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Breaking All the Rules: The Key to Success?

Updated on June 4, 2010

I always wanted to be the blue zebra. I always wanted to break all the rules, stand out, get the attention and adulation of everyone everywhere for the unique presence I could maintain, and for music.

For those of you who have been kind enough to follow my story, you know--I just didn't fit in. I never did. I gave up on that, pretty early on in my life. I broke all the rules unintentionally, at first. I didn't even know the rules I was breaking just by existing, and being the way I was, and looking the way I did. I was breaking the rules by wearing the clothes my parents pressed me into wearing. I was breaking the rules just by having an extremely unconventional family background.

In the beginning, I was breaking the rules just by coming from my family, rather than a more conventional one. I had no choice: I had no input in the situation. It was where I came from and who I was, before I was able to be self-determined.

It made me feel lost and lonely, early on. I liked people and I was hungry for friends. I found my friends among the people who didn't fit in very well, either, and found some real treasures there, that the black and white zebras missed.

I've found blue zebras amongst artists, writers, musicians, and poets, while I pursued a more conventional career path. I envied them their talents. I envied them their courage--to chase the rose, to follow their dreams, wherever their dreams took them. I envied their ability to disregard the conventions. I envied them their abilities to break the rules, with panache and grace, in pursuit of their art.

I had an ingrained fear of disorder, chaos, a loose lifestyle; I had an obsession with money, and material gain, and the respect of my fellow colleagues in business settings. I had an ingrained fear of the legal repercussions of the kind of lifestyle my most admired friends pursued. What am I talking about? To be more specific--sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.

Basically, I was too chicken to really be a blue zebra. I was, and perhaps am still, a wanna-be blue zebra.

Some of my favorite success stories are the good ole rock-n-rollers.

Mick Jagger of Rolling Stones fame came from a middle-class family, a post-war middle class family in Britain. His dad was a phys. ed teacher, I believe. Mick had a conventional upbringing.

Somehow most of his music conveyed to me and to all the world, his sense of not fitting in, his wish to push the boundaries past conventional limits, his longing for freedom. The last thing Mr. Jagger wanted to do was to be like his dad.

He and his band ripped loose. They came up behind the Beatles, who were these sweet, charming young men from Liverpool with the most delightful British accents to the ears of all the teenage girls in the USA. The Rolling Stones gave British rock 'n' roll a new, darker glamour that it never had before. The Rolling Stones pushed the envelope all right--the cover art for one of their albums was a pre-pubescent, naked girl in the foreground with Mick Jagger lounging, smirking satanically, in the background. The album cover, though not the music itself, was banned in the USA for six weeks until the courts found they couldn't sustain a case--it wasn't explicit enough to be called pornographic.

Another album cover featured Mick Jagger, in his jeans, and the fly of the jeans in his cover photo was a zipper, a real zipper that you could unzip if you felt like, in the privacy of your own home. Only to expose a bit of white. His tighty whiteys, perhaps? What a gimmick. My hat was off to the man. A marketing genius came up with that one.

They made it to the big time. They ended up filthy rich. I don't think Mick had the drug problems his lead guitarist, Keith Richards, had, though there were media storms of the ways in which all the Rolling Stones defied every convention of their times.

I know they worked for that, for their music, for their self-expression, for their freedom from the nine-to-five. I know it wasn't all one big party, though the media made it look like that, with Mick Jagger holding a joint, an open bottle of champagne between them, in the back of the limousine after his marriage to Bianca.

But Mick Jagger did it his way. He broke all the rules. And he, God bless him, lived every minute of his life to the hilt, performing to huge crowds, travelling, seeing everything, tasting every sensation, and putting in music, putting it in words.

There are many artists, writers, poets, actors, and dancers, whose success lay in their willingness to forgo conformity, stand out from the crowd, and do the things in life they feel are important for them to do, regardless of whether these pursuits make the cash register go cha-ching, or not.

These people, so admired, so relentlessly pursued by the media, are heroes to us all, just because they had the guts. Just because they took their lives into their own hands, and said, "The hell with it. I'm gonna be me, and find out who that person is, and what that person has to uniquely offer." They closed one door on themselves, deliberately. The door to a conventional lifestyle, a "real" job. They threw a lot of different kinds of security to the four winds, in order to make this unique contribution to music, to the arts, to films, to poetry, to writing and books, and stories and legends.

It paid off for them when they weren't looking, I'm sure. It paid off materially when they had long since gone past the time when that's what they cared about.

My hat's off to all the people who have that kind of courage, no matter what level of material or worldly success they find. My hat's off to all the people who have the guts to stand away from the crowd, the dailiness of daily life, and follow their dreams.

And I don't care if they broke the rules. It seems to me, they needed to.

Me, myself, am really a mostly decent, law-abiding, respectable citizen. I stayed away from drugs, and it's one reason I got out of the band I was in. Pot and beer turned to opium-laced hashish once we started to hit the big time. We got a gig backing Supertramp on the road for the last half of a US tour, and that was a real eye-opener. There wasn't too much sobriety going on, any given time of the day. The bass player had whiskey for breakfast while a lot of people lit up whatever was in the pipes they were smoking.

That tiny chapter in my life is a whole 'nother story, and one that won't be told here. Suffice it to say, that even though when my ears were tested it was found I was gifted with perfect pitch, and always had that special feeling and affinity for music; and suffice it to say, that music, though I wanted that career so bad I could taste it at one time in my life, was not for me.

Why? I was easygoing enough to accept whatever was going on, as far as whatever people wanted to indulge in. But for me, well, I think sometimes, somehow, my soul was too small. I was too chicken to back out entirely from the nine-to-five, living in one place, settled-home kind of life that the other half of me craved just as deeply as being in a band.

I was torn, that was the thing. I couldn't quite bring myself to be whole-heartedly committed to that roving, rootless, unconventional lifestyle. I found, for me, I couldn't throw all the rules out the window when it was necessary to do that. I was torn, and I was scared, and deep down, I really had no faith in my own talents.

I think the people who do succeed, those writers and artists and poets and novelists and actors and dancers and all the beautiful people who contribute their wonderful gifts to us, do because they follow their dreams with a whole heart, and are not torn. They may be scared: they may wonder at times what's going to happen to them, but they are committed.

So bless those folk, I do with all my admiring eyes, heart, and soul. And keep them from the conventions; help to make them successful in their lives, happy and free.


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