I re-re-re-re-read this quote from Bruce Lee recently:
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
and it is the reason for this week’s more journal-like entry:
April 2015, marked 10 years since The Invincible Czars played a lovely weekend with NoMeansNo in Austin and Ft. Worth. I went back and listened to an excellent room recording (made by Adam Kahan) of NoMeansNo’s Ft. Worth show April 25, 2005. Then I listened to a few recordings of The Invincible Czars from that weekend. It was exciting to hear what we were playing back then but also kind of depressing. 10 years later, those recordings sound like a band that hadn’t been together very long and was trying to play beyond its capabilities – rough around the edges to say the least.
In our defense (against my own comments I guess!) we truly hadn’t been a band very long! Though the Czars name had been around for 3 years, the line-up in April 2005 wasn’t even a year old. We were trying to figure out what we did well with a mish-mash of material from the band’s earlier, wackier days and our then new, heavier sound.
Still, listening to these old recordings, I realized my biggest regret about The Invincible Czars’ only era of sustained line-up stability (2005-2008) was that I failed to identify our strengths and capitalize on them (more on this another time). I wasn’t leading well (or even consciously) enough to focus the group or myself enough to find our “one kick”. I was always juggling. We practiced A LOT but thanks to me, we were practicing 10,000 kicks.
(If you’d asked me at the time what our kick was, I would’ve probably said something like, “lots of variety,” which is essentially bundling 10,000 kicks into one. No.)
This got me thinking – what could I have done better and how can I implement it now?
I wish the me of 2005 would’ve chosen the band’s best kick, practiced/developed the hell out of it and then shared it when it was really good instead of rushing to create something that was “good enough” for shows on Red River and then trying to figure out the rest out on stage in front of people.
That’s what I try to do now but I didn’t have this perspective then. The me of 2005 had already been through 2 bass players, 3 keyboardists and 5 drummers in three years. Our “kick” seemed to change every few months.
(I’ve often thought that I should’ve dispensed with all the “what’s best for the group” thinking and simply determined my individual best kick and then found people to complement it. It may have been self-centered but at least it would’ve given us a kick to practice! I guess that’s what I eventually did but the me of 2005 was reluctant. My favorite bands were bands – not solo acts with a backing band. I wanted to find what we were good at doing.)
Even without constant line up changes, determining your kick can be difficult. You have to go through some trial and error and it’s tough to know when you’re on the right track until you’re really on it. Sometimes this requires letting go of your preconceived notions, and conflicting desires and simply working with what you’ve got. (I really envy the people who seem to naturally know what they are, recognize their strengths and – most importantly – go with it and love it. Especially when they do this at an early age.)
In 2009, then drummer Louis Landry advised that we make a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of ourselves. Doing this the first time was really uncomfortable. Most of the band thought it was BS and didn’t want to participate. At that time, I’d only just grabbed the reins and started trying to really be a band leader. It was really disheartening and discouraging to have my band mates sit in a room in front of dry erase board and slowly realize we had been spending more time compensating for weaknesses and threats than capitalizing on strengths and opportunities. Why were we playing songs with vocals when none of us were good singers? Why were we still worried about our draw at clubs when our best shows were in restaurants, theaters and outdoor events? I didn’t have answers other than, “because that’s the only thing I know to do.”
But at least we learned some valuable info. (big thanks to Louie for remaining positive and on my side through the process.)
Even once you determine your kick, you still have to actually put it into practice and the tedium of doing so can be a major threat. It’s fun when you’re making leaps and bounds with little effort in the early stages but when the same effort only yields a baby step’s progress in the middle and final stages, most people bail. They put their kick on the back burner and start working on a new one so they can have that sense of satisfaction of making “big progress” again. But that big progress only happens in the early phases. If you don’t stay on course when the fun fades, you’ll wind up on the path to 10,000 kicks.
That’s not to say you have to be a one kick pony. Just find your kick and incorporate it into everything you do. Maybe your kick is improvisation. Now you can improvise over all kinds of styles. Maybe your kick is writing catchy hooks, playing at high volumes, instrumental wizardry, ambience… maybe your kick is a female singer who’s been your horn player for a long time but you’ve been spending too much time concentrating on outdated material to write new stuff for the best part about your band that you never knew was right under your nose!
Just pick one, stick with it and I think you’ll see that what seems like a limitation will become your greatest strength!
I want to end by adding that though I’ve been really critical of myself and my band over the years (and in this post), I would’ve had to have gone through all this one way or another. I had a lot of personal problems that are more to blame for any of these perceived failures than anything else. I’m glad I made some good friends on my journey — Thank you Tommy, Adam, Rick, Bill (wherever you are) playing some “lots of variety” on stages all over the place with me in 2005!