My Five Minutes of Small-Town Fame

Daniella Cressman
Janis Straume

I still remember my five minutes of fame.

I had been working my ass off to master the intricacies of playing the saxophone.

I’d forced each note out until my fingers had danced across the keys.

I’d gotten faster, and better.

I’d feigned a passion for jazz until it finally became a reality, but there was a secret I held deep within the recesses of my heart: I wanted to be a singer/songwriter who played electric guitar and wrote my own songs.

The only trouble was that I wasn’t “allowed” to select this particular stringed instrument as part of the school curriculum in sixth grade, so I opted for the saxophone, which was my way of shouting at the world poetically instead of choosing to play the cello — It hurt my heartstrings as it reminded me of a depressed bumblebee who refused to shut up.

It worked.

People started being nicer to me by the time I was in high school.

I’d planned to switch to the guitar by the time I reached ninth grade and take some singing lessons.

Apparently, I couldn’t sing according to my choir teacher, and that broke my heart, but hell, Bob Dylan couldn’t sing and he still did alright: The man was a brilliant poet.

I believed that I was too.

I still love poetry, and art is subjective, after all.

To this day, I pen songs by candle light and sing them to myself as my fingers strum a few chords to accompany the words.

I’m actually quite proud of the tales I tell, but I no longer want to share them with anyone.

They’re for myself, and they’re also deeply personal: They’re a way for me to share my unfiltered thoughts about the world with an empty room and a tortured soul.

They make me feel more alive.

They’re a sacred form of therapy, but they’re confidential: I don’t want to focus on honing this craft or getting better at the guitar— I don’t play for other people and I don’t ever really want to; I only want to play for myself.

That was the whole problem with the saxophone: It was for everyone except myself.

I enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong, but the pressure became unbearable.

People didn’t want me to stop playing, yet nothing seemed to live up to one spectacular performance, according to the audience, that had taken place years prior.

Unfortunately, the drama within the jazz band and my many complicated emotions towards one individual made quitting an instrument I was no longer all that passionate about even more challenging.

In retrospect, I probably should have just switched over to the guitar, because that’s I wanted, but I instead set out on the impossible journey of trying to please other people more than myself.

My playing always seemed to fall short, and their friendship and praise was incredibly conditional.

People who had been outright mean to me before suddenly showered me with praise if I had a good night.

If I had a bad night, they were quick to tell me what I should do better and let me know how I was out of tune or off-beat.

Did they play an instrument?

Of course not: They refused to take such a risk, but they still took it upon themselves to provide me with feedback about something they weren’t really familiar with in the first place!

Perhaps the most painful part of this experience was the loneliness: I was defined by my art.

If I played a sad song, people assumed that I must be in a dark place.

A sexual song was clearly a reflection of my mood, and, apparently, I was supposed to be feeling a certain way according to their own musical tastes.

Perhaps this seems ungrateful, but it isn’t meant to be.

I just realized, due to what some might call small-town fame, that performing music publicly on a regular basis and trying to earn a living from it was most definitely not for me.

Everything was a show.

My life became a show.

My art was me to other people, but the person behind it felt stifled, and my musical expression became forced as a result.

The saxophone was my personality apparently.

My soul felt unimaginably hollow behind closed doors, when no one was watching, providing me with feedback, or cheering me on.

It felt like the musician inside of me was the only part of my personality anyone actually wanted to get to know, and that hurt in a way that is difficult to explain, because humans are complicated: My ego was sufficiently satisfied by the attention; my heart was not.

It felt like I was in a cage of my own making: It seemed like trying to actually get to know other people — even other musicians — went nowhere, unless someone wanted to have sex with me.

Even if that was the case, it still went nowhere because I wasn’t into that.

People wanted to get to know the musician: Not the person behind the music.

Loyalty, praise, and affection always had its limits.

The whole experience was honestly exasperating: People thought they knew me intimately from my performances when they really didn’t know me at all, and hadn’t even really wanted to be on good terms before I’d turned to playing the saxophone as a way to vent about the alienation I was experiencing.

Their desires for me to share my music with them in the way they wanted me to became stifling, yet my passion for the saxophone continued to dwindle: I’d started playing to gain popularity, I’d succeeded, and then I’d realized that, the moment the crowds were gone and I was forced to learn scales to improve my art, I wasn’t really all that into the instrument in the first place.

I was playing for everyone except myself, and of course it began to sound different than it had during those first few years of lust I had once held for the instrument.

People started sexualizing me and I resented that, because — although I can be a very passionate, seductive person — I did not care to be objectified simply because I’d chosen to pursue music.

My five minutes of small-town fame taught me that all of the recognition in the world won’t fill up an empty soul if you’re not engaging in art because you want to and you’ve simply started trying to fulfill everyone else’s expectations.

Your art will never be good enough for everyone, and if it’s only for other people it won’t ever satisfy you either.

If you’re not creating for the right reasons, you’ll fail because you won’t be resilient enough to cope with the ups and downs of public opinion.

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Canadian-American author writing about local politics, personal finance, & dining in Albuquerque.

Albuquerque, NM

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