Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The cost

When I try to listen now to the music we made, it's still too close to me, even though some of it was recorded over 30 years ago. I can't separate it from the things we did, the places we went, the arguments and laughs and good times we had. Too much of my life is wrapped up in it. It's too tough for me to judge what our best work was, or even if any of it was any good. I didn't just play it, I lived it. I have my favorites of course, but too often our songs are too connected to the memories I have around them.
With other performers I don't have that problem. So much music from the '70s and early '80s and even into the '90s sounds so DATED to me now, even if it doesn't really seem like it was that long ago. It's hard to believe that so many people were listening to THAT, and even enjoying it. But I wonder if other musicians feel the same way: Hey, this is what we DID. This took WORK. This was part of our LIVES.
God knows we could all have wasted our lives in dead-end jobs. Far better to work on something we could all get obsessive about, something that not only earned us money but built-up a body of work that we could all point to with pride and say "See, I really DID do something with my life!"
But as with all jobs there were hidden costs. So many years seemed to go by in a blur. Most of the '80s and '90s are just GONE for me. I can usually tell you where I was and what projects I was working on at a given time, but I may not be able to tell you what ELSE I was doing.
To be so wrapped-up in your work that the rest of your life comes in a distant second -- for YEARS -- could be considered a tragedy, or at least a waste. I've certainly come to see it that way. I got so wrapped up in my "job" -- making music, providing an income -- that I lost my marriage, lost my kids, nearly lost my health. It started out as fun. It was supposed to BE fun. I never thought I was a workaholic. But I might have been wrong.
I'm sure Frank Zappa would disagree about my outlook. In one of his last interviews he said "As long as you're obsessed with SOMETHING creative in your life, what else is there to miss?" But then Frank thought he was an excellent husband and father. I definitely was NOT -- at least not while I was obsessed with work.
I have two grown children, a son and a daughter. My son is 23 and is out somewhere driving semi-trucks across the country. I hear from him every few months if I'm lucky. I like to think we're still close, but I still think I failed him in a lot of ways. My daughter is about to turn 20 and just finished her second year of college. I see her once a year if I'm lucky. I think she's a lot like me.
But thanks in part to my work, I lost both of them over 10 years ago when my marriage finally fell apart. It had been crumbling for years by then, and my kids likely took all of the anger and frustration I was feeling back then. I regret the 10 years that I never had with them, and the fact that I'm just barely in their lives now.
And of course all of this, along with everything else, went back into the music.
All of us in The Zoo have grown up, we've all suffered, we've all grown apart. Don has two children and was about to become a grandfather, last I heard. In the last couple of years he's fallen completely off the map. Melissa has two kids. Her autistic son graduated from high school a year ago. Allison has a son. Tina had at least two boys, last I heard. Jeff finally got married in his late 40s. No children, though.
Life just kept moving on with all of us, no matter what else we were doing at the time, no matter how deep into it we were -- and for those of us in the core group, The Zoo was our lives 24-hours-a-day for almost 20 years. I'm still amazed we were able to hold it together that long. But.
Only Melissa has managed to keep her marriage together. Allison's marriage turned into a joke pretty early -- and she'd agree with that assessment. Don's marriage collapsed after 15 years. Mine lasted 17 years -- somehow. Tina's life has been unstable since she was 10 years old. The rest of us have all been divorced at least once, and sometimes gone through other unsuccessful long-term relationships as well.
Many of the friendships haven't lasted either. I lost touch with Thom, Richard, Lee, Miles, Tina, Bob, Robyn and Jim YEARS ago. Don has been stone silent for the last three years. I have no idea how to reach him. It's like he's vanished. I talked to Jeff on the phone a few months back and exchanged letters with him for awhile -- but somehow I think I scared him off.
Thanks to the music, at least we've all got SOMETHING to show for our frustrations, neuroses, broken marriages, long-distance families, and children-juggling inter-relationships.
I just wonder if it's ENOUGH.
Was it worth it? To be so obsessed? To be so SELFISH?

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