(or How I Gained More Respect for George W. Bush)
That subtitle is sure to surprise anyone who knows me. I’m not a big fan of GWB, but leading a band gave me the opportunity to identify with him. Although, when 20% of my people are mad at me, it’s one person. When 20% of his were mad, it was a lot more!
Speaking of presidents, I actually am a fan of Theodore Roosevelt who said:
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
Boy I learned the price of doing nothing!
At first, I was reluctant to be the band leader – hence the name of this blog. I learned, though, that if I didn’t grab the reins, decisions would be made by default and relegate us to the fate of most Austin bands – a very short, insignificant, frustrating existence. One person in our original line-up will forever refer to me as a commie dictator. That sounded so bad to me at the time. I just thought I was ambitious and focused. I didn’t want all the work I’d put into creating the band and the music to be all for naught just because one or two other people were too lazy, overscheduled or unfocused to move forward. The truth was that she was just as power hungry as she accused me of being. Eventually our relationship deteriorated and I felt backed into a corner in every conversation with this this person. When we finally kicked her out, it was Rick who had to do it… and he did it with great patience and tact. One of the many times I learned something of great value from him.
Grabbing the reins of leadership forced me into the dreaded spotlight of terrible responsibility. Egad! My every move seemed to be scrutinized even by my own band mates. I often felt like a nagging parent and they started to seem like a handful of unappreciative children.
I wasn’t ready for that and it only made me more reluctant to make choices. There’s logic in the idea that if you’re not the one making the decision, you can’t be held accountable when everything goes wrong, but that’s a pretty weak way to live and reminds me of another quote from Roosevelt:
“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. “
I wish I’d read that quote years earlier. Wishy-washiness plagued me in my twenties… It even led to the end of my marriage.
These days, I agree with Sam Arnold of Opposite Day – most people in an organization simply want to be led well. You can’t be wishy-washy and lead people well. Sometimes that means I get to be the bad guy and I still hate being the bad guy. I hate being the one to say, “You’re not up to snuff,” to others, (though I seem to have no problem saying it about myself).
Sometimes, though, you’re just going to make someone mad and there’s no way around it.
Here’s a juicy story about how being indecisive when you’re in a leadership role can go horribly wrong. The names have been removed to protect the innocent. Hopefully they have forgiven me or will. I realized today when this story came up that I was still upset about it myself – so maybe it’s more therapeutic. If nothing else, it may serve as a cautionary tale perhaps set to the Rush song “Freewill”. “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
In 2007 and 2008, there was a band in Austin that had several ties to me and the other members of The Invincible Czars. Some of my best friends were in the group. It was assumed by most that we’d eventually share a bill with this band.
In spite of the serious social connections, I wasn’t a fan. I had seen the band several times over the course of a year and they didn’t sound good once.
Several times, the idea was suggested that we add them to one of our shows. I should’ve just been tactful and decisive and said something like, “I don’t think they’re ready for this bill.” Thinking on Roosevelt’s quote up top, even if I’d said the WRONG thing like, “No way, those guys suck!” I would’ve been doing everyone involved a favor. (You’ll see why.)
Instead, I’d say something wishy washy like, “that’s an interesting idea.” Brother! Then the word would spread to this band and they would assume that it was happening. Meanwhile, I would forget because I wasn’t really committed to having them and the idea never moved out of the suggestion phase in my mind. I’d wind up making them really mad by booking someone else.
This is terrible but I pulled the rug out from under them a few times like that. It was ignorant, I admit, but they saw it as selfish and mean.
I realized this was not good and that I needed to make it up to this band, so I started half-heartedly trying to add them to bills with us. When I suggested this band to venues or other acts, I’d get a reply like, “maybe… but I was thinking maybe you guys and (whoever).” I never insisted on adding this band because I myself didn’t even really want to play with them. I was simply trying to save face, as the singer later told me. I still wasn’t actively choosing not to play with them… but I wasn’t actively choosing to do so either. I was essentially trying weasel out of the whole thing. This went on for months.
Finally, I had some influence on a show and told the band’s singer that I’d make sure they’d get on the bill. When it came time to finalize the show’s line-up, no one else in charge of the show felt this band was going to add value to the bill. Once again, I couldn’t rightly go to bat for this band because I agreed and the others in charge of the show knew it – they even knew I was just trying to salvage my own reputation with this band by suggesting them for the show. Of course, I looked like a jerk once again when I had to bump this band from a bill they essentially weren’t ever on.
Of course, this angered the other band. Rightly so. I should’ve been less wishy-washy about the whole thing from the start and I’ve apologized to (most of) them since.
But that’s not the end of the story. In a Czars rehearsal, a band mate said I needed to admit that I didn’t really care about the other band. I blew up and I admitted I didn’t like this band because they sounded bad and that I wasn’t really committed to finding a show for them to play with us and never had been.
That didn’t up my popularity score much when that got out.
Even worse, feeling defensive about the situation, I later went on a long rant about this whole thing in private. I felt like they had come to the table expecting me to do something for them with nothing to offer in return. I said things like, “they just want to ride on our coattails,” and, “If they want to play a show with us, why don’t they book it and add us instead of expecting me do it? We don’t need to play a show with them, they seem to need to play one with us,” or, “They need to do something for themselves before expecting me to solve their booking problems. I’m not in their band. Why is it now my responsibility to get them a good show? It’s not my fault they sound bad and only the crappy clubs will book them in early slots!”
Later, I got a message from one of my best friends who is in the band saying that he wouldn’t be at my show that night because of the “nice message” I’d left on his voice mail. I looked in my phone log and sure enough, I’d somehow pocket dialed him right at the worst possible moment of my rant and recorded it on his voice mail. Of course, this message was shared with everyone in the band, most of the people in my band and many others. By the time I got to our show that night opening for a road act, it seemed like half the audience was mad at me. (I was also 3 months into getting divorced at this time. There are some great photos of me playing a very, very angry show that night.)
Gah! If I’d just been honest and decisive up front, this all would’ve been avoided. It was my own fault and I knew it and that just made me more angry. The whole incident made me more aware of my responsibility to make decisions not just as the leader of The Invincible Czars but as someone who is seen as a leader in Austin’s art rock community. It took a long conversation with Sam Arnold for me to realize that.
Things seem ok between me and the membership of that band now. I hope that the incident was at least useful for them. At the time, one member of that band said he agreed with what I’d said in my unfortunate message. Whether the incident contributed to this or not I don’t know but, the band made some changes and started improving. Eventually, I did go to bat for them on a bill when others questioned the suggestion. It took a lot of convincing, but the band was added and they played a good set. My co-promoters were pleasantly surprised. These days, this band plays occasionally and the last time I saw them they left stage before I was ready for them to stop!
This incident made me more aware of the real price of doing nothing. I wound up making a lot of people I care about really mad and hurting feelings I didn’t mean or want to. (I truly do hope that my friends in this band know that I think they are all fine musicians. I also hope to be able to laugh more about this in the future instead of getting heated up and defensive about it… now that it’s been 4 years!)