I was all about the Air Force—I’ve loved planes since I was a wee lad—and I missed serving in Vietnam by the narrowest of margins. Military bearing—and its requisite sense of duty—were not unfamiliar concepts to my generation, as most of our friends and family were either snatched up by the peace-time draft, or called to fight in a war. (I’m sure today’s teens can’t even imagine what it must have been like to leave home after high school and spend a couple of years as a guest of Uncle Sam.) These experiences changed people forever. In fact, I often wonder how my uncle crawled out of a flaming tent across the mangled limbs and entrails of his buddies, and then came home to lead a quiet, relatively ordinary life. Like him, so many WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and Iraq veterans have survived unspeakable horrors (to say nothing of the terrors civilians in all those countries endured), and in order to seamlessly re-enter “normal” society, they’ve had to transform their bravery in battle to the courage of spirit needed to raise families, resume careers, and embrace happiness. We should always honor those who made the transition, and show compassion for the lost souls who couldn’t.
Memorial Day compels me to review my existence in the context of such men and women, and I typically feel like I need to get off my ass and do something to thank society for the wonderful life it has allowed me to enjoy. This doesn’t mean I believe bearing arms is the only way to show appreciation for one’s blessings, but I haven’t exactly run for public office, saved starving children, crusaded for the environment, or beat down racism and intolerance, either. So, each year, I assess my cynicism, my self-absorption, and anything else that prevents me from being a good world citizen, and I endeavor to become a more enlightened, empathetic, and philanthropic being.
The question of “What have I really done with my life?” should also be a critical one for musicians. You should not reach the end of your musical life and regret anything, because playing music is a discipline of bliss, and doing it should bring joy to you, and joy to others. If holding a guitar makes you happy—whether you’re playing for your kids at home, or playing for thousands in arenas—then you’ve made it, baby. Bravo! But if you’re discontented, and yearn to play better, sound better, distribute mp3s, start a band, master every Van Halen solo, or reach some other career goal, then I respectfully submit you stop talking about it and start doing it immediately. Time moves mercilessly fast, and nothing sucks more than being the one responsible for killing your own dreams and desires through fear, laziness, and/or inaction. It would be tragic if your personal “memorial day” became a monument to the creative potential you squandered.