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Interview: What Did We Learn? Being a Better Human with Chris Cantore

San Diego alternative radio veteran Chris Cantore gives an open and honest reflection of his own evolution during the pandemic, how he confronted deep fears, and what it means to be a better human.

Image provided by Chris Cantore

What Did We Learn? is a series of interviews featuring Southern California musicians and industry professionals, discussing their journey of transformation over the past year as a result of the music industry shut down due to Covid-19.

This segment’s interview features one of my all-time favorite radio hosts! Chris Cantore is a former 91x Morning Show host, Founder and current Content Manager of YEW San Diego Lifestyle Blog and Podcast Network, Host of The Cantore Show podcast, and Founder of the “Intimate Shows in Serene Settings at Sundown” concert series Sundown Sessions, and the epitome of the cool San Diego surf lifestyle.

And as if he couldn’t get any cooler, Chris calls into this interview from his VW Bus after a surf sess.

Q: So with things opening up, how does it feel to be back out in the world?

CC: I’m still kind of still figuring it out, to be perfectly honest with you. Overall it feels certainly better than it did. I’m still kind of figuring out how to navigate through the new world because I do believe a lot has changed, even though it feels like we’re all trying to get back to normal. I don’t think it’s ever gonna go back to the way it was — mostly because we’ve all changed so much in ways that I don’t think we’re gonna even know until decades from now.

Q: Going back to March 2020 when everything started to shut down — can you take me through how the experience was for you from the beginning.

CC: The odd thing for me is that it was strangely familiar because my chosen career path has been one that’s been extremely volatile — especially the last since the recession. So, to me, it was no different at the beginning. It felt very similar to the recession. In a weird way, I was strangely equipped for it. I had already thought that I went through the worst stage of my life. I was like, here we go again, I’ve been here before. But once the health portion kind of rolled into it and added a whole different dynamic that I was not prepared for in any way shape or form. Losing the job — completely prepared. Tighten the financial belt — completely prepared. And in fact, the biggest most profound thing as it relates to everything outside of the health crisis was how much people were taken care of and society was looked out for. When I went through the recession, I lost everything — I lost my house. Now you have situations where people have been riding two-year moratoriums and not having to pay mortgages or rents. Whereas when I went through this it was way gnarlier. You were getting kicked on the street with capitalism at its most disgusting, and it was just the grossest thing I’ve ever been through. Then this happened. Having gone through that previous experience as I said, I was strangely equipped, but then the health thing threw me for a loop.

Q: How would you describe the health portion of your experience?

CC: I’m a hypochondriac, by nature, and anxiety-ridden by nature, that’s what has always fueled my creativity and my passion. I’ve been able to use it and harness it in a good way. But then it also has its detrimental effects. I was tested in ways that I thought it had been tested before, and I had done all this self-work to really manage it and learn not to project, to ride out seasons of storms. But when it came to this state, which was so you know the most overused term “unprecedented,” I did not have the tools or coping mechanism to really navigate. So I was reexposed to stuff that I hadn’t had to deal with in a long time. Stuff like fear and major insecurities that I had really done so much work on and thought that I had really crossed a certain bridge. And then I learned that I knew nothing. I had to I really had to get level to the bottom and build back up. It took me down — I’d be lying if I said it didn’t.

How did you cope?

Thankfully I did so in ways that I wouldn’t do in the past. Part of my coping in the past would have been freaking out, projecting, fight or flight, wanting to punch through everything, or becoming isolated/insular. This time I didn’t do that as much. I say as much because we all have our moments. Surfing is one mechanism I used for coping. Surfing is just always what resets me and kind of gives me the clarity in life that I need to help get me through, no matter what’s going on. I really utilize the earth and practicing mindfulness with surfing. I take weekly mindfulness classes and am in a weekly mindfulness group.

Image provided by Chris Cantore

I also coped by getting out of my comfort zone, creatively, because for many years, my creative comfort zone was always doing podcasting and radio. I guess the best way to describe it is the pandemic gave us something to really be afraid of. It was like a legitimate fear. So then all the other stuff that I had that I was afraid of, like fear of success or fear of doing this or that in my life suddenly I wasn’t as scared. I just didn’t care anymore. The adage of when you’re a kid and your dad (wrongfully) would say you know you better stop crying until I give you something to cry about — which is bullshit. That being said, that was kind of like the fear thing for me like I was like, oh shit. Now I legitimately have something to be scared about. This is a public health crisis — this is a real fear. All that other stuff — that’s just in my head. That’s when I had to do the personal work to find out why I do have this fear of success, and why I just let radio and my podcasting be my glass ceiling. So, I’ve been able to kind of push through a lot of stuff that held me back creatively. I’m doing it for the first time in my life and I’m 51 now. In the past, I wouldn’t have done it because I was so stuck in my little comfort zone or trying to recreate what I had done in the past — like at 91x — or where I had had previous success, just trying to recapture that at different stations in different environments, where that really wasn’t who I ever was. I’m way more comfortable with who I am as a human today having gone through what we went through the last year and a half than I was before.

This reminds me of the book “The Big Leap.” It’s exactly what you’re talking about — going from a ‘zone of excellence’ and pushing through that to be in that ‘zone of genius.’

CC: I had to really look at it and find out what I was so afraid of. It’s not an easy process.

Then you have the whole other side of it, which is you’re reassessing the relationship you have with yourself, with your family, and with your friends. That’s been the most profound thing for me is that, through all of this, my friend list has gotten crazy small. There was a time in my life when that would have freaked me out because I was always the guy who thought, whoever has the most friends wins in life. That mindset has completely shifted. I’d rather be alone and be surrounded by some of the people I’ve been surrounded by. It took the pandemic for me to figure that out too.

Q: Looking back over the last 15–16 months, was there a particular time that was a turning point for you, or was it a gradual kind of realization?

CC: Yeah, it came in stages. The first was when the pandemic started — it reminded me of the AIDS pandemic. I remember being a kid when it happened. I was always in the art world and always surrounded myself in the arts and theater community. I had a lot of friends who were gay. During the early AIDS pandemic, I didn’t know if I could catch AIDS from being around any of them. Keep in mind, I’m sharing a 13-year-old mindset. Taking that same mindset with the Covid-19 pandemic, I didn’t know if I could walk into a Vons, and be on a ventilator in 24 hours. That was a legitimate thought and process early in the pandemic, with the way my mind works and my OCD works as it relates to my anxiety. I had to really shed myself of this profound fear of ending up on a ventilator. Then it shifted and progressed to being less afraid and fearful of my health, and more fearful about where was my life going in the world, the way the world is set up today. Not knowing if I was going to be able to survive and co-exist not only as far as my health (which wasn’t as profound) but more financially. Seeing what’s happened to our city and the country as it relates to housing, homelessness, and the anger that’s on the streets — the diversity, and the divides. I started really getting kind of overwhelmed by all of that.

The bottom-out moment was about the one-year anniversary of the pandemic. A major shift happened where I realized that I couldn’t go any lower. I really needed to figure shit out to take some accountability. I knew the government wasn’t gonna help me, and I’m not a person who relies on the government at all. But I knew that it was really up to me to change my course, and it wasn’t going to be Indeed, it wasn’t going to be LinkedIn, it wasn’t going to be Uncle Sam that was going to present opportunities for me. I had to go out, and still go out, and create them on my own. It’s the old adage, but I think sometimes as humans we sometimes expect things will come to us more often than they do.

Image provided by Chris Cantore

Q: When you hit that point and you started moving forward, what are some of the things that have happened since then?

CC: I’ve done a lot. It’s been cumulative. For example, I’ve been told my entire career that I should be doing voiceover work. So I went out and got myself a voiceover agent, and now I’m always auditioning for voiceover gigs. I’ve always wanted to write a screenplay, an animated short, and a book. Those are three things that I also have in motion. Not at the same time, but I know what my book is going to be about, I’ve already gotten the animation project off the ground, and the screenplay ties into the books. Then I have all these video projects that I’m working on. And I started a live music series [Sundown Sessions] so I’ve been throwing all these shows. Between all the shows and creative endeavors, it’s certainly keeping me busy.

Sundown Sessions 2021 / Photo provided by Chris Cantore

Q: Awesome! What did you learn about yourself during this process?

CC: We’re our own hardest critics. I learned that I’m a lot better person than I would get myself credit for. Watching the behaviors and the actions of other human beings, I learned that maybe I’ve been too hard on myself my entire life. That leading with love and kindness and compassion is always the answer.

There’s no honor in holding grudges. There’s no honor in being a bad person, or a shitty person. To be perfectly honest with you, I feel like I got more in touch with who I was before I got into the industry that I got into. I’m more content myself now than I was when I was a child. I’m not that saying I’m this awesome person…I’ve had more faults than any human on the planet. But I’ve just been really hard on myself, my whole life. This pandemic has taught me that I’ve been very unfair to myself.

Any mistakes I’ve made, I thought of myself as maybe I’m a bad person or I’m an asshole. I learned through this pandemic that thinking was my way of protecting myself while trying to get through this life that, you know, can be very difficult. I was protecting myself from all these fears and insecurities that weren’t real. So now, I don’t carry and harbor the same stuff that I used to. I just stay in this complete state of kindness and gratefulness. I really try to stay there — which is a place I wasn’t able to do before the pandemic. I don’t know if any of that makes sense?

It does, absolutely!

CC: Is it too hippy-dippy? I just got out of the ocean and I’m driving a VW Bus.

(Laughs) No, I’m with you!

Image provided by Chris Cantore

CC: I’m really all about the love. Before I was trying to defend myself, defend honor or my name, or feel like I had to write a whole essay to explain myself. But now I’m much more content to respond with, okay, right on. And it’s not in a passive-aggressive way, which it may have been in the past. Now I genuinely do not have room in my life for negativity and hate. If anything, I feel really bad for people who are trolls, or who are haters. I actually have sympathy and compassion for those who are sometimes the shittiest. It’s weird. It’s weird because I used to want to go head to head with these people and try to prove myself and be the good guy and win people over. Now I don’t. That’s wasted energy. It’s kind of the old saying of what people think of you is none of your business. And that’s just another area through all this. I just will not engage with the negativity and the hate, in any area of my life. And it’s taken me a long time to get there, to be honest.

Q: Looking ahead, what do you think he’ll take most with you from this pandemic transformational experience?

CC: I think you can answer this in a couple of ways — from personal health, mental and physical, and professionally.

My physical and my mental health are the most important things in my life. As long as those things are in check then I’m a better friend, a better family member, a better husband, a better father. Keeping my mental health and physical health in check is something that I will focus more on.

As it relates to the professional world, I’m way more conscious and conscientious of the type of jobs that I take, who I work and collaborate with more than ever. I’ll still make mistakes because we’re human. But I will not put myself in a professional environment that threatens what we just talked about — my physical or my mental well-being. I think often we put ourselves in positions where we’re doing it for the money, or we’re doing it for the title, or in my case in the past, for my ego. Now it’s like living completely in the heart state and out of ego state. I’ve got to make money to support my family, but it’s not supporting my family if I’m coming home and I’m miserable, projecting. I’m not going to be a functioning human myself at home and in other areas of my life, so I’m really conscious about moving forward and surrounding myself with like-minded people.

I was just way more of a free spirit — it’ll work itself out, it all worked out, and we can be friends. Now I’m like, you know, I don’t know if you can all be friends, we can all collaborate. We have to pick our friends and our collaborators, very carefully and wisely.

And if you are going to give yourself up to an organization, I think now more than ever it’s imperative that we’re treated fairly, that we’re getting the right benefits and the right pay. When I hear a lot of my friends who are business owners and stuff, and are freaking out on the labor shortage, I feel for them, but part of me is like ‘dude you’ve been living on ‘Easy Street’ for 25 years. You’re going to Greece every summer, Hawaii every winter — eventually, that’s going to catch up to you and maybe you can’t take that Hawaii trip this year, because you’ve got to actually pay your friggin’ employees a livable wage.’ I’m big on that too, man. It’s just a really weird time. It’s so bizarre.

Q: What else have you taken away from the past year that you think is important to note?

CC: I realize all the little lessons that we’ve been told throughout our lives are now more profound than ever. If you don’t listen to them, you’re gonna be you’re gonna get eaten up, especially right now in the world that we live in.

I think about the cliches that came out of periods that we never experienced — like our grandparents who have been through the Depression, others who have been through the Holocaust, others who have been through other pandemics, world wars. A lot of us have lived very privileged entitled lives, and now more than ever, we’ve learned that life is extremely precious that you can’t take anything for granted. That you have to be happy for what you have, and the small things really don’t matter. Those are all cliches that we’ve all heard throughout our lives. I used to say them but did I really practice them? Now, do I really practice? Absolutely.

The world has changed, and there are elements that I actually do like. If anyone is trying to plug back in and think that we can go back to the way things were, it’s going to be a disservice to themselves and others. I hope the world becomes a kinder place in the big picture. It’s just really about just inner work and being a good person. Mindfulness is something I practice a ton and I’m just really trying to forge a new path.

Check out upcoming shows at Sundown Sessions, San Diego Lifestyle content at Yew, and The Cantore Show podcast.

#music #theriff #lightwavelive #chriscantore #91x #yew #yewonline #sundownsessions #sandiego #sandiegolifestyle #mindfulness #fear #betterhuman #pandemiclessons #transformation #vw #vwbus #surf #surfing #thebigleap #circleofgenius #innerwork

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