Let’s face it.Therapy, while more culturally acceptable these days, is not and has never been considered “cool.” Cool is a never-ending and ever-changing façade of idealized-self, the commercialized ghost of the Beatnik ethos that strove to drink in the world but drowned. Cool is the perfect digital filter on a picture of a vapid, beautiful person at Joshua Tree, an experience that might as well not exist unless validated by “likes.”
Cool is a tired parade of overused clichés: whiskey jugs and dirty roads and photographs and hand-written letters and trains and “hard-livin” and denim on denim (I succumb to the latter). While the Beatniks actually lived dangerously – to quote Nietzsche – today’s cool kid “Americana” landscape is supported by iPhones and trust funds.
Cool is why the rock star “27” club is filled with brilliant artists that burned out way before their time. And hey, if you want to martyr yourself and make your life a work of art, then so be it. Personally I’d like to see what kind of sweet holographic computer games are available in 45 years so I’m going to try and stick around.
The point I’m making is this: cool fuels the “ego” but runs away from the deeper insecurities of the “id.”
The problem with being a musician in 2016 has been outlined a million times and everybody already knows it. We’ve got the biggest ocean ever with way too many fishes and no one wants to pay once they’ve caught one and filleted it. It’ll drive you mad. Speaking of madness and Nietzsche again, most artists are a bit insane. And that’s ok! You have to put EVERYTHING in one basket to truly inspire the world. However, once you combine your madness with the madness of the industry and add in the psychological dynamic of your bandmates or creative partners…you end up with some seriously messy shit below the surface of the water.
You don’t feel validated by those you work with. You don’t feel validated by the world. You fight horrific waves of self-doubt and self-loathing by the hour. Getting stoned helps until you eat all the fucking Doritos and look at your fat gut. By all means, continue “Gramming” and drinking whiskey from a jug labeled “XXX” when you’re having a rough day, but it won’t solve anything. Life is messy and complicated, and when you hit writer’s block or are afraid to say what’s on your mind or are unable to let some things go…chasing cool won’t help you.
My band Los Colognes, at the core, is built on a relationship between myself and two other dudes. The three of us have been playing music together on and off for a decade and a half.
We’re best friends. We’re brothers. We HATE EACH OTHER.
I feel super bad for the girls that have dated me. You sign up for just me but end up dating a group of bitchy, whiny man-boys. To all those dating musicians, I commend you. Two years ago, the reality on paper for Los Colognes was a good one. Great festival gigs. Songs on TV. Millions of streams on Spotify. Things were looking up in the world of the “ego.”
But under the water, in the world of the “id,” there were serious issues entangled between us: resentment from the past, harbored anger and jealousy, unrealistic criticism, fear to speak one’s mind, and not being validated by the others or being unable to find one’s own “truth.”
All that shit is real. And it’s hard to talk about. And having three-hour fights that get you nowhere adds wrinkles and grey hairs.
At the time our band was held together by the façade of “cool,” the sinking sand of mild “success,” but in reality we were an angry, creatively stifled and resentful glob of subconscious goop (actual Freudian terminology, btw).
Fast forward two years later. We’re almost done making the best album we’ve ever made (shameless plug). We ain’t perfect, but we’ve gone into the depths individually and as a group to wrestle with the dirty monsters of the deep. We turned a new leaf. How?
Therapy. Figure out how to get it in your life. If you’re a broke musician, it’s about the same price as a bag of weed or a night of heavy drinking for each session, but the high lasts much longer. It’s a vulnerable, gut-opening experience but one that is totally necessary to continue living a potent spiritual life in the music business.
I’ve had the fortunate experience to see two different therapists at several different points in my life, and coming out on the other side with a catharsis of humility and grace is absolutely the reason I still have the energy to continue the maddening task of being a 32 year old musician in 2016. It may not be cool to talk about, but running away, quitting, or taking yourself and everyone around you down in a whirlwind of drug-fueled, narcissistic martyrdom is much less cool.
Without further adieu, here’s a little four step checklist I learned in therapy. It will help you recenter yourself and find your chi. Whether you’ve got writer’s block, or you need to confront someone you work with, or you need to confront yourself, or you’re just plain stuck, these four steps will help. They have become the cornerstone of my spiritual foundation. (Thank you Karen Fergadis, wherever you are, for being my Yoda.)
1. SHOW UP
Show up to practice. Show up to write. Show up to workout. Show up to journal. Show up to meditate. Show up to confront someone. Show up to therapy. This is literally 90 percent of the battle. If you run from your feelings, your health, your practice, your creativity, and your self-actualization, then the cosmic mirror will forever avoid you.
2. BE PRESENT
Ok. You’re already beyond most people. You’ve shown up. Now what. Your brain races. You get anxious. Automatic negative thoughts are exploding in your mind. I’m not good enough. I’m never going to write a song today. This person will never get me. I’m never going to make it in this business. Breathe. Notice the thoughts. Don’t fight them. Watch them like a movie. Look into the cosmic mirror. Breathe.
3. SPEAK YOUR TRUTH
This could also be titled “Find Your Truth.” This is where new words come from the cosmic mirror. It may be a new song you’ve plucked down from the waves all around you. It may be a realization about yourself that you’ve avoided for far too long. It may be telling someone close to you that you’re hurt by the way they are treating you. When you show up and are present, you’ll find the waves flowing through you and you’ll watch yourself literally evolve through humility, grace and self assurance. Indeed, the cosmic mirror is the goal of all heroic quests.
4. SURRENDER THE OUTCOME
You can only control you. You cannot control another person’s reaction. They may not be able to see your truth, or hear your truth. They may not validate you. Your music may not garner you success in the eyes of the world. You may realize that something about your truth means you have to let some things go. Let it all go. This is the hand you’ve been dealt, and if you’re passionate about being a musician you have to love it so much that it matters not what the world thinks. Show up, take a breath, let the truth flow over you, and let it all go.
Hope this helps some folks out there, but hey, I can’t get too attached either way. One day at a time. Keep on truckin’ ya’ll.
P.S. None of this shit works on significant others. In that regard I have no wisdom to offer. You’re on your own, peeps.
Jay Rutherford lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He currently records and tours with his band Los Colognes.