As someone whose learned how to think on their feet, wing it and go with the flow, attributes very useful for an entertainer, today I was thinking about those moments when such gifts were nowhere to be found. Those melt down moments in front of an audience. Never in my 30 plus years performing have I had such an experience and in one year I had two (Not too long ago). Sure I've been frustrated, but it never made it to the stage.
Once in Memphis at a music convention, there are after hour shows (That is, after all scheduled events) known as "Gorilla Showcases." Musicians spend their days networking, passing around fliers to get people to attend their performances which are held in the artists hotel room. For some people gorilla showcases are the best part of these conventions. In one evening an artist might perform at several. 7:30 PM in room 205. 8:30 PM in room 517, etc. This particular night I had two. One at 9:15 PM, which no one attended and another after midnight (12:30). Only one person showed up. Indeed I was disappointed. I was tired and I really didn't feel like playing. I was torn. I didn't know how to give less than my best, but I just didn't have it in me. One person or many people never mattered to me before. My output was the same. But this night it did matter. I came close to crying because I didn't want to give my best, I was crushed that this was something I had to think about. Give less? It was a struggle to push myself to play like I was in front of a full house, but I managed to do it. Professionalism won.
A few years later other things were happening in my life. I found myself canceling a lot of local shows. I'd only play locally if I was asked. On one such show, I made a spectacle of myself. I was just muttering in the microphone like a punch drunk boxer. I wasn't even trying to hide that I shouldn't have been on a stage that night. It was embarrassing. However, I was consumed with life and it's bad hand I'd been dealt. I'm sure some folks probably thought I was strung out on drugs. I was certainly acting that way. No I never indulged in drugs and I was yet to introduce myself to alcohol. (FYI, I never drink in public.)
On another occasion playing a gig as my alter ego "Alvin Ray Jr", a hand full of people came to see us, the other folks in the room were there for the other band. By the end of the night, the room was nearly empty. Disheartened knowing that among other things we'd never get asked back, I'd had enough and didn't give a damn about being professional. Enter the melt down. "This is our last show. Thank you…" The guys couldn't believe that I said that over the PA. It was tacky to say the least.
I knew it was time to retreat and try to make some needed changes in myself, time to recharge the joy if possible. The good news? Now I can say "Been there. Done That."