By Rob Jones
When Robin Williams committed suicide a few weeks back, I was sad, but moreso due to the world losing a comedic hero…. not because I mourned the loss of a fellow human being, even one that was so clearly broken.
It’s not like I didn’t care. On the contrary, I was a lifelong fan of Robin’s, starting with his first appearance on Happy Days, and eventually his tenure as the star of Mork and Mindy. He was just so wonderfully funny then. Unbridled and rare, he worked with manic fury and seemed inhuman and uncontainable. He was beyond quick witted as we all know, yet inside he was broken: a sad, angry, troubled man that was ultimately successful at the one thing that destroyed him: Depression.
So, it came as quite a surprise to me that his death reminded me of myself.
Now, to be fair, I’m not walking around in a depressive haze, fighting with every fiber of my being to will myself to live one more day. No. However, his death spoke to me because it reminded me so much of myself and what I believe(d) about my identity. He reminded me how much time I spent smiling on the outside and frowning on the inside.
So, today is the day I get it all out. Congratulations, because if you’re reading this, you get an inside seat into what it’s like to be Rob Jones. Never has the title of my website seemed more poignant.
To begin, I was born in 1966 in a small town in Southwestern Washington state. I was raised by clean living, God fearing parents who doted on me and loved my brother and I with endless passion. Our family had friends that lived nearby that also cared for us like second or third generation parents. It was very special and that climate spawned my love for music and my passion to pursue art, reading, writing, and a love for all things cinematic.
We moved many times over the years, as my father was in the car business. First, as a mechanic, then eventually into auto sales and management. We went where the jobs went and during the decade of the 1970’s, that meant a lot of addresses. It’s funny, because I can still recall them all, along with their accompanying phone numbers. When you’re little, memorization seems to be the one skill we all share.
At the age of 4, my parents had heard me mention how much I loved drums as I had shown t he desire to learn how to play. Because my mother was what I always called the most famous singer that nobody knew, she recognized my desire and chose to nurture it. Lo and behold, I was presented with a small drumset that ultimately became a source of idolatry for me. I developed quickly and in a few years, I was already showing clearly adult level skills that needed coaching and lessons.
When we moved to a new town in 1974, my parents arranged for me to see a drum teacher in the area that came as highly regarded. One evening, I went over to his home for my first official lesson. As I played for him, he began to frown. I recall this very clearly, because playing always brought me joy as a youngster, so seeing someone feel different stuck in my memory. When he drove me home that evening, he walked me into my house, and asked to speak to my mother. I was sent off to my room, but fearing that I had done something wrong, I waited around the corner, listening in on their conversation.
“Mrs. Jones, I cannot teach your son.”
“Why? What did he do wrong?”
“He didn’t do anything wrong. He’s better than I am.”
Now, to be clear, I’m not sharing this with you today to brag that I was somehow better than the teacher. On the contrary, there may have been other concerns on his part or he may just have wanted to satiate my mother’s desire for my successes. Yet, I don’t think I clearly recognized the power of his statement until a few years later, when it may have been too late for my developing mind and psyche.
Friends used to come over and just watch me play along with records. At the time, I was a bit obsessive with (of all things) the Bay City Rollers and Electric Light Orchestra. I love the Rollers because it was what I believed to be “rock and roll” and ELO reflected my penchant for classically influenced music, mixed with first generation rock and roll. Basically, I liked (and still like) rock a lot.
A few years later, we loved to the tiny central Washington town of Tonasket. Tonasket was a farming and fruit orchard community in the middle of nowhere (at least to me), so I wasn’t too interested in moving there. I longed for the chance to live in a city, near bright lights and art… the theater, movies and concerts. I wanted to see KISS and Kansas and Styx and the Tubes and they certainly weren’t bringing a concert tour to rural Washington state anytime soon.
What was interesting about moving to Tonasket, though, was that it would be the single most influential place I ever lived. It’s where I made the decision to be a “professional” musician, and where some of my best friendships were formed (and many of which I still carry to this day). A day after moving to Tonasket, I was sitting in my 5th grade classroom, doing a project, when I was called to the office. Upon arriving, I was escorted across the parking lot to the high school (I told you it was a small town) and asked to meet with the music teacher, Wally Moore. I was told he would be waiting in the band room.
When I stepped into the room, I was greeted by a very large crowd, probably close to 150 people, all waiting for something, but I didn’t know what. As I walked down the stairs into the room, Mr. Moore came up to me, extended his hand and said “I’m Mr. Moore. We heard you were coming, and we’d like you to try out a new drum set the school is considering. Would you be ok with playing a bit for us and giving us your opinion?”
What? What do you mean “you heard I was coming?” I was floored. I was 10 years old and I was being asked, in front of a large crowd, if I would basically do a drum solo and give my 10 year old opinion on the quality of this drum set they were looking to buy. Even today, this request seems insane. Yet, it did happen. Of course, being 10 years old (and a bit of a ham), I sacrificed my artistic integrity to solo the heck out of that kit. After 15 minutes or so, I stopped, gave a thumbs up and asked if I could go back to my 5th grade class. Mr. Moore said thank you and it was over. Within a few days, I was asked to be the drummer for the high school jazz band, and also if they could feature me in the town music concert. I played with the concert band, played a Stevie Wonder tune with the jazz band, and did a drum solo. This was all within 2 weeks of arriving in town.
I spent the next 4 years living there, running home after school to play my drums, determined to learn more, get better and find fame: My destiny, as it were.
Ultimately, we moved a few more times until we settled in Olympia, Wa. where I graduated high school. I credit a few friends there, chiefly Evan Schiller, for forcing me to open my perspectives on music and how art and commerce didn’t necessarily have to combine.
Thank you, Evan, for introducing me to the world of “difficult music.”
I left Olympia to go to college in Portland, OR. and after a few years, ended up in the US Navy. After a 2 year stint trying to find a reason for signing up for submarine duty, the Chief of my boat, Master Chief Olsen, helped me get an audition with the Navy Band, where I ended up for the remaining years on my enlistment. During this period, I gained some of the most important relationships I would ever have, and met some of the most amazing musicians this world has ever produced.
After 7 years in the service, I was living in the Seattle area, where I was determined to take advantage of the fleeting music scene’s popularity, and get a record deal before I was OLD. After a number of starts and stops, I ended up in Swerve, a conglomerate of local players, and knew this was my ticket. We had a producer, great songs, a beautiful singer, and super talented guitar/bass players. We were on. Then, as quick as it ramped up, the choices of a local producer sent us in a different direction which ultimately ended in our disbandment.
After a few years, I was able to make one last attempt at “making it” before that ended in a washout in late 2003.
I decided that I was now too old for the music business and that I needed income. I needed to be a “normal” guy, living in a normal circumstance, working a normal job, earning a normal wage. I was remarried by now and it was time to grow up.
I do look back, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to play music with a number of iconic local, national, and international players. It was a blast and I learned so much about people, as well as developed skills I wouldn’t have without that level of exposure.
I ended up working in the insurance business, then adding in some real estate and financial licenses because I was getting quickly bored. Then, cut to 2008, when I got sued by a former business partner, then the chaos of helping a good fried escape the clutches of the US government and boom…. business stopped being good. In fact, business dried up altogether, along with my spirit and drive. I started blaming everyone else and found myself getting bitter. Adding to the mix were my kids growing up, moving out and getting married and it’s a recipe for distraction, which in my case lead to a few small disasters.
In 2010, I started a business which promptly failed, then spent the next few years doing what I could to re-establish myself as a viable professional, deserving of success, fame and money. The problem was more significant, though. I had changed so profoundly during the last 5 years that it wasn’t only a struggle to get back to who I was and where I was. It was that I didn’t believe in what I used to do and going back was a worthless consideration. By the time I got to 2012, I had decided the best course of action was a restart, both financially and in my career.
By the end of 2013, something came crashing into my head like a ton of bricks. I had spent a lifetime expecting a payoff. It was always about the payoff. The problem was I’d never picked a side, so there was no payoff. What do I mean by this? Well… I’ll tell you.
When I was little, my mother had noticed how much I loved music…. how clear it was that I was empowered by it and that it drove a part of my soul. She made a comment I’ll never forget, nor will I forget the thought that ran through my mind: “You know, Robbie…. you can play music for God. He gave you the gift. You should give that gift back to Him.”
In my head, I only heard one thing: “No way. God is boring. He’s not cool. Besides, you can’t play rock and roll for God.” Granted, this was 1972 or so, and there weren’t any Christian rock bands, but that’s besides the point. It wasn’t cool and there was no way I was going to do it.
The problem with my life, though, was that I never picked a side. Because I grew up in a Christian household, I knew what I knew and felt compelled to be a certain type of person. What I think of as a church-y person…i.e.: one who wears certain clothes, talks about God all the time, never swears, waits until they’re married to have sex, and basically lives their lives like someone on TBN. That was NOT me. However, the natural compulsion to “do good” and to live as my parents expected was a huge part of me. I couldn’t, and didn’t want to, give that lifestyle up. I never did.
When I was in the music world, especially the music scene, there was an expectation to be and live a certain way. One has to be ok with virtually everything, and somewhat endorse it. You’re not cool if you’re not drinking, partying, screwing, or living like everyone else. Think about it. If you’re not doing what everyone else is doing, you don’t fit in, and I clearly didn’t fit in. I never felt like I could do it, as I didn’t want to lose myself in a haze of bad choices. I know me. I would have dug into drugs and women and ruined lives, chiefly my own.
So, the dilemma was clear. I had lived a life on the fence. I had never jumped all in. I had never joined a team. Because I wasn’t on A team, I wasn’t on ANY team. Therefore, how could either side believe or treat me as if I belonged?
1) I wasn’t interested in the seedier sides of the music business and I didn’t want to (figuratively) lose my soul.
2) I didn’t want to be labelled as a Christian, because that’s not only boring, it’s uncool and God knows I was desperate to somehow be recognized as cool.
Who would state that they were a Christian if they weren’t? That’s asking for an awful lot of heartache and ridicule. Heck, I might lose “friends” on Facebook and followers on Twitter and LinkedIn. That sounds so silly, but it has been a concern, because I feel like I actually have traction now.
What to do? Well, I had to pick a side.
I chose Jesus. I chose to be aligned with God. Yes, I am a human being. No, I don’t judge anyone intentionally. Yes, I have made huge hypocritical mistakes and said terrible things that HAVE hurt many people. I have proclivities that I know are unsavory and I struggle with them on a daily basis, but day by day God has not only revealed Himself to be King in my life, but is teaching me how to have dominion over my failings and the enemy.
For those that I’ve hurt with my words or actions, I am so sorry. We all grow up and out, but I took a weird road to get there. I am sorry that I let many of you down. I’m sorry that I wasn’t committed to being the man you thought I was. I’m sorry to my ex-wife for being a terrible husband. I’m sorry to my children for failing as a leader and as a father. I’m sorry for being angry when you needed a hug or simply love. I’m sorry.
Today, I started reading a book called Love is letting go of Fear. It’s not the reason I wrote this blog today, as it’s been on my mind for a LONG time. No, the reason I mention the book is that the timing of it reappearing in my life is clearly divine. It’s been on my night stand for some time, and had a thin layer of dust. It was a gift from my friend, Paul, and he wrote something quite poignant in the forward (when he gifted it to me).
He said “You are loved. You are power.”
He’s right. My friend Jenny is right. My friend Rick is right. My friend Macky is right. It’s time I revealed who I am and where I was and that it DOESN’T matter, because I’ve been lead here… right now, to write this, to share this with you and to FINALLY escape the failings and fears from my past. As my mother wrote recently, God is THE GREAT I AM. Not the great I WAS. These are such powerful simple truthful words. God is here, right now. He’s not in the past. He’s promised a future, but he’s ONLY here, right now.
So, here I am, wondering what to do next with my life, both personally and professionally (or both). If you’re the praying type, I’d love for you to consider lifting my family up, as we discover the path of our lives from here on out. What an exciting place to be!
Should we move to Japan? Stay in the Seattle area? All I know is I’m supposed to go big. There is no going home. Not until I die.
Hopefully, this blog today will act as an inspiration to someone out there, somewhere, who needed to read that they aren’t alone in their troubles or thoughts, and that there IS a plan. Let go of fear. Love like the world lives and dies on it, and you’ll be fine.
As Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “there can be no future without forgiveness.” I wish Robin Williams had read that. Maybe it would have given him the hope to live on and enjoy his old age. It’s sad that we’ll never know, but you don’t have to carry your failings with you any more. You can release them. Let go of fear. Today. Don’t wait 47 years (or longer) to live the one life you have in front of you. Go. Be special and valuable. Do it now.