Creating vs. consuming: It just feels different


I did something last weekend that I haven’t done in more than 25 years. I went to a rock concert. Now understand that I am not a fan of any kind. It’s just not in my DNA to like anything so much that it starts getting in the way of liking other things I like. So while I have lots of favorite music and can normally name the band, I rarely can come up with the names of individual band members. I can almost never name the album, and I despise fan clubs, branded merchandise, bumper stickers, and anything else that serves only to make sure the world knows of your steadfast commitment and refined taste.

So why am I telling you this? Well, it’s about this concert I went to. The experience hit me with some insight about the difference between creating and consuming, insight I thought might be cool to share. To do so, however, I was going to have to tell you that my fairly recent exposure to the Foo Fighters had profoundly changed how I looked at music. I was going to have to tell you about the connection I began feeling with the band and the impact it had on my own very late entry into drumming. I was going to have to mention how much I love their music, the connection I feel with their musical roots, and the gratitude I felt when I watched their recent and very popular documentary, Sonic Highways. In short, I ran the risk of coming off as a fan and I just couldn’t have that. Cause I’m not the fan type, right? So as long as we have that clear, let me tell you what happened last weekend at the Gorge Amphitheater.

The Foo Fighters have an outstanding reputation as live performers and this show was everything I expected. Not the big stage extravaganza that has become the rule for pop performers, but a visually and sonically optimized platform to keep the focus on the music and the fans. I enjoyed songs that had become my favorites, got introduced to wonderful material that my late-comer ass had missed, and was treated to a ridiculously magnificent fracture boot guitar solo. Even more amazing, I actually got sucked into the one thing about live performances that I despise above all others: the singalong.

But as the concert progressed, I found that my enjoyment of each song came up a little short of my expectations. In terms of creating emotional connection, none of them hit my ten on a ten scale. I was ready to write it off as my general resistance to enamored artist worship (I’m not a fan, remember?). But after awhile I realized it wasn’t that at all. The problem wasn’t my inability to connect with the music. My problem was my definition of a ten on that ten scale.

About 2 years ago, after a lifetime of failure to connect with any musical instrument, I finally overcame my snooty attitude about percussion and gave it a try. Drums hooked me in a way that nothing else ever had. By blind luck, I also found something I never had in any of my previous attempts, a music teacher who really got where I was musically, and who quickly figured out how I learned (thanks Larry Mahlis!). Instead of starting out with the mind-numbing technical exercises that had put me off other instruments, we picked a handful of fairly challenging pieces and worked on them for months at at time. It was in those pieces, especially in the weeks where it all started to come together with the music at full tempo, that I found myself emotionally amped up in a way that listening had never managed. I hit a new ten on the ten scale and I think it really kind of ruined me for listening.

So Dave, Taylor, Nate, Chris, and Pat (you too, Butch), thanks for an awesome show. Just don’t take it wrong that it didn’t do the same for me as when I struggle to lock in with “Days Go By” from The Offspring, or your own “Outside” in my makeshift bedroom studio. I would have had to be up on the stage with you for the feeling to come even close, and time and talent is not on my side for something like that. This does not discourage me. On the contrary, what I get on my own little DW kit (especially when I come up with something new on my own) is putting some real drive on me.  Most days playing is way better than sitting around with headphones on.

So go ahead and be a fan if you want, folks, but please don’t miss out on the bigger buzz to be had by investing time in whatever inspires you and by putting some of it out into the world yourself.  You might get yourself a new ten.

When everyone is special, no one is…

I have talked and written a lot lately about my struggle with career stagnation and professional alienation. Over several years I have become more and more emotionally detached from my trained profession (medicine), and more and more drawn into my avocational pursuits (music, writing, film). With each passing year I understand better and better that these things are choosing me, as the saying goes. Yet as much as I’d like to tell you all an uplifting story about my courageous and bold leap from the safe to the fulfilling, it simply hasn’t happened.

Part of my stasis has been some very legitimate and necessary considerations for my family’s financial, educational, and geographic stability. But deep down I’ve suspected and feared that, even if those considerations were eventually covered, I still might not have the fortitude to make a change. Today, one of those suspicions surfaced long enough for me to really grab hold of it and take a long look.

Its roots go way, way back. Long before the years of clinical practice, before the rigors of residency, before the chaos of medical school, maybe all the way back to a kid who was forming his first sense of personal identity and ability. Somewhere along the line that passes through all these stages, I really started grooving on being special. And letting go of that groove may be the biggest hurdle between me and moving on to something that fits.

I’ve learned a lot along the way, but I haven’t been a rank beginner at anything for two decades and almost everything I had to do before that didn’t really make me suffer for it.  Not, at least, in any way that would make a meaningful and compelling story. This isn’t a boast of universal competence.  It’s just that when I’ve chosen things, I have regularly steered myself to the ones that came easy (with one notable exception, thank you dive school).

But when things choose you, you not free to steer anymore. You either get at peace with going somewhere off the charts, or you drop anchor and go nowhere. Most days I think I am probably standing at the gunwales, anchor in hand.  The thought of a new project or role that might highlight my ineptitude sets off something deep under the surface that makes pitiful excuses about how I don’t really want what I want.  It is a miserable sophistry hiding two simple truths. That the opportunity for most growth comes before you are ready to pay, and that you have to pay for things to matter. The issue isn’t whether I am ready for and brave enough to change. It’s whether I am brave enough to pay, ready or not.

Not sure how this will all turn out, but I will tell you that the anchor drill is getting kind of old.