Episode 002 — Reimagination
Bill and Nate are the stars of the non-fiction theater performance Aging: Life’s Most Dangerous Game as part of Dr. Thomas’ Age of Disruption Tour.
Each episode features intimate conversations, music, updates from the Age of Disruption Tour.
In Episode 002, Bill and Nate discuss the concept of a Life Reimagined. Nate discusses his career transition through reimagination and his work with Sim Redmond Band in Ithaca, NY. Dr. Bill Thomas discusses the realizations that came with reaching his life’s goal of attending Harvard Medical School and what it meant to turn away from the “path of perfection.”
Dr. Bill Thomas: Hello, everybody. I’m Dr. Bill Thomas and I’m a physician.
Nate Silas Richardson: And I’m Nate Silas Richardson and I’m a musician.
Dr: Bill: This is the Ask Dr. Bill podcast, and probably the only podcast in the world that gets you a physician and a musician. We’re here today at Rep Studio to talk to you about a concept that’s been pretty important to us, reimagination. And we’re just going to spend a little time knocking the idea around a little bit and, hopefully, giving you some insights into why we think it’s so exciting and useful to people actually all across the lifespan. So, Nate, you’re first encounter with reimagination, do you recall it?
Nate: Oh, well, I imagine it was way before the one that you’re probably thinking of, but I think the one that we like to discuss in our show is the, well, spoiler alert? Is this a spoiler alert?
Dr. Bill: No, go ahead. That’s okay.
Nate: There was an experience that I had in 2001, where we were working on some music, and my career had progressed, to a certain extent, to include playing really awesome venues and being on tour and record labels and publicity agents and booking agents. By all accounts, I had kind of achieved the goals that I had set for myself, and the one that really drove it home was playing a gig at Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside of Denver.
There was still some sense that something was missing, and I don’t know if it was necessarily a reaction to that or not. Probably, it wasn’t. Probably it was just a fun thing that we decided to do. But we went and set up a little studio up in the living room on Beacon Street in Somerville. And for fun, we all switched instruments and rolled tape and created an album that had a freshness to it that we hadn’t thought was in us.
We had spent a lot of time trying to make perfect albums or music that was so heavy and so tight and so, I guess, perfect for what we wanted. You spend a lot of time, especially in the new era, you spend a lot of time in digital editing with music, as everyone knows when you put on the radio. You hear a lot of soulless, edited into nothing, you can barely hear it, because every note is perfectly in tune and every beat lines up exactly. And you can do that ad nauseum and pretty much take the life out of a recording.
So we kind of just went the other way, full push against that, and made a record where we were learning how to play the instruments on the fly. Obviously, we’re not the first ones to do that. There was a great record by the Beastie Boys. And I’m not even sure, I’ve not studied what that was all about, but what my perception of this album, I believe it was called Paul’s Boutique. Maybe that was a different album.
Anyway, they made an instrumental album in the late 80s, early 90s, probably early 90s, where they just picked up drums, base, and organ, and made a record that wasn’t the record that they had been making. They totally reimagined their sound, and it was kind of a groove, funky album. Anyway, we did something similar to that and we ended up with a very imperfect album that was a lot of fun, and people seem to really like it and it had an authenticity that was remarkable. That was probably my first official experience with reimagination.
Dr. Bill: Well, I’m listening to the story and, of course, the thing that gets me is the pursuit of perfection. I know it well in my own background. When I was coming up, I took a different track than you, physician/musician. I was sort of in the pre-med, the med school track, and there perfection was really laid out for you. So it’s ironic, you know? While you were doing that, I was pursuing a different kind of perfection, which was the highest possible scoring on a test, the best possible evaluation. Everything had to be the best.
In my life, the goal I had set up for myself was attending Harvard Medical School. And sort of like in the story you’re telling, I got admitted to Harvard Medical School, and I showed up there, and I paid the tuition, and I went to school there. And at the same time, I could begin to feel the walls of my life closing in on me. And I was getting better and better and better at a thing that was narrower and narrower and narrower.
And the way I had grown up, the things I believed was that that was the only possibility. That it wasn’t possible to turn away from the path of perfection. Even just talking about that on this podcast, turning away from the path of perfection, sounds kind of scary and weird, but it’s how you get unstuck. And what I love about your story is that you got unstuck.
I’m going to tell a little bit about my story, about how I got unstuck. I went to Harvard Medical School. I did a residency in Family Medicine at the University of Rochester. Yea. And I had trained and prepared myself to become an office-based primary care family physician, which I happen to think is really awesome and great. And which, on my first day of work, after all this training, I didn’t like. I don’t know. I just didn’t like it.
Nate: I can just picture the conversation at the kitchen table that night. Or at Thanksgiving dinner.
Dr. Bill: And I really want to say, it’s a great thing. I mean, I’m not critical of it at all. It is great. The thing is, it wasn’t me. So I walked away from that and became a geriatrician instead.
Nate: Why wasn’t it you? Was it that you had to see so many patients in so few time?
Dr: Bill: Yeah. No, I didn’t mind that so much. I didn’t like how much of the job, in my mind, wound up being routine. So, go back to your experience, how much of what I was doing was the same thing over and over again, and I didn’t do well with that. I know there’s people listening to this podcast who are like, “Oh, no, man, I love it.” And I’m not downing it, you know what I mean? I’m saying it’s a great thing.
Nate: So you’re more of a Grateful Dead guy, not so much of a Rush guy?
Dr. Bill: I think that’s true. Rush, great band, plays a very consistent show.
Nate: Same notes every night. Guitar solos, everything. It’s a composition. The whole show is a composition.
Dr. Bill: Right. And they play it like a Broadway show.
And The Dead were more like, “Eh, what do we feel like?” And I have to admit, honestly, I was more in the “What do I feel like?” I’m a more of a “What do I feel like?” guy. And it was really, really hard for me to turn away from this road I had been on and to walk away from years of training and board certification, and… Oh, my gosh. But, I will tell you this, if I hadn’t done that, I think I would have wound up being an unhappy person.
Nate: Thank goodness.
Dr. Bill: Yeah, well, that’s reimagination. The reimagination is, I think, the secret to getting unstuck. So here you are in a life, anybody listening this is your life, it can be different. You can make it different.
Nate: We’re talking to you, United States of America political system.
Dr. Bill: Yes, it can be different. This is the thing for me. Life is a creative act. Aging is an art form. We can live our life like a Broadway show. Or like a Rush concert. That’s got its virtues. But I think the real joy comes from plunging into the unknown. Really makes you feel alive. I just saw you. You play in a band here in Ithaca, New York, known as the Sim Redmond Band.
Nate: Indeed I do.
Dr. Bill: I just saw you playing onstage Friday night. The band has a new lineup. There’s a little reimagination going on there.
Dr. Bill: Do you mind telling that story?
Nate: Sure. Well, one of the interesting things that I’ve found through my entire music career is that everyone needs a keyboard player and no one needs a guitar player. I learned piano first. I picked up guitar when I was 14, and once I discovered the guitar, I pretty much never was trying to play the piano or the keyboard at all after that, really. Except when I was just being creative at home or whatever. Essentially, I didn’t ever want to lug the big keyboards and the stands. And I thought showing up with a guitar over the back and a guitar amp in my hand, that appealed to me a lot more in terms of my economist mind. But more importantly, I could express myself more freely and more expressively on the guitar.
So I have always been hired as the keyboard player, and then kind of sneak in the guitar as we go. That was actually one of the other fun things about that session I was telling you about in Somerville. Which was that I had been the keyboard player for the band, and it was a chance for me to actually pick up the guitar. So while everyone else was playing instruments that they…and here’s another interesting, perhaps, maybe, might make the story seem less valid or something, I actually was picking up my guitar at the time where everyone else was switching onto new instruments.
So I kind of, in a way, was the glue that made it work. I think I’ve always kind of seen myself as functioning in that role in a lot of different groups. Anyway, I had been brought in to Sim Redmond band kind of as both, but more officially as keyboard player. I did my first work with them on the Life Is Water album in, I think, 2001. I played keyboards and guitar on the record. Most of the time when I was sitting in, I would be playing keyboards. And from 2001 to 2006, I was just kind of a guest with the band.
And then in 2006, I had made a big shift. I quit touring with John Brown’s Body. Uniit, who was the original singer in Sim Redmond Band, she left Sim. I left John Brown’s Body, joined Sim Redmond Band. Jen Middaugh joined Sim Redmond Band. We had our six-piece band that was amazing and it felt like home. I felt like I was home, finally, after a long stretch of doing all sorts of different things. It just felt really like I was able to really come into my musical self. Even though I wasn’t really playing a whole lot of guitar on the records, I was here and there. Live I was mostly playing keyboards.
So I started to play more guitar, and just last year everyone is having children. Different people have different priorities, in terms of how much playing we want to do, and how much their family needs them, how many kids they have at home, just what lifestyle they want to live. So we lost our drummer and our guitar player last year, and we’ve just been kind of reimagining the band.
I had originally thought we’d hire a keyboard player and I would switch over to guitar. But, instead, we’re just leaving out the keyboards and I’m playing guitar, and there’s a lot more space in the music now and it’s super fresh. We got John-Paul Nawn on the drums, and he’s bringing the fire, and super-tight, and only going to get tighter. Hopefully, we’ll not get too tight.
Dr. Bill: I’m hoping we can wrap it up with a snip of SRB. We can put it in.
Nate: I’ll find something to play.
Dr. Bill: And I just want to say that another place you can go, if you want to look and learn more about reimagination, is a project that I’ve been part of for the past three or four years called LifeReimagined.org. And they’re great. They’re really working hard at helping you get unstuck, and I love that. They helped make this podcast possible. So thanks, guys.
This episode of this podcast was produced by Rep Studios in Ithaca, New York, and we’ll see you later. We’ll let Sim Redmond Band take you out.
Nate: See you on the road.