Throwing Off Pressure: My Partner’s Music Business Experience (Part 2)

“What’s sad to me is while art is created to help people, there’s no industry that splits people into nobodies and somebodies faster.”

I said this during a recent podcast interview. However, I didn’t elaborate on it very well. In general, the podcast topic left me with uneasy feelings explored in Part 1

When you decide you want to write, the easiest material is your past. Or so I thought.

It was as if all the old beasts about creativity and money were able to rise up and pin me during this interview. Afterwards, I felt awkward for openly discussing money, art, and relationships in such a personal way - felt like it was a subject I didn’t want to touch again with a ten foot pole.

Unpacking the Uncomfortable

I spent the summer of 2006 going from gig to gig in my ‘93 escort with a CD discman and headphones (not safe by the way). I was blasting The Talking Heads, every Dave Matthews album, Joshua Tree by U2, and the Counting Crows on repeat (among other bands). What ties all of the above bands together is producer Steve Lilywhite.

When I first met my husband at a dive bar (a short run down of the story here), I looked him up on the internet when I got home (a nice addition to romances starting in the 2000s).

I found out he had worked with Steve Lilywhite.

I was intrigued and bewildered about why… this young man... was in a dive bar by the Mississippi… watching me play Eleanor Rigby, Old Man, All Along the Watchtower, and two originals. (I left before his band played in order to play another gig that night. But not without giving him a business card.)

Our son loves to dig through our old CDs.

Name Dropping is Weird

Like any person striving to be tactful, I struggle with the act of name dropping. But there’s no way to process the history of my partner’s story and the weight of his old band without name dropping Steve.

Concerning music, there’s just such an insane amount of competition and truly vulnerable people - all of them getting into music for various reasons. Sometimes, it takes a popular person to birth another popular person by association. It’s like taking highschool, magnifying it on the internet, and timesing it by ten. The ladder climbing, the idea of not knowing what people want from you, the idea of not knowing where you are in the ladder - it’s all very odd. 

When I started out, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to write some songs and stay a nobody.

In order to stay true to that vision, I had to push all the above nonsense out of my head while viewing it as a silly byproduct of business. Not surprisingly, I ended up with a tainted take on the relationship between creativity and money.

While navigating my own issues with music and business, I merged my life with a partner who happened to be in an “almost big” band. In short, I learned a lot watching potential fame swipe its sloppy brush but not finish the picture.

Our son came across his dad's old CD.

Spiritual Smiritual Silence

Spinning off this realization, I think I processed spirituality in a really unhealthy way at several points in my development. Strict spirituality really messed me up (there’s a whole essay brewing inside me about this). Business, popularity, and money were something to run away from according to my backwards holier than thou condescending artsiness.

I twisted the message of spirituality so I was always the one that had to change and found myself accommodating circumstances in the world wiser people know shouldn’t be tolerated.

I didn’t realize when I had a right to leave (or at least emotionally disengage). I also thought I didn’t deserve nice things, a chance to rest, a chance to be successful in the eyes of the world, a chance to disagree, or basically have a voice that was simultaneously different and understandable. 

Fast forward to now, and I’m into evolutionary psychology - the idea humans are driven by wiring that is very old. Awareness is an anecdote. Sometimes human behavior will disgust you or you may be disgusted when you see it operating in you. At that moment you can either live above it (or around it) while noticing it in yourself and doing the best you can - all while keeping your eyes on your own life. I really believe in people minding their own business (but diving deep with broader connections and timeless stories).

I like my husband’s story, and he is fine with me talking about it. I just don’t know how to tell it yet.

“My husband started performing rock music in bars at the age of 14 with other kids who were a couple years older than him.”

My husband operates in a similar highly sensitive way as I do. He’s strongly opinionated about people minding their own business. He doesn’t actively want to disappoint people and in most cases he just wants to be left alone. What complicates things is - he’s observant. Observant people are inconvenient (there’s an entire essay brewing inside me about this too). Observant people also have a lot to express, but they often suppress it using their observation that not everyone wants to hear it.

To be interviewed about the topic of throwing off the pressure of friends, family, and the past - I didn’t have to look very far for a story. My husband doesn’t think he’s very interesting, but he is a giant story. I have loved him so deeply over time, and known him so well (but keep discovering new mysteries about him), and he has helped me so much over the years. I’m not here to go on and on about him though, because I don’t think people would enjoy that. His experience with music and the mainstream music industry is what has a message.

Let’s start with the fact that my husband has no interest in singing his 17 year old thoughts. I don’t know many people who do. Even the other day, the local radio station started playing his old band’s old “almost hit song.” It’s like watching someone run out of their skin. He wants nothing to do with it. The recording is such a different version of him, it might as well be someone else. But a band is like a black hole that keeps coming back. Time has been a gift giving him the ability to laugh at it, and in essence - harmlessly laugh at himself.

“It’s almost like we want to take our artists and freeze them in time.” 

The fact that music takes on a life of its own and can mean more to fans than to the person who created it, who is clearly on to the next thing, is interesting. Many artists seek out art in the first place because they are moving through something, they are going through phases and stages and using art as a mirror to move them through. No sane person wants to get stuck in a mirror.

In the Theory of Positive Disintegration, this artistic restlessness would be the work of stage three. When someone has an all-consuming desire to create, it’s not because they want to get stuck on one song and call it a hit. 

“He’s a genuinely private and shy person who has little interest in ever being interviewed again, being on a stage, or anything. It’s just not where he derives his energy from.”

As a recap, meeting my husband at 20, I was wowed by his music industry experience. In other words, I viewed him as a “somebody.” But I was confused as to why he was back in the Midwest playing tiny venues like me. Only in the future would we realize THE BAND not working out was the best thing that could have ever happened. 

For him, music was a definite love, but not as big as his love for general creativity, animals, woodworking, and a host of other things. He’s not an obsessive musician and never was. He felt like he found himself standing in front of a microphone by accident. When it was all over, he was relieved. 

I came to music differently. Most of my early music is a conversational battle between me and my incessant systemizing. I was trying to make sense of the emotions in life (and why my brain locked into constant routines and rituals to cope). Early adulthood was overwhelming - the way it is for everyone - and my devotion to music was my devotion to sorting it out.

Navigating Each Other’s Creativity

In this way and many others, my husband and I are very different. I wake up and tell him about something that happened in 1893 and he tells me about something that happened yesterday. In our differences, we find a healthy amount of conflict that breeds something interesting. 

His creativity is very practical (remodeling our house) and mine is classic artsy disheveled person. Piecing his life together after THE BAND was quite an experience. 

As mentioned in Part 1, becoming more of yourself can be disappointing for people who need you to reflect something back to them. Oh well. They’ll find another mirror.

From this podcast experience, I learned I can't do my husband justice while talking about him. And I don’t know how to not be super corny and just say I love him, I love his story, and I’m grateful for what we’ve built together.

How do you handle revealing information about your spouse (especially when it comes to touchy subjects)? Do you think it is easier to do once you are in a stable position (financially and/or relationship-wise)?


6 Replies to “Throwing Off Pressure: My Partner’s Music Business Experience (Part 2)”

  1. First, as a musician, I’m must say, “Steve Lillywhite? Wow!” “The Psychedelic Furs,” “If I Should Fall From Grace with God” & “The Scream” are 3 of my all-time faves. I bet your husband’s record sounds amazing.

    I’ve always despised namedropping and always kept my “Big band” or even my “Indie Band” history relative quiet – I certainly never talked it up or really mentioned it, even when I was in it & not really now. Sure, over some beers, if someone asks I’ll answer honestly, but there’s some distance now.

    I agree that being in a band is, indeed, like “a black hole that keeps coming back,” however I actually am grateful to have been “frozen in time” on a number of occasions in different bands at different parts of my life. Whenever I hear music I made outside of my own home, I smile, not cringe because that is a pure snapshot of me at that time – it’s a pretty cool thing actually. If whatever sonic nonsense I put out there means something different or even more to someone else, I consider that an honor. But that’s just me.

    As for your question, I’m not sure aside from some pre-approved blog mentions, that I’ve revealed any sensitive information about Ms. Fate. As an artist, she’s also had a colorful life, but, like my adventures, those are her tales to tell.

    1. Thanks for the comment Mr. Fate. Now I’m super curious what bands you’ve been in.

      I appreciate the maturity of your 3rd paragraph. I also appreciate several versions of the person I’ve been and the fact they are almost all captured in music (except the present one). I’ve said and thought things I don’t even agree with now, but I can see how the larger picture all fits together in the present as I’m a functioning adult with a pretty healthy life, healthy relationships, etc.

      My husband appreciates what he has done musically as well (I personally like his solo album he never put out the most). He has changed a lot overall though and it’s always interesting to see the version of yourself other people remember the most reflected back at you occasionally when you have completely moved on. For example, I would never want to be remembered for the phase in my life when I was making music most. That was just one small part of who I am.

      Would love to learn more about Ms. Fate. Freddy’s wife is an artist and I love anytime he talks about her.

  2. the music business is crazy with who makes it and who doesn’t and i sincerely doubt it’s based on pure talent. sometimes it’s right place and right time. in the past year i’ve read books on the careers of lou reed, patti smith, and debbie harry. they’re all nyc-centric stories and i strongly believe there were probably some more remote musicians and bands so never got “discovered” or a marketing push even if they had a major label. i also read jen trynin’s book “everything i’m cracked up to be” which is more purely about the rotten side of the business. giving up creative control or being blind about the money side are the worst parts to me.

    i think it’s better to be less rich and not get chewed up with endless touring and make the art/music that pleases you. if it then becomes more of a hobby or interest then so be it.

    1. I think you are spot on Freddy. I’m reading a book right now about the history of folk music (titled What Side Are You On?) that hints at a similar notion (that NYC is where people who wanted to get discovered would go – especially in the 60s). It touches on the role of other cities too (like Denver, Philadelphia, San Fran). Good book for those who like to go beyond surface knowledge.

      I’ve been meaning to get around to some Patti Smith books. I have had them recommended to me several times. Haven’t hear of Jen Trynin before – will have to look into that.

      Concerning your last paragraph, I enjoy creative control and having my basic needs met over excess any day. I think a lot of people who have gone anywhere near the mainstream business agree.

  3. Hey Savvy, I think first I just want to say how much I enjoyed reading this post. You touch upon so many different complexities of the music business in thought provoking ways that I found the weave and flow of your article fascinating.

    I come from the opposite music side of you, your husband and Mr. Fate, in that I never played “professionally.” I was a drummer and from the age of 14-24 music was my life. I played in all sorts of different bands and always told myself I would tour for at least a year after I graduated college and support myself only with my drums. But, life and many other factors got in the way and I never did. So whenever, I can hear stories from musicians who actually toured, I love to listen and soak it in.

    1. Thank you for stopping by the blog Quiet FI. Glad you were able to enjoy the post. I think touring is great when young and I’m glad I did it. I also appreciate that it is a lifestyle with an expiration date.

      Unless you get to the point where you are so successful it can be comfortable (I’m thinking – a bus and good food), it is actually a really draining way to live. It’s definitely not like traveling to see interesting sights and sounds. It’s more like waiting around a lot and having surface level relationships/small talk with a lot of people – some who care and some who don’t (just my opinion). Like I said, fun at first but old after awhile. In other words,I don’t think you missed out on too much!

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