One night in college, I mustered up enough courage to play some songs I had written on the guitar for some friends. I was totally playing it cool – “These old things?” I just put them together for fun. But inside I was terrified. Music has been a big deal for me my whole life. Whether or not I let on to my friends, their reaction was critical.
Spark that Caused an Explosion
They freaked out. They asked for a tape of the songs so they could make copies for their friends, who would make more copies for more friends. Pretty soon, my music was all over the University of Utah campus and I was getting calls to perform. It was a spark that caused a chain reaction – exploding! And remarkably, it seemed effortless for me. Within two years, my concerts were selling out at most of the concert venues in Utah, I bought a house, and was experiencing life as a minor celebrity in Utah.
And my first reaction to all of this was, “I can’t believe it!” But my second – and more interesting – reaction was, “I knew it.” I had always felt that I was wired to do music, so when it happened, I chalked it up to fate. Interviewers began asking me what my business model was, and I didn’t know what to say. I just tried to write good songs. My belief, and by then, my experience, was that if I simply stepped into my cosmic purpose as a musician, everything else would take care of itself.
And it did…for a while. After a decade of continued growth, my music career lost momentum. By then, I was married and had children. But I was floating in a sea of financial responsibility, with no life preserver. I knew I had to find another way to make money. So I experimented with new job paths – teaching, advertising, film. And it was here that I discovered, sometimes painfully, that when you are lucky enough to start your professional life doing something you love successfully, it can be hard to do anything else from then on. I had been spoiled young and fast and was now facing reality. I spent much of the next decade worrying about how to provide for my family.
In 2008, my music career showed sparks of life once again. I had recently released two new albums and was commissioned to produce a large-scale commercial music project. At the same time, my mom was suddenly diagnosed with leukemia. My siblings flew in as often as they could to help my aging father cope, but because I lived nearby, the day-to-day job of being at the hospital with my mom often fell to me. I quit my new music project and spent most of the next 12 months sitting in a hospital room reading and talking to my mom as she slowly lost her battle. A few short years later, my dad suddenly died. There was no financial safety net for me anymore.
Healing Power of Music
But just when I thought my worrying would be off the charts, I found myself emerging calmer than before. I don’t know what had shifted in me. Perhaps it was something I read during that year in the hospital, or maybe learning to surrender. Whatever it was, I had the sense that if I focused on each day – and ceased chasing ghosts – that somehow the rest would take care of itself. Be present. I wrote two songs around this time entitled “Right Now” and “Everything Will Be Alright”.
A year after my dad died, I was performing on the stage of the St. George Opera House when I had this sense that I should try to let go of my racing thoughts as I sang – the ones that tended to jump forward to the next song. Stay with this song. With this lyric. This word. It was a small thing, but it was amazing. Putting 100% of my attention on each moment of music made me feel like I suddenly had energy to spare – like I was tapping into some reserve outside of myself. It was like trying to squeeze all of the sunshine into a tiny box.
I was surprised by the number of people who came up to me after that show to tell me that they had felt the change. Driving home later that night, I kept thinking that if I could learn to do that all of the time, even off stage – to focus on each moment – that everything would be alright. More than alright.
That tape I made in college turned 25 years old last summer. The band and I celebrated with a concert at the Sandy Amphitheater in Utah. A lot of people came and sang those early songs with us. Then two weeks later, I drove to Idaho and played to a tiny group of people who didn’t know my music at all. Both nights, it was one line, one lyric, one word at a time. And both nights were magical to me. Everything is alright.
► You’ll also like: Alex Boye’s Life Comes Full Circle