“On the road, it's so easy to feed into the woefulness of it all: the long drives, the 1-star motels, the array of impossible semi-deaf sound men, the bags of cash that never come, or the questions of why there is a line of fans around the block waiting for a Rave to begin after your show.”
Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, complete with flowing robes and white fu manchu, put it best––“Bend and you will be whole. Curl and you will be straight. Keep empty and you will be filled.” You can’t poke a hole in that now can you? This titan of the mind and human condition was born somewhere around the 5th century BC and his beautiful, timeless writings do more than just hold water all of these moons later.
As a touring musician, when I read the simple stanzas of the Tao Te Ching, it’s as if Lao Tzu wrote these words as a manual for emotional neanderthals like myself to navigate the sprawling, slippery and treacherous landscape of the music business.
In the early days of my 20-year career running around the globe chasing the muse, I would find myself rigid, white knuckled, trying to force my way into a creative space or an advantageous position. It never came. Never-ever. Not to mention, that sometimes in life, the shit just doesn’t work out. It’s the law of averages. These situations, however, are the moments where if you can embrace and learn to love the questions themselves, you might find yourself falling backwards into the answers.
On the road, it's so easy to feed into the woefulness of it all: the long drives, the 1-star motels, the array of impossible semi-deaf sound men, the bags of cash that never come, or the questions of why there is a line of fans around the block waiting for a Rave to begin after your show. You just can’t let it rule you. You simply can’t force it one way or the other. It’s a floating amoeba out there and we must go with the proverbial flow and enjoy the ride, oftentimes without a map or steering wheel.
The trick is learning to let go, so we can start to hold on to what a gift it is to not be in control. As a musician or artist, that’s where the magic and essence of creativity lies anyway. And if we are open enough, we can dial in some kind of mysterious spiritual channel, serve as a conduit, and let it flow through us. We own nothing.
The Buddhist monks create colorful sand mandalas, sometimes taking years to complete. It's an exercise in mediation, healing and transformation. After these beautiful, intricate creations are complete, they erase the work immediately by raking the sand into a jar wrapped in silk, and transporting it to a river to be released back into nature. A lesson in surrender. Along with the Tao Te Ching, I can't think of two better parallels and ideologies to dance with as a musician on the road. Play it beautiful, strong and unabashedly and release it back into the wild.
In other words, “Have little and gain, have much and be confused.”
And let us not forget the old gem––“Keep it simple stupid.”
SETH WALKER is an Americana artist who combines a gift for melody and lyric alongside a rich, Gospel-drenched, Southern-inflected voice. Residing in Asheville, NC, after stints in Nashville, New Orleans and Austin, he’s released 10 albums over a two decade career and most recently added published author to his resume with the release of a memoir, Your Van Is On Fire. Check him out at sethwalker.com.