Artists in flux: Sometimes stepping away is part of the process

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NEC LOGO GSMOver the years, I’ve watched a handful of musicians that I’d grown to admire suddenly drop out of the music scene.  Poof, just like that, they’re gone.

Their reasons for bowing out vary, I imagine  Some of it has to do with money, or the lack of it when it comes to playing at a bar or some other venue.  That strain of making ends meet while relying upon your art can be debilitating, in many cases, if you aren’t that rare artist rolling steady gigs into a real paycheck, night after night.  Life ain’t cheap.

Some of it doesn’t have anything to do with the money though.  It has everything to do with performing in places where nobody cares what or if you’re even playing.  It can work on you, that level of dismissiveness. One’s perspective can play a key role here, knowing what you’re getting into before you get into it.  And if you got the hide to endure it.

Loss of passion ranks with reasons for walking away.  Whether it’s working out a new song or learning a rare cover, writing a good poem or sculpting something scrumptious out of words or clay, these moves take time to string together. Months and weeks can go by without a fiery shot of inspiration presenting herself. And when the muse goes missing, well, the passion can go dormant. And that can be scary to the artist, because the very passion that’s driven them for so long, feeding both the ego and soul, will also crush you if you don’t continuously feed the hungry bitch.

Life, in general, gets in the way too – meaning kids, meaning wives, work, husbands, meaning thinking of someone besides yourself.  And that’s not a slight. It’s a truth. It’s easier to ramble from gig to gig not knowing or caring what time you get to bed, or who’s beside you when you get there.  That’s rock’n’roll. But when you slow that roll down and need to serve two masters, the joy of playing out to a finger-thin crowd of strangers doesn’t sound half as good as rocking a newborn to sleep in a pair of fleece jammie pants.

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Manchester’s Meredith “MB” Padfield, just 15 in 2011, was dreaming big during Tupelo Music Hall’s open mic night. Today she’s still living that dream in L.A. Photo/Carol Robidoux

And there’s also the personal expectations angle.  Artists are hard dreamers with high goals set for themselves. Many artists’ lives are forged by the work of others they admire, and they have studied the rise of their heroes and want to duplicate it.  Right now! Not tomorrow. Now! But that’s crazy talk because there’s no replicating luck. Or raw talent. You either have it or you don’t. Either willing or you won’t.

Months back, a musician with great talent walked into the studio and stood before me a broken man.  I hadn’t seen this level of malaise worn so fully in quite some time. Immediately, the artist began sharing with me his frustration with the business, not so much the creative end, but the business end of the music scene. The exhausting chore of booking shows, the groveling, the emailing, the no responses, the beer for play, the hustle and grind and empty corner rooms.

I had little to offer for solace.  All I could say was, “Hang on, brother.  Just hang on.” And I’m glad he did, because a few months later, having figured out that it’s worth 10 percent of your nut to have someone else book your shows so you can focus solely on the music.  Today, that same musician is flying. Busy as all get out.

About two years ago, this little known country singer from Kentucky named Tyler Childers played to about 15 people at the Word Barn in Exeter.  Van life, traveling from small town to small town, hauling gear, busting ass up and down the interstate for two bills here, two more there. But he was going all-in, hell or high water, this Mr. Childers.  So, he just kept chipping away, taking his pay however it came, writing songs and doing what he does best, playing country music.

Today, he sells out the Grand Ole Opry and plays for thousands monthly.

Explain that. You can’t.

So, to those who have left the scene, disenchanted and discouraged, I hope to see you return someday soon, in whatever fashion, for whatever reason, in whichever form.  You’re voices and energy are sorely missed. But I get it. Sometimes stepping away is part of the process, the perfect remedy for what ails you as an artist.

And, so, I guess the only thing left to say is, “Until then. Or not.”

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About this Author

Rob Azevedo

Rob Azevedo is an author, poet, columnist and radio host. He can be reached sitting in his barn at Pembroke City Limits and