If you enjoy rock music and care about self improvement, you have to listen to King’s X. This veteran rock trio has been churning out insightful, spiritual songs since the 80s. Their first four albums have a particular, mystical sound that has aged amazingly well, but their output after that has just as much value, too, in a different way. As they grew older their music became drier, simpler, but yet more rooted in the harsh, gray reality. Instead of telling stories, they now tell it like it is.
“If” packs a lot of familiar yearning into its concise 3-minute frame. We all dream of solving problems, realizing fantasies, being free of burdens — if XXX happens, then I will be happy. But this song is not about some wishful thinking. Notice how he strings his “if” statements:
If I could move to the middle
If I could go outside
If I could give in a little
And make it work this time
This character is battle-scarred and weary, has learned the lesson that if you want to change something, you don’t sit and wait for it to change. And even if your earlier attempts didn’t yield the fruits you were hoping for, you don’t give up and stop. You keep learning, you keep tweaking, you may change your tactics or strategy or approach, but you persist. You keep hoping.
For the last few weeks I’ve been using the P90X3 program to exercise, and one of the things I appreciate about its trainer Tony Horton is that he says not to worry about making it look perfect or pretty. Perfectionists sit on their butts for the fear of ruining their imaginary perfection, while people who make the change go about it uglily and incorrectly.
It’s not pain-free process, this pursuit of making something happen. Every time I start recording a new song, I have to swallow hard because I know that to realize the song means that I will most likely have to accept imperfections. I know that there will be takes that don’t measure up, equipment being set wrongly or encountering bugs, and many hours of listening and wondering if the song is any good. But I learn, and I keep trying.
To change means embracing that fragility and heartache of all the times you fail to change. That’s why we have to be nice to ourselves, not set too ambitious a goal, and pat yourself on the back for just trying. And keep trying. The only way to lose a chance of winning is if you quit. As long as you’re in the game you have a chance. The pursuit you don’t give up, though specific approaches and angles you change and tweak often. Along the way your vision gets chiseled and chipped, uneven and awkward but yet also more present and fit for real life. Like woodcarving, the pieces that are unnecessary get discarded, and what will remain is its essence. I don’t do yoga because I want to show off my perfect poses. I do it to become more flexible and enhance my peace of mind. I don’t record songs to show off my flawless performance and production chops. I record them because I have something I have to say.
Changing involves compromising, things do get lost in translation on the way from ideas to reality. It’s OK to feel sad about that, but not get discouraged. If you have to take a break and recharge, do so, but don’t quit. As long as you keep trying, you keep learning — you have the chance to make it work.