We Are What We Do?

Lately I find myself hopping on the mental train of “why the world is so damned complex” only to pull into the station of “because the individual is so complex!” Seems to me that most of us have multiple personalities bouncing around inside of us which are usually activated by our temporary external circumstance. How we deal with and respond to events in our daily lives has much to do with our present “mood” if you will, and many of us will have to admit that our mood changes daily, if not hourly. I can say with some certainty that how we respond to the events in our lives can tell us much about ourselves… how strong or delicate we are, how sensitive or insensitive we might be, how stable under stress, even to the point of which events can trigger which personality trait.


I Was What I Did


It’s true… I thought I was what I did, for a long time. At times I felt like a sensitive little musical nerve, dangling in the breeze, swaying whichever way the wind blew me, blowing wildly different tunes through the air, depending on the moment, the emotion. That self-visualization probably emanated from my life at the time… playing and recording every kind of music imaginable in the studio every day, while playing the jazz clubs and private parties 2-3 nights a week. Music dominated my life for the better part of 17 years. Being immersed in any art form for an extended period of time will reform many personalities, leading them into a kind of artistic enlightenment, or e bias. I was getting some of both, I think. I was becoming “Mr. Music” in my own head, yet at the same time was searching for, and occasionally reaching, a new and higher level of my abilities. At that point my love of music and my ego began a tug-of-war that lasted for years, and got fairly ugly at times. Not proud of that, at all.


Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker!


Actually, in this case it should be, “Dammit Jim, I’m a musician, not a doctor!” And to clarify this line of thought, I know nothing about the human condition save what I’ve experienced in life. I’m forced to personalize these thoughts and ideas, as I’m my own best subject of study, knowing more about the person I am than anyone else. I know, from many years of experience, that there are several “me’s” floating around in here, all potentially triggered by what be happ’nin’ now. Recognizing that in my 30’s, I’ve tried all my life to change into a person who is stable and confident under all circumstances. It hasn’t worked. I yam what I yam, regardless of my intent to be otherwise.

Who I wanted to be was one of those select few who are stable, confident and consistent under all circumstances. They are the kind of people I like most to spend time with, to share ideas with. They are the ones I’m jealous of because of their quiet self assurance. And they are the reason I think the rest of us have more than one “personality” in residence.

I mean, it’s okay to be the way the rest of us are. Even if we’re self aware and work on our perceived emotional ups and downs, still we all have our peculiar little hot buttons that get bumped from time to time. That’s all part of being human. Hell, I think you could put some of us in a padded cell and we’d find a way to push our own hot buttons. Yet the world would basically stop turning without our types… vive la difference!


Who Do We Think We are?


Who and what we are is usually different from who and what we think we are. We spend much of our lives reaching for goals and certain accomplishments. In that honorable pursuit comes a partial, if not complete, definition of who we are… to ourselves and to others. How others perceive us is nearly always different, to one degree or another, from how we perceive ourselves. I find that difference to be mostly enlightening, and often humorous.

For instance, my self image is one of a fairly versatile piano player, yet I’ve been told by friends and acquaintances that I’m a pianist… which evokes the image of a sight-reading, concert playing, tux-wearing classical musician. I’ve played concerts and have worn a tux much of my first 5 years in Atlanta, but I can’t sight read or play hardly any classical music.

My favorite though, a real self-image breaker, is what a funky rock & roll guitar player called me one day. “Man, you’re the jazz police,” he said, with the beginnings of a sneer. I like the guy, we get along fine, but there it was… the hard truth. Having been thusly re-defined by a fellow musician, I was forced to ask the musical question, “He can’t be right, can he?” Followed closely by, “My god, who am I, really??”


Let’s Make A Deal


Back in the ’70’s and ’80’s, “getting a record deal” was pretty much the summit, the dream for many of us working musicians and composers. Tim McCabe, an Atlanta singer & guitarist, had made a few records and had some connections in Nashville. In a moment of desperation I took some recorded songs from my latest album attempt out to his house, to have him listen to them and give me some help, or at least some helpful advice.

And I wasn’t disappointed. Or rather, I was… He sat and listened to three of my tunes, then leaned back and rubbed his chin. “You know, Steve, I’ve heard some of your work before. It’s good. Here’s the problem: your intros are so good I start thinking that the following song is really going to be something… but it isn’t. Your intros are always better than the main song. It’s weird, your songs aren’t very strong at all, but the intros are killers!”

Man, did that ever take the air out of me, because Tim always had a good ear for commercial music. I slinked home, thinking he was full of it, that he didn’t understand either me or my music, then put a couple of my pieces on and listened to them objectively, and damn… he was right!

Then there was that music conference I attended in L.A. one year. On one of the breaks, a few of us were playing the grand piano for each other. One guy, who was at least ten years younger than I, was a way better player than I. We struck up a conversation after and he asked me where I worked. I told him I wrote and recorded jingles and corporate film scores at Doppler Studios in Atlanta. He smiled brightly and said, “Oh, so you’re a playing arranger!”

In musician speak, that means you can play, but you’re not a piano player, or jazz player, which, up until that moment, I thought I was. The more I thought about what that kid said, the more it hurt. And it wasn’t until years later that I realized he was actually more right than wrong. Oh, I’m a good (not great) jazz piano player, but my real strength is in arranging for bands and orchestras. My self perception had been skewed… for years!


And Finally The Light Comes On


One very late winter’s night in my cabin in Montana I was sitting next to my wood stove, sipping a brandy, listening to classical music off the internet. I was half asleep when I heard a piece that sounded like something I might have composed, as I have attempted writing classical music from time to time. It sounded so close to my style, so strangely familiar that I looked over at the tv screen to see the composer’s name… which I’ve since forgotten. Went over to the computer and googled the guy. A wikipedia on him came up right away. He was a mid-19th century composer from Europe, whom the account described as a “prolific but mediocre composer of the period.”

I retreated to my brandy and warm stove to think about it. Could that guy have been a previous me? Have I come back as a prolific but mediocre composer? The more I pondered it, the more sense it made. I’ve never composed a famous work of any kind, but have written and recorded several hundred jingles… hmm.

The next day, this whole episode seemed somewhat like a dream to me, and I’ve wondered since whether it actually happened, or if I simply fell asleep in front of the cozy fire and had a funny little dream. Regardless, I’ve since come to the realization that I am, indeed, a prolific but mediocre composer, lucky enough to have made a living at it for over thirty years. To keep my delicate ego at least somewhat intact, I must tell you that I once sold a song I wrote and recorded called Brazilian Sunset, to a British music-licensing company, for $5,000. Ahh… at least a flash of brilliance in a sea of mediocrity!

Here is Brazilian Sunset –


So who are we, really?? Hell, truth be known, I haven’t a clue. Scientists and psychologists tell us we change constantly, all through our lives. Yet many of us feel we’re unable to change either ourselves or others. What the truth is of all this is beyond me. I know I’ve changed and many of my friends have as well. Yet I have an old buddy in Montana who still talks and acts the very same way he did in high school, still listens to 50’s rock and roll, still rolls his cigarettes up in the sleeve of his white t-shirt and drives a customized ’54 Chevy pickup. He’ll be 77 this month.

My feeling is that “who we are and how we are” actually does change over the years to one degree or another, on some sort of personal moving scale. Hopefully we don’t stay mired in our own misconceptions, as knowing the truth (or close to it) about ourselves and our loved ones always moves us closer to a better understanding of the world in which we live. And when we are able to see ourselves clearly as part of all humanity, magical things begin to happen to us… like peace, harmony and compassion!

Steve Hulse



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