On a short tour around the Kent and Sussex coast in the 1980’s my band and I hired a van and lugged our gear to venues booked by our hapless manager, “Fat Nick”.
Fat Nick’s criteria for booking a gig was non-existent. If he could get us in, he did. A plan which proved terminally flawed the night we, completely inappropriately, played a working mans club in Ashford resulting in the manager paying us in full after seven minutes on the proviso that we stop. Regular customers who’d been coming in each night for twenty years were leaving in their droves.
Undaunted, and convinced we were on the cusp of greatness we arrived in Brighton.
First, we couldn’t get the PA to work and then, after being informed that one of the most popular local bands were playing in the room upstairs, we played a half-hearted set to, literally, one man and his dog.
By Sunday, when we arrived at a pub where the landlord, on hearing that we only did original material, told us there was no point in us even setting up our gear, the reality of making it in the music business had begun to sink in.
It is said that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result, but that isn’t strictly true.
Failure, if used constructively, points us towards what doesn’t work. In and of itself it isn’t much fun or use. But as an indicator towards a change in approach, behaviour of perspective it is gold.
My chronic mistake was that all the time I spent failing in my life I concentrated on what I wasn’t achieving rather than valuing the fact that I kept trying.
Persistence wins out, more often than not.
In therapy, there is a saying. “Trust the process”. It describes the importance of not only struggling on through the periods where the work all seems pointless and hopeless but especially in those times.
Frequently, when it feels as if nothing is changing, everything is changing.
One thing which never changed musically, and which always felt like a terrible failure was my frustrating inability to remember the words to my own songs. How humiliating to suddenly go blank in the middle of work which had emerged from so deeply within me.
Like most things, I felt I had failed at, and almost everything I started and then gave up again sometime later, the clarity came in the form of understanding the power in letting go of the necessity for success.
Failure is only failure when we are dogmatic about the need to overturn it. If we can accept the flaws, difficulties, and hiccups we are able to learn from what we’re doing instead of myopically focusing on the destination we seem unable to reach.
Now, when I look back at those early failures I see them as precious memories and stories which add colour to my life. I still forget the words to my own songs but, if anything, the imperfection somehow adds more power to them rather than taking it away.
When fragility is allowed to emerge from a fragile place it feels more genuine than something which always needs to be done successfully.