The Last Time You Will Play On Stage

Maybe it was the passing of my Grandfather this year, a member of the Nebraska Aviation Hall of fame that keeps this old pilot’s saying at the forefront of my mind when I think about performing music –

“One day you will walk out to the aircraft knowing that it is your last flight, or one day you will walk out to the aircraft not knowing it will be your last flight.”

Or maybe it’s just that it seems like we’ve been so mired by tragedy lately.  This week we all read about yet another high profile celebrity suicide.  Yesterday I learned about a Nebraska musician who died tragically in an accident after a show.  On Saturday, I will take the stage to pay tribute to Cameron Ruble at what will be the final performance of his band Bloodrail.  Cameron passed away very unexpectedly from the flu.  He was one year older than me.  And he was a much better musician too.  I’ve tried promoting this event over and over.  The words fail me every time I try to post about it.  I just couldn’t say it all in 140 characters or less.

The last 2 years of my life have taken me through the first real and lasting victories against a lifetime of suicidal depression.  The end of a long term abusive relationship.  The sudden end of a 10 year career.  An unplanned full stop in my band’s schedule due to an injury.  I have gained friends and family members.  I have lost friends and family members.  I’ve been lucky enough to stay on the stage through it all.

I think a lot about my own mortality.  Being a parent does that to you.  Living most of your life with suicidal depression does that to you.  Pulling gray hairs out of your nostrils and falling asleep in the middle of the day does that to you.  Being a human does that to you.  Losing one of our best local musicians does that to you.  Over the years, it’s meaning to me has certainly changed.  But it is never any less intimidating.  The one moment when I am truly at peace with the inevitable end is when I am on stage playing music.  If there is ever one moment when I feel discontent playing for an audience, it’s having left the stage feeling like I had more to give.

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We all have a finite number of performances left and we aren’t privileged to know how many we have left.  All I know is that with each performance, I am one closer to my last.  I think about this in those brief moments before every show.  Each day, my last time on stage gets closer.  So does yours.  So did Cameron’s.

The last time I saw Cameron Ruble, his final performance was long over.  We joked briefly in a crowded room about upcoming gigs and the project we were going to start someday.  A project that was to be unapologetic and no holds barred.  A project I put on hold because I knew how it would be used against me by people I used to call family.  What a phony I am for holding back like that.  A few days later I noticed him saying he felt ill on social media.  A few days after that he was gone.

I often look around in awe at the other musicians we get to play alongside.  At the way our fans talk about us.  In a lot of ways it is an affirmation that we made the right choices as a band to stay in our niche and to play what speaks to us.  That the difficult path was the right one after all.  I suppose it’s validation too.  But to me it’s been awfully humbling, especially in times like this when we are preparing to step on the stage with giants and  ghosts.

I don’t deserve to be in this company.  I don’t deserve the opportunities I’ve been getting this year.  I have no doubt that we are playing plenty of shows that should have belonged to Bloodrail.  All I can do is to play like it’s my very last time every time and try my best not to disrespect my peers with a bad set.

I am humble, I am grateful and I am really not looking forward to saying goodbye.

When the day comes that my last performance has come and gone and we are all left with unsaid words, I hope you know how much it always meant to me to be able to come out and play my music for you.  You got me through the most difficult times in my life, and I got to be friends with some truly inspiring people because of it.

I hope I can play so hard on Saturday that we shake the walls of Valhalla for our departed friend.  Hopefully my drum towel can hide most of the tears.

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