Conversation Pieces XX: The Entertainer
By: Wayne Brown
I watch the countryside roll by through the large tinted window adjacent to my large comfortable seat. This is my seat made especially for me. I am the only one who sits in it. I have earned that right and that privilege you see for I am the one who brings in the bacon; who fills the seats and commands those large ticket prices. After many years of swimming upstream, fame and fortune finally found its way to my door. Now, my name is a household phrase that makes mommies smile and young girls scream. When I take the stage, all eyes are looking to me and all ears are waiting to hear my songs in that live setting. The expectations are high as are the prizes like this customized bus that I sit in at the moment designed especially for me. Behind it, rolling down this interstate highway, is another one that is identical on the outside but set up for my band. Behind that bus are three identical tractor/trailer rigs with my image spread across the sidewalls of the trailer. This is my circus and we are headed for another town to play, sing, and make money.
Folks who can play the guitar and sing are a dime a dozen…they are everywhere. All of them are awaiting that big moment when fate will discover them and change their lives for the better. I think most of them actually believe that talent is just discovered and that all one has to do is wait for their number to come up in the sequence. Many of them spent their last day on earth waiting and now reside as an unknown in the graveyard somewhere. Seldom does fame find its way to one’s door by sheer accident. Oh it can happen, but I would not count on it.
I spent a lot of years as just a carefree kid yearning to just play music. I was in garage bands and I even played some solo stuff around the bars, a tough gig on its best night. There’s nothing like sitting there with your guitar and microphone listening to the din of mouths running in a joint packed with people and cigarette smoke. You sing your best while all the time wondering if anyone hears you or cares if they hear you. There is that occasional face that I would pick up in the crowd that seemed intent on my music. Those are the ones who listen to the lyrics and look for the meaning in the song…they pay attention, but there is only a few of them at any one place. The rest of the crowd pays you little mind until you quit playing and then they seem to notice that you are gone. Thinking of that always made me laugh.
So I guess you can say that I paid my dues in fashion over the years. I was one of the lucky ones who happen to be playing in the right place and the right time allowing fate to find me. That led to a recording contract, my first album release along with a video and finally my own band and a ten month tour schedule. Once the ball was rolling things happened very fast. In fact maybe it was a bit too fast for my liking but the reality is that once it begins, it is hard to maintain control and put on the brakes in any way. One is somewhat at the mercy of those who have put themselves and their money behind you and are looking for a quick turn on their investment. Once they get theirs, you may start to get some control back into your own hands. That is probably the most shocking aspect of success…loss of control.
Then the money begins to roll in and a whole new set of distractions come about. You want toys and fine things that you feel you could not afford all those long years that you earned your way into the business. You scratch every itch and get one or two of most everything that you see. New houses, cars, guitars, clothes, jewelry…the list goes on and on. You even get new women likely tossing the ones who were good enough before to the curb as you ride the rocket straight up. Friends are a dime a dozen…one on every corner anxious to be your next best pal. Money and fame lure folks to your door with a lot of amazing stories.
I have pretty much been through the buying of material things stage of this process. Rarely do I buy anything now as I already have too many of most things. The thrill is also gone. No longer is there that excitement of getting something new and unique. Part of the reason, I think, is that there is no excitement on the part of those around me when I do get it. I think there is the matter of fact thought process that says that I can afford it and they expect me to have it. It leaves me wondering who it is that is impressed by what I have done. Actually, when I get downright honest with myself, I know the answer. It is a simple one…money cannot buy happiness. There is no amount of material or physical things that can fill that emptiness that only I can feel like I do when I sit here and look out this window. That emptiness is there. It was there when I was a poor unknown and it has stayed with me over the heights of my success. It is the emptiness of something that I missed somewhere along the way. I would fix it if I could but I have no idea where to even start. I do think about it and dwell on it a lot in my quest to fill that void.
At one time, I felt like my music was my own. I created it and I played it better than anyone else because I was the one who knew the message and meaning that it held. That was quite clear to me in the early stages and I never dreamed that I could lose that awareness. It is overshadowed now. Success has brought a hectic and demanding schedule filled with repetition and drudgery. Night after night of climbing up on that stage to sing the songs that I have sang over and over and over. Each place I sing them, the crowd wants it better than anyone has ever heard it and they feel that I owe them that because they paid the price of admission. I find irony in it as I think back on all those nights in the bars when no one seemed to be listening. I wonder if they are listening now.
Now there are mouths to feed. There are families, roadies, band members, business staff, drivers, and equipment…all of it falls at my feet. It is an alligator that seems to grow bigger and bigger and bigger with time. As it does, it consumes more and more all the while demanding more from me. Long have I had the emptiness inside me but now, along with that feeling, I also have the pressures of the alligator gnawing at my heels and I am convinced that one day he will consume me as well. For now, I try to stay a couple of steps ahead.
Then there are also the doubts that creep in when I rest my head on the pillow for the night. How long does fame last? What happens when they no longer buy my songs or tickets to my shows? How do the bills get paid? Sure, I can tell myself that I have the talent to remain a force in the business for many, many years but, at the same time, I can make you a long list of former entertainers who said the same thing and now can’t sell pencils on the sidewalk. For most of us, the run is short and the fame is fleeting. Maybe that is the source of the emptiness that I feel. Maybe I am on a train to nowhere that is destined to derail somewhere down the track. I think that might be a given in this business.
Once enough success is achieved and there is plenty money on the table, there are only two factors that come into play. One is drugs…a staple of this industry. Johnny Cash, Elvis, and others used “uppers” to deal with the later hours and travel demands between stops. Then they threw in “downers” to relax them once it came time to sleep. Addiction was never a consideration until it happened to them. Then the social drugs made their way into the business…the cocaine and in some cases, heroin. Both are common in this business because they make a social statement…”I can afford it so I do”. For me, thus far, I have avoided that temptation but I am constantly surrounded by it. Then there is the paranoia. Everyone is your fan; everyone wants to be your friend. Everyone sees the money and fame thus they try to insert themselves into being a part of it. Soon fears arise that someone might be stealing me blind and my mind begins to want to want to get rid of those around me. My ability to trust people is diminishing with my success.
I glance out the bus window at the rolling countryside and smile. My mind dwells on the success that I have achieved. I admit that I yearned for it and pursued it relentlessly in my early years. I chased that elusive butterfly and caught it in my net. The irony of it all is that it is nothing like I imagined it to be and somewhere within the framework of it all I have buried my talents and traded my soul for this addiction of sorts that I cannot tame. Maybe that is the emptiness that I feel at this moment gazing through the tinted glass.
©Copyright WBrown2012. All Rights Reserved. 23 March 2012