When Little Guys Strike Back

I remember, as a child, my soccer coach telling me that the most vulnerable time for a team is in the 5 to 10 minutes after they’ve scored a goal. If you were the team who had just scored, it was time to take your game to the next level. If you were the team digging the ball out of your own net, it was time to wipe away discouragement and strike back.

Kevin scored some good shows for us in our May 2007 England tour, plus a feature at a tiny festival in Germany. It fell short of the $15,000 goal I had set, but it enabled us to pay our bills. Our bank accounts and emotional well-being desperately needed some relief. We’d watched the golden splendor of sunset over the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, photographed every angle and inch of the Sydney Opera House, and recorded a version of “George” with an aborigine playing a didgeridoo, but our Australia trip had nearly broken us. Inspiring people to pursue their dreams and change the world feels great—unless you see yourself slipping further and further into debt to do it.

Tensions rose, and arguments erupted with more and more frequency. Paul felt like he had taken the worst of our suffering and held me responsible since I had made the decisions. I escaped his disapproval by spending time with more and more girls on our tours. Plane rides home found us trying to sit apart from each other and me crying at cheesy movies. We needed rest.

Writers and artists rarely fail for lack of talent or vision. The roster of less than genius personalities lining CD aisles and art galleries shows clear enough proof of that. If you don’t have a place of neutral ground to escape the pressures of a dream that’s become your source of identity and livelihood, relational conflicts will eat you alive. Thank God we had a full band.

Trips with the band had always saved Paul and me. Traveling with other guys than just the two of us shoved in a cramped space felt like heaven. I got to play sports with Eric Allen, our drummer and resident überjock. Paul lapped up the quirky love of Arby’s and grumpy humor of our bassist, Jason Peavey. Eric, Jason & my keyboardist brother, Dave, loved the chance to get out on the road. After three weeks of rest, the band was back together.

Kevin had set up a performance at Stubbs, one of the best clubs in Austin, and then a paid show at Cornerstone Festival, where I’d tried unsuccessfully for four years to get us in on an unpaid stage. Sadly, we didn’t make any money on our band tour, and our performance at Cornerstone left us with another taste of giving our all for a tiny crowd, even if some of them had come all the way from England to hear us. Something inside me wondered why it seemed to always be that way.

Not long after we had arrived at Cornerstone, I noticed Bradley Hathaway, another Spoken Word artist, who’d found far more industry success than I had, giving a writer’s seminar. We’d met once, and I tried to speak positively about him every time I heard, “You remind me of Bradley Hathaway.” But something inside me still craved to be acknowledged as his forerunner, as a more accomplished writer, as better. Seeing him in the position of teacher only heightened my jealousy as I approached the crowd.

“Oh, my gosh, people, it’s Peter Nevland,” Bradley said. All eyes under the white canvas riveted on me. “He’s an incredible Spoken Word artist! Peter, what are you doing here at Cornerstone? Do you have a show?”

“Yeah, we play tomorrow,”

“What time?”

“3pm in the Gallery tent.”

“Ok, people, you’ve got to go see Peter perform,” Bradley continued. “His show is truly amazing!”

I hung my head in shame. Afterward, I talked with Bradley, and we agreed to hang out the next day after the band’s performance. He was such a nice guy, and I could tell that he looked up to me, despite his greater amount of success. When we started talking, he opened up.

“Man, I feel like I just can’t take it much longer,” Bradley started. “My soul’s going a different direction than all my fans want, and I’m not very good at singing and playing music, but it’s just coming out of me. I feel like I need to be doing more.”

Something in me broke. Here I had envied the ease with which he seemed to bounce through life and his performance career, garnering articles, publishing deals, and being recognized by fans—and he was struggling just as much as I was. “You want to be more mature than him? You wash his feet,” I heard in my head.

My arm slipped around his shoulder, and I started telling him how well he’d done. I poured out all the words I longed to hear someone say to me: “You couldn’t have done any better, Bradley. I’m praying for God to open up even bigger doors for you so you can influence even more kids and play to even bigger audiences. I’m so proud of you.”

Tears mingled from both our faces as we sat on a trailer hitch outside the pressure of spotlights, careers, and the endless pursuit of enormous vision.. Every once in a while, one of his fans would find us and interrupt to tell Bradley how cool they thought he was or how they’d been inspired to start writing because of him. I smiled silently, savoring the taste of humble pie. “Man, do you think you can help me get into some shows in England?” Bradley asked. Everyone thinks the grass is greener somewhere else.

Paul and I stocked up as much as possible on our CDs, T-shirts, and other products, and then headed back to England three weeks after our band tour, Kevin accompanying us. We sold more merchandise than our two previous England trips combined and came home loaded with money. The impact we made performing and teaching kids at the Soul Survivor Festivals and Creation Fest truly overwhelms my mind when I think about it. I don’t know how we could have done any better. Yet it still wasn’t enough to dig us out of our financial hole.

We’d struck back. Most of me felt as if we’d struck out. I held the countless letters, words, and meals lavished on us by fans-turned-to-friends in one hand, and my difficult relationship with Paul, our financial woes, and the rejection of the music industry in the other. No one else saw us as anything less than courageous, unstoppable, charismatic, and talented—but our aching bodies longed for greater comfort than we could find in our single beds late at night. I couldn’t imagine doing anything more than we were already doing. Survival seemed impossible if we did anything less. Winds of change howled in the distance.

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