Passion, Not Talent, Is The True Gift

Have you ever watched a musical prodigy on YouTube and concluded that bug-catching, rather than music, was your true calling after all? Yeah, me too.  I mean, I’ve got tee shirts that are older than some of these little ones.  Where does this otherworldly skill come from?

In my early days as a player, I remember feeling utterly discouraged. After all, in spite of their ages, these  musical wonders play at an  expert level.  In my jealousy, I cast around for reasons to explain their exceptional skill. They must have musical parents, I groused to myself. It’s their environment. They’ve gotten more encouragement than the rest of us.  They get excellent instruction.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. Maybe, as so many through the ages have believed, these unique youngsters have been touched by a divine force.  Because the questions seem so utterly unanswerable, my thoughts turned to something that I believe all of us share.  And thankfully, it doesn’t matter if you’re a three year-old golf champ, a ten year-old gourmet chef, or a sixty year-old student drummer.  We all have this miraculous life force.


I guess right about now I should be inserting links to some of the research I’ve found, but I’m not going to do that. What I’m writing here is purely subjective, my opinion only.  It’s a view I’ve developed after  being humbled by prodigies, talking to fellow musicians, and reading everything I can on talent and learning.

It’s a cyclical thing, talent.  It seems that if you love or have a keen interest in something, you’ll engage in it every chance you get. The practice, in turn, builds skill. As your ability improves, your skill might draw attention from others. Any compliments you get encourage you to keep on going, which in turn, continues to ferment your talent even further.

But it’s a bit like considering the chicken and the egg: which comes first-passion or talent?  Are we attracted to things that we do well, or does a fire ignite that causes us to chase that dream, regardless of whether that skill comes naturally?

My heart tells me that passion comes first. Passion will see you through all manner of hardships. If you love something enough, it won’t matter if it doesn’t come naturally. You’ll do it anyway. And the more you try, the longer you stay in the game, the more likely your skills will improve.

I will never reach the heights of a child prodigy. I don’t have a bright drumming future in front of me.  But I keep playing.  I’m not “gifted,” but if I have anything in my favor, it’s that I just keep chasing. Maybe that’s enough.

Please share your thoughts and comments.








The Art of Being “Bad-ass”

There are some people you’re meant to meet.  Out of nowhere, you run into them. Or, as in my case, your nosey side gets the better of you and you overhear things. Their words carve into you like a stonemason’s  tool, and help shape you into what you are and hope to be.  I’m glad I have big ears, because I got to hear Chad talk a little about his life.

Before meeting him last year at one of the local music jams that he runs, he was a complete mystery. Like me, he’s middle-aged.  Judging by the song list the house band played, it was clear that music to him is an ocean, rather than a narrow, meandering brook.  He’s another local, gigging musician . Or is he?

Chad is more than that. In that timeless seventies parlance that we grew up with, he’s bad-ass. Period.  A few years ago, he decided to devote himself to music full-time. His courage and determination are part of the reason I created this blog.  I wanted this post to be a Q&A-style interview with him, but after reading one of his recent emails, I said “forget it, I already have my interview.” Because in a few short sentences, he describes exactly what it takes to be a bad-ass, to live your passion and make it work. In utterly uncompromising fashion, he gets down and speaks his truth.

Here are Chad’s Rules for Making Your Dreams a Reality:

  1. Pruning—as with dead leaves and branches from a tree, it’s wise to let go of things that might tie us down and keep us from reaching up.  ” I’ve learned as I swim and wander through this remarkable thing called life that so much of what I thought was soooo damn important, doesn’t matter much to me anymore…I have learned/am learning to sluff it off as I go.” This includes “relationships that don’t grow or seem to work, as that is the greatest burden of all, and the most difficult to let go.”

2. Discipline— I can vouch for Chad’s work ethic. Just days after an operation, he was back in action at the jam, and although people often offer to buy him drinks, he doesn’t touch a drop. He provides the PA and comes early to set up and make sure everything is in working order. In all the time I’ve been a jam participant, he has never missed a Saturday or Sunday.   Chad also runs his own online business ,The Little Shop of Fantasy and Horror, a nod to his love of the  genre. Any business owner who reads this can appreciate far more than I the work that goes into creating and running a viable business.

3.  Love/Grit/Determination–they seem  inseparable.  Like many musicians, Chad is in love with music and is completely devoted to it as one would be another human being. He lives simply now, in an apartment along with his cat, surrounded by hundreds of books on art, film and music.  It’s this love of playing  that drives him.  When one of his mic stands went missing, he talked about how he never replaced it. He couldn’t. A good chunk of his earnings came right out of pocket to buy an abdominal brace, something he absolutely needed in order to continue singing at the gigs. He performs when he’s sick or in pain, lest the venue decide to replace him. And in this town, there are bands standing in line waiting to do so. An “impregnable deflection shield” is crucial for survival, even when making music at the local level. Chad didn’t elaborate or give examples from his own experience, but given that this is the music business, the reader is invited to fill in the blanks. I can say this from experience ( and thank you for reminding me, Mark). Sometimes you play to an empty house. Sometimes people talk over your music. You put in countless hours  learning the tunes, and then preparing, arranging and working out the song list so that your audience will stay interested. Maybe, if you’re lucky, they’ll like you and want to come back to see you again.  A larger audience correlates to more food and drinks sold. If you can’t draw a crowd, you’re out of a job.

As Chad so eloquently puts it: “believe me, there is sacrifice. The music gods demand sacrifice, and they will pull your world inside out and upside down, and twist you every which way to make sure you’re not gonna break. It’s a bitch and you better really, really love it, and love a different kind of reward that only the truly passionate can understand. Or the truly insane, perhaps. Because otherwise, you will run (or crawl) screaming into the embrace of the first safety net you come across, and that will be the end of it. ”

Everyone should meet a bad-ass at least once in their lives.