The Comeback Story Of A Lifetime
The end of the line. There’s nothing like watching your life’s dream vanish before your eyes. But there’s also nothing as amazing and inspiring as a good comeback story. Sometimes these stories give us hope when we’re not sure where life is taking us or how we’ll ever get to where we want to be. This is my comeback story.
From a fairly young age I wanted to be a career musician. At age 18, I began playing shows around the Midwest with my band Project Hero. Our hometown of Indianapolis had a struggling music scene and it was difficult for local bands to have success. For awhile, we found success playing shows in Ohio and Wisconsin. Eventually though, our band members were ready to settle down and start families of their own; everyone that is except me. I was the youngest in the band and I had songwriting in my blood. That’s something I can’t change about myself even if I wanted to, so I packed up and moved to Austin, Texas in search of a career as a musician.
Austin was everything I had ever dreamed of. The music scene was easily accessible to newcomers and there seemed to be a hunger for fresh alt/rock acts. Not only that, but it was just a cool city. Every time I took a trip downtown, it felt like anything was possible. The city had some sort of magic to it and a hope that could make even the dead dream. On one particular week, I got together with two other acoustic artists and the three of us decided to put together a string of shows. We played five shows that week. It was magical, it was unbelievable, but on the final show that week, I sang my last. I could feel a shooting pain in the back of my throat. Forcing my way through the song, I knew I was in trouble. I had never been a trained singer and I knew my technique was awful, and it had finally caught up to me. My right vocal cord was paralyzed and my dream of becoming a full-time musician died.
I’m not even sure if I can fully explain what that experience did to my identity. For the next several months I couldn’t even go to a restaurant with friends because I couldn’t talk over the crowd noise. I took a vow of silence for several weeks and would only respond to others by writing on a notepad. I actually went on a few days like that! Imagine being on a date where the person doesn’t even say a single word! That was me. It was heartbreaking for me to be in a city that is wild about music and not be able to participate. My friends had busy social lives and I had to turn down most invitations to go out because my voice simply wouldn’t hold up. At times, I wondered if I would ever sing again. After ten months I had finally had enough and decided to move up to Wichita, Kansas to recover. I expected to live there for only 9 months, thinking it would be a quiet little town for me to recover in. My college roommate happened to be living there on Air Force duty so we decided to room together and relive our glory days, playing Starcraft and Xbox 360 games.
Then things began to change. I remember sitting in a movie theater watching The Dark Knight Rises, a movie that I resonated with during my recovery. In the film, Bane breaks Batman’s back and takes over Gotham in an attempt to destroy it. Bane then leaves Batman in an underground prison designed somewhat like a large well; prisoners could look up and see the sky, but the climb was so grueling that none could survive it. Over the course of a few months, Batman trained in his cell doing body-weight exercises, determined to get back to Gotham and save it. Others thought he trained in vain. On his first attempts to climb out of the prison with a safety rope, he failed and fell back into the pit. Eventually though, Batman decided to climb with no safety net; no rope. If he fell, he would surely die. This time, as the other prisoners changed “Rise,” Batman made the impossible climb. I remember tears streamed from my face as I watched that moment on screen. Sometimes I think about how ridiculous it sounds; I’m a grown man crying at a Batman movie, but I know the value of a good comeback story. That moment tapped into something beautiful that we all long for; hope, in the face of impossible odds.
I went back to see the film several more times over the next couple of months. In fact, I put together my own “training” to climb out of my own prison. I knew the hole that I was in was as much psychological as it was physical. To heal, I would need to heal my mind, body and spirit. My “training regime” consisted of voice therapy and technique exercises, the workout program known as Insanity (it’s brutal!), and I got serious about my own spiritual journey. At one point I literally drove to Oklahoma and climbed a real mountain, thinking that if I could make it to the top, it would symbolize conquering the emotional and spiritual journey I was on. Shortly after, I recovered some use of my voice. It was a start but there was still a long way to go. Because I had never learned to sing properly, I now needed to learn to sing correctly from scratch. In total, it would still take six full years for me to learn to sing correctly and return to performing live.
Even though I never had a full-time music career, at least not yet, it feels like the Comeback Story of a Lifetime (a good song by Kings of Leon, by the way!). I learned a lot about myself during that time; that I am more than just a musician, that I have value even if I couldn’t sing, and that music means very little without the relationships and other people to experience it with. Maybe success isn’t about achieving rock-star-status after all; maybe it’s about connecting with other people in meaningful ways and enjoying the journey together. Today, you’ll find me playing solo acoustic shows around Wichita. You can hear my journey through loss, hope and recovery in the music I make today. If I had to guess, I would imagine something in this story resonated with you. We all have a comeback story and it’s worth hearing. I’d love to hear yours, so hit reply if you’d like to share it with me.
If you’d like to share in my journey, take a listen to my album Vandarth: The Essentials (2009-2019). Thank you for being a part of this journey with me!