Two Kids Walk Into An Open Mic

Joel plays bassA handful of years ago we were regulars at open mic in a suburb of Sacramento. Some of the performers were excellent musicians and singers; real artists.

Some, not so much.

One night two young boys, the older probably 15 and the younger 10 or 11, came in with their electric guitars. They used a recorded rhythm section backing track and played along and sang.

From a purely musical perspective, they were not very good.

I had seen something, though.

As they were tuning their instruments on stage (kids, don’t try this at home) they refused to look at the audience. They were absolutely terrified.

They reminded me of my first public performance.

I was good enough to not get fired by the brilliant guitarist I was working with. Not much more than that. He was encouraging and kind, and the friend who came from out of town to see my performance wrote encouraging things about my playing.

Encouragement from people who knew what they were talking about meant the world to me. It was one reason I continued playing music professionally.

That night the two kids played the open mic, I started cheering and clapping and and the whole crowd joined in. Their two sets of parents, who had been exchanging nervous glances, started smiling, then clapping, then cheering.

And these two frightened boys started performing. They were having fun, and it showed.

I don’t know what they went on to do with music. But when I go see live music, I want to see it played by people having as much fun as those two kids that night.

The hard work of art is done, not by the most talented, but by the most willing, the most enthusiastic, those who find enough joy to overcome, counterbalance, defy the criticism and rejection they are bound to face.

When we see a beginner creating art, the only decent, human response is encouragement. There are seven levels of feedback we can solicit or give; read about them at Bane of Your Resistance. Judging a beginner by the quality of their work is pointless and short-sighted. We all choose to become artists because we have the good taste to recognize beauty. Our ability to deliver that beauty may take years, a lifetime, to achieve.

But that gap only closes with practice, effort, driven by passion.

If we ever want to see great art, we need to wholeheartedly encourage the beginners.

2 thoughts on “Two Kids Walk Into An Open Mic

  1. Well said Joel, and not just because you mention my post on feedback. I particularly appreciate: “The hard work of art is done, not by the most talented, but by the most willing, the most enthusiastic, those who find enough joy to overcome, counterbalance, defy the criticism and rejection they are bound to face.”
    In fact, I’d love to see that as a photo quote/meme. Let me know if you make one – I’d post it on my Facebook page in a New York minute.
    BTW: Steven King wrote about his son’s experience learning to play guitar in On Writing something to the effect that he knew his son wouldn’t stick with it when he stopped having fun. Playing is essential for those who want to play.

    1. I may just do that. Interesting how folks will look at and share a picture with words on it, but are less likely to share plain text.

      There’s something to understand in there.

      There’s also some connection with Dan Pink’s explanation of drive: when we’re facing Goldilocks work (not too easy, not too hard) we’re willing to plug along forever. It’s only when it gets too easy or too hard that we bog down.

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