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Bring an Umbrella
By Carley Baer - 07/17/2009 - 11:46 AM EDT

Welcome back! It sure has been a while... First of all, I just want to say "Thank you" to Jodi, the woman behind this fabulous website, for her infinite patience with me. I took an unannounced hiatus to pursue my career, with the intention of coming back with all my worldly experience to write a newer, better column, but I should have announced my absence so it didn't look like slacking off.

Add that to the pile of things I've been learning. There's been a lot. Since I last wrote, I was laid off from my day job, I began recording an album only to have it fall apart in my hands, and I went on my first self-booked tour of the East Coast.

I've written a lot. I'm in the conception stages of a band, and staring at a very finite timeline in which I've got to establish myself or go back to slinging corporate coffee. I'm trying to follow my own advice of "don't look down", but it gets hard sometimes. Down is where gravity wants to take us. Down is certainly where I was at Union Square in New York City, busking for spare change and making $.50 on my best day and getting shooed away by the law on my worst.

Down is easy to fall into, and as hard as a tar-pit to get out of. I wouldn't have gotten out of it if it hadn't been for the next show I played. My first time as a musician in NYC, and I'd already played one moderately successful show at a tiki bar on 14th St. Puffed up on that small success, I took to the streets and was utterly, undeniably deflated.

I went home-- or rather, to my friend's house in Brooklyn-- wondering who in the world I was kidding. How many musicians come to New York with stars in their eyes, certain that their arrival will finally let those doors of fortune swing wide open and show them into the green pastures of fame and financial security? How could I have been so naive? I'm usually sharper than that.

My second show in the City was at a place that charges a $10 cover. Considering that the friends I have in town are all either very busy or very discriminating about what they spend $10 on, I wasn't expecting much of a turnout. In addition to the fact that the place was a total dive sports bar, and I play a special blend of singer/songwriter-y folk music, my expectations for the gig were significantly less than astronomical. In fact, I had all but given up. So, when it was my turn to take the stage, I stood up in front of a bunch of people I didn't know, and I played my heart out.

It was only a half-hour set, and most of the people who listened were from bands who were scheduled to play after me, but I played as hard as I could. It wasn't for some after-school-special reason, like "Suddenly I realized that this was my destiny, so I got up there and wowed them all!". Hardly. I just vented out all my frustrations on my (poor) guitar.

Music has always been like therapy to me, and when I got up there and realized that I didn't give a f&*$ if anyone listened, I just played, albeit better than I expected. I didn't make any money; I didn't even get a free drink, but honestly you couldn't have paid me to spend one more minute in that joint after my set was done.

I wish that I could've stomached it, for the sake of the later bands who all congratulated me and complimented my music, for whom I would've liked to do the same, but I was too exhausted and wanted nothing but to get away from the entire experience. On the upside, the guy running the show said that the first time out is always the hardest (which I knew, but was too starry-eyed to acknowledge before), and he told me that I'll always be welcome if ever I return to the City. He also said that he enjoyed my stuff, which was great because, "sometimes we have people come, who don't bring anyone, and they're terrible. So, thanks for not being terrible."

It's the little stuff, I guess.

But once I got away from the gig, back into Brooklyn with my friends, it was enough. I felt tremendously better. I guess, if I have to distill this idea down to a theme for this column, it's part-continuation of my last entry (Don't Look Down) and part-acknowledgement that sometimes you do look down. And sometimes you get lost in it. And sometimes, especially in this new frontier of self-made musicians, it's very easy to get cynical about how original you are (or aren't) and how hopeless it all is. But those are just the dark clouds in an otherwise sunny sky.

Remember to bring an umbrella.

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