I could hear the crowd stirring up a cacophony of excited whistles and teenage angst outside in the glassy, Mid-West cold from our green room. My veins were open full bore from the adrenaline pulsating through my body, and I could feel the heat from the stage as it wilted my hair that I spent the better part of an hour waxing and waning.
That morning, I had picked out my favorite black Rufio t-shirt and a pair of Gap 1969 jeans where I had worn in faded squares from my wallet and phone. Attached with a carabiner were my keys and all-access pass for the concerts I was playing with a band I had been in since I was 15. We had unloaded that afternoon after our traditional pre-show lunch at The BK Lounge, where we were always given the finest VIP treatment. Sound check was nothing new, except we had a new sound guy the record label had hired; he barked through the wireless in-ear pack attached to my baby, Celine – a real, bright red Les Paul Limited Edition that purred like a 1969 SS Camaro straight out of Detroit Rock City. God I loved that guitar. Our red conversion van aptly named, The Dragon Slayer, which rattled and rolled us through countless hours for gigs, sat idly by the loading dock collecting puffy snowflakes.
“Check, check, 1, 2. How now brown cow; unique New York; scotch is good; check, check. Hey Cage, can I get some more vocals in my monitor with a cut in mids across the board; I sound like I’m in a tin can. Where’s Dorothy and that stupid lion? I’m gonna be the Tin Man tonight,” I bantered with our new sound guy, testing his patience and likelihood of keeping his job. Quick on his feet, Cage called back smirking, “I keep trying to find the suck knob, but it looks like you already turned it high enough to break it.” I liked Cage.
I’ll never forget experiencing the overpowering sound that thousands of people can produce at a sold-out rock concert. I stepped confidently onto my battle ground and raised my hand, palm up, and motioned “come hither”. To this day, I blame my terrible tinnitus not on a lack of ear protection, but on the shrieking screams of teenagers that were addicted to the temporary shin-dig. I inserted my in-ear monitors and went to work on another city with my weapon of choice, Celine.
Playing songs about girls is great, but do I really want to be doing this for the rest of my life? It beat being in school like everyone else. After putzing our way around in The Dragon Slayer, I found myself working night and day for the record label that signed us right out of high school (literally one month after graduation) as an Artist & Repertoire (someone who signed and worked with other bands). Long story short, the label went belly up, filed for bankruptcy, got indicted by the IRS, and I lost my house, car, phone, and money overnight at twenty. I find stressful inadequate in truly describing the gravity of the situation considering the ten grand I owed to a debt collector I had never met before and my lack of everything but the clothes I owned – oh, and Celine; I still had her.
Being homeless was humbling, but it could have been worse. I put my resume together and landed a job for a TV show about sailboat racing. I know that sounds just exhilarating, but the pay, rum, and free travel were great. Filming ended, and I ended up in the music capital of the world where “chicken pickin’” country music, fried chicken, and ya’ll are staples. I finagled my way into a songwriting contract on music row, and snuck my way onto red carpets in just a couple of months. Soon, that got boring; so, I started designing bright lights and coordinating events. There had to be something more.
In music, my intention was always to help people to the best of my innate and learned abilities. Whether it was writing a song with someone about their grandmother passing, a breakup, or a night out on the town with bright lights and loud music to create memories that last a life time, I always wanted to use music to influence lives and mend callouses that can plague a person’s heart. Watching countless friends succumb to and wither away from the power of money, drugs, sex, and alcohol was enough to steer me in the direction of my bigger picture. Medicine had always been a contender because of the challenges it posed, but I always assumed the profession was reserved for kids who wore tennis sweaters and used phrases like “I do declare, good sir” and came from wealth – none of which described me, and still don’t, to say the least. Passion for people begot a unique life experience, which begged the following questions: Am I using my strengths and experiences to truly help my fellow man? How do I not just influence lives, but change them?’
So, I applied to a state school in Tennessee and traded my perfectly formed rock star hair and guitar case for a backpack full of Chemistry, Biology, Physics, and MCAT books. Never having really been much of a student, I put my head down and treated school like I did my jobs in music. Instead of sculpting and chiseling away at pop tunes, I was inundated with science and words I’d never even heard of before. In two quick years, my brain had been shaken like a snow globe, rewired, and put back in my head enough to where I was tutoring everyone around me. My leadership landed me the presidency of a great pre-medical organization and membership grew a couple hundred percent in just a year. My clinical experience was vastly expanded because the physicians loved to hear my “when I was in music” stories, and patients connected with me on a personal level since I wasn’t just another white coat. Pre-med was fun, hard, crazy, and a catacomb of mixed emotions from “you’ll never get accepted; work harder” to “you’ve got this; you’re nailing exams.” Sleepless nights, sweat, pulling my hair out, and a lot of missing out on beers with the guys who were still plunking around the world eventually led me to the lair of the ultimate dragon slayer – the MCAT.