Sunday, March 8, 2009

A birthday for the late bloomer

"And I'm gonna be 40."
"In eight years."
"But it's there. It's just sitting there, like some big dead end."
-- from When Harry Met Sally

"I don't like old people on a rock stage. I think they look silly."
-- Grace Slick
* * *

I didn't think it would bug me.

Turning 30 didn't bug me. It was slightly freaky, sure. Even if I'd been self-supporting since leaving college, the 20s seemed in some ways like extended adolescence; 30 represented this new level of for-real grown-upness. But I was happy. I'd recently broken out of my years-long graduate school holding pattern, and at age 29 I'd landed my first career job in publishing. Who cared if my salary was almost nothing? I was finally going places.

And having gotten through 30 unscathed, I thought I'd never be one of those people who made a big deal about 40.

But here's what happened. Just a few months later, I began writing my first song. It wasn't anything I'd planned to do. Totally unexpected. That song opened up possibilities for my life I hadn't imagined. I wrote more songs, had my parents move our old upright piano to my house, bought a keyboard, joined a band, and learned to sing. Somewhere in the process, I began to think of the editorial career I'd embarked on as "the day job."

The irony? My publishing career is going quite well. If I'd never tried to stake out a claim as a musician, I think I'd be about as OK with 40 as I was with 30. I've expanded my skill set to include graphic design. I'm told my resume kicks ass. I have a cool job and I'm earning, if not close to six figures, at least an adult salary.

The music career, however, feels like it's going turtle-slow. Ron and I have recorded an album -- with financial backing, even -- but we haven't sold many copies. We've never played outside of Tucson. We don't have a huge Internet following. That's not terrible if you take into account that I only started 10 years ago. It's normal to pay dues for a while. Still, I think about all the people who have made it, and they all hit the big time much earlier.

Hell, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain were already dead by 27. I have a lot of catching up to do.

Seriously, though. When musicians are famous in their 40s, it's because they began in their 20s. I'm told they still put on on hell of a show, but imagine Mick and the boys starting the Rolling Stones at my age. Would anyone have taken them seriously?

Slow and steady wins the race at a desk job. If you're a singer-songwriter, it feels like they take the finish line away from you if you don't reach it in time.


OK. Enough of that. Today is my birthday, and I don't want to turn it into a big pity party. So as I ruminate on all of the above, I remind myself of the following:
  • Cinder Bridge doesn't play the kind of music that requires a hot young frontsman to prance around on stage.

  • I didn't get into this for the sole purpose of becoming rich and famous. The music is an end in itself. If I'm still playing in coffeehouses when I'm 70, so be it.

  • Perhaps most importantly, if my musical career had begun early, I suspect it would have been limited to keyboard playing. I wouldn't have started writing songs because I wouldn't have had anything to write about. I wouldn't have learned that I could sing because I'd have had no reason to try.
Still. Pity party aside, when I write songs, I do so with the hope that a lot of other people will hear them, and that at least a few of those people will love them. I want to be recognized for the thing I do best.

I don't know anyone who's broken into the scene this late in life. I have no role models.

On the other hand ... that means if I do it, I'll be the first. I'll be the role model.

That could be cool.

* * *

"You're never too old to rock and roll if you're too young to die."
-- Jethro Tull


Anonymous said...

Your third bulleted point - about living and as a result having substance, and experience, to sup on for inspiration for your songwriting - far overshadows anything else. I turned 40 two years ago - I'm ready for new chapters in my life, new wonders, new experiences. I'm wise, I'm patient (believe it or not) and in some ways far more passionate about what COUNTS in life, not just throwing energy at anything and everything. Don't fear or dread or decide not to welcome the 40s. They rock. So do you.

Happy (and I mean happy!) Birthday! You have arrived. Enjoy.


DeppityBob said...

There was something about getting older I was going to warn you about, but I forget what it was.