My very first performance with the band
The very first day I stood on the massive stage I thought I would blink out of existence. Despite agreeing to joining the band, I was not psychologically ready. Truth be told, I've never been a good singer. Although I feel a strong attraction towards music, it was never really something that I could do well. The only thing I could do better than most was express my passion. I'm not being negative when I say this. I'm just expressing reality and acknowledging my own limitations. That insecurity fueled my stage fright. No matter how many times I went over it in my head I could not quite understand how I managed to be standing there in front of 35,000 people. I kept expecting the day to come when Masa would pull me aside and say he had made a mistake. Eight years eventually passed and the day never came.
I suppose, in some ways, self-doubt does become a self-fulfilling prophecy. At the very least it becomes an invisible rope that binds and prevents one from flourishing. In my case, it prevented me from recognizing the fact that I was more than I allowed myself to believe. All those eyes watching me made me feel like I was standing in the town square naked. Everyone around me was a trained musician or someone who had spent their entire life dedicated to perfecting their craft. I was the only impostor.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This quote has been attributed to Einstein, but I don't know who actually said it. The point is I was the fish trying to climb a tree. Rather, that's how it felt at the time. Years later, when I looked back on the old footage of my performances, I realized that all of this business about being a fish was a figment of my imagination. They say we are our own worst enemies. I was certainly mine. Always wearing the disguise of greatness and always feeling much less than great.
Do not pity me or my story. It's not necessary for you to feel “how sad and unfortunate.” I really don't think there is anything amiss here. We grow up in a culture that tells us confidence is everything. The reality is that pure confidence is rare. All of us have some level of insecurity. I am simply recognizing my own and seeing it for what it is. This process for me is necessary because it allows me to deconstruct myself in order to better understand who I am. Even after all these years, there's plenty of room to grow, many places to go, adventures to have, and things to see.
I feel no shame in showing my own shortcomings or vulnerabilities. As I wrote in a previous post, I think it's silly to feel shame about being human. I also believe that without understanding my own humanity, it is impossible for me to understand the world around me. Some would argue that it's not necessary and that I should just live in the moment without thinking too deeply about it. I cannot do that because I wasn’t built that way. From the moment I was made by the stars and sent here on a beam of light as a newly forged soul, I have had a penchant for trying to understand what every experience means. I am almost certain I will continue to be this way for many lifetimes to come. If anyone reading this is judging me harshly for showing myself as less than the person they have constructed in their mind, then I'm sorry that the image you created of me is not me. Accept me as I am or not at all. I really am fine either way.
Standing backstage in the darkness between the columns of light beams that shone through the entrances was like being on the edge of outer space waiting to be born again. The world beyond was huge and so heavily populated. Despite the magnitude of people, it felt like I was the only American, the only black man, the only poet, and the only fish trying to climb a tree.
In order to center myself and call down inspiration, I used to recite a poem that I wrote called Ode to Music. It was my prayer, my plea, and the key to the door that opened up to the outer dimensional source of my power. Before the show, I found a quiet corner in the expanse of darkness and invoked my incantation.
“heard through the skin
the bewitching bounce and backward dive
flipping fantastically gymnastically
through fine revolutions
solution to indigo compliment to indigo
helper of happiness
made from the leftovers of a once roaming meal
stretched across the leftovers of an evergreen home
for no other being can bang out pluck down
or blow sound into such specific shapes
while digits defy and fly in a soundscape sky
birds of ascension
caressing and bashing jazz ballad and punk
emotions devoted to a higher awareness
and sharing whatever there is to share
sheets of sound
pouring up and falling around roots
nourishing dream trees into fruit and fruition
tradition and convention
madness and dementia
cries for help from a disgruntled nation
prayers for the rain god and the one god
an exercise in psychic phenomena
out of body out of mind
beyond and bound by time
giant steps tall and crashing down
tonic of life so dominant
that without it life would be silenced
take me take me
take me into your flying
your tap happy and tuned universe
forever your willing slave”
When the lights went up and the fanfare began, I shape shifted from myself as a frightened little boy to the showman, who, under no circumstances, would fail to dazzle and amaze. My god had heard my prayer and responded by allowing me to feel the cheers of the crowds and the adrenaline high of the performance. For two or three hours, I had been allowed to exist among the deities. We were not gods because we were better than humanity. We were gods because we could return to our true forms, free of the binding knots that make us believe we are anything less than extraordinary.
When the show was over and my energy had been spent, I returned to the dressing room and wondered how the performance had gone. All the master climbers were there with me winding down on the branches of their trees. Even though I was up there with them, I had gone back to being a lonely fish who longed to return the sea.
The dancers liked to do goofy stuff during rehearsals. Here they were having some kind of pushup contest. I really don't know more than that though.