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Elizabeth Conant is a musician, music teacher and blogger who lives in upstate New York. This was first published by the Chicago Tribune.
After having my son almost 19 years ago, I pretty much checked out of pop culture in favor of being a full-time mother. So when I heard of drummer Taylor Hawkins’ death, I wasn’t hit hard the way so many of my friends and fellow musicians had been. What did bother me were the headlines that told us “10 different substances” had been found in his body. The implication was tawdry and disrespectful; it was sensationalistic language that didn’t demand a back story. It basically left readers with the takeaway that this was just another sad and perhaps unremarkable casualty of rock ’n’ roll. Who needed to read further? Not having any previous sentiment for the man, I was surprised at how offended I was by these cheap headlines. There had to be more to the story.
Indeed, there was.
I read the Rolling Stone interview with Hawkins from last June. Despite his expletive-rich responses, he revealed himself to be soft and vulnerable on the inside. I recognized in Hawkins an aspect of myself. I saw this tender fallibility in many of my friends, too. This man was simply trying to do his job, just trying to get through. Imagine a musician playing huge arenas who must fight his fear to even be on that stage! There’s no place to hide. All he can do is power through it. Or medicate through it. A human does what he or she must, simply in order to get through.
It’s so easy to be star-struck. I’ve met a number of famous people, some who inspired me to offer up inane fan banter and some who later became known to me in human and intimate ways. You can feel their energy, their focus and perhaps you sense that they are existing in another sort of world. But at the same time, one must always remember that people of elevated visibility are not gods or goddesses. They are humans. And they are also just doing their best to get through.
My father was a harpsichordist of some note. His esteemed career took him to many stages in many countries. As a child, I would see him as two men: the fellow who shuffled around the house in his slippers and bathrobe, doting on his beloved cats, and that other man, the one who wore a white bow tie, tux and tails, who warmly received us backstage, the gentleman who greeted fellow musicians in French or German.
When I visited people in the early music circles, they knew who my father was. It was a point of pride for me, but it also gave me instant credibility and just a hint of my own star power by proximity. What I did not know about my father until just a few years ago was that he struggled with stage fright. From what I know through my experiences and what I’ve pieced together from anecdotes told about him many years later, I’ve come to suspect that I may have inherited a predisposition for depression and panic from him. My famous yet fearful father.
It’s the humanity of this fellow Hawkins that endears him to me. It’s the fact that he was not an irresponsible or reckless person, but rather a man dealing with recovery, with fame, with stress. Such a potent mix of things — a situation that few of us can understand. That this man dealt with insecurities and fear — even when he was at such a high level of fame and accomplishment — is a testament to the emotional frailty that is present in all of us.
None of us is the person we would have the world believe we are.
Let’s try to realize that there is so much more to every story than we will ever see. We need to trust that no one is having an easy time of it; this is a hard planet. Human beings are all doing the best they can, just to get through.
Be an attentive and forgiving audience; everyone is putting on the best show they possibly can.