How to Surrender to Triumph and Failure
I am about to spend another weekend in the recording studio.
A few months ago we began working on a new album.
At that first recording session, I was forced to question whether what I was doing was a triumph or a failure.
The owner of the studio is a guy called Milan.
Many years ago he fled the civil war in what was once Yugoslavia, and his homeland of Croatia.
Just like myself, his adopted country is the Netherlands.
He had to leave a career and a home behind, and start from scratch in a foreign land.
It’s a hard slog. I know, I did something similar.
We hadn’t seen each other for six years but it was as if only a month had gone by. Some friendships stand the test of time.
In the past I didn’t even realise that it was a friendship. It is though.
He said that I was the only Australian he knew that had stayed here, everyone else had gone home.
Home and where that is will be a discussion for another time.
On the weekend Milan invited a friend of his to come and have a chat with me. His name was Wobbe.
He has a lifetime of experience as a label manager behind him. Recently he had branched out into book publishing. We had a quite intense chat.
The discussion stemmed from the idea I have for a book called: “The Exploits of a Rock n’ Roll Failure”.
Wobbe had a problem with the word failure.
He asked me over and over again, “What is failure?”
I couldn’t give him a direct response.
All I could say was that I wasn’t failing. I explained that the very fact that I was standing there in the studio was testament to me not failing.
He was very persistent. The word failure really bothered him.
I explained that the title of the book was an ambiguity.
I said that I thought failure was all down to how you perceived it. If I held myself up against all the David Bowie’s and Bob Dylan’s then I was failure.
But is success the opposite to failure? Is the lack of success really failure? Can you be successful and still fail?
Wobbe referred to Jesus.
In fact he kept returning to him, not specifically in a religious way. In retrospect, he may have been referring to Jesus Christ Superstar.
At least that was the line of thinking.
“He was a failure in his time. They nailed him to a cross. He didn’t get his message across,” he said.
“2000 years later and he’s still famous, he’s bigger than ever. I don’t call that a failure.”
A Galilean carpenter wasn’t the only one to go before his time and leave a legacy.
There is a whole industry built around dead pop stars.
The one thing most of them have in common is that they did have some notoriety while they were still alive. A certain level of fame is necessary to launch a post-death career.
Not always though, there are the Nick Drakes as well, the undiscovered gems.
So I guess the question is whether I am working on my legacy, or do I expect to see results in my own lifetime?
If I die and don’t see success, will that mean that I have failed?
I will never know if I end up being a Nick Drake. And is success the thing that I’m really after?
If I don’t get to deliver my message to the world, if it doesn’t get to hear my voice, then I suppose I would consider that failing.
The only problem is that just like Jesus or any other Christ-like entity I have relatively little control over when the message will be delivered.
It’s a special service which relies on friends and acquaintances. I have to rely on others to help me deliver the message.
This type of mail service is not always reliable.
Packages sometimes get lost in the system.
It’s the same with airline baggage. Anything sent from A to B runs the risk of not making it to its destination. In general it will get there eventually, just not always on time.
Sometimes it can take years to arrive.
If you pay a little extra you can be ensured of more guarantees.
But sometimes you just don’t have the finances to do this.
And so it is with my message.
I am still working out what it is I want to say in some ways. So I suppose I can’t expect the message to get through if it isn’t clear.
The same goes for my voice.
I am still finding it. It is getting stronger. Even with a heavy head cold I sung better than I have ever done.
Maybe I realised through the talk with Wobbe that I had not yet failed. I still had it in me to be all I could be.
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
There was one more thing.
Before I went in to sing, Milan was discussing one of the musicians he had worked with in the past: Curtis Knight.
Milan had a fairly intimate, and I’m sure distressing period, during his last seven years of life. Curtis was dying of cancer and spent a lot of his time in the studio.
Curtis had never attained the same fame as his bandmate, Jimi Hendrix. He was famous nevertheless. Just on another scale. That is of no matter. He kept doing his thing until his dying day.
Milan left me with some wise words from Curtis.
Mr. Knight would always say to a singer before they went in to record: “Surrender”.
He was right. In order to get somewhere you have to give in. Especially in an artistic sense. You have to let it flow.
Don’t choke it.
Don’t force it.
Just surrender to it and you can’t fail.
Are you failing or triumphing?
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