There are moments in everyone’s life when a song comes on at precisely the perfect moment. And that song then remains forever burned into your memory and your experience. Sometimes it even becomes part of you. Sometimes it changes the trajectory of your life. I have always loved music more than most other things in my life, so this has thankfully happened to me numerous times.
I started collecting vinyl records in the 80’s when I was in high school. I was a disc jockey for two years on my high school radio station, then for another 3 years in college on that station. I went on to play drums in 5 rock bands. I actually buy the soundtracks to my favorite films. I’ve attended hundreds of concerts, and now I work security in several music venues. This bumps up my total concerts attended into the thousands.
But when I was a little boy (before I discovered music), my parents enrolled me in dance classes. I was the only boy in the class, which continued for the years I was doing this. We were doing jazz dancing and tap dancing. Yep. Those of you who only know me as an adult would probably scrunch up your face and scoff at me if I told you this in person.
“I call bullshit, dude. No way.” My adult persona encompasses many different things, and putting on tap shoes certainly isn’t one of them. But I assure you, this happened.
I refused to participate in sports, and was already taking music lessons, but my parents wanted me to do something physical. And rightfully so, as I recall being a bit clumsy and was usually the smallest kid in my class. Funny how I grew up to be a bouncer as an adult. That irony and psychological foundation is definitely not lost on me.
I was also painfully shy. Ridiculously so. I really didn’t speak to people, especially in the dance class. I had a golden opportunity to take on my dance classmates as friends and even sisters that I never had. But I wasted that opportunity by clamming up and not talking to anyone beyond the occasional polite pleasantries. I wasn’t rude, people liked me, but I just didn’t talk to people. Looking back, I regret that I didn’t reach out and open up to these girls in the class. We spent a lot of time together. We did regular performances and recitals together. They could have been my confidants and teammates. They really should have been part of my extended family. They could have perhaps guided me in the magical ways of how to talk to girls, how to act around them, and even how to dress. Lord knows I should have accepted some fashion tips from girls as a pre-teen. Hell, probably even as an adult.
So I was at one of these dance recitals hanging out by myself when the song zapped me. The girls were all together somewhere else probably giggling about school and boys. Possibly wondering where the weird quiet kid in their dance troupe was and why he wasn’t hanging out with them. I was, of course, hanging out by myself. This was long before anyone had phones or anything to distract themselves with in public. I couldn’t really bring a book to read. Sometimes I had a Sony Walkman to listen to my heavy metal cassette tapes. Which was funny to me because the songs we performed to were popular pop songs of the day, or Broadway show tunes. So while we might dance to Barbara Streisand’s song from the film ‘Funny Lady’ called “How Lucky Can You Get?”, on breaks I was rocking to Judas Priest’s song from ‘Sad Wings of Destiny’ called “Victim of Changes.” (Interestingly both of these songs were recorded in 1975.) Boy, the harsh dichotomy of that tells you all you need to know about how out-of-place I felt at these dance recitals.
But on this day I didn’t have my Walkman with me, probably because it needed new batteries. So I was just out in the lobby of whatever convention center our dance recital was having a dress rehearsal at. I was bored and felt out of my element for sure. I was relaxing on some oversized couches just thinking about things. I probably looked like I should have been in front of a TV watching a show with a remote and popcorn. Which by this point, I would have preferred.
Then, over the tinny intercom speakers in the lobby I heard the brand new song from Phil Collins. He had recently started doing solo albums outside of Genesis, which everybody knew due to the videos airing on MTV all the time. It was, of course, “I Don’t Care Anymore.” This song got my attention due to the cool drums and memorable lyrics. The drums in particular are awesome, and introduced me and many other people to the gated reverb drum effect. This is prominent in “I Don’t Care Anymore”, Genesis’s song “Mama”, and most famously, Phil Collins’ classic “In the Air Tonight.” It’s where the drum sound doesn’t ring out or reverberate at all. They digitally decrease any after-noise reverberation of the drum hit, essentially slamming down a gate on the sound. It gives the drum hits a particular punchy attack. This type of drum effect really became the template for drum sounds of the 80’s.
So here I am listening to Phil Collin’s song about his divorce as a young boy who hasn’t even has his first kiss yet. This song, and numerous others by Phil Collins, was used on the influential series Miami Vice, which I was addicted to. This show started my lifelong appreciation of any project involving Michael Mann. That show also proved you can play a song on the soundtrack for longer than 10 seconds, making it an emotional highlight of the show. Critics might slam it for just being like a music video, but that’s foolish. Isn’t music an integral part of your favorite movie or show? I can’t think of one great filmmaker that doesn’t use songs to exemplify a perfect marriage of visuals and music. The right song over the right visuals can perfectly convey an emotional moment in time. Think Kubrick, Tarantino, Scorsese, DePalma, Coppola, etc. The usage of Phil Collins’ song “In The Air Tonight” on the pilot episode of Miami Vice is likely one of the greatest moments of television of the 20th century.
Please watch the scene I’m talking about here. They brilliantly have a slightly edited version of the song play for 3.5 minutes over the events on-screen.
But getting back to “I Don’t Care Anymore” by Phil Collins. As the song builds to its dramatic climax, he yells, “I got better things to do with my time. I don’t care anymore.” And that was it. It was as if Phil was singing directly to me, associating with this exact moment of my childhood angst. If this were a movie, or an episode of Miami Vice, the camera would be up in the ceiling, looking straight down at me in what is called the God’s Eye view. Slowly zooming in on this little kid on the precipice of puberty lost in his thoughts. At that moment I realized that I was done with all of this. No more spending my time on something I didn’t enjoy or believe in anymore. No more hiding or omitting this portion of my life from my friends. No more participating in something that I myself did not choose.
“No more, no more
No more, no more”
I told my parents I was done with dancing. They had me call the dance instructors and tell them myself. They probably thought that I would chicken out, being so shy. But I told them I was out. Soon after that I started playing drums and convinced my parents to enroll me in drum lessons to replace the dance lessons. I never danced again after that. But I’ve been playing drums for 30 years now. I found my passion.
“I got better things to do with my time.
I don’t care anymore.”
Thanks for the push, Phil.
Fast-forward about 30 years to today. I’m working security at a popular music venue in Portland, Oregon. I requested to work the stage tonight so I could see the show. The performer is Edie Brickell and New Bohemians. You might remember her from the late 80’s/early 90’s. I got to meet her coming in early in the day when I was working the door for load-in. She is as sweet and thankful as you would imagine she would be.
In my personal life, I had just decided to quit a band I had been a huge part of for 6 years. I hadn’t told the band yet, but I had already decided it was time for me to leave. Similar to the dance lessons of my youth, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. Dissimilar to the dancing, I did choose this project myself, and it was fun for many years. But I wore many hats in this band including drummer, publicist, primary lyricist, booker, tour manager, etc. The grind of it all just got to me, and I wanted to spend my time on other projects. Projects like spending more time with my wife and kids, and writing. And perhaps playing drums in a new group with different objectives.
So I was in that odd limbo state where I had decided it was over but hadn’t told my band mates that I was leaving. Very much like when you decide you are breaking up with your romantic partner but haven’t told them yet. Not due to being undecided or afraid of delivering bad news, but just due to timing and getting the right people in the right place. I was already feeling happier and more free just due to my having decided that I was done.
So I’m at stage left working the Edie Brickell show and she starts playing a song that I had completely forgotten about. The acoustic guitar finger-picking introduction made me instantly emotional. Everybody remembers her gonzo-huge hit “What I Am.” I also remembered her amazing version of Bob Dylan’s classic, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” That was in the Oliver Stone film “Born on the 4th of July.” But somehow, over the decades, I forgot about the gorgeous song called “Circles.” I bought this album when it came out and loved this song. It just slipped away from me as time moved on. But hearing the song start I was transported back several decades.
And this is how that song zapped me.
Edie sang these lines and everything was crystal clear to me.
“I quit, I give up, nothing’s good enough for anybody else
I could tell you that Edie happened to look over at me from the stage as she sang these lines, even though you probably wouldn’t believe me. In any case, I felt like those words were supposed to be heard and felt by me at that exact moment in time. Sometimes things happen for a reason at the exact time that you need them to. Hearing her sing those words to me solidified that quitting my band was doing the right thing. It felt like the final validation I needed to cut the last string. And much as the decision made me happy, leaving anything you poured your heart into for so long is a death. Whether it is a relationship or a band. Or both. And to move on after a death you must mourn it, celebrate what was, and cherish the memory of it.
“Everything is temporary anyway.”
Two days later I told my band mates that I was leaving and haven’t looked back.
I eagerly look forward to what my future holds. And to what song lyric will zap me at the next perfect moment.