My Beautiful Train Wreck at the Hard Rock Café
Logic told me I shouldn’t go on stage. Luckily, I ignored logic.
By Dave Fox
I’ve done some ridiculous things in my life. I’ve taught Kalahari Bushmen how to throw a Frisbee. I’ve been an opening speaker for the Princess of Norway. And I’ve grown – without the assistance of steroids or growth hormones – to the towering stature of five feet, three-and-a-half inches tall.
(For those of you who operate in metric, that is like, seriously over a thousand millimeters!!)
Tonight, I added something new to my list of Ridiculous Things I Have Done. I played my fiddle on stage at the Hard Rock Café in Singapore.
Now, before you get all impressed, please allow me to note that (1) the Hard Rock Café in Singapore is pretty small, and (2) my performance tonight was an utter train wreck. At least, according to me.
I had a few things conspiring against me. For starters, I just flew in from Europe 48 hours ago. I did not sleep last night. I am horrifically jet-lagged. (Which is why I am now wide awake at 1 a.m. writing this article.)
Secondly, I was playing my violin with a finger injury. A few days ago in Norway, I sliced my extremely important middle finger in a potato chopping accident. I then sprained the same finger while carrying a very heavy bag through the Oslo airport because I was stretching my finger in an unnatural way so as to avoid tearing off my Band-Aid.
(The bag, I later discovered, was heavy because my science teacher wife had filled it with fossils.)
So the logical thing tonight would have been to just not go play my violin at the Hard Rock Café. But I met these guys a couple of months ago who were all like, “Duuude! Our band needs a fiddle player!”
(Okay, they did not actually call me “Duuude.” They are Australian and British.)
They had been waiting all summer for me to return from Europe so I could jam with them, which I was excited to do. Additionally, they informed me that if I played with them at the Hard Rock Café tonight, I would get free beer.
There were other factors that contributed to my train wreck of a performance, such as the fact that I had only practiced with these guys once, and did not really know any of the songs they were playing. And, my electric violin has an electric problem, so I had to play my acoustic violin, which meant that at all times, I had to hold my instrument 1.7 inches (43.18 millimeters) away from a microphone stand, which is difficult when you are attempting to (1) rock out, and (2) not whack the microphone with your bow.
Also, I could not hear myself in the monitor, and therefore had no way of knowing whether I was playing in tune, which I don’t think I was. The violin is a fretless instrument, which means if your finger lands half a millimeter (0.019685039 inches) away from where it is supposed to land, you will sound like a unicorn that is being castrated. And not in a good way.
Knowing that I was probably playing out of tune – and that while I couldn’t tell the difference, the audience most certainly could – made me nervous, which made my hand start shaking, which made my bow start shaking.
At this point, people started going outside to smoke cigarettes and call Unicorn Protective Services.
So! There I was! On stage, in front of a couple of hundred strangers, wanting to curl up in the fetal position inside the bass drum, which I can do when I am feeling severely ashamed, in spite of my towering stature.
It was at about this moment in the performance that I realized I was not breathing.
So I took a breath, which felt kind of nice. Then, I took another. And another. I kept breathing – and playing! And I said to myself, “Self! You can do this! You can play your violin and breathe at the same time because that’s the kind of badass potential rock star you are! And yes, you might sound like utter unicorn poop right now; but you’re playing in a rock band at the Hard Rock Café, which is kind of cool, so enjoy this moment right now (because in seven minutes, when your set is finished, you will be sobbing in the ladies’ room).”
I survived the rest of the set.
Now, my friends who were not at the train wreck will tell me I probably didn’t suck as badly as I think I did. Friends say stuff like that. It’s what we pay them for.
When it was all over, however, I knew otherwise. When I play well, strangers come up to me and tell me I played well. On this night, that did not happen.
So I ordered a beer and sulked.
But then … an 18-year-old kid claiming to be a private jet pilot (it was a weird night) came up to me and said, “Your violin was beautiful!”
“Seriously?!” I said, giving him a sternly skeptical single-eyebrow raise.
“Well, either that or I’m really fucking drunk right now,” he said.
“Okay,” I said. “We’ll go with Option B.”
It was not my best performance, and I felt sheepish hanging at the bar afterward.
But sometimes when we pursue creative endeavors, we flop. The alternative is to never pursue creative endeavors because we’re “not good enough.”
Yet not pursuing creative endeavors sucks more than getting on stage and sucking.
Potential artists and creative people of all kinds curl up into the fetal position out of dread sometimes. They fail to create. They think that not creating, not trying, not exposing themselves, not doing anything, is better than getting on stage (metaphorically if not literally) and feeling dumb for a half-hour.
You know what? It isn’t.
I gave a shitty performance at the Hard Rock Café tonight and I’m glad I did. It was more fun than staying home and wallowing in jet lag. (Also, staying home and wallowing in jet lag would not have scored me free beer.)
So what do I do now? I give my finger a few days to heal. I go to bed and get back on local time. (Soon, I promise!) I figure out what went wrong technically so I can hear myself play next time. And I tell these nifty guys who want me in their band that I would love to jam with them again, but could we please next time find a LESS INTIMIDATING VENUE AT WHICH TO PRACTICE THAN ON STAGE AT THE HARD-FREAKING-ROCK CAFÉ?!?!
You can’t have creative success without feeling like an ass from time to time. (Unless you are a unicorn, because unicorns don’t care what people think about them.) Assuming you are not a unicorn, if you want to be creatively successful, you have to expose yourself in ways that don’t always feel safe. You have to feel fragile. You have to make mistakes, play out of tune, and do your thing in spite of your dread.
If you’re not willing to do this, there’s no point in entertaining your creative fantasies.
So if you have dreams of becoming a writer, a figure skater, a singer, a unicorn choreographer, or any other kind of creative creature, my advice is to go buy a violin and rush immediately to the nearest Hard Rock Café. Play worse than I did. It will feel great. Plus, people will say, “What happened to that guy who kept whacking the microphone? He was pretty good.”
Or, more practically, do what you love. Do it because it’s fun, not because you should do it flawlessly. Remember to breathe and let yourself do it badly.
Remember: Your fears, your insecurities, your nervousness will not squash you.
But you cannot be successful if you don’t let yourself fail.
Need help getting over your fear of failure so you can excel in your creative endeavors? I market myself as a writing coach, but the emotional issues that block many writers from achieving their goals are the same issues that hold back artists of all kinds. I can help! (Unless you are a unicorn. I do not speak Unicorn.)