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I Was That Kid Who Dropped Out of College to Join a Rock Band

Image Source: Serge Bielanko Private
Image Source: Serge Bielanko Private

I’m 43 years old and I play in a rock-n-roll band.

I know that sounds kind of “mid-life crisis mode,” but hear me out.

For almost 15 years — from the time I was about 24 until the time I was pushing 40 — I didn’t have another job. I didn’t have something to “fall back on.” I dropped out of college to play in the band Marah with my younger brother, Dave.

We played our guitars, wrote songs, recorded a bunch of albums, and traveled halfway ’round the world performing live, night after night.

And that’s it. That’s how I spent nearly a third of my life: living for the music I made, surviving on truck-stop coffee, cigarettes, and Subway sandwiches. Still, it was the greatest existence I could have possibly dreamed of. I loved the life I was living more than I could ever possibly explain to you. We were like pioneers crossing the Old West, with stars in our eyes and miles beneath our feet. It was so wonderfully imperfect.

Fast-forward to my current existence as a single dad to three kids, and it dawned on me that this rare experience I’ve had, this life of playing rock-n-roll on a zillion stages from Serbia to Seattle, has really helped me become a better dad.

As a dad who wants his kids to experience life not just living, I feel a certain amount of pride in the fact that I went against the proverbial grain. Was I foolish to quit college and hit the American highway system with a band? Probably, in a lot of ways I was.

Yet any regrets I have now and then are nothing compared to the soul-crushing regret I would have had if I’d passed up the chance to be in Marah and experience everything that came with it. I ended up never, ever being afraid — even when the odds were stacked against us.

In this day and age, I’m so damn proud of that.

This is why I want my kids to feel comfortable doing whatever they dream of doing with their own lives, too. I hope my own life choices once upon a time will help them with a few of theirs down the road.

We live in a day and age where kids are being pigeonholed into a life of certain security.
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You see, we live in a day and age where kids are being pigeonholed into a life of certain security.

“If you don’t do X now when you’re 21 or 22, you’re going to be SO sorry when you want to retire at 65!”

I don’t know about you, but I hate that line of thinking. It seems so unfair, so stifling to young, creative minds. I mean, what if one of our children wants to be a painter? Or a poet? What if your son wants to spend his life in the theater? Or your daughter tells you she wants to make documentary films?

Have we hit the point where we tell them that it’s just not worth it?

What if two of your kids came to you when they were in their sophomore year of college and said: “Mom, Dad … we want to play rock-n-roll. We want to take our band on the road. It’s our dream, you guys. And our time is now.

Would you flip out? Would you support them somehow? Would you be able to relate to their hunger and their drive?

I was that kid once.

I guess I still am, huh?

There is no scientific proof here at all, but I think risks, taking chances, and even failure all lead to becoming better human beings. And so maybe that leads to becoming pretty epic parents too, you know?

There is no scientific proof here at all, but I think risks, taking chances, and even failure all lead to becoming better human beings.
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Maybe once you’ve actually known the highs and lows and the ups and downs of doing your own thing, of hunting down your very own dream, that’s when your life really starts to make sense. Life as a series of lessons learned and stories to be shared with the people who have always looked up to you like you’re some kind of celebrity — your own kids.

Sometimes I sigh about the future. Sometimes I think about the fact that I spent so much of my life playing in a band. I wonder what my life would look like now had I not pursued my music. Beyond that though, I wonder if my choice will ever pay off in the biggest way possible — in the way I need it to for my own kids.

And this is where it all comes back to me again. The memories seared deep into my soul — of nights lying exhausted in a bed in Barcelona, far far from home, memories of falling asleep knowing that I had just played music for perfect strangers who loved it and who wanted me to do it again some day.

That’s when I know I made the right move. That I chose the right path all along for being the dad I really want to be. Oh sure, some day before long my three are going to look at me and say: “Dad, how come you’re not very well off, man? Why don’t you have vacation homes and a fat retirement fund? Why are you eating Spam from a can, dude?!”

I’ll smile at them then. Tell them my tales from a very rock-n-roll life. And if everything goes the way I hope, that will actually be the day I’ve been waiting for all along. That will be the day I kick open a very rare and special door for each of them to burst through themselves.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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