“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Ian Maclaren
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…” – William Shakespeare
The above photo was taken by my talented friend Susannah in Cleveland a couple of nights ago.
It pretty much looks like any other concert photo that makes its way to my Instagram: cool lighting, big crowd, me slinging a guitar around and making some sort of stanky looking face. You can just imagine the sound of the guitar amps echoing off the vast columns of the amphitheater, the swell of the crowd as we’re hitting the last notes of a performance…
But I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
At the moment that this picture was taken, my guitar wasn’t making any sound.
In the second verse of our last song that night, my guitar rig died without warning. I tried to find the problem – a visual inspection of the gear at my feet, a quick yank on my cable to make sure everything was secure – but with the chorus (and guitar duet) quickly approaching, I still had nothing. I had to make the quick decision to just play along as if everything were ok. So that’s what I did – big smile, rock guitar poses, and I even took center stage for the guitar duet with Matt (despite him being the only one making any noise)!
You see, I learned a long time ago that people tend to only notice a mistake if you draw attention to it. In many cases, even the people you’re playing with don’t notice them; I will often walk off stage thinking that I had a bad night and get nothing but compliments from my bandmates. I used to think that the best musicians never make mistakes; now I’m convinced that they’re simply better at hiding them. In the case of my guitar going silent, the only members of our group who figured out what had happened were our monitor and sound engineers – not the rest of the band!
My job is not just to make music – it is to perform… and part of performing involves hiding what’s happening behind the scenes. On a personal level, it involves hiding what’s actually happening in my life. The old adage “the show must go on” is absolutely alive and well today.
I’d like to pull back the curtain a bit and give you an idea of the sorts of things that go through my head when I set foot on stage. On the left, how I look. On the right, what I’m actually thinking.
On a good day
I am living my dream. I’ve wanted to do this all my life. Don’t take it for granted. Breathe in these moments and enjoy them. All of these people are beautiful and valuable. When I play, it gives God pleasure. This is His gift to me, and I am thankful for it. LET’S DO THIS!!! [separator style_type=”none” top_margin=”10″ bottom_margin=”5″ sep_color=”” border_size=”” icon=”” icon_circle=”” icon_circle_color=”” width=”” alignment=”center” class=”” id=””]
On a mediocre day
My guitar sounds funny to me. I wish that guy in the second row would stop asking me to throw him a pick. Should I have taken a nap today? This shirt used to fit tighter – I need to work out more. I wonder what we get to eat after the show. Oh wow, we’re on the last song already. Man, that flew by… [separator style_type=”none” top_margin=”10″ bottom_margin=”10″ sep_color=”” border_size=”” icon=”” icon_circle=”” icon_circle_color=”” width=”” alignment=”center” class=”” id=””]
On a bad day
I just missed a note. Geez. I need to practice more. I’m not near as good as some of these other guys. What if I get fired? We have a house payment now. What happens if I can’t provide for us? I’m 31 and don’t have a backup plan. What do I do when all of this comes to an end? Shoot, only a couple songs left… have I been smiling enough?
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The truth of the matter is that you wouldn’t be able to tell what’s going through my head by watching me perform any more than you would be able to tell that I was having guitar problems by looking at the picture above.
I wish I could say that all of my days are good ones, but the stark truth is that I let doubts, fears, and criticisms creep into my head more often than I would like. I wish they didn’t – after all, I do have a lot to be thankful for – but they never quite go away for good.
At the end of the day, I’m grateful that I get to walk this road with people who lift me up in those low moments. People whose well-timed compliments, whether intentional or happenstance, ring louder and truer than the doubting voices in my head. People who share the same fears yet still remind me that my smile doesn’t need to be fake or forced.
My goal is to be this person for others. We all fight these battles. We all wear the same masks. The next time you step on your stage – your job, your field, your court, wherever it is that you perform – know that you’re not alone. Know that what you have to offer the world is unique and special. Get out there and give ‘em hell.
Whether your guitar is plugged in or not. :)