Keeping Hope Alive by Roy Burns

The legendary actor Kirk Douglas once said, “Actors are in the rejection business." One could say the same about all performers. For example, a famous heavy metal drummer recently left an internationally famous metal group. The audition for a new drummer was done cafeteria style. That is to say, twenty-seven drummers were lined up, waiting in the hallway for their chance to audition. It was one drummer after another.

A young friend of mine called to tell me that he had done well at the audition and had won the job. Since he happened to be an Aquarian endorser, we immediately made plans to do some advertising on him. We prepared flyers and ads in which his name and that of the group were included.

We were all happy for this young man. He and his wife were excited; after a lot of sacrifices and hard work, their dream was at last coming true. National fame, big money, world tours,endorser contracts, interviews and possibly clinics were now within the grasp on my young friend.

However, after three months of rehearsals, the producer of the band wanted a more flamboyant, flashy type of drummer. After all this work, all this anticipation and belief that he had finally made it, my friend was told that another drummer had been hired for the group. To say that he was disappointed would be an understatement. He was devastated.

Six months later, we were setting up the Aquarian booth at the NAMM Show in California. Suddenly, I saw the young man walking by. “Jimmy,” I yelled, “what are you doing here?” He said, “I’m working for the convention center moving crates, helping to set up booths and working the various conventions that come in.” What was amazing to me was that Jimmy had a big smile on his face. He said, “The money is good here and I’m playing weekends. I’m also rehearsing in a new band that we all feel has real possibilities. We want to make a demo tape soon and approach some record companies.”

I was impressed so much by Jimmy’s attitude. He never mentioned the rejection he felt when he lost the “big gig”. He found a way to support his family, found a weekend gig and found a new band to rehearse with that was serious about their future.

I wish I could tell you that the new band was a success but it wasn’t. Nothing ever happened. Jimmy, however, kept plugging away. I talked with him just a few days ago. He’s relocated to another state and is playing and doing well.

I asked him, “Does the group you’re with now have any real possibilities?” He said, “Who knows? But I can always hope.” His attitude really impressed me. He had not lost hope. However, he is also a realist, which is why he said, “Who knows?” But at least that answer leaves the door open. It may be a long shot but stranger things have happened.

At some point in our lives we may begin to realize that not all of us will become stars in drumming. There are only so many top groups, so many films, so many TV shows, so many club gigs, and so on. And there are always more drummers than there are gigs. How do you keep hope alive when you realize that you may not be one of the lucky few who reach the top levels of our profession?

One approach is to set many small goals that are achievable for you. If you set the “one big goal” that is at best a long shot, you may be frustrated all your life. But if you keep setting and reaching small ones, you’ll feel more confident land more fulfilled.

Another approach and the one I personally prefer, is to concentrate on improvement, rather than specific goals. I just go at everything that comes my way as hard as I can. I make every effort to do my best, no matter what the situation might be. As long as I am learning and improving, I let the goals take care of themselves.

This is not to say that goal setting is in any way bad. I’m only suggesting that sometimes goals must be adjusted in the face of cold reality. Also, sometimes you may set goals for yourself that are unrealistic. However, you never know until you try. If you keep trying and you are not getting close to the “big goal”, try setting some more realistic ones!

You don’t decide to be a star. Live does that! For some extremely talented people, success seems to come easy. However, the successful people have their troubles as well. Many a famous musician has gotten carried away when the money comes too fast and too easy. Drugs, booze and irresponsible behavior have been the early downfall of people who would seem to have it made. The only thing harder than achieving success is keeping it. It is hard work and it requires self-discipline. To hang on year after year at the top requires great dedication. To people who have been unable to realize their dreams, this may not mean so much. They may fell, “Just give me a chance to be famous. I could handle it.” And in many cases this may be true.

Life does funny things. You can’t predict what will happen and you can’t make life come to you on your terms. So what to do?

Do like my friend Jimmy: Just get on with it. Find a new band. Buy some new albums. Go to some concerts. Enjoy the fact that you have experienced the gift of music. It can affect your whole life. When you are too old to perform, or sick, or out of work, or depressed, play some music. Put on your stereo and enjoy to your hearts content.

And keep playing. Try to organize your practice time a little better. Decide to learn one new rhythm every week or so. Take a drum lesson from a famous teacher. Concentrate on improving.

Each time you feel you have improved, there is a little “rush” of accomplishment. Keep concentrating on learning and improving and let the chips fall where they may. And, like my friend Jimmy, you may get a chance. As Jimmy says, “Who knows?” Stranger things have happened.