The Upside of Boredom

What does a flying banana have to do with boredom?

I think we can all agree, life is short. Other well worn adages resonate equally well: “Time is Precious”, “Live for the Moment” , and so on. Groucho Marx said “Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.” Once one of the most recognizable names in comedy, his joke slides into obscurity as easily as he might have predicted when he thought of it. And you might well now think, who is Groucho?

This July I turn 69. That’s five years older than Paul McCartney’s young fantasy of turning 64. I can still remember what it felt like to turn 20 shocked that a decade had sailed by since I was 10. I knew then that our perceptions of how quickly the clock spins around is somehow skewed. Good times seemed to make an hour or even an entire summer melt away. If only I could somehow slow things down I might be able to wring out some extra life out of this mysteriously rigged system. “A Watched Pot Never Boils.” Aha! I had found the key.

This said, it is hard to enjoy “Watching the Paint Dry.” The edge I had discovered quickly fell flat under its own tedious gravity. It’s now been nearly five decades since I discovered my destiny as a musician as a twenty something. Whenever I play the piano, I might as well enter a time tunnel and wake up on the other side in what feels the blink of an eye. It’s the opposite of boring. Always. And I can’t help it, I have to play.

So I admit I have tried cheating time from time to time. I learned that a nap in the middle of the afternoon can make one day feel like two. I’ve tried multi-tasking but I am terrible at it. A minor victory over the perception of time could be the ultimate definition of a losing battle.

Baby Jan 1952

Time itself is not the enemy. We are all united in this plane of existence in a very one sided alliance with the rules of reality as we march towards the unknown. Boredom is a gift that should never be squandered, so let’s just fill it with love and relax, shall we?

Self Employed Musician

Take heart – Good things often come to those who persevere and are willing to work hard.

When I first got out of high school, I told my parents I was going to become a professional musician. My mother who had started to show me how to play piano when I was still in diapers was overjoyed. My dad completely freaked out. So when they divorced, I felt like it was completely my fault.

Many of my friends thought it was really encouraging at the time to say things like “good for you! “ or “what else are you going to do? “ I knew I had no choice – because I had a complete mental and physical addiction to playing the piano, and so I felt no shame in moving ahead.

All that was about 50 years ago. Since then, the entire town of Flint Michigan was laid off, and recently here in Canada we saw the end of Sears. This week Air Canada announced massive layoffs. As a musician who has been self-employed and self-taught especially in business-I have navigated survival by adapting to the changing times my entire life. When DJs threatened live bands I turned to theatre and reinvented myself.

When money became an issue, I expanded into producing original music for radio and television and built a studio in my basement. When production funding took a hit on a national scale, I added teaching music to the mix.

One clever lady in Flint learned how to make money by selling rabbits from her front lawn. I have often felt like her. And as the mindset of a company like Woodwards or Eatons take care has slowly disappeared, more and more people have come to me. “Good for you!” is gone. For some this has become fear, but others have learned how to adapt.

It’s amazing what you can do when you have no other choices. If you’re reading this and you just lost your job I hope you find it encouraging do you know that there is no shame in being self-employed. In fact, it can bring you confidence, security, and a feeling of independence that I would never trade for whatever benefit package I might’ve received had I taken another path.

Take heart – Good things often come to those who persevere and are willing to work hard.

Long Live the King

I visit the grave of Elvis. Serendipity ensues on a whole new level.

Twelve years ago I produced a CD of original songs called Good Fair World. I then jumped in my car and drove to Texas with gigs along the way gave a number of small concerts to promote it.

Since my nephew was living in Memphis I next decided to head for Graceland and spent a few days there.

As an atheist and musician it felt strange to be at the grave of Elvis Presley pretending to ask for guidance. But I did. 

Over the next few months my work included a comedy marathon in London England, a tavern in Berlin, and a piano bar in Rome. Clearly I was lost.

On the way back to Edmonton I stopped in to visit a friend in Regina. Ruth Smillie was artistic director of the Globe Theatre there. While waiting across the street in the mall for her to give me a tour, I high-fived this poster of a garish cartoon of Elvis hawking french fries no doubt without his knowledge. 10 minutes later Ruth asked me if I was interested in being musical director for a “juke box musical” with Elvis songs at a theatre in Prince George. It was called All Shook Up.

A few months later I was performing an extended run and receiving nightly standing ovations with an amazing cast and an incredible band. My life and my career has had many twists and turns both leading up to this and since. But that year I was at a major cross roads and blessed with some sort of help. I am still an atheist, but I have to say this: “LONG LIVE THE KING.”

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