Friday, January 19, 2018

What I Almost Was | Lefsetz Letter

What I Almost Was

But I thank God I ain’t what I almost was

Maybe your parents were hands-off, maybe you wandered through life blindly. But then you weren’t the child of Jewish parents, not the progeny of immigrants, who want to ensure their children are prepared.

And today it’s even worse. The kids are smarter than the adults. They know the score. They know if you’re not getting ahead you’re falling behind. That you can’t even get a job without a college degree, that you need graduate school to triumph. That life is hard and if you meander and get high and drift the joke is on you, you’ve got to move into your parents’ basement while your old friends are making down payments and having babies.

So our country is divided between winners and losers. Haves and have-nots. It’s every person for themselves, and as a result society is coarse, so we look to art for inspiration, to get us through. And what do we hear in music? Nonsense. Or how much better the performer’s life is than ours. Hell, that’s what social networks are built upon. No one puts a bad hair day on Instagram unless it’s a joke, we’re all worried about our image instead of our true identity. But then you hear something like Eric Church’s “What I Almost Was” and you raise your fist in the air and a smile creeps over your face…

If you lead this life.

Reminds me of freshman year at Middlebury. A pre-med student was pissed he got a C when he always got A’s. So he went to the teacher to bitch. Now I grade-grubbed in high school, we all did. But I was one point away from the next grade in Anthro 101 and I didn’t bother to go to the teacher, after all I was in college, why did this guy do it I asked him… TO GET INTO A GOOD GRADUATE SCHOOL!

That’s when I took the road not taken. Gave up. I couldn’t be that person anymore. And this resulted not only in a mediocre GPA, at a college where no one got an A anyway, but outcast status. You were supposed to go to the library and study, not lead your life. You were supposed to jump through hoops. I was sick of that.

I did go to law school. A waste of time. But it was the worst snow year in Utah, there was no skiing, and I fell into my first real relationship and that carried me through, but I could have lived without going, because my life has been one of self-education, my own journey. Business people tell me I’m doing it wrong.

But it’s right for me.

Which is why I grinned when I heard the live version of “What I Almost Was” from Eric Church’s “61 Days In Church.”

It was my senior year
I just turned eighteen
I was a Friday night hero, with Division I dreams

No platitudes here. Church drops ” Division I,” the big leagues of college sports. Institutions that have ceased being ones of higher learning. Pay the damn players, they’re taking joke courses and the coaches make more than professors, isn’t this a scourge upon society? I think so.

I had an offer on the table
A four year ride
‘Til that fourth and two and twenty four dive
I left on a stretcher, wound up on a crutch

My father always told me to live by my mind. The physical comes and goes. Especially in sports. A chance of fate and your career is sidelined, like those guys in “Hoop Dreams.”

Walked on that next summer
Wound up getting cut
Flipped off that coach, left that school in the dust
For letting my dreams go bust

Nothing feels worse than getting cut, from back when all males tried out for sports, when that list was posted in the gym and your name was not on it not only did your heart sink, it sank for days and weeks, you were not playing, you cleaned out your locker and lay on your bed depressed.

And we always hear it’s about trying, that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. But that’s patently untrue. He got cut, it was over.

As for flipping off the coach…

Forget the hotheads. They’re out there making trouble for themselves. But are you too afraid to stand up for yourself? That’s what being an artist is all about, lines in the sand you won’t cross, things you won’t do, the pushback.

Yea, I moved on back home
And came awful close to being some son-in-law to some CEO

You can picture it! He’s got this opportunity, he can slide right into a role. It’ll all work.

Could have been a corner office, country club, suit and tie man
Answerin’ to no one, but her and him

You see these people at the country club, the legacies, people following in their parents’ footsteps, doing what’s expected of them, they’ve got the perks but they’re dead on the inside.

I ran out on his money, ran out on her love
At four in the morning I loaded my truck
I left my home town in a big cloud of dust
I just had to follow my gut
And thank God I ain’t what I almost was

He ESCAPED! Left in the middle of the night so no one would see him, no one would convince him otherwise. He was running on emotion instead of intellect. Had to go with what he was feeling. Even though this is harder than ever because of the aforementioned economics. Nobody picks up and moves, they can’t afford to. But he did.

In a guitar town I bought this old Epiphone

Notice the Steve Earle reference? If not, stop reading this and immediately cue up his debut “Guitar Town” and get an education.

Started stringin’ chords and words into songs
I’ve been putting in time on 16th Avenue
Pouring out my heart for tips on a stool

This ain’t no fairy tale. He’s paying his dues, for bupkes.

I ain’t making a killing, but then there’s those nights
When the song comes together and hits ’em just right
The crowd’s on their feet ’cause they can’t get enough
Of this music I make and I love

The moments. They’re fulfilling, they’re signposts. They make it all worth it. They make you believe you’re on the right path.

And I thank God I ain’t, yea I thank God I ain’t
Man I thank God ain’t what I almost was


I have doubts. All of us taking the path less taken do. There’s no safety net, no guarantee. But the moments of triumph make it all worth it. This is what you were not only born to do, but decided to do.

This is why the music resonated with us. Because the artists took chances we didn’t, had insight we didn’t, they inspired us. Books and records charted the course of my life, I could not be denied, I tried to go straight, but it didn’t work, that’s for someone else.

Now there’s a studio take of this song, it flew right by me a decade ago. But this solo acoustic number fits right into the canon of what once and forever shall be. Songs written and performed straight from the heart. Where it’s less about the best voice or the ability to play than laying down your own personal truth that no one else can nail.

I’ve seen Church strut the stage with a cigar in his lips. I’ve seen him say no. I’m convinced this forty year old guy believes who he is, he’s not veering from the path.

Not all of us can do this.

But we all want to.

And when we listen to “What I Almost Was”… Either we know we’re on the right path or it’s time to change.

It’s never too late. Money isn’t everything. Approval neither. It’s about an inner mounting flame that makes you feel you’re doing it right.

Pay attention to your inner beacon.

Get in touch with it by playing “What I Almost Was.”


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