Why I Stopped Doing Shows

Why I Stopped Doing Shows
By Gary Flanagan

One question that I get more than any other is “do you have any live shows coming up?”. My answer is usually something along the lines of “not really”. I am always extremely grateful and happy when people tell me very positive remarks about my live performances. When I think back, I remember a lot of good times, big smiles, friendly characters and people dancing. I know that it looked like I was having a good time. And much of the time I was. So I can understand why some folks are a bit confused why I stopped.
The thing is, I can’t just answer that question with one quick and easy answer. Truthfully there were many reasons why I stopped. I am going to try and outline them here.
Most people who are close to me know that I have been facing many health issues over the last ten years or so. I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 32. That had a huge impact on my health. Shortly thereafter I began to have issues with a chronic infection in my leg, known as recurring cellulitis. In the beginning, these would only happen once every few months, but eventually they would strike monthly. Each time they hit, I am severely weak for about 2-3 days and I run a high fever. I am usually bed ridden, and my leg gets very swollen, red and sore. These episodes hit without warning. Needless to say, they have put a huge damper on my personal life. Because they are so unpredictable, it is hard to plan any trips, attend many social functions, or just generally commit myself to anything. You can certainly see how this would put a damper on any potential shows. Most promoters do not want to hear you say “well, I may be able to perform that night, or maybe I won’t”.
Add to this the general fact that I tend to get very nervous in crowds, and the fact that I have dealt with crippling stage fright for most of my life. Even back in my late teens and early twenties when I was doing local theatre, I would get incredibly nervous right before I went on stage. Those levels of anxiety only seemed to get heightened as I got older. People would often comment that I had enormous stage presence and self-confidence when I got on stage. Trust me, that was an act.
Another big reason why I stopped had to do with disrespect. One thing I noticed consistently since my very first live gig was that for every one person who showered me with compliments and positivity and nice comments about me and my shows, there were five people who simply did not “get me”. I would be the first to admit that what I did on stage was very quirky, bizarre and “out there”. I totally get that. If I walked into a venue and saw some guy on stage doing what I used to do, I would love it. But that’s just me. I am into things that are oddball and weird. But I realized over time, and in a very sobering way, that not everyone is that open-minded. And lots of people do not have a sense of humour. My whole thing was “hey everyone, let’s cut loose and have fun!”. But, I learned that not everyone is willing or wants to let loose and have fun at a show. Some people like to go to shows to share in their anger and negativity. I don’t blame these people. I was probably in that same headspace many years ago. I just got very tired of people saying endless rude comments to my face. I had people throw stuff at me, and threaten me. Again, I seemed to really polarize people. They either loved me or despised me. To everyone who adorned me with your love and warmth, I am so thankful. It just seemed to reach a point where the numbers were way out of balance. The ones who loved what I did seemed to get drowned out by the ones who didn’t.
And funny enough, this just didn’t apply to the audience members. I found a lot of promoters and show organizers really didn’t know what to do with me either. Again, there were many promoters who were very kind to me, very respectful and very pleasant to deal with. But on the other hand there were several occasions where people in the “biz” would flat out tell me they had no clue what to do with me (guess I just don’t fit into a neat little box), that I was just too odd or “not maritime enough”, or that I was a threat to beer sales. Or I would be promised compensation and never received it. As I’ve said a million times before, I don’t do music to make money. But I don’t do it to lose money either.
I wish I could have been strong enough to tell the haters to fuck off. I wish I had been thick skinned enough to just push on and ignore them and keep doing my thing for the ones who got me. I wish I could have kept flying my flag for all the misfits and weirdos who appreciated what I did. But to be honest I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t that strong. I wasn’t that tough. It just really got to me after a while and I decided the best thing to do was just quietly bow out.
As I mentioned earlier, the character that I became on stage was just that, a character. I created a huge, larger-than-life persona that was very animated, quirky and ready to make people laugh. But the issue was that that persona was so incredibly not me. Take everything that I am in everyday reality, and that character was the polar opposite of it. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am very shy, quiet and introverted. Incredibly introverted. I am very awkward in groups and just never, ever fit in. That alter-ego that I became on stage was none of that. He was everything I always wished I could be. It became hard for me to live up to that. It was difficult for me to be that image when I was not on stage. And it seemed people wanted me to be that guy when I was not onstage. People just couldn’t seem to separate the character from the guy I was in everyday life. I felt like I was very trapped in that role, and that bothered me. I had a feeling that the quiet, demure guy I was in reality had to live in the shadows of the big, larger-than-life cartoon character I was on stage. I got tired of that. Again, I felt the best thing to do was just walk away.
As things stand right now, I would not say that I would never do a show ever again. I never like to say never. I actually would do a show if all of the conditions were right. If I felt the venue was suitable, the crowd was into what I do, and there was general respect all around, I would be happy to do a gig once in a blue moon. I’m sure that day will come sometime in the future.
-Gary

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