Fear – does play many strange tricks on most of us.
Our individual apprehensions and fears are invariably
only known to each of us personally.
I know performing musicians feel some form of fear a lot of the time;
maybe that’s why many celebrated musician’s turn to
high usage of stimulants to get them through their barriers.
Years ago I trained in scuba diving, an activity not for the fainthearted where
many basic instinctive fears needed to be overcome,
Fear of the dark; fear of the unknown; fear of claustrophobia.
But a scuba diver does enjoy unique experiences such as the
feeling of weightlessness – I suppose like astronauts in space.
In the late 1980’s, when working in the Middle East, on the island of Masirah,
a favourite leisure activity was to go diving for shellfish,
and observe the local marine environment.
A core of us trained divers would be happy to take willing novices,
under strict supervision and control, in the warm shallow waters that were
abundant with vivid and colourful sea life.
One novice chap I knew well was Tom – a seasoned RAF instructor fighter pilot.
Tom had taken me flying a couple of times in a small trainer,
and shown me basic flying skills,
before I left for my civilian flying licence training in Portugal.
Squadron Leader Tom was a likable character – constantly smoking – even in our aircraft cockpit;
putting his cigarette out when on short finals, and lighting it again once we’d completed a touch-and-go!
As a novice trainee-pilot back then, I lacked the confidence to query and criticize why he
wished to smoke whilst flying critical maneuvers.
So I chose reluctantly to endure the distraction!
Tom wanted to try scuba diving, so we gave him the
briefings and basic instructions for an initial dive.
Visibility wasn’t good this day, five to six feet, but it was all right.
Our diving plan was to pull ourselves down the boat’s anchor rope to the bottom.
The depth was about thirty feet – a shallow dive at best.
But no matter how we encouraged or instructed Tom, we could not get him
to pull himself down the anchor rope to affect his dive.
He could not do it.
Tom would have had his fair share of lonely, desolate and demanding skies over his thousands of flying hours that would have required strong mental attributes.
Yet he could not achieve this simple task that scuba diving required;
a mere thirty feet into the unknown.
We pulled him back into the boat.
He never wanted to come diving with us again.
I often wondered why a senior aviator obviously couldn’t overcome this
fear he must have experienced on this particular day.
I likened it to perhaps what performing musicians feel
playing numerous large concerts.
Each show would be a different “gig” – somewhat unknown – a gamble of sorts.
Is this why many musicians turn to stimulants as an escape;
to help overcome their fears?
Maybe it’s a monotony of constant concerts and touring?
I’ll never know what other musicians truly feel within themselves.
I do know how I feel before any performance.
Every gig is different; like every scuba dive, or aircraft flight.
A performance is a bit like daily life in general – a journey into the unknown.
Every day is not the same – we don’t know precisely
how each day, or performance, will materialise.
If we did, I expect that life indeed would be very boring and not very stimulating.
Who needs stimulants?