The other day a friend of mine posted on his Facebook page, “I am happy for my successful friends! I am happy for my successful friends! I am happy for my successful friends!” This was my way of knowing that he was in no way happy for any of his successful friends.
I’ve been there. I understand. This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve seen a lot of my friends rocket to the top of the charts. It’s profoundly irritating.
So I posted a comment. I said, “It don’t matter. In a hundred years we’ll all be dust, and no one is going to know we were ever here. Fix yourself a sandwich and put on some Sinatra.”
I said this without compunction and of my own free will. And having said it, I marveled at the fact that not only had I said such a thing, I meant it. It just doesn’t matter. Cue Bill Murray. “It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!”
I’m 51, and it was somewhere around crossing the golden Rubicon birthday about a year ago that I was given a gift. I changed. I realized that all this touring, the songwriting, the miles, changing guitar strings, changing the oil, chasing the muse. It is utterly meaningless. It just doesn’t matter.
This is not as deflating a revelation as it might seem; in fact it’s very liberating and a source of newfound joy. Prior to this epiphanous broom jumping, I had thrown myself into every gig like I was a gladiator. Every show was life or death. I knew in my heart how sacred the music was, how much honor was at stake in the quest for that perfect musical moment. I played gigs with gritted teeth. It meant so much. I was playing to blot out that voice in my head that kept asking me why the hell I was doing this, and wasn’t I ashamed at how I’d thrown my life away. After my enlightenment—and who knows where it came from—I became aware that it is impossible to throw your life away, unless of course you kill yourself. If you don’t do that, then you can’t throw your life away. Life is something that happens to you; you don’t happen to it. And it just doesn’t matter anyway.
In the past year, I’ve done some of the best gigs of my life. I don’t play to break on through to the other side. There is no other side. I don’t even care. I busy myself onstage now with enjoying the song I’m singing. And if there are 50 people enjoying it with me, or seven, it doesn’t matter. In a hundred years I’ll be dust and no one is going to give a flat flying frig that I ever played for tips on a Wednesday night at The Family Wash.
I’m going to die someday. I’m sure of it. And one of two things is going to happen (I haven’t made up my mind yet, which): I’m either going to have my ashes scattered over the salad bar at Shoney’s, or I’m going to be sat nude in an easy chair, encased in Lucite, and put into orbit. Between now and then I’m going to wallow in good old-fashioned Zen dearth of meaning. If Keith Urban cuts one of my songs, great. If he doesn’t, God bless him. It just doesn’t matter.
And that’s wonderful.
— Tommy Womack is a singer-songwriter and author, and a former member of both Government Cheese and the bis-quits. His memoir, Cheese Chronicles, has just been released as an e-book by Amber House Books. Visit his website at tommywomack.com and keep up via his popular “Monday Morning Cup of Coffee” series. His column, "East of Normal," appears in every issue of The East Nashvillian. He is currently working on both a new memoir and his seventh solo record.