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  • Writer's pictureBrian Vander Ark

Are You Comfortably Numb?

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

“No more washing my hair with hotel soap!” I exclaimed to the crumbling tile and shower curtain, stained brown at the bottom just above the rising water. I was in a hotel shower at a Ramada just off I-80. I cracked the seal of the fancy bottle of shampoo I had just purchased across the street at a drugstore, then lathered my hair into a renaissance wig. Suave Orchid Pedal was a whopping $6.99, but now that I’ve signed a record deal, I can afford it. I think I may even rinse and repeat.

I was finally a successful musician. The odds were seemingly insurmountable—a kid from Grand Rapids, Michigan making it as a rock star? Laughable. During my younger years, I was advised against it by teachers and guidance counselors. I saw the assessment in the eyes of the parents when I picked up their daughters for a date: Loser. (In their defense, most times I would show up at the door wearing shorts and combat boots—covering my grunge rock costume with a long coat in the winter. After all, it was the 90s.)

I had set my goals very high. Nothing less than rock stardom! I would play Letterman and Leno one day. I would play sold-out shows, have a tour bus and a semi-truck carrying our stage setup, and my wardrobe (40 pairs of shorts and 12 pairs of combat boots take up a surprising amount of space.)

Now that the rock star goals have been met, I have to tell myself to keep reaching. Keep pushing myself. Keep setting lofty goals. In other words, I remind myself not to be comfortably numb.

What does that mean to me? Aside from the obvious Pink Floyd drug reference—these days describing my suburban life, where I become an unmovable mountain, sinking into my favorite chair with a bourbon following an especially tough day.

The comfortably numb I’m talking about here is complacency. Being satisfied with our achievements, meeting the bar that hasn’t been raised in years. New goals that have been easily attained, set barely out of our reach. Sufficient for the semi-retired, as I hope to be in twenty years, but now? I need to do more. Be more.

Lately, I’ve been fighting my grungy 90s rock star voice that says, “giving advice to people is not cool, dude. Stay in your lane, play the mysterious rocker role. Don’t get all Dr. Phil.” So, I’m going to get uncomfortable now and give you some advice: Don’t get comfortably numb.

That skill you always wanted to learn, that instrument you’ve wanted to play, or that book you’ve wanted to write? It’s time. Lock yourself in a room for 15 minutes and write two lines that rhyme (‘man I really love to rhyme, I can do it anytime!’ is an ok start, but you can do better.) Or pluck out a melody on that guitar that’s gathering dust. I want you to get the blood pumping to the right side of your brain—the creative side.

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘get your creative juices flowing.’ Start by treating the right side of your brain as if it’s a muscle; Work it out daily, and soon you’ll get to those creative places faster and more efficiently. You’ll write with more confidence, play an instrument better, and most importantly, you’ll start thinking outside the box. We all need to do that to adapt to today’s ever-changing world.

Some of you are thinking, “I’d like to play piano, but if I only practice 15 minutes a day, I’ll be 70 years old before I’m any good.” Newsflash: You’re going to be 70 either way. Why not be 70 and know how to play the piano?

Whew, there. I feel like I did something that jolted me out of being comfortably numb.

Now—I’m going to take a shower, put on a bathrobe, sit in my favorite chair and enjoy a bourbon. Or maybe it’s time to train my palate with some wine tasting while I enjoy a bath instead?

What pairs best with Suave Orchid Pedal?

Brian Vander Ark is the lead singer of The Verve Pipe. He performed a version of Comfortably Numb and had a short conversation with Simeon Hernandez about what it means - you can watch it here.

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