Nashville is such a city of promise. It reminds me a bit of the California Gold Rush of mid-1800. Some lucky random guy found gold in an old mill, and before long, 300,000 men, women, and children flocked to the Golden State from all over the country, and even as far away as Latin America, Europe, Australia and Asia. A handful of people recovered millions of dollars worth of gold, but most people went home none the richer. As you can imagine, the boom brought with it a considerable amount of economic good for California.
Unfortunately, the Gold Rush wasn’t without its negative affects, as Native Americans were attacked and pushed off their land, creating race and ethnic tensions. Not to mention environmental harm caused by prospectors literally overturning every stone, trying to get their piece of the pot.
When I first heard there was gold in them there hills of Nashville, it wasn’t long before I knew I needed to pack up my wagon and trek across the country from Minnesota to see what I might uncover.
Heck, I had as good of a chance as anybody, right? I remember thinking a well-intentioned, charismatic, halfway-decent singer like myself stood a pretty good shot at a record deal. I had bought records and seen concerts by artists who appeared to be a lot more mediocre than me. People say the record industry just puts out crap. I say, why can’t they just put out my crap?
I packed my wagon (a tiny Plymouth Horizon that used to belong to my Grandma Bob) to the gills with my CD collection and enough underwear to last a week. I was lovingly sent off by an extremely encouraging group of people who had probably never met a prospector. Sure, they’d seen them on TV or in the movies, but a real life dream-chasing gold-digger? Probably not one. I know I hadn’t. I had no role models.
It wasn’t long after I arrived in Nashville I learned that finding opportunities in the music biz is a bit like panning for gold. You can fill your pan up with all kinds of sand and rocks, sifting through it all with a fine-toothed comb, hoping that one little fleck of something shiny might emerge. After a long while of finding nothing of value, it’s easy to begin wondering if the problem is actually me and not simply that I’m looking for gold in an already scoured riverbed.
Did the empty-handed forty-niners who left California realize the randomness of finding the gold, or did they possibly think there was something inherently wrong with them? I’m not saying that’s how I felt. But it was.
Without any prospects, I basically had to constantly sniff around, turning over all kinds of stones, looking for opportunities. Or friends. I found out early enough that you had to pick one or the other.
There was one guy I had met early on in my time here in Nashville who was a considerably successful songwriter and was part of a group that was doing pretty well on the charts. We hit it off as friends and started hanging out. I met his wife and kids—it was that level of hanging out.
One day as we were driving somewhere he told me, “Mark, I don’t think I can be friends with you. You don’t fit into the business side of my life, or the family side of my life.”
Sure, he was busy, and was probably just trying to create margin in his life. But I was floored. It wasn’t enough that we enjoyed each other’s company, and experienced a unique interpersonal connection. I just didn’t fit into his purpose-driven realm of relational possibilities. I’ve experienced rejection before, but never for such awkwardly verbalized, heart-blocked reasons.
Someone wise once told me, “Friendship in Nashville—don’t take it personally.”
I’ve held onto that gold nugget of wisdom for years.