Chapter 1- Frustration
I’d love to boast that at this point in my musical career (fulltime internship is probably more accurate); I’ve advanced spiritually to a Zen like state where I do art completely for art’s sake. No shallow earthly attachments to things like CD sales, screaming crowds, or validation from super-hipster taste makers from the big city, mainstream, drive by, websites. My job as a songwriter is to write and record the best songs I am capable of. End of story. Next.
However, I have been known, in my weaker moments to Google Colin Gawel Chemotherapy just to see if any new reviews or comments have popped up. Or last week I couldn’t help to notice that on Tuesday morning the “Chemotherapy” video had 402 views on YouTube. When I checked later in the day it had 403. It doesn’t take a multiplication table to figure out that despite hundreds of promo CD’s, thousands of e-mails and countless hours of effort, (not including the actual writing and recording of the song) for those 8 hours, I was the only human being on planet Earth to watch the “Chemotherapy” video.
And it pisses me off. For better or worse, I never get discouraged for very long, it’s just in my DNA, but I do care. I care a lot. About the song. About the cause. So I rack my mind and try to figure out the missing piece of the puzzle. Who have I missed? What can I do better?
Chapter 2- God Gives You Gifts Everyday
One of the most influential people in my life was a guy named Slim Dunlap. Music fans know him as the rail thin guitarist who replaced Bob Stinson in the Replacements. I knew him that way too, but when we met, the Replacements were over and through some chance and not so chance meetings, we struck up a relationship and he became a mentoring figure to Watershed. (The Slim story is worthy of a separate essay in itself so I am going to skip ahead….)
One of the lessons Slim would constantly reference back to was, “God takes care of his musicians. He gives you gifts all the time if you choose to see them.”
In a nutshell, Slim would say, “If you are playing music for money, you are in the wrong business. That’s why God makes bankers. If you are playing music and writing songs, God may not give you a million dollars, but he will give you a million little gifts along they way. The key is to notice them”
Two things-1) I am paraphrasing. Most of these long conversations took place in backstage dressing rooms which are noisy/smokey (among other things) and 2) there was nothing specifically Christian or religious about our talks. Once again, they were in dressing rooms of rock n roll shows.
Over time this sunk in and I have tried to be open to the gifts I receive.
Chapter 3- Why Chemotherapy Matters and always will.
Every year for the past 5 or 6, I have played an amazing benefit called Celebrate! which is held by Miguel Perez and raises a serious amount of cash to fight breast cancer. The event is unique in that it features a variety of extremely talented musicians ranging from Broadway to opera to jazz to rock n roll. Everyone does just 1 song and a $100 donation is requested to attend.
This year, Celebrate! was held at COSI on Saturday October 3rd and we played “AM Boy” to a packed house sitting and sipping top shelf cocktails. I thought we did well and as usual, the entire show was a knockout.
Immediately following our song, I was stopped out in the empty hallway next to the stage by a gentleman who was an oncologist and attending his first Celebrate!. I had heard Miquel mention his name in the opening monologue and welcoming him as a very special guest, but I really wasn’t paying too close attention right before show time.
Anyway, he went on to say that he just wanted to tell me that he had heard “Chemotherapy”, bought it, and thought it was one of the ten greatest songs ever written by anyone. Ever. He went on to explain in detail what he loved about it not only as an oncologist, but as a serious music fan as well.
When he finished, I was completely flattered and managed to mumble, “Thanks. Thanks a lot.”
Chapter 4 – In the end
Along with millions of Americans, my family has been touched by cancer. It’s something that you can get past, but never really get over. Maybe that had something to do with why I wrote “Chemotherapy”. Maybe it didn’t. It’s just one little song in a big hard world.
But hearing those kind words from that doctor shifted my whole perspective on what “success” really is. Especially in this case. This song has a purpose. It may not be one million views on YouTube or plays on MySpace. It may just be one play everyday, for one person, who really needs to hear it. And until cancer is cured or people aren’t forced to choose between their savings and the medicine that can save them, the song “Chemotherapy” will always be timely.
That conversation was a gift. Thanks God.
Colin G. Oct 2009