Marinovich’s father had wanted Todd to be an NFL quarterback from the time he was born and raised him with a drill sergeant’s toughness. When Todd was one month old, his father started working on his son’s physical conditioning, stretching his hamstring muscles. When Todd went to birthday parties, he brought a separate cake, one without sugars or refined flour; when he turned pro, he made the shocking admission that he had never eaten a Big Mac or an Oreo.
Marinovich failed as a pro. Heavy substance abuse, even an admission to taking LSD before a game. “But he lived to tell his story,” Dan Patrick said. “Which is the amazing thing.
“With my kids,” he continued, “I knew they weren’t any good at sports, so I taught them to be good people…to better the world. My advice to parents would be to embrace being average. Instead of the slogan, ‘Just do it,’ how about, ‘Just be average?’”
That comment stuck with me: the thought of being average. I’ve always wanted to be great at something. Growing up, I was a decent athlete, but never above average. I made All-Stars once in Little League, but didn’t start for the team. I was an okay tennis player, but played to the level of my competition. I wanted to excel at football and basketball, but was too small and too slow. Had I been given the choice, I would have made myself great in one sport (preferably baseball) and incompetent in the others. At least then I’d be able to wear a letterman’s jacket with pride, rather than the excuse that they give them to everyone on the team, even the second stringers.
I moved to Seattle in ‘95, after college, to sing in a rock band. I didn’t know how to sing, at least well or on-pitch, but was convinced I was going to be the next great rock star. The next Bono. I joined a band as the lead singer. My talent didn’t match my enthusiasm, nor was my voice anywhere near where it needed to be. But Jason, the guitarist and founder of the band, saw potential in me and gave me a long lease with which to work. He encouraged me (strongly) to take vocal lessons, which I did. The problem was we were playing hard rock—loud guitars, tons of distortion—and I didn’t know how to write melodies suited for my voice. The ones I wrote forced me to scream over the music and I’d usually throw my voice out within minutes of singing.
We played together for two years. We recorded a demo (That was before digital pitch correction, and my voice was flat for most of the recording). One night, I came to practice and Jason asked me to step down as singer. I wasn’t progressing well enough for him to keep investing in my potential. He said I could remain in the band as a guitarist, but I refused. If I couldn’t be the singer, I didn’t want to stay. The guys in the band found a new singer, but he didn’t last long and the band broke up. Jason and his wife Sherrill moved to Norway for a year so Sherrill could complete her phD, and I performed in musical theatre shows, learning how to sing properly, so as to not revert to my former bad habits. Jason and I still corresponded while he was away. I wrote to him once, saying, “I have no doubt I’m going to be a great rock singer.”
It never happened. I played in two more bands before leaving Seattle, the first of which I was the singer and songwriter, the second of which I had to take a backseat. My friend Jon was the singer; he was the more talented musician. I wish I could say I embraced my role in the band without disappointment or reserve—but at least I embraced it, something I hadn’t done when Jason asked me to step down.
I moved to L.A. at age 30 to become an actor. I saw it as a challenge, as jumping into the biggest fishbowl I could find and trying to stay afloat. But I didn’t realize how big the fishbowl was. Tens of thousands of guys who fit my casting type: white male, 25-35, 5’9 to 6’0. I’d walk into an audition and see 50 men in the waiting room who looked like me, or at least close enough, all reading lines from the same script. What was going to set me apart? The only thing: being great.
There are those for whom it comes easily. They are blessed with otherworldly talent or looks and are discovered right away. But that’s not me. Nor the other thousands of aspiring actors in Los Angeles, all of whom spend most of their time driving to and from auditions, workshops, classes and rehearsals, hoping that during those three or four minutes, when given the chance to stand in front of a casting director, they will stand out.
I lead a community group on Wednesday nights (“community group” is churchspeak for Bible study). We’ve been studying the book of Galatians for three months and, last week, were reading from Chapter 5. Paul, the writer, gives a rundown of good things to strive for (love, joy, peace, patience, etc…) and a number of bad ones (idolatry, witchcraft, etc…). I noticed I had circled two of the bad ones in my bible—selfish ambition and envy—and remembered when I had done that. It was when I was living in Seattle, playing with my second band, Shaper.
My friend Gabe, the guitarist, organized a music show at a local church and invited another band, Recurring Silence, to headline it. Shaper would be one of the opening acts. There was a growing buzz about Recurring Silence. One of its songs was playing on the radio. The singer had the late 90’s, moody-but-sensitive act down cold. Unfortunately, the band members were jerks. They gave Gabe a specific list of demands he needed to meet in order for them to play, including a separate meal (expensive pizza) of their own. They sat by themselves, rarely talking to any of the other musicians.
We played our set and gave way to Recurring Silence. Gabe and I stood near the back entrance and watched. The band members looked and sounded great. The bass player read a bible verse onstage. The singer looked down at his shoes just enough to appear introspective; he reached his arms out to the crowd when hitting the high notes. He even sang the chorus to “With or Without You” in the middle of one of their songs. Gabe turned to me and whispered, “I want to be these guys.” I smiled weakly. Someone else was getting to be the next Bono. That night, I went home and wrote a song about it, about the tug of war going on inside me. How do I reconcile these feelings, ones of jealousy and love? Like a dragon with two heads at war.
It’s funny how things come full circle. What I was struggling with then is what I’m struggling with now. Is it fear of being average? Fear of my life not working out? I’m not sure. Marinovich, having retired from the NFL, is now coaching high school football and seems to have found a measure of peace with his life, despite not living up to the lofty expectations set for him. It makes me wonder: With the expectations I set for myself, what if I don’t achieve them? Can I find the same contentment Marinovich found?
I hope so, but I can’t say for sure.