“…if you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” -Joseph Campbell. The Power of Myth
Sitting in our rundown Crescent City cabin, reading The Power of Myth, I came upon the above quote. My wife and I had been “following our bliss” on and off since the foundation of our relationship, almost three years previous. I had to interrupt her own reading time in order to relay what had just been burned into my brain; she was as blown away as I was. My favorite thing to say up to that point was, “things will work out.” After some thought, I began to realize that things had only worked out when I was following my bliss. We had packed everything we owned into a 1988 Nissan Maxima (a hand-me-down from my younger sister) and followed our bliss west; eventually ending up in Colorado. Presently, we were in California; in the middle of a journey that would take us 8,500 miles, last 5 months, and change our lives forever.
We are back in Boulder (in the exact apartment that we previously inhabited- things work out) and not only is the quote hanging on our wall, but I re-read it at least once every couple days.
The week or so previous to when this story takes place I had been really buckling down; reading four or five hours a day, writing another three or four, and seeking out good conversation and entertainment anywhere it was to be found. I get emails from a local venue – the Fox Theatre – in the middle of every week, which I usually skim, see no one who interests me, and send it to the trash. This particular Wednesday, a name caught my eyes- Mumbouli. We had, just the week before, been to the Boulder Creek Fest and seen a first-rate African Pop band, and the name Mumbouli made me think of them. I clicked on their name and was transported to their website. After seeing their pictures and listening to a song, I knew they weren’t African or Pop. However, their music struck something in me. Unfortunately, after an inner debate lasting almost five minutes, the decision was reached that even the tiny price of $6 a ticket was too much to spend; especially considering that the Fox has a bar. I was a bit disappointed in my decision, but knew I had my best interests in mind and therefore accepted it without too much of a fight.
Twenty minutes later, Mumbouli was no longer occupying my thoughts, as I began my daily bike ride. The plan of the day was to ride six miles to a mailbox on the other side of town for the purpose of dropping a watched Netflix off. Mammoth gusts of wind began to impede my progress about a mile and a half into the journey, so I sought shelter at the Folsom Street Coffee Company; one of the most hip (and by hip I mean full of unemployed, heroin addicted writers, musicians, and other lumpen members of society) coffee shops in a city with no shortage of hip coffee shops.
Despite it being 1:30 in the afternoon on a Wednesday, there was hardly an empty seat among the laptop toting crowd. Jazz music was being pumped through the speakers at just the right volume to be inspiring without being distracting and I immediately felt ignored and accepted at the same time. After placing my order (a plain twenty ounce coffee with room for cream) with the barista – a thirty something asexual, dressed in all black and sporting short spiked hair – I began to look around. The bulletin board housed the same ads (yoga classes, Buddhist meetings, and computer techs) as every other public bulletin board in Boulder, while the book selection left much to be desired; although who really goes to a coffee shop looking for a book? As I made my way back to the counter and my waiting cup of Joe, a pile of tickets caught my eyes. I picked one out, examined it, and began to look around for someone to share my excitement and disbelief with, but the only look I got was one of disinterest from a rail-thin quiescent pale girl with black rimmed glasses, reading a Rolling Stone Magazine. I was excited by the fact that the tickets were for Mumbouli, but what really got my blood rushing was the price- free. I put four in my pocket (feeling like I was stealing something), grabbed my coffee, and walked past a paper filled table full of professor types to the one remaining open seat.
Twenty five minutes later – barely able to hold in my excitement or my incipient bowel movement – I hopped on my too small bike and began dipping in between cars in order to get home and tell Rebecca about the twist of fate I had just experienced.
She wasn’t quite as excited as I was; maybe because she doesn’t show her emotions too much, or it could have been because I sometimes have too wide an array of emotions. Nonetheless, she was psyched to go, since it had been months since we had seen a full, live show.
We ate our almost daily helping of rice and beans at six, listened to a few more Mumbouli songs, and then – at around seven – began to both get tired. By seven thirty we both on the verge of crashing. There was a little voice in my head telling me that we should go, but most of me just wanted to read for a little bit and then fall asleep.
With Rebecca ‘resting her eyes’ in the bedroom, I laid on the living room floor with Gabriel Garcia Marquez in my hands and escaped this world for a little bit. The book – Living To Tell the Tale – is Marquez’s autobiography, and through the first three hundred and twenty pages it had bored me half to death. Presently, he began to talk about his life in a new town as a budding writer; the friends he made, the journey’s he went on, the troubles he had, and the all night drinking binges and chatting sessions in whorehouses and cafes. He simply followed his bliss and even though he sometimes wouldn’t eat all day or had nowhere to sleep some nights, things worked out for him. My sleepiness was starting to fade, my heart began to thump audibly in my chest, and my mind was made up about what to do that night. We were going to the show, we were going to have a good time and we would be inspired.
Rebecca wasn’t thrilled, but she knew that once I had my mind made up about something it was hard to convince me otherwise (mostly because I tend to ignore opposing arguments and whine till I get my way- I was an only child brought up by my mother). We knew that we were going to have a night where we spent money we didn’t have, went to our least favorite section of Boulder (the hill) and probably end up driving drunk, but we left our apartment with fire in our eyes, determined to have a good time.
Our main reason for disliking the hill was validated when we got to the show and discovered that, while we weren’t the oldest ones there, we were a good deal above the mean age. We decided to make a game out of it; we would do a shot every time someone said ‘dude’, and sip our beer for every ‘bro’. By the time we showed our ticket and ID, got our hands stamped, and made our way to the bar area, we were up to 74 shots and (assuming each sip equals an ounce) a little over three beers. While we both like drinking, alcohol poisoning wasn’t what we had planned, so we changed the game; we would do a shot for every black person we saw. (Needless to say if you’ve ever been to Boulder, at the end of the show our blood contained no liquor.) We ordered a couple Fat Tires and made our way to the back of the crowd.
The first band looked like Clearwater, from the movie Almost Famous, with their handlebar mustaches, long thin hair, and ripped jeans. They were a heavy metal band from San Diego, but were playing acoustic folkie songs for some unspecified reason. While they were lacking something lyrically, they were a fun band, and their half an hour set seemed too short. They thanked us for coming out and invited us to see their plugged in show the next night at the Lazy Dog. Rebecca and I – over our third beer – watched the silly college kids and discussed the definition of freedom. My spirits were up and it wasn’t (just) the beer.
I won’t go into detail about the second band, I’ll just say this- the excitement in the air was almost tangible when the 26 piece band pushed their way on stage. However, by the time their second song was over, the only thing that stopped me from driving to the closest hardware store, buying a cane, and hooking them offstage was the scene unfolding directly in front of me. Two girls were gently caressing each other, then hugging, then kind of grinding, then hesitantly making out, and finally making out. They weren’t some stupid college girls, experimenting with their sexuality for the amusement of their jock admirers and they weren’t the stereotypical Boulder butches. They seemed to me to be on a first date, sharing their first kiss, in what was going to be (in my head anyway) a night full of firsts in their relationship. When I pointed out my observations to Rebecca, she gave me a look that a rich old lady would give to a bum who had just farted on her, said “I’m going out for a cigarette”, and stormed outside. I looked back at the lesbians, heard the worst band of all time saying goodnight, and then realized I had both the cigarettes and the lighter. I headed outside to find my wife.
On the way out I thought I saw a guy – Pete – who I knew. Pete is an astonishing keyboardist in a band called Gold Hill, a band I knew because my friend Matt is a guitar player/singer songwriter in the same band. I had met Pete twice and talked to him once, but – despite the fact that he is pretty distinctive looking with his big face and long black hair – I wasn’t sure or outgoing enough to find out if it was indeed him.
Ten minutes later, on our way back in, I was thinking more about Mumbouli – who was in the process of setting up – than Pete, so I passed by where I saw him without glancing over to recheck. As the wife and I began nursing another beer (we had lost count by that point) I felt a pleasurable sensation coming from the pocket of my thrift store Echo pants; it seemed someone had sent me a text message. Upon further review I discovered the text had been sent by Matt. “I hear you’re here,” it said. Confused, I wrote back “I’m at the Fox” hit send, and then immediately saw the five foot three frame of my good buddy, who was standing right next to the guy who I thought, but now knew, was Pete.
I had met Matt a little over two months previous to the show, through my neighbor and good friend Jessica. We had hit if off almost instantly and he had already spent numerous nights drinking on my balcony, including one that took place completely in the nude among three fully clothed women. He had moved to Boulder from just outside San Francisco for a few reasons; the main one being to play in the aforementioned band with Pete and three other guys. He was the first good male friend I had in years who wasn’t interested only in women and drugs; we did talk about women while on drugs, but that was by no means what our relationship was based on.
I engulfed his tiny but work worn hand in my bigger, man of leisure one, and we exchanged excited smiles. Rebecca and Matt hugged as I said what’s up to an obviously in the bag Pete. A short girl with ear length black hair and a cute (in a puppy dog way) smooth face appeared at Matt’s side; we were introduced (I forgot her name, but it probably doesn’t matter) and as the band began their set, we discovered that we were both from Jersey. She introduced me to three other people that were also from the Garden State – all within ten miles of where I grew up – and then I turned my attention to the band, and hers went somewhere else.
When I used to think about artists I would view writers, poets, and picture makers (for lack of a better word to sum up painters, drawers, and the like) in one spectrum, while musicians were in another. My thinking was that one could pursue, and eek out a living by playing other people’s music, but I couldn’t re-write The Inferno and not get sued. One could also learn to play an instrument and then have a successful career in a band without ever writing either lyrics or music to a single song. The more I hung around musicians – especially guys like Matt and Pete – the more I developed a respect for them, although I still to this day consider being a writer a harder life choice.
Over the past year or two I had fallen in love with the piano. I had been forced to take lessons when I was younger, but – probably because of that – hated it. When I got older and started getting into jazz and then classical I bought a keyboard, all the Thelonious Monk and Chopin I could find (or burn from the library), and began to have a permanent piano being played in my head. I told Pete this story and that I had an immense respect for his skills.
“Thanks man,” he slurred in an overly loud voice, just inches from my face. “I used to play the guitar, but took up the keys in ’99 because it’s easier to get into a band.”
“Yeah, no one wants to play the piano, but everyone needs one,” I replied, with false authority.
We talked for a few minutes (and another beer for me and weird mixed drink for him) longer while Rebecca and Matt conversed about her using his recording equipment to record a poem she wrote for her father. We spent about ten more minutes watching the band play, but all decided that we were tired and getting too drunk for a Wednesday night, so we headed for the door.
We left the theatre and all headed south because that was the direction our respective (Matt and I) cars were parked in. We were beginning our goodbyes when Rebecca noticed a sandwich shop that was still open.
“I feel the need for some food,” she informed us, her think curls blowing in the 70+ mile an hour wind gusts.
Suddenly a new life was injected into Pete’s face, his dark eyes seemed to turn a brighter color. “You can’t have a night of drunken fun without going out for food in the end.”
We all stumbled in, made our way to the laminated oak counter, and ordered. Matt, Rebecca, and myself then grabbed a table while Pete snuck into the bathroom for a couple clandestine puffs from his one-hitter.
When Pete got back at the table and we had all sampled our sandwiches and decided they were to our likings, we began talking. The topic somehow got to unemployment; Rebecca was the only one at the table who had a job.
“We took six months off, so we could travel, read, and write,” I told Pete, who was the only one at the table who didn’t know of our adventures.
“Art is full time work with shitty pay,” Pete informed all of us, bits of lettuce escaping his mouth.
Matt chirped in, “shit man, that’s why I quit my job and moved out here.”
I got up to order another sandwich, but was still able to hear Rebecca put in her two cents, “people think it’s so easy, but it’s really hard work for little to no pay.”
“People go to college for four years, get a business degree, and start making a lot of money,” Pete said. “It’s not like any of us could take a class that would suddenly make us successful writers or musicians.”
I was getting a bit fired up. I threw my money down on the counter, earning myself a glare (and probably some spit) from the young looking kid behind the counter. “And what the hell is successful when you’re talking about what we do anyway?” I asked. Not waiting for a reply I continued, “If you’re in business, you make a lot of money or own your own company then by definition you’re a success. In this shit, you could be a big success and still living in a studio apartment eating Ramen noodle and throwing up blood.”
The conversation didn’t last much longer, as we were all pretty wasted and it was getting late- but it didn’t need to go on. I felt Rebecca’s hand on my leg, looked across the table at Matt and Pete and realized that art is art; Matt had traveled 1,500 miles to be in a band that he thought would give him a chance at something. Now he was unemployed, but practiced every night, was constantly writing, and used his time off to drop of demos and schedule gigs. Pete had learned a whole new instrument just so he could have more of a chance of finding a band where he could express himself, and he didn’t just learn it; he mastered it. These were two guys infected with passion, who would do anything to somehow perform their art – each day a little bit better than the last – until they die; probably with smiles on their faces.
When I lived in New Jersey, I would tell people that I wanted to be a writer, but not only did I rarely sit down and actually write anything, I barely even read. I worked, got high, and I daydreamed. Coincidentally, all my friends were high school drop out potheads, who never read a book between them and didn’t have any real dreams outside of which girl they wanted to fuck next.
Ever since coming to Colorado with our minds on doing something other than following everyone else’s paths, Rebecca and I have been surrounded by just the opposite. Everyone we meet out here writes, plays in a band, paints, or does none of the above, but still has that drive to be themselves; and the conversations revolve around thought provoking subjects.
AIDS, herpes, the flu; these are all infectious diseases that (while the act of getting some of them could be fun) I don’t want. The night of Mumbouli helped me realize that if one is open, inspiration is a lot more contagious than all of those combined.