Uncle Barry, Realignment, and the Price of Tea in China

I was named after my mom's brother, and my uncle (and godfather) was a story all to himself. In my eyes, as well as many others, he was the definition of "cool." As a kid and young adult, he was always the one who got into all kinds of mischief. Yet he was the kind of guy who had a heart of gold. Uncle Barry was the life of any gathering, and had a personality that drew people in everywhere he went. He wasn't loud or boisterous by any means, but had a pleasant personality with the ability to quietly deliver the one-liners and timely responses/observations in any situation that made you split your sides laughing. Sometimes he could accomplish this without words through subtle expressions that said it all. Though he didn't go around acting like some sort of tough guy, he could take a stand when others genuinely overstepped their bounds. Yet the way he did it was with a short but sweet, quiet but firm response that let the other person know he meant business. I got the impression that in his younger, wilder days, he'd gotten into his occasional scraps. Yet he came across as the guy who would do that only for the right reasons. Though he and I never got deep into talking about feelings and that kind of stuff, he was most definitely one who loved and cared for his family and friends and watched out for them fiercely.

From when I was a little kid, I always looked forward to and enjoyed being around my uncle. He passed away in 2014 after a battle with lung cancer. But his memory and spirit live on. He was a huge influence on my life, and had a sincere appreciation of my musical progress over the years. I can still see him sitting out there with my Aunt Pat at various performances of mine with a look of complete enjoyment and that grin on his face. You'll probably hear a lot more about him from me.

But that was Uncle Barry. I, on the other hand, was always kind of the dorky kid growing up...you know, the one who imagined breaking the rules and being a badass, but was always too chicken to actually do it. I never possessed the "cool factor" that Uncle Barry did, though in later years I'd often try to appear as if I did! Which brings me back to music, and possibly (hopefully) a lesson for all of us.

Once upon a time, I dove into the pool of songwriting and recording. More like an ocean, actually. With my entire heart and soul, along with a good amount of money and countless hours invested, I was determined to "get it right." I had a vision of what the end result would be like, but had no real clue on how to get there. I ended up listening to and relying on the people I surrounded myself with, because they had more experience in this department. In the end, I lost sight of who I was. Or maybe to be more precise, I dove into it without a clear vision of who I was to begin with. Because at the end of the day, the challenges I faced weren't all about music and recording. To put it simply, I had a lot of things to straighten out in my life and a ton of growing up to do, and what I would learn would eventually transcend my musical world.

To use an ocean analogy (a tribute to my home state) when speaking of those first recording endeavors, it was like I was getting tossed around by the strongest waves and tides. It wasn't the fault of those around me - they were just trying to help, based on their own experiences and who they were. But as the process went on, nothing felt natural or smooth. I felt riddled with doubts and anxieties about the musical results I was getting, and about conforming to how others thought my music should sound and how I should look and present myself. But I'd always put my preferences and opinions on the back burner and defer to the knowledge and opinions of those around me.

Meanwhile, the inner warning sensor was screaming. Often, it felt like I was trying to be something I wasn't. For example, I was trying to be an "artist," yet was being careful to hide, or at least downplay, the very things that were a huge part of my story, such as the fact that I was already making a good living as a working musician (church music ministry, cover bands, piano bars, functions, ceremonies, teaching piano, etc.), because, as I'd been told by many sources, those things would make me sound like less of an artist. As if "artists" just appeared out of a vacuum, ready-made to take the stage and wow the world. Based on what I'd heard, I feared if I admitted being a successful working musician, people would instantly dismiss any notion of me as a real artist. But, with that line of thinking, struggling at a non-musical job that one hated to pay the bills would somehow be seen as "artsy." It didn't confine itself to pop/rock artists either. I once provided piano accompaniment for a very successful opera singer at a wedding ceremony. In conversation, she mentioned how she never let those who booked her for extensive European opera tours know that in the off-season, she supplemented her income singing for weddings, because then they would no longer take her seriously! 

Back in those days, I had some songs that could be classified as specifically being in the Christian genre. However, I was careful never to mention any of the doubts, questions, thoughts, or differing insights that might be considered off limits for someone who performed at Christian venues. I likewise avoided, or again at least downplayed, any mention of venues I performed at that might seem unseemly for a Christian musician. 

Finally, there was the age factor. My life story is one of a late bloomer. I constantly felt uneasy when the subject of age came up, because I felt sooner or later, I'd encounter those who deemed me "too old" to be taken seriously as a recording artist, especially in a music industry filled with bands and artists in their teens and early twenties (time markers that even back then had passed me by).

As a result of all these things, it seems the songs themselves, along with the image that surrounded it, never really clicked. They never had the magic, or as some say, that "X factor." Something was missing, and it seemed I was spinning my wheels. Oh, don't get me wrong. On the surface, to those on the outside, I had the appearance of someone doing all the right things. I worked hard, made a good living as a musician, and was pursuing songwriting and recording. But deep inside, conflict ruled the day.

During the time of some major life transitions that followed, during which Christina and I got married, I took a long step back. By some unexpected twist of events that occurred very naturally, we ended up relocating, another ingredient that fueled my time of growth and transformation. Everything that I learned along the way will be a huge part of these World in Z-flat Major ramblings, and I'm excited to share it with you.

For the last couple of years, I've waded back into the world of writing and recording, this time from a very new perspective. I have a much clearer vision, and while I'm open to advice and input from others, I'm now clearly the captain of the ship, and steering in the direction I want to. I'm way more hands-on with many of the steps in the process that I used to rely on others for, and have been accomplishing things I never imagined I could. The final destination is still a bit of a mystery, but for the first time, I'm thoroughly enjoying the journey. I'm thrilled with every aspect of the writing and recording process, and can't stop listening to the final mixes of these first few new songs! If they bring hope, inspiration, thoughtful reflection, and plain old enjoyment to others the way that the music of countless bands, artists, and composers has to me over the years, then this adventure will have been a success.

So by this point, you may be wondering what exactly my little trip down Reminisce Lane has to do with your life or, as I borrowed from the catalogue of colloquial old sayings, the price of tea in China? 

I doubt there's a need for any great preaching skills here. From my little tale, I'd be willing to bet there's many of you who can make the possible parallels to your own life journey. It seems some of us come out of the womb knowing all this kind of stuff already, while many of us have to learn it, sometimes painfully, along the way. No matter your profession or your passion, you need to follow your heart, along with your inner GPS. Often, we don't know it all, or even a little bit, and it's important to be open to the guidance of those who are more familiar with the paths we're traversing. But ultimately, no one knows us like ourselves, and if our gut's telling us something, we need to honor that.

Whatever your "it" is, some of us get it right the first time, and hit the home run in our batting premiere. Likewise, many of us strike out a bunch of times. But what's important is to get back up to bat, or back on the bike, or whatever analogy you feel like using. Every now and then, you may just need to realign. It's my hope and prayer that doing so brings you the happiness and fulfillment you desire and deserve!

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