Driving home from school in June; sun shining...windows down...Vulfpeck blaring...
"I have a hypothetical for you G-man."
"Let's say you could have Flea's bass skills, fame, and money.
You could have his talent, his technical ability,...everything
from a musical perspective that he can do, you could do."
"That sounds pretty cool Dad."
"Yeah, but there's a catch. In order to be famous
you have to play Red Hot Chili Pepper style music
for the rest of your career. You can have the fame
and the skills, but you have to play that style music.
"What's the alternative?"
"Or you could just keep building your skills and play
whatever you want. Which would you choose?
Fame and fortune playing someone else's music,
or no guarantee of anything making your own?"
I was blessed as a kid. My parents worked hard and made a good living for us. We weren't rich, but we were well off enough for me to take over a baby blue 1979 Datsun 510 Station Wagon (Woody) when I turned 16 (swanky!). There were also family vacations to Six Flags over Atlanta, Navarre Beach, and New Orleans. We even had a new Atari 2600 under the Christmas tree sometime during Reagan's first term. Life was very comfortable.
"Chris, it doesn't matter what you do when you grow up as long as it makes you happy." My Dad said that frequently. Mike Lanier Career Planning Chapter 1, Verse 2 usually followed: "If digging ditches makes you happy, then work to be the best ditch digger in the world." Luckily for me (and any 2nd rate ditch diggers out there), I was drawn to flying. I think I was around 8 or 9 years old when I saw the Blue Angels at Pensacola Naval Air Station. I was sold. I recall my mom asking if I was sure that's what I wanted after seeing Top Gun at The Ritz in Brewton, AL. "Yes Ma'am...that's what I want to do!" And guess what,...that's what I did. I wasn't ripping through the air in an F-14 (still my favorite), but I loved flying the KC-135R, C-17, and Global Express. It also turned out to provide a pretty comfortable living. But what if that wasn't the case? What if my passion for flying and a comfortable living didn't line up? What if it required dropping from two to one or zero cars? What if it meant living in an apartment instead of a multi-bedroom house? Would I still choose that path? It's tough to say after you've grown a family. But what I can say with certainty is the thought of getting rich or famous never crossed my mind when I joined the Air Force. I applied to the U.S. Air Force Academy because over half of the graduates went to pilot training each year. I wanted to fly and I liked those odds.
The odds of becoming a world famous musician are somewhere between those of getting struck by lightning and actually winning a prize in a grocery store Monopoly game (we're done with those by the way). For every artist that hits it big there are thousands more working odd jobs and playing weekend gigs to rooms full of marginally interested people. There are songwriters and musicians out there that chase crowds, but I think they are in the minority. People that have dedicated their life to pursuing music have a passion to share that creativity. They slowly transform their caterpillar into a butterfly for all to see. It's a beautiful process that might take years or decades,...or never happen at all.
Michael has been beating on his craft hard for years. Jenni and I got him a guitar and some lessons when he was about 8. We were startled by how quickly he progressed. It was clear to us early on that God gifted him with musical talent. I can't remember when he transitioned to bass, but by the time we moved to Palmdale, CA three moves and eight years later he was 100 percent committed to it. He puts in 15-25 hours a week picking up licks from his idols Joe Dart (Vulfpeck) and Mono Neon (Ghost Note). What other 15 year old listens to Earth, Wind, and Fire and Bootsy Collins? Music is his love. Right now, it's what he wants to pursue as a career.
It's tempting for me to try and nudge him towards a safer path. Are you sure that's what you want to do G-man? But my Dad was right. Money can't buy you happiness. A surefire path to financial security won't bring you joy. It might just ensure you are comfortably miserable for a very long time.
"That's an easy question Dad."
"Oh yeah, so which would you choose?"
"I want to make my own music. I don't want to
play other people's music the rest of my life. I
don't care if I ever become famous"
"Good answer G...that makes me really happy."
Make your own music G-man. We'll always be there for you.