If you’ve never heard of a musical group called the Rock Bottom Remainders, don’t despair. It’s made up of a group of authors (and the occasional ringer) who got together to sing some old rock and roll and have a good time. (You might recognize some of the names: Stephen King, Dave Barry, Amy Tan and others.) To help finance their tour, they wrote a book called “Mid-Life Confidential”, which was published in 1994. One of the authors was Barbara Kingsolver, and it is her words I’m sharing today. She is talking about how life has gotten busy, fast, streamlined, and everyone is expected to do one thing and do it right.
For all the years I’ve worked as a writer, I’ve also played piano and synthesizer, bass clarinet, guitar, and lately even conga drums. I have sung in the shower (I sound great in the shower.) I have howled backup to Annie Lennox and Randy Travis and Rory Block in my car. I’ve played in garage bands and jammed informally with musician friends, and with them have even written and recorded a few original songs. But I have never called myself a musician. It’s not the one thing I do well.
As I approach the middle of my life, though, it’s occurred to me that this is the only one I’m going to get. At some point I’d better open the closet door and invite my other selves to the table, even if it looks undignified or flaky. I like playing music. The music I make has not so far been nominated as a significant contribution to our planet, but it’s fun.
I’ve seen those books on multigenre genius: paintings by Henry James, poetry by Picasso. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m saying I’d like to think it’s okay to do a lot of different kinds of things even if you’re not operating at the genius level in every single case. I’d like to think we’re allowed to have particolored days and renaissance lives, without a constant worry over quality control. If the Rock Bottom Remainders are a role model of any kind, I think that’s our department: we’re going on record as half-bad musicians, having wholehearted lives.