Music Is The Ex-Boyfriend In My Life
I've never been very pretty. I’m the look-a-like of a celebrity that when people tell me I look like her they preface telling me with, "I hope this doesn't offend you, but do you know who you look like?" I know who I look like and it doesn't offend me. It most likely offends the celebrity you're referencing not because of how I look, but because you don't want someone to say it might be offensive to look like you.
Not being very pretty isn’t so evident in my life now, but it was when I was younger. I was loud and obnoxious and didn’t fit in anywhere until I moved to LA. Over the years people told me I was too this and not that, I was potential to be anything other than myself and never really felt comfortable in my skin. Not being comfortable in my skin has been so much a part of me that when I ran into my brother’s-college-ex-girlfriend’s-mother a few years ago she talked to me for a few minutes, stopped herself and said in mild disbelief, “You’re so pretty.”
I guess I wasn't before 30.
The thing people noticed about me other than my loudness and looks was music. In high school I started playing music because my brother had an old guitar that my dad owned in college. I can't remember how my brother learned to play, but I do remember that when he'd be up the street hitting on girls at a local record store I'd sneak into his room and teach myself to play.
During those years of learning to play guitar I bought my own and made plans to tour every terrible open mic night I could after I graduated college. I had a voice that sounded like something you hear on stage in the back of a bar while you're drinking whiskey and figured I’d meet other musicians on the road while I played makeshift sets in dive bars. After driving cross-country with a band (two guys: one drummer, one guitarist), I'd move somewhere like New York to work on an album and go from there.
Music and I were in love. It was young love, but it was love just the same.
To get my music career started, I entered a talent show on campus my sophomore year of college that you had to audition to be in. I auditioned with a cover of some song by some band you only listen to when you live in a college dorm and got in. The weekend before I played the show I was telling my friend about it she said, "You know, I bet you get a manager out of this." I don't know why, but when she said it I knew I would.
And I did.
It was the type of manager that works with bands and venues to help you get gigs when you first start out as a musician. I was so excited that I called my parents to tell them the news. I hadn't told them about music and had been waiting for an opportunity. A manager in my back pocket seemed like the perfect time to tell them.
When we hung the phone up my parents didn’t contact me. My dad was coming to visit a month later and said we'd talk about things then. When he got there he told me my mom hadn't slept for two weeks and that they thought this was a mistake. Music was a risk and people that worked in that type of industry didn’t have a good quality of life. He and my mom were very conservative at the time and there wasn't a lot of separation of church and state where I'm from. After my dad told me I wasn't allowed to play in bars until I was 21 he ended the conversation with this:
We believe if you do this you're walking into the pit of hell.
It's a moment I often try to forget.
I can't fully explain what happened next. Over the next few years I slowly started to bury parts of myself to the point that music was no longer part of my life. It was now the ex-boyfriend that people couldn't bring up. Everyone thought we would end up together and nobody knew why we were apart. Throughout the rest of college people knew music and I were still hooking up on the side and wanted us to stop fooling around and get together already. I did too, but I didn’t know how.
Let me be very real: I wasn't an incredibly talented guitar player. I learned to play only well enough to stand behind one while singing because I liked having something more than a microphone between me and the edge of the stage. The songs I wrote were in the voice of a 20-year-old, but not a 20-year-old Etta or Amy. My stage presence was lacking and my voice needed some work. I made mistakes both in playing and singing and although I wasn't a prodigy I was broken-hearted: music was the love of my life.
On stage I wasn't too this or too that, I was seen for what I was and not what people thought I should be. Being seen for what you are and not what people think you should be is hard to come by and music didn't touch that. When I played people didn't compare me to anyone other than myself.
I wrote a song called Hey Love a year later and claim it was about the ultimate college crush that everyone had a thing for. He was such a heartthrob. All the girls loved him and all the guys hated him for it. As I am further away from this time in my life, I find this song was never about anything other than my heartbreak over music.