October 28, 2017
Hotel Room - Portland, Oregon State
Don’t you wish you had a friend that would be there to help you in every
circumstance, no matter where or what? A friend that could give you peace
of mind; put your body at ease; give you confidence, and instill you with clarity? You do.
It was roughly 1970 when our group Heart (Ken Hansen, Ron Rudge, Gary Ziegleman, James Chirillo, Steve Fossen and myself), played at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington state. At that point we were a mostly original band, with some unusual, ambitious musical slants. We were all young and this concert was a big deal to us. The intensity was compounded by the fact that we were the opening act for Buddy Miles. Not long before, Jimi Hendrix had died, and his parents were present, as they knew Buddy because he’d been Jimi’s drummer for awhile.
So the pressure in my mind was helping me get nervous to the point where it was just too much. I had just met Buddy and band, and was leaning against the wall outside the dressing room, watching people stream in to the venue. My heart was racing, filling my body with adrenaline, after a bit I thought, “This is not fun... this is too much... I don’t like this!"
So, taking a long, deep breath, and feeling how good that felt, took another and then another, realizing that focusing on just breathing slowly and deeply was really making me feel better. Then I GOT IT! Having felt the heart rate slowing, the realization that now, less adrenaline was streaming through the body, made everything seem manageable. “I can do this!”
“Ladeez and gentlemen... HEART!”
Walk out onto the stage, right up to the front edge, stand there and look at the thing I had been so worried about - the audience. “Shit, this is just a bunch of people, why am I so afraid?” Turned around, went to my amp stack, turned it up and KICKED ASS!
Owning the power from adrenaline, one can do pretty cool stuff. Quite different than being debilitated by it. Our band was so good that night, we got three encores. Pretty good for an unknown band opening for a world-class act.
The seeds of “BASH” were planted that night. I never forgot the lesson, but knew it wasn’t enough.
If you have a pet, you’ve probably experienced what they do when they go outside first time in the day. What I’ve seen makes perfect sense: get outside the door, stop. Look around, slowly. Ears twitching all directions, listening for predators or prey. Eyes embracing the whole picture to pick up on any movement. Sniffing repeatedly for any hint of danger or food. Your cat is 100% aware, as if its life depends on it. It does, and our lives depend on awareness, too.
It’s an acronym I made for remembering an important thing to anyone who faces high pressure, intense moments - anyone who needs to be able to settle and perform, no matter what.
I rehearsed today with a group of kids, Ashleigh Seifert, Morgan Collumbine-Robertson, Cameron Castillo, Abigail Cross, Victoria Garcia, William Madzier, Max Hobi, and their instructor, Brian Robertson at The Youth Music Project in Portland. We were getting ready for a performance at the World Of Speed Museum, where the YMP had a gala fundraising event. At rehearsal I explained to them that making music is one thing, entertaining is quite another, and that in order to have an audience buy tickets, you need to entertain them. Then I asked if any of them were nervous. Every one said, “YES!” I told them that I would be too, but that adrenaline is our friend, and we will use it to empower us.
We all know the importance of carefully tuning our instruments and playing in tune, but don’t forget to tune the most important instrument, YOU.
“You guys, I’m going to tell you something you will use the rest of your lives, and it will be your constant, helpful friend.”
“B stands for breathing. Take as deep a breath as you can and slowly let it out. Mmmm, that feels good. Now do it again, not quite so deep, but feel goodness with the inhalation, and goodbye to toxins and waste with the exhalation. After a few breaths you will realize your heart has slowed down. Adrenaline is an incredibly powerful substance! We will own it tonight, not the other way around. By the way, what is the bottom line to performing live?” (Looks of bewilderment). “FUN! Yep, easy peasy.”
Then going on, “A is for awareness. Go, with your consciousness, to every part of your body - your toes; ear lobes; elbows; calves; every part of your body is filled with your awareness. Now let all tension go... every tiny amount of anything holding on... let it all go.”
When one practices this often during the day, the ability to appear calm, cool, and collected is attained, but it must be maintained with daily practice, like any other instrument.
S is for seeing. “So we’re breathing deeply, filling our bodies with awareness, now see everything in your line of vision as one thing, giving no thought or significance to any single thing in the picture. You are completely aware of the whole picture with no thought. When a wild animal is in their natural environment, they have to be able to do this, watching for any hint of motion.”
H is for hearing. “Now LISTEN! Listen like your life depends on it. There can be no thought. We’re hearing everything there is to hear, and sustaining that concentration.”
I could tell my six bandmates got it. I was so proud to play with them. After our two rehearsals, there was a huge improvement. We were the closing act of the night, AND WE ROCKED Heart’s Love Alive!
The event was great!
Taking place in the World Of Speed Museum in Wilsonville, Oregon, there were both silent and live auctions, an excellent dinner, and performances by the kids, all students at the 900-student-per-week Youth Music Project. YMP was created by Dave and Sally Bany, and invites ALL children, irregardless of income. It is a profoundly successful operation, instilling a sense of family and belonging in these kids, while providing a lifelong sense of direction.
The Fisher Brothers were asked to speak about the importance of music. After some enlightening words from the Magic Man, I told the story that changed my life:
“When I was 15, my new best friend encouraged me to join he and his little gang on regular night outings to break into houses. They were stealing fur coats, jewelry, cash and booze. We would then go to a school parking lot and get drunk. Of course we got caught. I was so sad to see the look on my mother’s face, she was so disappointed in me. The judge asked me what I had taken. I told him the only thing I ever took was an eight-ball from a pool table. He said, “Obviously, you were just hanging out with the wrong crowd. You’re free to go.”
On the way home, mom asked me what I’d like to do to fill my time. I asked her to rent me a guitar and amp.
My life has never been the same.
The fundraiser grossed $160,000, and I was very honored to be a part of it.
People are looking for ways to help our world. Music reaches the heart and soul like nothing else. Music was probably the first form of communication, it’s a universal language, and it’s more important in our world now than ever.
My life has been enriched beyond words by striving to understand lyrics; by striving to recreate what other talented people have created; by maintaining a way-of-life focus in becoming a better player, singer, and composer.
Music has rocked my life.