“My name is George, and this past Thursday I was an alcoholic.”
Well…only on television. I had the opportunity to be an extra on the hit ABC show “Nashville” that shoots here in town, and was cast to be a recovering addict (along with about 30 other guys).
Despite the ridicule of family and friends, I do really like the show. Yes, it’s a bit of a soap opera, but the cast and writing is really good, and the music featured on “Nashville” is excellent. It’s cool seeing local landmarks, and the show endeavors to be as accurate to ‘the biz’ as possible.
I won’t bore you with plot lines, character arcs, or potential spoiler alerts. The scene we shot took place in the basement of the Downtown Presbyterian Church, doubling as a halfway house for recovering addicts and alcoholics.
One of the main characters, Deacon, was speaking to us residents in a largish AA style meeting. Deacon was a longtime musician and songwriter, always playing second fiddle to the stars, an incredible sideman hiding in the shadows of artists. Like many on that level, he had fought a terrible battle with drinking which landed him in our fictional treatment home.
Today he had come back to encourage us. To remind us that while we were all fighting terrible battles, they could be won. But not without cost…never without cost.
He was introduced as ‘one of us…been there and done that, our resident rock star, Deacon!’
“Thanks, Joe” he replies. “Wow. I’ve been called a lot of things. ‘Rock star…’ ‘Freakin’ Deacon…’ and some other names not so nice. ‘That damn drunk, and loser…or the defendant…'”
To which several of us laugh. Some a little too loudly.
His monologue continues with a heartbreaking story of how he fell off the wagon, and the disastrous consequences that followed him even to the present and beyond. It was fascinating just to watch the mechanics of shooting a scene for a major TV show. Equally fascinating was watching Charles Esten do take after take, each one deeper and more moving than the last.
Our job as extras was to sit and react. For me, I was imagining a backstory much like Deacon’s. Now I’m no addict, but I have plenty of experience seeing family and friends gripped by the demons of addiction. I’ve had front row seats to consequence. It didn’t require a performance to relate.
But early on, I stopped acting and reacting to this character. I listened to his story and his words. And art began to imitate life…
You see, he had me at ‘loser.’
I’m no innocent. I’m King David’s bastard son in word and deed. I’ve never fallen off any wagons, but I’ve certainly fallen. Choices have been made, and again I’ve had my front row consequential seat. I’ve never been called rock star or (thankfully) the defendant…
But other names have been owned by me. With every take, I went deeper as well. I was sitting toward the front, and locked eyes with ‘Deacon’ and saw a shared pain. After the last few takes, his tears were real.
As were mine.
Afterwards, Charles shook our hands, and thanked us for a great scene. We took the inevitable group shot for social media, and we all went about our business.
But the scene haunted me. I know the feeling of living in the shadow of greatness, the eternal sideman without the courage to step to the center microphone. I am intimately familiar with fear and struggle.
I am a Christ follower. There is a comfort there that can transcend trial. But if I’m honest and have real courage (a more difficult proposition than you might imagine), some battles have bested me. I have a feeling that I’m not alone in this, but that can be cold comfort.
Life is no soap opera. But I have plenty need for soap…
A lame joke, yes. But these days I feel lame of heart and mind.
Courage is the bane of fear. But these days courage is hard to come by. Battles are waged and at some point won.
But not without cost. Never without cost.
My name is George, and I am many things. Time will reveal what I will become.