Becoming a Real Renegade

“A diamond is a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well.” – Unknown

RENEGADE (Live @ 2009 Jazz Winnipeg Festival): 

There is a difference between “being” and “performing”.  For this reason I have never had a hard time getting up in front of large audiences or singing songs in public that I’ve written in private.  I’ve had a lot of practice performing on stage since my solo, “I had a boat, a little white boat, it sailed across the sea” in Grade 1 choir… but have always had a much more difficult time doing it off stage.  My heart has always felt most comfortable outside of any “performer boxes”, hanging out on my sleeve – where everyone can see it.  Although that has been detrimental to me at times, it is also essential in order for me to be real.  I’ve been finding over the years that performing on stage as a “public persona” (an idea which is greatly accepted and praised by most people) can be incredibly deceiving to the portrayer.  It’s also the most difficult habit to break… but I’m learning.

My Dad used to come to all of my shows.  It actually really bugged me at first but I eventually appreciated it once I got used to it.  Our relationship was pretty distant for most of my life, but started to grow much closer after two things happened:

1) I got honest (with myself and with him)

… and

2) he got sick, and revealed to me the greatest fighter I have ever known.

After that, he came to most of my shows.

I remember one performance he didn’t make, on a mini-tour with my band in Red Deer, Alberta.  Earlier that afternoon I was on my way to play at a high school with my drummer/producer, Mitch when I got a phone call from one of my sisters.

“They found a blood clot in one of Dad’s lungs and are keeping him in the hospital for observation.  He said that you had a deal that whatever happened, you guys would be honest with each other; so he just wanted to make sure you knew… but for right now, he’s okay.”

By then, Dad had been sick for quite some time.  Years prior he was given a “terminal diagnosis” (which meant absolutely nothing to him) but the rollercoaster ride of healing and suffering was no fun anymore and in fact, was starting to make me feel sick to my stomach on a regular basis.  Still, our relationship continued to deepen as time passed and thus, the “honesty deal” regarding all health-related happenings.

Although this blood clot thing was a first, I also knew that it could be life threatening and immediately began to hate the fact that I was two Provinces away.  (That really sucks for a musician, by the way – finally getting out on the road and wanting nothing more than to go home.)

After Mitch & I did our thing at the High School, we sat across the table from each other in his hotel restaurant and I explained the situation.  Drawing on his knowledge and experience, I asked him one question: “Where do I put it?”

“What do you mean?” he asked.  “Where do you put what?”

“The anxiety, the emotions… all of it”, I said.  “How am I supposed to play and sing these honest songs, derived from so much real life experience, and pretend this isn’t happening enough to perform and not completely fall apart on stage?  How do I not lose my mind?  Where do I put it?”

Our gig was at a theater called “The Matchbox”.  (A much more intimate setting than the previous night’s bar gig in Calgary.)

Mitch’s response confused me, almost to the point of anger.  “I don’t know, Lindsey… I’d say don’t put it anywhere.”  He continued, “If it were me; say this were happening to one of my kids, I probably wouldn’t be able to hide it either… so I probably wouldn’t bother trying!”

Mitch also once told me that “if you are honest because honesty is the best policy, then your honesty is corrupt.”

He gave me a few anecdotes and recommended I go ahead and cry if I had to, but above all to be honest.  I had no idea how to go about doing that on stage – only that the show must go on, and so it did.  I performed; with as much “public persona” as I could possibly muster.  And parts of it sounded good, and other parts really sucked.  The most raw and honest moment of the show, a song called “Fall So Hard” was also the most vulnerable for me emotionally and fell apart completely.  (At least only two handfuls of people showed up to hear it).  😛

But that’s not what I remember most.  The strongest and most vivid memory of that experience was the text message that Dad sent me just after sound check: “I love you!  You have all that you need to become all that you desire…

As much as I appreciated the sentiment at the time, I didn’t really comprehend the full extent of what that could mean.

He didn’t die until two and a half months later, but after he did… no more shows.

I managed to perform at the gigs I’d already booked that summer without losing my mind (by now I had been doing it for so long that I was pretty good at it).  But after that I just couldn’t perform any more.  The fight for Dad’s life had been so long and had left me too weary.  I’d built up too much tension in the process and lost too much in the end.  I didn’t like music and I didn’t want to do it anymore.  I felt like a sick, overtired, starving infant meshed with a sick, overworked adult suffering from severe back problems and exhaustion.  I could feel every ounce of my own unhealthiness and how it affected me.  (It was gross.)

I thought about just giving up, and what that would mean… but knew that wasn’t what “the real me” would do.  I had learned from my Dad that I was a fighter and not a quitter.  I wanted to keep going and had very good reason to.  As if finding my true love weren’t enough, I also had the idea of an unfinished album called “Renegade” that began so long ago, that my Dad truly believed in; filled with songs that I truly wanted to become.  I had to know what it could sound like.  Eventually.

Motivated by these things, I focused on what needed to happen in order for me to “be”  and to becomewithout performing.  It involved so many processes, so much care and SO MUCH TIME, but the more energy I devoted toward becoming healthy, the more evident it became that every bit of this change was indeed worth it.  I kept making music during this process (surreptitiously, every once in a while, with good friends…) but it was not easy for me to play.  It was arduous.

Then last March, I finished writing this terribly honest song about the process of grieving and healing and becoming sick and even sicker before becoming well again.  It depicted being hunted down, attacked, injured and possessed by something that needed to be allowed to pass through.  I called it “Monster” and sent it to my band, not knowing what they would think.  As it turns out, they managed to do what they always do for my music and gave it enough groovy energy to boost it up to the next musical level.  I was inspired, and we played it at a friend’s show at the Park Theatre to a very receptive audience.

As the idea of faking anything (on or off stage) became increasingly repulsive, I grew increasingly committed to doing whatever it took to become healthy.  And it was working.  At first I started accepting gig requests, but not actively booking.  This transitional phase did not last long, however and soon after quitting an unhealthy job, I was faced with a choice: to either play music in public honestly and try to make some money, or chicken out and wait for provisions to fall from the sky.

RENEGADE (Live @ 2010 Fringe Festival):

Of course, at first it was the most difficult – especially around the anniversary of my Father’s death last July and especially playing “Renegade” on the very same stage where I had dedicated it to him at the Winnipeg Jazz Festival, one week before he died.  But I’ve somehow managed to play the song again, and again, and the more I have been defiantly being on stage and the less I have been performing, the stronger I am growing and the easier it is becoming.  (Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not “easy” by any means and I don’t know if it ever will be… but at this point I’m not collapsing on the sidewalk like I did last year before sound check at the Fringe, so that’s progress.)

After Monster, other musical expressions of honesty have followed.  The “Let Me Be” Song, Bugs, Crazy Love, and Unwell were born last year… and I’m working on a new one called Scapegoat Hissy Fit.  The band is going to kick ASS in that one!  (Joe Curtis, I’m talking to YOU!  Get ready man.)

Photo by Jen Cabral

But even when the guys and I are rocking out and everyone on and off stage are all having a fabulous time… it still pains my heart that so much is different now.  Dad is not at any of my shows, and never again will be.  I can’t shake the awareness of that and more importantly… I really don’t want to.  I can’t bring myself to “put it anywhere”.  Not anymore.  Besides, I have an album that has been in the works for years now that needs me to put everything I’ve got into it.  It needs me to become…

I’m no longer able or willing to hide the real me; including the stress and trauma I’ve experienced, how I’ve handled it, how I AM handling it, or the art that has erupted from me as a result.  It still feels odd at times, but every day I desire that more and more truth be exposed – even as it includes what others would label as mistakes, faults, failures, blemishes, imperfections, not-good-enoughs etc.

It’s hard to believe how much criticism I’ve received for the choices I’ve made, but I’m getting better at ignoring it.  Paying attention to everyone in the crowd can be exhausting and feels very defeating to the whole objective of someone who is desperately trying to just be.

If only there were some way to sum up the last three years of my life – what it has done to me; who it has made me.  If I could list all that I’ve done to survive and heal and progress, then maybe the person I’ve become would make more sense to everyone else… or at least be easier for the critics to swallow.  And maybe with all of that approval it would be easier to keep climbing back on stage and letting monsters out.  But then again, maybe not.

I’m learning to process outside pressure, physically and emotionally – to let it pass through while placing my full trust in the voice of my own heart.

All I know is:

1) It’s worth it.

2) I can do it.

Although they were written and not spoken, my Dad’s words still echo in my ears…

“… You have all that you need to become all that you desire…”

Becoming” anything involves making different choices than ever before.  Practicing this art has involved many things: writing, stretching, busking, blogging, jamming, gigging, as well as working in offices and playing with children.  Wherever I go, I am slowly getting used to this commitment to my true self, at all costs; regardless of how it feels, or how well received that person may be.

Young people are by far the most fun part of that process… they are so creative, with unlimited imaginational capabilities and uninhibited enthusiasm.  I’ve discovered a new love for making music in this very different setting and spending time with children of all ages.  It’s so great to be real with them and I absolutely LOVE writing songs with them!

I also have so many awesome friends who love me, support me and believe in what I’m becoming.  I am filled with gratitude for all of the love and resources that have showed up on my doorstep lately.  It is so encouraging and inspiring; and fills me with a most tangible hope.

With all the support I’ve been given, I am ready to disprove the theories of others that I will only be a “successful artist” (whatever that means) if I do what the majority of the world feels I “should”.  And I’m starting by spending more and more time doing what I love: engaging young people in making music, and sharing more of my art than ever before.

Half of the songs that will be on the “Renegade” album were written before my Father’s death and about half were written afterward.  Next month will mark two years since he has been gone and I feel the void differently now.  It is time to make some very large strides in the direction of my dream and I am ready.

My band & I will soon be launching a new project on my website to fund the production of these songs and get this new record off the ground.  In the last three years I’ve recorded a ton of demo material with my little macbook computer as my music has been rehearsed and reworked, performed and reformed.  Though imperfect in quality, these recordings reveal a certain honesty about the artistic process that could never be replicated and have taught me more than I can say.  While the band & I spend more time recording these songs in the studio, our intention is that they become all they can be.  In the mean time, I want them heard as they are: raw, real, in progress and perfectly imperfect.  I’ll be posting more about these songs in the coming months and if you enjoy them, you can buy the Renegade album in advance and get some cool free stuff in the process.  So if that kind of thing interests you, please keep in touch… but I hope you understand that I’m really not trying to sell anybody anything.  Not anymore.  And although I’m grateful for those who appreciate my art, it’s also okay if you don’t dig it.  🙂  This is honesty at it’s purest and so there is no other way.  It might get difficult or messy at times, but there is no turning back so I figure, why not dive in honestly?  After all, it’s the only way I know how to be me!

Today is my Dad’s birthday and although I feel his absence deeply, I also feel a sort of “rebirth” within me.  Dad never waited for anyone else’s permission to be himself.  (He also used to say, “Never let anybody should on you.”)  He knew that it was worth it.  He was a Renegade…

And now I know that he was right.

Photo by Rahim

~ by lindseywhitemusic on June 23, 2011.

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