My whole life I’ve been a perfectionist, I must say maybe even a control-freak. This, I believe is the reason I’ve never been able to complete anything past a certain point. I’ve successfully broken through this pattern with painting and I think this is because I’m choosing not to control the end result (read: How Creativity Saved My Life); however, I’ve never been able to complete a full album of music, be it my own or bands I’ve been part of.
I’ve contemplated long and hard on this and I’ve come to realize this is because the type of music that I want to do, you can’t really produce on your own and bands have their own set of implicit rules which, if not followed diligently, will break it up.
So a few months ago I found out that a friend I hadn’t seen in years, had just completed his solo album. He had a simple web page with the album (10 songs) as a downloadable playlist. I listened to the whole thing and was surprised at how professional it was.
My friend is a singer/songwriter/lyricist and he plays a little bit of bass; not enough to hold a band but just enough to help him write his songs. I knew he had found a professional producer: the music was good and radio-friendly; his voice sounded great and the message was in alignment with how I think but what I was most amazed is that he actually got it done.
I sent an email to congratulate him on his achievement and suggested that if he ever wanted to put a live band together I’d be interested in playing guitar with him. He replied that he’d be very interested, we got together and after a few meetings, we decided to go ahead and I started to learn the songs and look for musicians.
My first thought was a professionally jazz trained bass player with decades of experience, both on the road and the studio and a truly beautiful being. We played together once in a short-lived band and since then I always thought that if another band ever came together, he had to be the bassman. I met with him and he liked the proposal. He was in.
My next thought was keyboards. For years I had been jamming every now and then with a brilliant and jolly experimental musician with a knack for creating exotic and immersive musical landscapes. After some back and forward I got him to agree to jam with us.
At that point we only needed a drummer. My first choice had moved out of state and I wasn’t that close with all the other local drummers that I knew, so I thought that maybe the four of us could pull in our resources to find a drummer. To not make the story long, our bassman brought in a drummer and we played together for a couple of months until one day he decided to move on.
And there we were, back to square one. We looked for a couple of weeks but no luck. I started to sense that familiar feeling that the band was starting to break up. We had to do something and fast, so it was at this point that we decided we were going to go ahead and move forward without a drummer. How? …the drum machine, and the ball was in the keyboardist’s court.
As the weeks passed and we were working on the songs, my inner perfectionist/control-freak just wasn’t having it. By this point most of the arrangements were far from what was on the recording and even though the keyboardist had done an outstanding job to provide the beats, it’s just not the same without a drummer.
I didn’t tell the guys but I was upset. Why couldn’t we just play the songs like they were? I had spent all this time learning the riffs and sections, it was all there but my efforts to try and reel us back to the original recording were just creating friction within the band. I again saw the break up peeking in through the horizon.
It was during a rehearsal that I had a breakthrough. We were trying to tie in some sections of a song and it just wasn’t happening when I realized that maybe the answer was to approach the music like I do with painting: to just let go and let the music be what it wanted to be, the result of four real people just having fun without a care for perfection.
The realization came as I recalled the wise words of Bruce Lee:
“Empty your mind my friend… be formless, shapeless… like water… You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup; you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle; you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be formless, shapeless, like water…”
In a moment I decided to let go of my need for perfection, flow with what life was bringing in and just play to have fun. This is when I realized that the guys had already surrendered to this and I was the only one lagging. From this moment on, the soul of the band started to peek through.
After a few more weeks, we’ve now reached another turning point. The music is demanding that we start to play live. From my perfectionist mind, we’re far from ready, but I know that the spirit of music has it’s own ways and I’m far from understanding them, all I can do is feel for the turn and flow with it …like water.
I now know that all I have to do is show up and allow things to fall in their place at their own time. It’s a little bit like when you’re driving on a dark road at night and all you can see is the amount of road that your headlights illuminate, you just know that you’re on your way and if you keep moving forward, eventually you’ll reach your destination ;)