Here's a lesson I've learned in my 40+ years on this planet: it's easy saying "Yes" to something you love. It's harder saying "goodbye" to the same.
About six years ago I got a call from my good friend and fellow Mayberry musician Jerry Chapman, asking me if I wanted to play keys in one of his bands, Mediocre Bad Guys. The "yes" came quick and easy - it was a no-brainer. While music is just an avocation for me, and I had done the solo acoustic thing for decades, the thing I'd always wanted to do is be in a band with guys who shared a similar taste in music. Excluding the pseudo prog-rock trio that Michael Propst, Greg Faucette and I had for a single weekend my senior year in high school, it never happened.
The six years since that phone call have been quite a ride. Les, Jerry, Gary, David, and Doug have pushed me musically in ways I never could have myself. We've played at numerous festivals, wineries, clubs, bars, weddings, street parties, July 4 parades, fundraisers, birthday parties, and neighborhood backyards. We've shared the stage with the Rolling Stones sax player on either three or four occasions (it's kind of cool when you lose count of something like that) which you can reminisce HERE, HERE and HERE). Recently we've flexed our collective songwriting muscles and recorded what I believe to be some pretty nifty original tunes. I've hauled Les's awesome Yamaha stage piano and Hammond XK3 (and yes, they're Les'; pretty much everything the band has is Les') across parking lots and up countless stairs, and I've given my brain an incredible spatial configuration workout every time I've tried to cram that godawful keyboard stand into any vehicle, no matter how big or small (you keyboard players out there feel my pain). I even picked up a new instrument on account of the band, adding an accordion to my arsenal.
In short, I've had an absolute blast.
But earlier this year, I felt something change. Not my feelings about the band, mind you. I still loved making music with Doug, Jerry and Les. No, it wasn't about subtraction as much as addition. Something else was entering the picture. It was fuzzy at first, but over time the clarity came. And it revolved around my family - specifically, my two boys. When I first signed on, our boys were four and two; young enough where neither really noticed when I was away at an evening practice or gig.
But now they were 9 and 7, and it was clear that they missed me when I wasn't around. My absences were noticed - and felt - more acutely. And this realization was the tipping point: in just a few years they would be teenagers, and they wouldn't give a rat's behind where I might be. I had this window, and I needed to jump on it.
Telling the guys my decision was a hard conversation, for sure. These are not just bandmates; they're good friends. But they understood, because they're fathers too. And because they're good friends.
That was back in September. I told them I'd be happy to honor the gigs we'd already committed to through the end of the year. Which means my last stand as a Mediocre Bad Guy will be on the very last day of the year - a New Year's Eve extravaganza at Old North State Winery in downtown Mayberry (here's the Facebook event if you wanna come). Going out with a bang for sure.
I know that Les, Jerry and Doug are making plans to keep Mediocre Bad Guys chugging along in some configuration. Which is exactly what they should do. Those dudes are way too talented not to make music together. And I'm excited about the transition I'll be making to being a fan of theirs. I'll be the first to download the original tunes they'll keep releasing; I'll enjoy being part of the crowd at some 2013 gig.
For the record, I won't be hanging up the music thing completely. Back a few months ago, we auditioned for a band reality TV show on AMC; and if MBG gets the nod I'll be part of that. I'll keep doing the solo acoustic thing, hanging on to a few regular gigs. And who knows - maybe an occasional guest appearance with the band if they should ever ask. After all, it's a small musical community we're part of here in the Greater Mayberry metropolis. Like Bono once said, being in a band is a lot like being in the mafia. You really can't say "never."
I'm like a lot of people, I think, in that I struggle to let go of things when it's time to. After all, being human is about being a creature of habit. And most of us spend our waking hours all wrapped up in "doing" rather than "being;" crossing things off the list rather than taking a step back to check out what's actually on that list. I'm glad I stepped back earlier this year; and while it means saying goodbye to something I've really enjoyed, it's going to help me focus myself where I need to be focused going forward. Who knows - maybe my boys and I are meant to start up a band.
Letting go of being mediocrely bad is going to be weird, for sure. But I'll figure it out. With a lot of great memories and music to stay with me.