Music is the mother of all sciences. It is communion in the most visceral form…hands and heart strum strings, lay bone to skins and shred the throat…the shaman within gives flesh and bone to emotion and it is electrified under hot stage light. You lay bare yourself in front of a congress of eyes, heads and hair. Being a rock and roller is a childhood dream wrapped in art and expressed as catharsis. Music holds power and power can be intoxicating, transforming regular commoners into Gods.
As a child growing up in the 1970’s, the muses of music called to me and their songs wrapped around my young soul. I would stare for hours on end at album covers while the needle navigated it’s way around the worn-worn vinyl of Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Beatles—and later on KISS, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix. The songs weren’t just songs that were white noise for my mother’s cleaning or cooking—the musicians behind the songs were mystics and melding of melody, words and rhythm contained the skeleton key to unlock my genuine self.
Those revelatory flashes were medicine to me growing up in small town Midwestern America. It was my savior in my most lonely times and the scratch of the well-worn vinyl and balding needles were my shelter and my safe place where I could explore the rawness of my innermost emotions and insecurities. It wasn’t long before I graduated from the hair brushes and wooden tennis rackets to a real guitar and I started down the path that my heroes tread. The connection between my muses and my soul grew more profound.
My fingers would grow more calloused as I learned to coax those strings with more nuance and soul. My palette in musical tastes and preferences grew and I drank deep the medicine the muses offered. From shag-carpeted wombs I imagined crowds of 20,000, their emotions were tidal waves that I could ride and help change its course. I began to study the history of music and read widely of those who blazed the trail. Amidst the chapters and verses of beatitudes I noticed cautionary tales of promise cut short by indulgence in alcohol and other illicits.
Over time I began to join bands and started living out my fantasies in real time. Sure, it wasn’t Madison Square Garden and I wasn’t on the cover of Rolling Stone, but playing in front of friends at ear-splitting volume was gratification enough. I was far from being star material, but a little of that stardust was coursing through my veins. As I was playing more and experiencing more of the fruits of what people were offering, other muses moved out from the muted shadows and their voices were becoming more prominent.
That muse was alcohol. I can’t put a date on it, but those muses of my childhood faded into the background and became diffuse. These new muses whispered golden promises and fables patterned on my deepest desires and wants. I constructed a new persona that was bolder and bulletproof. I felt great, yet I kept hearing that small voice coming from the obscure corners of my conscience warning me, pleading with me to consider the ruin that was around the bend.
That didn’t matter though.
I was regal in my tatters. That communion between performer and audience was secondary to the well-worn clichés of hedonism. I wasn’t serving the soul of the music—I was elegantly wasted and more interested on seeing how many beer bottles I can stack on my amplifier. The truth of what I was becoming was evident, but when I would look in the mirror, it was nothing but rationalizing and empty promises of making things right tomorrow.
Those rationalizations blinded me from reality: I was jobless and wouldn’t eat for days. I was squatting in my apartment that I was evicted from. I didn’t have money in my bank account. My family and friends were slowly drifting away from me. I turned myself to face me and saw the landslide coming and that bulletproof persona was sliding off the fragile eggshell foundation it was built on. The muses that treated me so kindly were nothing but creatures borne from my insecurities that played the worse kind of joke on me. I allowed myself to be forsaken.
May 8, 2003…3am….and I am in the psych ward. I went to the bathroom and saw what I had become. I weighed 205 lbs and my skin was a sickly yellow. I looked into my eyes and saw nothing but a debris trail littered with broken promises. Worst of all, I was alone…truly alone. I was so ashamed that I didn’t call my family for two days and even then I lied to them. Truly pathetic.
Even in that hour of darkness, the light finally flickered on and it was clear to me that the high life I sought was a lie. I went into treatment for three months and it stuck. I come out the other side reborn, resolute but frightened. It took a while before I strapped on a guitar again but when I did a miraculous thing happened. Those old muses came back to me and I was able to connect with the shaman inside.
I have been clean for ten years and I play as much now as I ever have. In my journeys, I still play the bars and clubs and temptation is still behind the bar and in the green rooms. However, I serve my true master which is music. As I have heard it said when music hit you feel no pain and that is the absolute truth.
Tim Powers – bald, tattooed, a business professional by day and rocker by night. Sober by the grace of God since the 8th of May in the year of our Lord 2003. Sharing my stories and my self in order to pay it forward. You can follow me on Twitter @tpowersbass42.