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Claude Monet: Cliff Walk at Pourville (1882)

"Everything was different after that."

Success and failure seem every bit as mercurial as time, for the mere passage of time seems capable of utterly changing either's nature. An apparent failure can become an evident Success when seen through the long-ish shadow of additional experience. Events that seemed apparent Successes in the moment they occurred can erode themselves into even more apparent failures later. TimePassing seems capable of utterly reversing almost any experience, of turning pretty much any event into its opposite. There's real wisdom in the advice to sit on or with a failure before wallowing in it, for The Gods, or somebody, remain capable of fiddling with events, reversing their nature. A stumble might enable a better rhythm to emerge later.

I'm sure that we all have our stories of catastrophes narrowly averted by what, at the moment, appeared to have been a serious setback of fortunes.
My careers have been deeply influenced by initially misleading experience, my signature one being the performance that convinced me to leave the music business. My agent had booked me to open the show for a genuine head-banging group, a sado-masochistic Scottish rock and roll band. My agent referred to me as a “single acoustical artist,” a folk singer, performing exclusively my compositions, mostly quiet and peaceful tunes with nary a head-banger among them.

The contradiction didn't become obvious until I arrived at the theater for the soundcheck well before the audience entered. There I was, sitting on a high stool, preparing to sing my heart out to a vast room that would soon be filled by head-banging strangers. The band nearly brought the roof down when they warmed up. Their stage set included a faux brick wall which a bagpiper marched through for their finale. I felt confident my agent had set me up for a difficult performance. I doubted that the audience attracted to that band would find much to appreciate in my presence.

And so it was. I felt grateful that they threw nothing but epithets, but they threw those with vehemence. I practiced a Zen-like detachment, putting the adage that 'words can never hurt me' to excellent practice, but those words still wounded. I performed as well as I'd ever performed anywhere, a massive sound system amplifying my rather plaintive voice into a genuine force of its own, but I could not pacify with peace that audience who had come to witness blood. Finally, I finished my set to the evident relief of everyone involved. I moved backstage and began packing up my guitars. I did not stay until the end of the band's performance.

The long drive home that night found failure as my passenger. Through the couple of hour journey, I carried on a dialogue with myself and my failure, realizing that the career in which I'd invested seven years would end up being more like this if I proved as successful as I'd hoped. I would never control the contexts within which I performed, and even the perfect ones would hold an unpredictable audience. My whole existence had just that suddenly become extremely precarious. By the end of that drive, I knew in my heart that I'd have to find another profession if I hoped to survive. Sure enough, my agent called the following morning to praise me for my performance and to offer me another opening when Eric Clapton passed through town. I declined the offer.

And that failure formed the foundation for much of what happened for me after that fateful evening. From the perspective of fifty years later, I can see now that that concert might have been my most successful ever. The Muse insists that the angst would have eventually killed me if I’d continued performing like that. Instead, I went on to, as I insisted then to insulate my tender ego, play a differently shaped guitar. I engaged with the familiar passion whatever I did after that, for being a single acoustical artist had taught me something about projection and Success. It taught me how to embody my passion, probably the key to whatever subsequent Success I ever experienced. TimePassing turned that fateful evening into one of my signature Successes. Everything was different after that.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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