the glamour of rock. I shared the stage with Joan Jett at the now defunct Rathskeller in Copley Square. I had a BLAST! I enjoyed getting trashed every night. I enjoyed the rock n roll parties with the drugs and the magnums of Dom Perignon. But I gave it up at 28 to get married to my band-mate and I think that was a mistake. Maybe I would have died if I’d stayed in that scene, like my best friend Connie (too much cocaine). At some point, I did overdose and God was there for me. I promised I’d serve Him if He let me live. Now, I sing praise and worship music exclusively (to keep my promise) but I’ve still got that “dead-head” personality that doesn’t fit in church or synagogue even though I no longer do drugs or booze. I’m a closet bass player and love the analog dayze when engineers knew how to mix/master bass guitars that lead the driving songs. Where are those engineers? Can’t I still ROCK with a driving bass line as a Folk-Rock psalmist?