10 years today, I attended the wedding of my friends Bill and Jennifer on Kona Beach on Hawaii. Bill and I met a few years before through, um, mutual friends and I was thrilled to be invited to their wedding in Kona. I didn’t know Bill very well back then, but I knew he was a genuine, friendly and extremely funny guy that was easy to talk to, and a blast to hang out with, so the idea of going to Hawaii for his wedding in March sounded too good to pass up. I count this among the best decisions of my life, as the experience of that week was to change the course of my life completely.
When I arrived in Hawaii, I was instantly welcomed into the wedding party of close friends and family. Bill and Jennifer went out of there way to include me in all of the wedding party events: sight-seeing trips, dinners, and family events. I felt so fortunate to be able to spend that time getting to know them, their families and all of their friends, during one of the most important weeks of their lives. During that time, they became (and remain) some of my favorite people in the whole world. At the time, there was talk of a 10-year reunion trip. Hopefully, that’s in the works!
I completely fell in love with the Big Island during the trip and it seems ridiculous to me that I still haven’t returned 10 years later. I enjoyed the vast diversity of climates, the equally distinct feels of Hilo and Kona, the postcard views everywhere and the laid-back vibe that makes Seattle seem like Manhattan by comparison. While there, I stole glances at real estate listings and day-dreamed about dropping everything and moving to Hawaii.
By way of background, early 2001 was not the best time for me. My personal life was a confusing mess, my job was stressful and increasingly less fun, I was not exactly in the best physical shape and I was having some financial trouble. At that moment, music wasn’t even a part of my life in any real way. My guitar was in a closet, along with my recording gear, and I hadn’t really played with anyone for a few years. A few weeks before, the Nisqually Quake had given me a bit of a shake, and maybe even the slightest peek at my own mortality (I’m not sure that I thought I was going to die, but the thought that I or could or even might was very real). Looking back, it’s easy to see why Hawaii was so alluring, and why a week in one of the most beautiful places on the planet in the company of new friends celebrating the happiest of occasions was just what the doctor ordered.
After the wedding rehearsal, I had gone to dinner with the wedding party, and family members. After dinner, we were sitting around on an outdoor patio overlooking the water, telling jokes, and enjoying the evening. Bill’s friend Eric is an opera singer and he was gently encouraged to sing a little, which he did, beautifully. I remember a feeling of melancholy coming over me suddenly, the idea that music was somehow far way for me, when it was always so close for this singer.
And then it happened. I had an epiphany. Several of them actually, all at once. I saw with precise and instant clarity that my life was going in a direction that didn’t work for me, that I needed to change it in a variety of ways, and that it needed to start right away. Most importantly, I saw the relationship of myself and my life to music, and that music needed to be central in my life. I saw the way that I approached making music and the things that it said about me and my own fears and insecurities. I had a sudden strong urge to make music from a place of “beauty.”
I think the word “epiphany” gets tossed around a lot – usually as a stand-in for “realization” – and I often see this in people’s reactions to this story. This was much more than that, at least to me, approaching what I’ve seen described as a “point of seeing.” I have only experienced this once in my life, on that night. I would have chortled at the word “spiritual” prior to that experience, but I have much greater comfort and framework for those avenues of thought today, and can clearly see that moment as a spiritual awakening of sorts. My inner world giving me a shove, so to speak.
I spent a few hours the next day, sitting on the beach, trying to sort through what I had seen. I was particularly interested in the “beauty” idea, and all that it held. It occurred to me just how much of the music I had made was meant to push away the listener or hold them at arm’s distance, trying to prove something by being difficult, and what that said about my confidence (or lack thereof) as a musician and composer. Writing this 10 years later, it sounds simple and trite, but it was a vivid and illuminating vision, like a patient in analysis uncovering a repressed memory. The consequences of that idea could fill another blog post, but the idea of making music that was inclusive and embracing was a big deal. It was the first time that I saw with any clarity the myriad of invisible, imaginary listeners that exist in our minds even before we write or play a single note. And it was immensely liberating.
The rest of the trip was wonderful. The ceremony was beautiful and held in a small church by the water in Kona. I was originally scheduled to return right after the wedding, but my arm was twisted to stay for a few more days and hang out with the newlyweds, friends and family. It didn’t take much by way of convincing.
It’s easy to look back and see turning points in our lives in hindsight, and this one holds up to that test. What strikes me now is how clear it was at the time that I had reached such a point. It was at that moment, that I knew things weren’t working and that I needed to make profound changes to everything. Returning home, I began work on new music, writing on the guitar and using my recording gear to try out new ideas. Many of these ideas had names like Kilauea and Mauna Kea, and would form the basis of songs for the band Heavier on Jupiter, which I formed with my friends Grant and Allen just a few months later. I began to contemplate returning to school for music, studying with a private instructor again and how to make music for a living.
It has taken me 10 years to get from that moment to this point, and a place where music is at the center of my life, my job and something in which I have the confidence to say what I want, when I want. Just as importantly, I can see the road ahead and know that I am going in the right direction, even if I don’t know where it might lead.
10 years later, I feel so honored to have been invited and warmly included by Bill and Jennifer in this important event of their lives. Watching their family grow over the years, I feel a special kinship with them, even if we don’t get to see each other nearly often enough. I was so happy to just be there and be a part of something special, and I had no idea that it would be such a meaningful trip for my own life.