The End of Hope

By September 2008 I was spending a relatively small amount of time on music. More and more of my energy was focused on my budding career in development. Thanks to Gene, though, I was still in the game.

Earlier that summer, despite my mounting debt, I managed to spend another $1,000 recording some demos with Brett Kull, who produced my first solo album a few years earlier. With Gene actively shopping my songs to music supervisors, as far as I was concerned, there was still hope. Once or twice a week he would get a tip on a TV show or film that needed some music “in my style” and I’d frantically drop everything to pop a CD in a Fed Ex envelope—at $25 a package. It was exciting. Just one bite, that’s all I needed. One placement in a blockbuster movie could rescue me from what increasingly appeared to be the inevitable—a less-than-extraordinary life. But as I drove around West Hartford on September 15, 2008, running errands I couldn’t afford to run, I felt vulnerable. Work, a concept I’d historically considered with varying degrees of ambivalence, was becoming more important to me by the minute. Given the house of cards I’d constructed, it was the one thing standing between me and financial ruin.

I realized that if I lost my job, I wouldn’t last a month. My house, my car—everything would be gone.

Furthermore, Susan would be forced to abandon her dream. Over the past several years the musician had become the bread winner. I was proud to be. It was one of the few non-emasculating aspects of my life. But if I lost my income, we’d both be left scrambling to find a job. All she’d worked toward for six years with her business would have been erased. And after having squandered every privilege my dad worked so hard to give me, the thought of crawling to him for help was unthinkable.

My employment was the thread that held everything together.

I was under the kind of grown-up pressure I’d spent my whole life avoiding. I needed to become a good adult, quickly. Suddenly, the dream of music was a luxury I could no longer afford. I not only needed to continue down this path toward a career in major gifts; I also needed to commit. I needed to finally dive in—and I needed to become great at it. I knew there were a lot of mediocre fundraisers out there, but because there was such a demand for them, even most of the iffy ones were employed. If I could do it and be excellent, exceptional, the best at something so difficult, I would have job security practically on par with tenure.

I also knew that if I could learn how to fundraise, I could help Susan with her endeavor because the only thing separating her from success, at the end of the day, was money. She was passionate, driven, resolute, visionary, but she didn’t know how to fundraise.

So, just as I’d quit so many other jobs over the years, I quit music. The one constant amid my various career dalliances was now itself over.

To this day, when you look at mitchlinker.com, it’s like I died in 2008. No gig updates, no new reviews, no new music. And no social media—no Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, blogs, or podcasts. The silver lining was that I was spared the need to embrace the new media, new ways of pretending I had a career. So many ways of wasting time, energy, and cash emerged in the years after I gave up. If money hadn’t put me over the edge, needing to tweet feverishly might have.

The change was abrupt. I finally pulled the plug on my music career, which had existed on life-support for years. In fact, I developed a complete and utter aversion to spending any time or money on music. Over the next several years, I’d occasionally dabble with songs, recording bits and pieces with my digital recorder or smart phone. But those moments were fleeting. I couldn’t justify spending more than a few minutes at a time, let alone investing any more money. And I knew if I did spend enough time on a song, inevitably, I’d want to record it in a fancy studio. And then I’d want to promote it, fostering the smallest hope that this recording would lead to my discovery. It was a vicious cycle, almost like an addiction. More time, more money. I couldn’t let myself go to that place anymore.

It wasn’t until the recession, when everything was on the line that I completely gave up. That’s what it took to finally stop pursuing any semblance of a career in music once and for all—the worst economic disaster in seventy years. It had to be that bad. A regular recession would not have done it.

“Never, never, never give up.”

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