Secret Lives of Musicians
Secret Lives of Musicians
1. Austin to San José
I remember the first time it happened. The bandleader pointed at me and I went blank. I reached for it again - nothing. I was horrified. This had never happened to me before.
Studio professionals call it the Sideman Syndrome and they say the symptoms sneak up on you like a yawn. Solos become safe and predictable, energy is minimal, and there is no fever. At first you think you're just in a little rut, but the next thing you know, bingo - you're playing a musical instrument on automatic pilot. Mindless stuff. And unless you act fast, they say it's all down hill from here.
I was in denial for months until it became too obvious and I had to admit it to myself: I had a problem. My spontaneity was gone. Nothing was coming from inside. My ability to inspire and distinguish myself was at an all-time low. All I knew was something wasn't right.
And this was why everything I'm about to tell you happened.
Pete Porter is my name, I live in Austin, Texas, and I play the electric guitar for a living. I don't sing, don't write songs, and certainly don't think of myself as any kind of a rock star. I make a decent living and I like what I do.
No one else appeared to be aware of it, but the spark, my spark, was missing in action. Improvising - playing off the top of my head - moment-to-moment - was everything to me. It was why and how I managed to create something out of nothing night after night. But now, my generator - my inherent ability to convert life into melody on demand - was barely functioning and I had no panacea. I needed one.
So I decided to do something drastic, something to shake things up, to snap myself out of it - but snap forward at the same time. My solution was to take a break, a sabbatical, to go somewhere extraordinary to study, regroup, and recharge.
But where? Location would be critical. It had to be somewhere new, somewhere outstanding, exotic, maybe historic, a destination whose ambiance alone would add dimension and character to my mission.
Of course, Europe came to mind first. Paris. London. A few former band mates were now living in England and perhaps they could be helpful. Or not. Someone suggested Lisbon, one of my favorite cities. Another, Rio - I've always loved Brazilian guitar music. Even though I knew time was running out, I continued to put off the decision. Australia? It would be great to see my friend Graeme again. I was stuck in a holding pattern.
Then I met Natalia. It was in East Austin at a private party a few days before Halloween and I was there on a job, playing lead guitar with a local folk singer. At break time, I went in pursuit of drink and there she was, standing by the bar, a stunning Latin beauty with a radiant smile in blue satin, high heels, and large, silver earrings. I struck up a conversation.
Natalia was from Costa Rica, friendly, funny, and a little younger than I, and she talked to me for the rest of my break about her wonderful country. She was a walking tourist bureau, going on and on about the rainforests and the volcanoes, the mountains and the oceans, the Caribbean and Pacific beaches, the coffee and the food, and before I went back up for the last set, I said to her, "Okay, I'm sold, where do I sign?" But she left before the set was over so I didn't have an opportunity to talk to her again.
So fast-forward now, to the end of the year, almost January. I was having a post-gig breakfast sometime after midnight at the Magnolia Cafe on South Congress and thinking about my sabbatical. I couldn't put it off any longer, time was running out. I had to do it now or lose it.
By the time I was ready to pay for my short stack of buttermilks, my working plan was to find a remote lodge so