This is going to be a weird parallel universe column comparing my life as a professional wrestler and my life as a professional musician. I haven’t written in a while, but this popped into my head laying in bed after the Pens game last night – Thank you in advance for watching me work it out in this piece. Something clicked for me as I find myself at a bit of a professional crossroads regarding my two greatest passions – Wrestling and music.
The most successful professional wrestlers are able to incorporate “real life” aspects of their personality into their persona or gimmick. One of the first people in the wrestling business who got to know “Sean” instead of “Spiffy” was Grace Divine. Grace was my first valet, first manager, and first real friend in the wrestling business. She understood me at a time when quite frankly, I didn’t even understand myself most of the time. Just your average 20-year old trying to figure it all out, which I guess doesn’t make me special – I just happened to have an outlet where I could make believe that I was somebody else. Grace never fell for that. She called me out on my bullshit and helped me believe in myself. I think she’d love this column because it’s basically me putting myself over and she was the first person to tell me, “If you don’t believe in yourself nobody else will, either.”
Grace just lost her battle with ovarian cancer and even in passing, she is still helping me figure out who I am. Thank you, Danger Girl.
I was never the best wrestler in the ring. Despite not having the WWE “look” and often being out of breath before actually getting INTO the ring, I somehow managed to be a relatively successful professional wrestler. I survived by being good at storytelling during my matches, selling well (which was easy for me because I often didn’t have to fake being tired/hurt) and of course – Cutting promos. I used my ability to work a crowd to help get my character “over” – often when there was a locker room full of more talented, better looking in-ring performers.
I play a right-handed guitar, strung like a normal right-handed guitar completely upside down. Obviously, I didn’t sign up for any lessons to do that – I taught myself. Sitting in front of the TV holding a guitar backwards and picking out notes while watching MTV (I’m just old enough to remember music videos on there, you damned Millennials!) was not a traditional method of learning, but it worked for me. I have never taken a voice lesson, I sing completely incorrectly and without technique, and often sing 40-50 songs a night ranging from Taylor Swift to Johnny Cash. There are tons of more talented musicians than me out there, which I often recognize and respect.
So here’s where it clicked.
My job as a wrestler was never to wrestle – My job was to entertain.
My job as a musician was never to play music – My job is to entertain.
Playing in a cover band, understanding the blend of musicianship and showmanship is paramount to achieving any level of success. When I use the term “success” I mean by traditional business standards – How often do you play and how much money do you make. Musicians worry about music – A smart businessman worries about what the people paying him TELL him to worry about.
I’m a performer. People pay me to perform. They have paid me to perform for damn near two decades. It’s all I know how to do, and in the words of a great performer of my generation: You can’t…teach…that.
Now, am I going to play guitar for Carrie Underwood? Probably not. Am I going to sing backup on Taylor Swift’s tour? I doubt it. I’m not in the music business to play concerts – I’m in the music business as an outlet for me to entertain.
I have struggled for a very long time to find like-minded people to play in my band. I put a lot of the blame on Pittsburgh – but the fact of the matter is that to do what I do is very demanding. Generally young musicians want to play original music because they haven’t been beaten down by disappointment and reality just yet. Older musicians who may understand the gig have “real” jobs, families, and no desire to drive 5 hours to play a casino gig in Toledo. My band plays over 100 shows a year. When you factor in my acoustic shows, I play upwards of 170 shows a year. It requires a lot of sacrifice, a lot of missed Sunday dinners, a lot of missed weddings, a lot of broken friendships. I’ve learned that there is absolutely no way for me to explain to some 24-year old with a degree in music how to do what I do; just like there is no way for him to explain to me what a flatted 5th is or how to use Pro Tools. We just have different skill sets, and that’s fine. After all – He’s a musician, I’m an entertainer.
The hard part for a lot of musicians is realizing that what they think of the performance does not matter at all. We could play sloppy and drunk, we could play flawless and sober – Trust me, I have tested these theories extensively while dancing on top of bars all over the country. Here’s where it clicks – I’ve played with musicians of all ages, looks, skill level, personality, and compatibility. I’ve played at venues with three completely different band members from one gig to the next just a month later. It never mattered. It never will. “Hey, didn’t your drummer have glasses last time?” Why yes, yes he did.
And then they pour me a Jagerbomb.
And then they pay me, and book more shows with me.
They are entertained.
I’m an entertainer.
It only took me 18 years to figure it out.