It’s been months, but we’re so glad to have JR Wasilewski of Less Than Jake back to do a new Contributor Blog for PropertyOfZack. In his new blog, JR discusses the true toll life on the road can take on any musician regardless of how well they’re living the dream, friends wanting to trade places and not realizing the downsides of tour life, loss of sleep, and much more. Check it out below and enjoy!
It’s inevitable. I always have a few days on tour where I go to bed at 4 am, only to wake up (for no apparent reason) around 8 am and can’t fall back to sleep. I’m not sure exactly why it is that this happens: too much coffee, not enough beer, too much beer, it’s hot in the bunks, the driver is doing his best impersonation of Dale Earnhardt? I just decided that I must be a person with poor sleeping habits.
I have always had a battle with slumber. Its never ending. When I lay down, I can’t quiet my mind. Its like my brain says ‘GET UP ASSHOLE! ITS MY TIME NOW!’ Every little thing I could possibly think of has a full on bumper car session in my brain for what seems like hours. Because of this I have a nearly impossible time falling asleep in a quiet room. I need the sound of something. But NO MUSIC. Music makes my brain work even faster. A lot of people say ‘Oh! Just turn on some classical music! So easy to fall asleep to.’ Not for me. While it’s playing along I actually see the composer’s score in my head. My arm wants to conduct the piece so I sometimes actually start doing it. My tour roommate usually tends to think I’m insane, and I am, but sometimes I think this self-diagnosed insomnia is like some sort of punishment.
The worst part is when I have an idea that causes me to get out of bed to start pursuing it. The most common “offenders” are a lyric idea, chord progression or a melody that pops into my head. I lay there and try to convince myself that the idea is shit and to go to sleep. Then my brain says ‘…but what if you don’t record it and you forget it?’ In life, I always would rather have a shitty idea than no idea at all, so I always get up and then “the game” starts:
The game is called: Sleep or No Sleep.
There are no winners at this game. It’s the lesser of two evils, frankly. As I continue to stay up and watch the hours dwindle away to the witching hour where I actually have to do something of consequence, I start the conversation with myself:
“Maybe I should just stay up until I have to go.”
“Dude, that is a STUPID idea.”
“But if I sleep now it’s like…what…2 hours? I’ll feel like shit.”
“You’ll feel worse if you don’t and you know it.”
“Just have some coffee…”
It’s always something like that. The internal conversation between the 16 year old version of me and the 36 year old version of me. Basically, The Kid wants to stay up all night. The Adult knows that is a stupid idea. Yet, The Kid idea seems to always win out in this argument. Sadly, The Adult body of mine has to pay the price.
I’ve always said to friends and relatives who gives me the, “Man you live the LIFE! I’d give ANYTHING to do what you do!” a simple response: Anytime you’d like to trade places for a week, be my guest. They laugh and say they need to learn saxophone first. Not true! I believe they actually need to learn how to sleep in a moving vehicle first. Then learn how to live with up to 10 people in a close space for a few weeks at a time. THEN they have to learn where to find food that isn’t fast food every day. Then perhaps a few phrases in the local language so you can order said food with out getting a lump of meat floating in some weird gravy. Then you have to learn how to pace yourself, mentally and physically, so you don’t lose your mind or end up in rehab/detox. THEN maybe learn the saxophone parts.
Being in a band isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve been very blessed to have been able to live this dream for 20 years now. But the dream has taken its toll. I’ve never had a relationship that’s lasted for longer than a year. I’m distrusting of nearly everyone I meet. Being in one place too long drives me crazy but leaving my house for too long has a similar effect. I have missed births, christenings, weddings, funerals and other life events that I will never be able to make up. I see friends with beautiful families and cringe when they say how jealous they are of ME. In my mind now, after doing almost everything I’ve wanted in my career, I can safely say that I am jealous of them.
I know it sounds weird and that many of you might try to call bullshit on me, but my closest friends know that it’s the truth. Being in a band does not and WILL NOT define who I am as a person. It may let some more people into my life, but what I do onstage is not what makes me the person I am, nor will it dictate who I will be in the future. It’s just a facet of my life that encompasses all the other parts.
When I was a kid I would set up my stuffed animals by my piano and play Billy Joel songs to them at the “stuffed animal arena”. I always wanted to be a performer but it never seemed logical. However, as I grew up, the only thing I really loved and was ever really any good at was music. I came from a fairly conservative household and when I told my parents this is what I wanted to do, they were less than receptive of the idea. But I knew this was what I wanted to do and no one, not even the hand that fed me, was going to stop me. The deal I cut with them was that I would get my college degree in Music Education and work a job if they would let me go on tour. I kept my word.
Keeping my word meant busting my ass. From the ages of 18 to 24 I am pretty sure I did not sleep for more than an average of 3 hours a night. I was going to school full time, working a job, playings shows and trying to be a kid in college, which meant anything was a higher priority to sleeping at any given moment. The fear of missing out always prevented sleep from winning any situation. This isn’t uncommon. I don’t regret anything I did when I was awake but I do regret a few of the things I did to stay awake. Now a days I know my limitations. Sort of.
When I’m home I sleep great, but rarely sleep more than 5 hours. I also fall asleep by 11 PM most nights. Not very “rock n roll’, huh? I know the 16 year old version of me would be writing all over my passed out face with a Sharpie. Now instead of STAYING up until 6 AM, I’m WAKING up at 6 AM. It’s full circle in many ways, including watching my 13 year old nephew struggle to stay awake during the family picnic the other day because he and his buddies were up until 5 AM (playing video games, not drinking). I don’t miss feeling like that AT ALL and as bad as he felt at 13, it’s a far worse feeling as you get older. I still don’t sleep right on tour. I don’t think anyone does. There is nothing worse than getting off stage at 2 AM knowing your flight leaves at 7 AM. To sleep or not to sleep? That is one of those rhetorical questions for a touring musician.
When I started typing this I was on tour and I had just woken up at 5 am after falling asleep at 2 AM. My finishing location of this blog is on my couch at home, where I woke up today perfectly rested and content. I wouldn’t give up my life or “job” for something else. I am happy where I am. But if you truly want to be a success in life, no matter what field you choose, you can’t sleep all day. So no matter what your calling, get your naps in when you can, stay inspired, work your butt off and when someone tells you you’re dreaming you can tell them what I did:
Dreaming only happens when you sleep. Haven’t done that in 3 years. So this must be reality.
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