Saturday, 31 July 2010


"....when negativity don't pull you through...."
Bob Dylan

I just got back from playing a gig. My friend was organising it, and it was all very last minute. It did not go well. At least, it wasn't what I had hoped. For the last few weeks I have been improving my guitar techniques. I am still trying to get a handle on the American country flatpicking style (with my very unmanly long right hand thumb nail) but it has been coming along well.
So it was a shock to get on stage and feel my hands freeze up in front of a room full of people. I tried to ride the gitters out, to push through with a little performance bravado, but I couldn't relax. It might have had something to do with the fact that my friends, including my ex-girlfriend, were there, but that's not the whole of it. I just hadn't prepared myself mentally.
My point is that, to my mind, the gig was a failure. I screwed up songs. I forgot words. I missed chord changes. It was like I devolved as a musician, just at the point when I was starting to feel a sense of confidence in calling myself a guitar player. On top of all this, the little male ego voices were coming in. I had what I always have in these situations, which is that jarring self-consciousness, and projection of people laughing at me. You know, like when you were at school and your peers would mercilously put you down for your failures.
I'm not saying it was traumatic. I am actually quite able to handle this now, and I pulled the gig back. But that sense of failure, and in turn, the damgaed male ego, is still lingering.
I want to write something profound about our attitudes to failure. There is no such failure, and all that. And I believe this to a great extent. But it is an easy aphorism to churn out if it is someone else you are talking to. Not so easy when you are trying to reassure yourself.
Part of me does think that there are no mistakes. If you are at all artistic, you need to have an attitude like this. You need to have a taste for the experimental. At the same time, I think the failure has accessed deeper issues about my self-esteem. It has brought up a very strong pattern of defeatism. "Look," says that little voice, "you have been practicing, but what good has it done you. You still suck." It is probably true that at some level I sabotaged it myself. I wanted to fail so that I could once again reaffirm that negative self-image and reduce myself to that self-conscious little boy who feels he is never good enough, no matter what the fuck he does.
This is the truth about the male ego. It is not your friend. It is actually the way that you secure yourself in destructive patterns. Some guys can pull themselves through with a kind of bravado, but eventually it will crash beneath you. It is an insecure foundation.
I can start beating myself up and getting depressed about how it didn't work out. Or I can once again take a leap of faith and admit that I didn't practice or prepare for the gig, and that I can and must improve for the next time. With the male ego in the way, there is little chance I can be this honest with myself.

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