This week I’ve been confronted by my fear of failure. In a way it’s been a little more tangible than it has been in a while. As I write this, I’m sitting at my desk at work alone. My co-workers have all gone home already and I’m sorting through last minute administrative tasks for clients in the US on what is a national public holiday. All this, when I could be creating.
Having done a degree in Drama, played more music shows than I can count and experienced the sheer euphoria of being impassioned and gripped by something that I truly believe in – I have resolutely and somewhat reluctantly abandoned the fear and discomfort of the unknown – for the safe, known, road often traveled. The silence here in the office moves me. To what – I’m not sure.
You see, my path appears riddled with the nay-sayings of those whose prescribed way of the world, attempts to subdue me at every corner. It is more cumbersome when many of the nay-Sayers are my own family and it is no less rewarding when strangers value the purpose for which I came into the world – if that purpose exists as something that I can grasp, taste, feel, work towards.
One reason that has fueled my desire for writing this blog has been the journey itself, and many times I see this journey in the lives of other artists. The other night Brother & Brother did a mash-up with DJ Eazy and rapper The Recruit (Calvin Gopal) at Kaleidoscope Cafe. Calvin had the inexplicable task of opening up more than just the show for the few who came out to support. I know what it feels like to perform to an empty room. Between songs Calvin spoke about his personal tribulations, having experienced a 5 year period wherein he wrestled with various problems – the largest of which being identity. These tribulations inspired the songs he had written for his debut album entitled ‘The Sign-Up’. During his set I felt that all too familiar feeling, the one I get when I see artists doing their thing unashamedly, unmoved by what others might say or do. Mozart said that he paid no attention to others’ praise or lack thereof.
I’ve seen many rappers perform – few are more than hype, clothing, labels, social constructs and cliches. Calvin had this way of speaking to the heart – a way of being. A Real Being. I think it had something to do with his heart. Art for Art and Art for Love. That’s it.
The other day I found this image on Facebook:
I can’t begin to explain how true to life the above actually is – except for the addict in the left hand corner. The caption “What my Mom thinks I’m doing” should be changed to “What my family thinks I’m doing” and made to accompany the image in the top right hand corner. The bottom right hand corner is fairly accurate. I haven’t played in an orchestra before so top left is inappropriate (although I think big band counts?).
The overarching theme of this blog has been to shed some light on the role of artists in society – those who do what they do because they can’t but not do it. I think the role of artists who are trying to make a difference is down played. In my culture, if you’re not a boy genius/child prodigy at first instance you get totally disregarded.
I started playing piano when I was 10 years old. At that time all I wanted to do was play by ear – play songs I heard on the radio. I was forced to read music and when I couldn’t do it properly within the first few weeks of my playing, my mom (who was a church pianist would shout at me). I cried every time she would do so. I then gave up piano playing. When I was 14 I picked it up again for a few months but reading the pieces was really boring, so I dropped it. When I was 18 and first year at university I did a one year crash course in classical piano and pushed myself to do the first 5 grades. A little bit of encouragement could’ve gone a long way. Even now, when I play – my dad asks me when I’m gonna play beautiful classical pieces. This is probably because his perception of piano playing is that of the high artists: the classical composers – the Bachs and the Chopins of this world. I generally just jam on the piano, whatever pops into my head I play it – even if technically I am not a concert pianist.
Free artistry is something I am still trying to work towards because my rational mind inhibits me from fully recognizing my potential. I liken this to the proverbial child who brings his father a picture he has drawn. He wants his father to approve of his picture, as this would give him a reason to believe that the time and effort he has spent on drawing it has been worthwhile. The father can either approve of the child’s drawing even with all of its juvenile flaws – or, he could disregard the drawing and criticize the ear-less or nose-less drawing of a human figure. My experience is closer to the latter, not that this is a jab at my parents but rather – a universal query for parents all over. I can assure you – the child who received love and approval and whose parents cultivated him with a sense of pride has it better than the child who has the desire to learn, grow and create but simultaneously has to battle off a lifetime of mental slavery.
Why do people in my culture not encourage artistry? Is it because artists are perceived as not making any money? Is being an artist a real job? Does it pay the bills? I’ve heard everything from, “But can you make a living as an actor?” to “What is Josh gonna do with his life? He should do a teacher’s diploma Richard (my dad)!” to “See you on 7de Laan” to “Josh should have something to fall back on!” to “…he is worshiping the idol of music.” One girl’s dad even asked me if I have chosen the life of the musician. I assume he was asking me this to see what options his daughter had. Y’know parents are afraid and what not.
Most of those sayings are more implied and some of them are said condescendingly. The irony is that I’ve succumbed to their prodding – but only for the time being suckers.
This is why I’m encouraged when I see artists doing what they love and unabashedly not giving a damn in the face of adversity and negativity. There’s enough crap going on in the world – why should something which is pure and true be defiled for no reason?
Here is Calvin’s behind the scenes video of his studio session recording ‘Dreams Can Fly’. One word: BOLD!