We all have our goals of perfection in life, whether it be getting the perfect score on an exam or an audition, or our moments of being the hero by scoring the home run in the bottom of the ninth. For many years, I had this almost idyllic goal in my head, and not only was it not attainable, but it caused me to make a lot of mistakes in my pursuit of it.
I always wanted to play the “perfect gig” – this was not a gig of playing no wrong notes -this was a gig where everything musically sounded exactly like it does in my head. Most cover bands will “learn songs from the record”…..I’ve always taken this up a notch, almost to the extreme. To me, it was never about just learning the melody and the chords – it was about playing the song as authentically as possible to the original recording…..exact same harmonies, arrangements, instrumentation, keyboard settings, bass lines, you name it. My mistake was expecting everyone else to have the same focus on learning songs the same way. I got really spoiled watching Paul Shaffer and his band backing up different artists on Letterman every night, and always capturing the same nuances as the original recordings. Listening to groups like Earth, Wind and Fire and Tower of Power only made me want to be that much more of a perfectionist.
There was a band that I played with in Pennsylvania about 15 years ago….the name of the band was Red Hot & Blue, and they were a decent band playing cover tunes in Central PA. I’ll admit it – when I was in this band, I was a TOTAL ASSHOLE…they were playing this great repertoire of music, and I was beyond frustrated because in my head, the songs weren’t being played true to the originals. Sadly, I missed out on the simple, basic reason we were playing….we were playing to have fun. That has been one of my biggest regrets for the past almost 15 years.
I’m very appreciative when I receive compliments about my “Have Groove, Will Travel” solo album, as I’m glad that people still enjoy listening to it, and that I was able to complete something that I thought I’d never be able to do. I have a very hard time listening to it now, as it reminds me of my frame of mind back in 2005 when I was recording it. I had made this whole project into a pass/fail scenario – my goal was to become a backup singer for a major recording artist, and if that didn’t happen, the whole project was a failure. I tried to become an extreme perfectionist – recording songs multiple times, being very particular about how the musicians played certain parts, and how harmonies and phrases were to be be sung. During this time, my dad had passed away, I had a major falling out with my best friend Pat, my ex-wife was working on my last nerve, and I was being an asshole with Red, Hot & Blue. I still hear my “self-perceived mistakes” in each track on the record, and for the longest time I was obsessed with going back and re-recording certain parts on the master tapes they way I thought they should have been. In 2006, I had a nervous breakdown from being mentally exhausted. (For those of you who worked with me at Vanguard, this was the real reason I left.) I had just completed a project that I could have only dreamed about, and in now way shape or form did I enjoy doing any of it. And it damn near killed me.
My music goals are much simpler and more healthier now. I want to make another record, and my main goal is to have fun while doing it, mistakes and all….that’s exactly why it will be called “Absolutely Impurfekt”, as there is no such thing as perfection. (For the album cover, it’ll probably be me sitting on a bench, with a dog whizzing on a fire hydrant in the background….talk about imperfection!) I hope to make this album with my brother and my friends, as that would mean the world to me to laugh and make music with the people I care about the most. And although I’m not pursuing 100% perfection, there is one song that I’d like to do with authenticity, out of my incredible respect for the original artist, and how this song was a big part of my life growing up. The song is called “If You Were Mine” by Ray Charles, and I remember listening to this on 8-track with my older brother on many the occasion while riding in our ’68 Chevy Caprice with our folks….this has always been one of my favorites!
I LOVE being “L Train” – I’m not the front man – I can be the guy wearing an over-sized hat being incognito in the background, just playing his ass off…..and I no longer beat myself up about playing/singing wrong notes, or not playing the perfect solo….more often than not, I just say to myself “Man, I fucked that up!”, have a good laugh, and just keep on playin’. All of these musical goals are attainable, and I’m having a lot more fun now in my pursuit.
One thought on “the pursuit of unattainable musical perfection….and how it damn near killed me.”
Ah grasshopper – the perfection is in the flaws don’t you know
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