This Article Originally Published April 1998
by Michael Laskow
I spent last weekend in a cold, dark room with a bunch of musicians. Take Two. I spent last weekend in a cold, dark room with some top-notch musicians. Among them, the legendary drummer, Jim Keltner (Bob Dylan thanked him while accepting his award at this year's Grammys), and Scott Johnson of the Gin Blossoms.
The cold, dark room was, of course, a recording studio. I took my ears out of mothballs for this project. It's been eleven years since I've done a project for a major label. I'm producing three songs for this one for a few reasons.
The first of which is that knew I had to work on this artist's material the minute I first heard it. The second reason is that we were able to get some players that I had never worked with, but always wanted to. The third and most important reason is that I love making records.
Sometimes, make that most of the time, I hate making records (that's why I retired from it). But like a moth drawn to a flame, I just can't help myself. I get a physical rush and emotional high when I sit behind a million dollars worth of equipment with a room full of musicians and help the whole thing come together.
At the end of the first day in the studio, I was hanging out with Keltner. We were shooting the breeze about friends in the business and artists we had both worked with. I couldn't keep up with him: Gary Lewis and the Playboys (This Diamond Ring!), The Concert for Bangladesh, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, The Rolling Stones, John Hiatt, Bob Dylan, Rickie Lee Jones, The Traveling Wilburys and on and on and on. This guy's discography may truly be the most impressive in the industry.
But something Jim said impressed me far more than his list of credits. He turned to me and with his soft-spoken, Dan Rather drawl asked, "Ya know why all those people are successful?" "Because they write good songs," I replied. "Yeah, well, that too, but the real reason they're successful is they do what they love. Look around you. Everyone of us in this room is blessed because we do what we love."
I hate to admit it, but he was right. Even in my case. Especially in my case. I wear my retirement from producing and engineering like a badge of honor. As if to say, "Hey, look at me. I was smart enough to get out! I don't have to work twenty hour days any more. I don't have to punch in vocals hundreds of times anymore. I don't have to take gigs just for the money anymore. I got out!!"
But there I was, back in the saddle again, already worried that it took too many takes to get the rhythm tracks right. Midnight came and went. I noticed that I need more light to see the nomenclature on the console than I did when I was younger. I've never made a record wearing reading glasses before.
We had the obligatory technical problems with the half-million dollar console. I just wanted to get home to my family. Well, kind of. I guess what I really wanted to do was endure the pain of creation. Mothers feel it during childbirth. Artists feel it when they paint. Athletes feel it when they create their personal best, and authors feel it when they write. Pain and creation are lovers.
That explains why not everybody who wants to be a rock star becomes one. People have different levels of pain tolerance. Those with the highest thresholds must come up winners. Those who don't, settle for second best. The gap between "best" and "second best" is often just milliseconds. The emotional gap can be elephantine.
Doing what you love must trigger a massive release of endorphins to hide the pain. Then again, it could be the myopic vision of the target at the end of the tunnel that blocks out all other sensation for those who are destined to achieve.
I couldn't have survived TAXI's start-up years without some natural or supernatural help. The strength I needed to survive the emotional and financial strain was there when I needed it. It was probably always there, hidden deep down inside. It just needed a reason to come to the fore. Much as it does for people who survive the loss of a loved one.
Jim Keltner wished us well, and in an Elvis-like moment, left the building. The room felt empty. His words hung in the air. "Do what you love." I've been blessed that I've always done what I've loved—even if sometimes it feels like love/hate.
I sat there on a road case in the studio. Surrounded by musicians and assistant engineers buzzing around me, I drifted off. I kept hearing Jim's words, and wished that each of you could have been there to receive his inspiration. Then I realized, you already know that his words ring true. That's why you joined TAXI. You're doing what you love.
You may be a dentist in Jersey with a mortgage, a wife and a couple of kids, but I'll bet I could find you tucked away in your home studio many a night. You might be a singer/songwriter who waits tables to put food on your own, but when you get home, you write songs about mashed potatoes and gravy. If you didn't love music, you'd only drill teeth or serve food.
But not you. Each and every one of you who has joined our ranks is special. You are the elite. You rise above your competition simply because you love what you do so much that you're doing something about it. Not just thinking about. That, my friends, is a giant step across one of life's widest canyons.