The minute you pick up an instrument, you're immediately a rock star in your own eyes. It's the dream (no matter who tells you otherwise) that any musician would hope to live: Play music for a living. It happens to only the smallest percentage of all musicians (probably somewhere on par with a high school star making it to a professional career), but year after year and band after band, more people put their ticket in to run the course. They sign on to ridiculous hopes and dreams of an industry that has been brought out back and beaten with its own shoe over and over for the past decade. Like bands, labels come and go, leaving impacts for specific generations and niche listeners trumpeting praise and worship for years on end. You know many people like this - just not gatekeepers who see themselves as an authoritative figures on the subject. Everyone has that friend who's like, "You've never heard _______ ? Dude, you gotta hear _________, it's the essential record that never got big. Such a shame," and so on.
Most of my friends are those people.
Then again, most of my close friends play in bands. Hell, I've played in bands. It's fun. On the outside, we rally around the belief that our friends can be that next band that everyone wants to talk about. There's a part of us that wants to say, "Yeah, I saw their first show," or was thanked in the liner notes of the big hit record. Even if you're not playing in a band, there's a superficial connection that not many others can relate to "since the beginning" or whatever. Shoving all the ego aside, friends can still be fans. We're supposed to be, because without fans, a band (or to bastardize it, a business) has no room to expand into that rock star dream I previously spoke of. Living in Texas, there's no shortage of great unsigned acts, and in living in Austin, there's no shortage of indie-best-new-something either. It only increases the bitter apathy, and your warrant in wanting your friends to exceed is heightened.
A couple of Sundays back, I stood in a room with about 1,000 people watching a friend play with his band for the last time. Wait, let me rewind. I met Henry back in 2010 during South by Southwest through Moving Mountains. I checked out his band For Hours and Ours and was blown away. Great live show, underrated sound. With more touring, For Hours and Ours should have been big. Then there's that phrase we repeat far too often - "should have been big." We as close friends use it just as much as industry executives trying to figure out why a band with the right look and sound and run of direct supports flopped on their first headlining run after months of sponsorships and financial support. It's a question we forever ask ourselves about countless bands across the years. As I watched For Hours and Ours' close friends storm the stage during their final song, I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the feel of the room at that moment. I see dozens of shows a year, attend festivals and see some amazing "Oh shit, did that really happen?!" moments - but there was a unique energy felt for that full hour up until that one final drag and burn after years of investment. There's something more past the community and past the friendships and interpersonal feelings toward the moment. There's the subjective feeling of success on filling a room, whether it's your first show, first tour or last celebration remembering all of it.
Everyone in the room knew it was over. Like a time of reflection during a life changing event we have been tied to, we can't help but think of the better times and acceptance during a personal strife.
The thing is, if you put your all into it - every week you went on the road without a shower, the room of five kids and the room of five thousand, the countless planning between part time jobs to do a tour and the positive attitude and humble feeling you had behind each small goal you slowly (or for some, quickly) reached - you succeeded. Maybe you didn't financially. Maybe you'll pass down your gear to your kids, or sell them to a young kid on Craigslist who is about to venture out into the last decade or handful of years you just lived. There are the tours that should have been and opportunities you didn't miss, they were just out of your control. The true success lies in the groove of your first 7" or the production and honesty of a few demos you put up for free on Bandcamp. You accomplished more in a short time than many will throughout their whole life. Be proud.
An interesting topic was brought up through my Twitter feed a few weeks back. With the excitement of Texas is the Reason's reunion, most will forget how small the band's catalog is. Same can be said for Desaparcidos. Another for all your sweater bound prayers to the sappy gods for an American Football reunion. Small catalogs. Large impacts. Think of how many bands have done that? Rites of Spring. Minor Threat. Operation Ivy. These are bands who you can fit whole discographies on one disc - that one disc changed a landscape. I'm surely not saying that you should think small, you just should think "now," the moment, the initial creation. That final string you pluck in the studio could be your last, or it could be in crowded room filled with connected memories.
It's 2012. While we care more about how homophobic a chicken sandwich is than the education system, gas prices and the overall state of the economy shelling out student debt that doesn't even out with job growth - everyone has an equal and fighting chance. You just have to do it. It's as simple as that vintage Nike ad. Wait, is that still and ad? In all seriousness, this is our time. I think Patton Oswalt, although addressing the comedic community, made a point in his two open letters this week: "And since this new generation was born into post-modern anything, they are wilder and more fearless than anything you’ve ever dealt with." There's no telling who will write the next great song or album. Millions attempt each year, only a few come close to an accomplishment on a large scale. If you write a song your close friends enjoy in a mix of the bigger bands you look up to - that's success. If you wind up selling out of your first record and see if going on eBay for an outrageous amount one day while sitting at your six figure desk job - that's success. Picking up a guitar and being a rock star shouldn't be a goal of most in 2012. It's knowing you have nothing to lose and not much to gain in this current industry. Not everyone gets a final show. Not everyone gets a final practice. Not everyone gets to even release and record something past a few local opening slots...
...But everyone has a fighting chance, and as Juicy J put it via Twitter a few days ago, "It's aug 1st 2012 ,if u not where u wanna be in yo life....keep hustlin."