Courage to Be Quiet (and to watch Springsteen on Broadway)

I’ve realized something about my solo performances. I keep trying to be as loud as I can. I keep trying to add in as many elements as possible to get the biggest sound. I keep trying to be more than I am. That last one may sound like an admirable trait, but in this context it is damned near debilitating. To never reach that full sound I want is maddening. It causes me to doubt not just the sound, but my ability to perform and the songs themselves. It sucks.

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And then this weekend I watched the Netflix film Springsteen on Broadway. Let me say that I am not a fan of the Boss. I just don’t get it. There are a few exceptions though. “I’m on Fire” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad” are undeniably great songs. But from where I stand, they seem to be the antithesis of “Born to Run” or “Born in the USA.” His voice was somewhat of a turn off, and I hated their cover of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” But I’ve heard a lot of people talk about Mr. Springsteen’s broadway production and thought this would be an opportunity to listen with fresh ears. I’m glad I did. While I’m by no means a convert, I can now appreciate what it is that he does. Hearing his stories, his solo acoustic guitar, imperfect strumming, and stripped down arrangements was refreshing for me. It was like watching a masterclass on “Solo Acoustic Performance and Storytelling.” There was a lot of silence in this film, all of it very purposeful. Needless to say, I took some notes.

And after all of this, I realize that I have never had a problem being loud. I can play bombastically without issue to nearly any room. But I get most stage fright when I know things will be quiet. I think it’s because I am afraid that everyone will hear each and every one of my mistakes and imperfections. If the performance is quiet and I blank on a lyric, everyone will hear. It’s hard for me. But I now know that I need to have confidence and the courage to be quiet. I need to trust myself and my songs. I need to give myself permission to make mistakes. I need to accept that I will make mistakes, and that’s ok. Fortune favors the brave.

Report: First Gig as Next Paperback Hero

Well, I made it. It was a nerve-wracking and sweaty evening, but I am pleased to report that I didn't totally shit the bed. Exactly a week after my initial decision to just be open to the prospect of gigging again, I put together a set and performed before a small crowd for the first time under the name Next Paperback Hero.

I haven't stayed up that late for anything but New Years in a long, long time, especially on a Friday after a tiring work week. So I was definitely feeling it as I drove up to Frank's for load in at 9 pm (I know, I'm old.) It was clear that as the last act to be added to the bill, that I was going to have to go last. In this case, that meant starting around midnight. But beggars can't be choosers and I was grateful for the opportunity.

I was actually quite thankful I didn't have to go after the opening funk/jam band. Their vibe simply did not mesh with mine at all. The touring band, Wild Age, was a great transition as their set was still energetic, but brought in more of the indie vibe. (Read more about my thoughts on Wild Age here!) 

I found a couple of things I need to do:

1. Build a pedalboard. All of the other guitarists had pedalboards...so it was a bit awkward to pull out all of my pedals one by one, check the dials, plug them in, etc. Not only did I feel like an amateur, but I saw how easy it was for them. They literally took their pedalboard out of its case, plugged it in, and away they went. #Jealous

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2. Buy a handkerchief. Despite it being pretty cool outside, the venue was warm and the stage lights were radiating heat. I'm a sweaty guy in general, but this really took the cake. Sweat streamed down my face and into my eyes. I know that wiping it away with sleeves is weird, so I tried to power through. Kristen tells me she's seen people carry handkerchiefs while playing shows, wipe their brow between songs, and it is far less distracting. Well, that's what comes next!

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3.  Practice. Now that's not to say I didn't practice enough for this gig. I put in quite a bit of time and did what I could. And while I had a few misfires with the loop pedal, they were relatively easy to overcome. The real issue was comfort. It a bit harder than I remembered being alone out there and I could tell that I wasn't as moving nearly as much as I did when practicing at home. But I've been gigging for years, alone for the better part of three years. So why now? 

Well, in my experience, a new band or new set up hits the reset switch in many ways. There are so many new unknowns that you can't anticipate how it's going to go or feel, no matter how many times you practice. Sometimes, you just need to get that first gig out of the way and learn from it.

I can tell you that this gig felt significantly better than my last performance from over a year ago. I don't know if I technically played any better, but overall it felt good to have some of these songs out in the world again, not just online. At the end of the day, this was all I needed to start moving forward again.

In summation, I'm glad I got out there and did it, learned some valuable lessons, and feel more prepared for the next one. I can't say I'm going to go book a bunch of shows, but I am open to playing more and striving to find balance between gigs, studio, family, and everything else in life.