I opened my eyes and the first waking thought I had was a question about where people derive identity from. It was a summer's-almost-here type of morning, with the sunlight acting as my alarm clock and the window still open from the night before. I just flew in from the end of a tour in Austin a few days ago and was experiencing my first taste of what I like to call the “after tour blues.”
When life goes from being in a different city every day to motionless familiarity, it’s like slamming on the brakes. 100mph to 0mph.
The definition of who I am on the road is very well defined. I’m a drummer. I need to play well on stage and be a nice dude off stage. Every day is the same rigid routine, with everyone focused on delivering a performance to the best of our ability and getting to the next temporary outpost safely.
It’s easiest to compare it to being an actor on a TV show where the setting and the actors change every day, but your character and your lines stay the same. The city, the travel, the venue employees, the crowd, and the hotels are all variables; all slices of a stable life that I am merely peeking in the door of every day. Regardless of where we are, I know I need to wake up on time, get in the van on time, get to the venue on time, load in and set up quickly, perform, pack up, load out, and pull everything out of the trailer when we get to the hotel. If our routine was anything but concrete, it would be chaos. We ensure as much stability as we can by being our own cohesive tribe; worshipping the deity of timely, contrived normalcy.
Life at home is the complete opposite. The setting becomes the control and my actions, free from routine, become the variable. My environment is unmoving and my actions are dictated entirely by my own free will. On Saturday I had grown accustomed to being told where to be and what to do, an infantry soldier in someone else’s army, and on Sunday I was back home with a whole heap of free time and an absence of purpose.
The reason why I feel such an acute sense of purpose on tour is because I am a cog in a machine. I am a pawn on a chess board and I have one goal every day – to make sure that all of the pieces come together consistently to deliver the best product we possibly can. And in terms of being a touring musician, that goal encompasses 24 hours of every day for the entirety of my time on the road. This varies somewhat based on your role in the band (if hired or the leader), but in my instance as someone who is hired to perform, I am there to execute that one specific function.
I use the word perform in the same way that you would in an office work setting – your level of professional performance not only encompasses your actual work that you hand to your boss, but also how you interact with coworkers and clients on a daily basis. The difference on tour is that you don’t go home at the end of the day. You go to sleep next to your coworkers. You eat every meal with your coworkers. You drive to work with your coworkers.
So when that 24/7 routine is taken away, it creates a void that I imagine is similar in emotion to losing any job.
Work is a big piece of the pie chart when it comes to defining purpose for most people and I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because if work is fulfilling, it gives a sense of worth. Maybe it’s because work is generally where money comes from and some people find a sense of worth in money. If worth defines purpose, then purpose defines identity. When my source of worth is constantly in flux, so are pieces of my purpose and identity.
When I’m on tour with The Wind and The Wave, I’m “Baby Face, Man Body.” When I’m home I’m Nicholas, the stubborn suburban kid who makes music and drinks cheap beer with his friends. It’s interesting being transplanted from an environment that identifies me largely by stereotypes to one that identifies me by memories. At shows, it’s my job to be the head-banging, arm-swinging brute, but even then, I’m not that person immediately after I step off stage. With that being said, it’s actually fun playing a character on stage; a nice, bite-size sampling of playing into a role created by an external perception of you by others.
There’s a degree of anonymity that comes with externally established identity and it’s relieving. It’s relieving to use an archetype as a crutch. I have to explain myself much less and leave it up to others to assume who I am. This is why the “9 to 5” and the “nuclear family” are so widely adopted; to take away the eternal headache of defining yourself.
These default settings of identity are so widely accepted for the good reason that they genuinely make many people happy and feel fulfilled. The amazing thing about being alive today is that, if I so choose, my entire life can be curated for me. I could let social norms and media dictate where I work, how long I work, what car I drive, what clothes I wear, what music I listen to, how many hours of Netflix is acceptable, etc.
The disparity (if there ever is one) comes from a shift in the source of personal worth. In my case, the willful aimlessness of my fickle sense of purpose steers itself into myriad elevations, amplified by the contrasts of being on tour and being at home.
It’s fascinating how such life-defining words as purpose and identity can be so pliable and temporary. How our worldview, self-esteem, and relationships are steered by intangible views of ourselves that can change instantly. Do you derive purpose from the same things now as you did when you were sixteen? I would guess the answer for most people is no.
This is a good thing – evidence of the inevitable change and growth of each individual as a force of nature. However, it presents a threat to the comfort of the psyche. A change in purpose could lead to a downward slip into a danger-laden unknown.
In my case, this redirection of purpose is a shift in the volume of excitement and adventure, which seems to dilute my overall drive and focus. I find it harder to write (hence my four-month hiatus from posting), convincing myself that my sedentary life is a story not worth telling. That my time spent with friends and family, time spent learning and practicing, working out and meditating, moving back to Denver and writing a song every week, are stories not worth telling because they don’t involve rock shows and late night debauchery.
I’m learning that it is worth telling it if I’m living it. That every moment is a chance to chisel out a story – a lesson you think I would’ve learned from the road. I have, it just happens to get buried in self-doubt and masochism.
Regardless of where my physical location happens to be, I’m a musician, I’m a writer, and ultimately, just a guy with a weird last name trying to impart my psychotic doctrine on the world. The whole reason I wanted to start this blog was to share what happens in my real-life life, off-stage and out of range of iPhone cameras. It would be wrong and inaccurate to shy away from that now, cowering and saving words for a time that I deem my life to be adequately interesting. I hold honesty as a value extremely close to my existence, my identity, and I carry it with me no matter where my physical body may go. I am concerned with nothing but conveying my thoughts and stories with undiluted honesty. That’s a purpose that transcends physical markers of identity.
I'm a touring drummer. I live in hotels and venues to be on stage for one hour a day. That hour is why I do this and the only part people see. This is a documentation of the other 23 hours.