Many people think that being a professional musician is “the dream." It can be. But it also can be filled with lots of not-so-glorious moments. Even if things seem to be headed in a great direction career-wise, they may not reflect the state of your personal life.
I started touring heavily in 2002, playing drums for Motion City Soundtrack. Initially the plan was to go record a record, play a couple of shows, and then do a little touring after that. It turned into much, much more.
We recorded our first record, I Am The Movie, about two weeks after I joined the band. Then we started touring. Then we toured some more. Then record labels started approaching us. Then we toured some more, and so on and so on. It was a pretty exciting time. Especially when you’re 23 years old and had been working a dead-end warehouse job.
I loved performing, but if you took the stage away from me, I could be pretty shy and awkward. In my personal life, I have never been great with girls. I was always too much of a wuss to even approach girls. I guess being out on the road constantly built my confidence a little bit, and I ended up meeting a girl from Chicago. The band was stationed in the Midwest, so we toured that area quite a bit. I kept in touch with her, and when we were in the area, she would come out to see me. Because of never being great with girls, I could get caught up in them way too easily. And that’s exactly what happened. It escalated pretty quickly, and I was pretty obsessed. And she seemed obsessed with me. In fact, she told me she was head over heels for me. Those were her exact words. But it came crashing down about a month later. I know, I know. A month? Yes. Only a month. But that was me at the time. Easily obsessed.
She dumped me over the phone. My cell phone that I only turned on when I needed to make a call. (Those were different days.) I was heartbroken. Here I was: band on the rise, in the middle of a tour, and miserable. The worst part was that our van was headed in her direction. I thought I was going to be spending some time with her, but instead... dumped.
I was pretty hung up on her, but I tried to focus on the band and hoped things would continue to rise. At least I had that going for me, right?
We were booked to play a basement show in Lansing, Michigan. There were lots of crazy DIY basement shows back in those early days of touring for us. They were always fun, and this one seemed no different.
As our set time was approaching, we realized we hadn’t seen our singer in quite some time. While that would be a concern no matter what, it was extra concerning to us because he was a recovering alcoholic. Combine that with it being a basement show at a college. You get the idea -- not a great combo for the guy to be missing.
We found him just in time for our set, and he was clearly drunk. Like, comically drunk. Comically is probably not the right word in this situation, but it really was like an exaggerated drunk you think only exists in movies. And then it was show time. This couldn’t be good.
We opened our set that night with a short little song that he does by himself. When he started the song, he accomplished one of the greatest feats I’ve ever witnessed by a musician. He played guitar at one tempo, while singing at another. His vocals were barely vocals. There was a lot going on there, and none of it went together. I immediately just wanted to pack up and call it a night. I think we managed to somewhat get through about four more songs and then gave up. I think his amp got turned off midway through the second song.
All I could think was now the band was suddenly crashing down. I knew it was just one night, but it was unbelievably bad. Plus, he had a history. I didn’t know if it was just going to be a lost cause. I was already down in the dumps, and now the band felt like it was in jeopardy. I kind of just wanted to go home.
We packed up our gear and headed to a hotel. I wanted to just try and relax, get some sleep and hope for a better tomorrow. I turned on the TV in the room, and the news was reporting that the Beltway sniper had struck again, this time in Richmond, Virginia. Guess where my parents and most of my friends lived? If you don’t remember, for about three weeks in 2002, a sniper was roaming around D.C. and its surrounding area, shooting people at random. This time he struck about ten minutes from my parents’ house. It was pretty scary. That day, I felt like the whole world was against me.
I went to bed miserable that night. Every aspect of my life felt like it was turning against me. I could barely sleep because I had turned into Mr. Anxiety. While that anxiety was still there the next morning, I knew I couldn't give up. Time helped ease the pain of that shitty day. Thankfully, the sniper was caught only a few days later. Our tour continued on, mostly without incident. Another girl came along a few months later that helped me get over the old one. That too didn’t work out ultimately (though it did last for a while), but it’s a process, right? As miserable as I was, I had to keep going. I was pursuing my dream. If I had let that get the best of me and just went home, I would have wondered “what if” for the rest of my life. Sure, I would have been home, but that wouldn’t have solved anything. It only would have led to more misery: the misery of dreaming instead of doing. Dreams are great inspiration, but don’t let them linger forever. Do something about them. Don’t let a couple of obstacles disrupt your life path.
About two months later, things got very serious with record labels. We eventually decided on Epitaph Records. Crazy. I always dreamed of signing a record deal, and I had done it. About an hour after I signed the contract, I threw up. Violently. But, as I had already learned, obstacles come in all sizes.