Why I Quit Playing Music
When I stepped away from running Xtracycle in 2007 to pursue a dream of devoting my full attention to music and bike-riding to Mexico with my band, I had no career plan. I knew we’d get to play our hearts out and somehow leverage our adventure to promote bikes as cool transportation, and that’s what mattered to me. Since college I’d been focused on fighting climate change and seen my particular role as helping similarly concerned people align their lifestyles accordingly. As one of the Seven Sustainable Wonders World, and shoe-in for funnest thing that’s also good for you and the planet, the humble bicycle was my vehicle of choice for this work. I breathed it as religion, and captured my zealotry for it and the idea of lifestyle/values integration in the spoken word, How Much (Do I care about peace?).
When the trip to Mexico blew open our worlds and brought attention to biking in ways that confirmed our aspirations, we knew we had to keep our so-called Pleasant Revolution rolling. Over the coming years, the revolving and returning cast of characters continued the musical pedaling odyssey, playing hundreds of shows and riding thousands of miles through any country that would have us. I don’t think any of us dreamed of the myriad richnesses of “bike tour” that all add up to a thing with so much gravity you can only pull yourself away for so long before you find yourself on the phone with a bandmate asking when are we hitting the road again?
For me it was the perfect job, feeding the soul, the body, the muse, the ego, the ache for adventure and camaraderie, the need to feel like I’m making a unique contribution, and the grand sense of unexpectedly fantastic romance that only happens on the open road. Eventually it even fed our wallets; during our most recent short tour through Mexico, I realized we were on our way to conventional success in the music business and very likely all we had to do was keep on keeping on.
But I couldn’t. Even before the first tour, I had begun to lose confidence in humanity ever voluntarily changing our collective lifestyle enough to save the climate. I persisted in trying anyway not so much because of blindered optimism but because I couldn’t think of anything better to do. No other strategies seemed to be working either. I came to see the Pleasant Revolution as a solution for a different time, somewhere in the future when everything is almost ecotopian and just needs some bicycle music building beauty at the margins. In that sense, it wasn’t actually the perfect job for me.
Because I am an optimist, and I do believe we can yet rescue ourselves. And so it was that during a ten-day silent meditation retreat, on walks by myself between sessions, when you’re not supposed to be thinking, I started having some new ideas and was way too excited by them to try to stop myself from letting them unroll. I saw a path towards a climate strategy I could believe in and resolved then to put myself onto it and let my work as a musician be.
My music is important to me; in fact I love playing it, love my songs like great friends, relish singing, get a deep high from performing. I’m so grateful when it touches someone else, too. And yet, I don’t feel like it’s crucial to the healing of the world, at least not at a scale that excites me. I’m joyfully reminded of this when I watch my friends MaMuse (“What a meadow would sound like if it could sing”) perform with transcendent ego-less love and wisdom, tapped into the source. People need to see this, so pure is their gift.
My gift is something else; I can’t name it because I’m not sure what it is, but I know it’s out there somewhere. I think this new endeavor will help me uncover it, though that’s more bonus than motivator. The hard part is letting go of something that feels so right in so many ways, especially to go after a different thing that’s mostly unknown. It’s like leaving the quintessentially made-for-you lover for someone you know little about except she’s great in that single way yours is imperfect. Because that single thing means so much to me, I’m going for it anyway.
We’re calling the project Take2 for now, and I look forward to writing about why I believe in it enough to ignore the siren song of the road. Thanks so much to all who have supported my music and the Ginger Ninjas; please know that the Ninja spirit lives on in this next phase.