There’s something I keep noticing that really fills me with hope: it seems that, most of the time, people don't start out doing the thing that ends up making them great. It really seems like they're all over the place, engrossing themselves in whatever has their attention in the moment, changing focus at a moment’s notice to a new venture. Being all over the place isn’t a problem- the only problem would be stopping. To me this means that no matter what direction, if you just keep moving you will be lead to success.
Now, I am far from satisfied with my career. I have such a long way to go before I will consider myself a success, but I can recognize that any strides I have made thus far are because of nothing but the balls to just go for it, to say yes- to “show up.” Any time I find myself depressed, or discouraged that I’m not a superstar, I realize I feel that because I have time to feel it, because I have stopped moving forward. I have sat still for too long. As soon as I’m up and moving again I feel like I’m killing it. Because as long as I’m taking action, I AM killing it.
I can go back in time and prove to myself that this is true. I got my start playing in the subways in New York City. There was no plan to become a published songwriter or recording artist, to play a sold out show or to go on tour- it was just a part of being able to keep going. See, I was living in a dorm in the Lower East Side, paid for by my ridiculous student loans. My school didn’t offer meal plans or anything of the sort so there was no loan paying for food. Oil painting isn't cheap, and all of the money my parents sent me (about $100 a month if I was lucky) would go to art supplies. So in order to pay for food, in order to keep working toward my painting degree and keep making my art, I had to find a way to pay for sustenance. My little hobby of fiddling around on the ukulele came in handy then- I went underground and hammered through the few covers that I knew, collecting change from passers-by. I could usually only stay for about 2 hours before my fingers would start bleeding (I had no technique so I was probably just strumming all wrong, but you also have to hit a ukulele very hard to resonate through a subway station with no amplifier).
I would collect my coins and use those to buy dollar slices and dollar dumplings- dollar foods were my life force. The bills I would save up for about $40 a week on cigarettes, weed and alcohol because whatever I was 21 and an art student what do you want from me?! After that, if I had enough I’d treat myself to one of those choose-your-own-adventure-salads. Then it was back to my canvas to keep moving forward, to keep making art, just keep going. I painted and went to school, and I used the subway like an ATM machine. Friends want to go to a party in Brooklyn? BYOB? Okay, give me and hour and I can get a couple of 40’s with my ukulele money.
Of course it had crossed my mind that some hot-shot record exec could stumble upon me underground, scoop me up and set me on my quick path to riches and superstardom. I think everyone who sings or plays an instrument has had this fantasy, we’ve all seen it in the movies. But this isn’t why I was down there. I really just wanted to keep going, to stay alive in NYC. Then one day this guy comes up and shakes my hand, introduces himself as Jay Levine, and invites me to the studio to record a song. Of course I thought this was my big break, and in many ways it was, because that moment started the past 4 years of writing, working and growing as a musician. The first day in the studio we recorded “Clouds,” which would become the title track of my first EP. Now I could go on and on about how that turned into where I am now but the point here is that I had no idea what I was working toward, I was just working. You could tell my story by saying that I fell into the music industry at random, but I know that just doing unexpectedly led me to where I am.
This is of course the real struggle- to keep going even when it seems like there’s no point, when you can’t see the end game to what you’re doing. Well that may be because the end game is actually in another sport altogether. But there’s no way to get there if you stand still.
I still paint, that will always be my passion. I create all the artwork for my songs, and draw and paint on the side for myself. But this road to music just appeared one day and I started walking. Every time I start to slow down I remind myself that there might be another road right around the corner, one that I could never dream up or conjure in my mind- I can only find it with forward motion.
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