I had no idea if this happened to other people, but I knew it was happening to me. I didn’t want any part of it, so I assumed this all must be normal. It’s normal to feel out of place in the audience. It’s normal to replace the performer with an imagined version of myself. It’s normal to fantasize about being a rock star.
The last of those is probably true, but I am not convinced about the rest. Most people don’t come off of a great performance more upset than they were when it started. If that were the case, no one would ever go to concerts. And this didn’t just happen to me once. I can remember being at another show and crying for seemingly no reason. Of course, there was a reason. I was watching someone else live out my fate while trying to be someone I’m not.
Looking back, it is easy to see what my counselor was trying to tell me. When I started playing guitar, I wanted to write songs, but I ended up studying classical guitar for 12 years. After spending a few of those years in a conservatory, I just quit music altogether. I had never tried my own hand at being a songwriter. I walked away completely when I should’ve just changed direction.
I was pretty mad at my counselor that particular evening. I knew she was right, but I just didn’t want to deal with it. I would be crazy to get back into music because I already failed at it. Music would swallow me whole if I ever gave it the chance.
Some artists are lucky enough to grow up in a family of other artists. They don’t really have to explain much to their friends and family when they decide to commit themselves to music. While my grandfather was a musician, I didn’t have very much of this luck. My family came with a curse of sorts. There is a history of people giving up what they love to “do the responsible thing” and get a real job. This included my grandfather who left his band in Florida to move to Philadelphia and run the family grocery store.
Even though I had no family to support, it was pretty clear from the start that I was going to have to go to college and get a job when I grew up. That was never what I wanted, but I tried to play along. I was trying to play along because everyone was telling me that I was crazy. They would tell me that no one ever “makes it.” It was OK for me to play music, but that couldn’t be how I earned a living. Surely, I would starve to death.
And yet, there I was sitting in a counselor’s office because I was doing the right thing. I had a college degree. I had a full-time job. But I felt like I was losing my mind. Nothing in my life made sense. I wasn’t anything like I wanted to be. It wasn’t even a choice to play or not. I’d later say that no one chooses to be a musician. It will haunt you to insanity if you try to ignore it.
There was only one thing to do. I bought a new guitar and waited to see what happened. Music came back to me more quickly than I thought it would, but it was on my own terms this time. I was done chasing everyone else’s dreams. I’ve known since I was a little girl that I was going to make it. It really doesn’t matter if anyone else can see it. I know who I am, and that doesn’t make me crazy.