“Thank You, I’m Sorry”: Impostor Syndrome In Music

Written by Lucias Malcolm, of Call Me Malcolm fame. This is part of our #MentallySound series, exploring mental health in music. 

The following is a work of fiction that happened last week. Any similarity to person or persons is entirely likely.

The gig is over. Nothing broke, up to and including equipment and/or bones. The crowd seemed happy, or at least, no one threw anything. But who can really tell? The band rush to pack leads, instruments and sweaty t-shirts into whichever bag is closest. I crouch at the front of the stage fighting a particularly impudent stretch of gaffer tape as a figure approaches.

“Great set man!” he smiles.

Shit. I think to myself. Not now. But it’s too late. I can hear the gavel banging already…

~

Anxiety: “ORDER! ORDER! I call to order the Council of the Inner Monologue.

[Indecipherable murmurs from the countless other voices in Luke’s head]

Anxiety: “I have called this urgent meeting to discuss the most recent and egregious compliment from a stranger, to wit, ‘Great set man’…”

Depression: “Point of order! We are yet to discuss the matter of Something Stupid the Host Body Said When He Was 13.”

[More murmurs and disagreement]

Anxiety: “On the contrary, we went over this in great detail every week for the past 23 years.”

OCD: “Point of order! We can’t start the meeting until we’ve established absentees. Confidence isn’t here.”

Self Hate: “He never is.”  

[More murmurs]

Anxiety: “ORDER! ORDER! Absentee noted. Now, all in favour of replying to the stranger with an inaudible mumble, say ‘Aye’.”

~

I mumble something inaudible in response, offering a smile so lacking in conviction it’s hard to tell if I’m even conscious.

“Yeah man, I really love how much fun you guys have on stage.” He offers with a warm smile.

~

Self Hate: “Point of order! Raising the issue of the errant ‘really’ in the strangers follow up compliment.”  

Anxiety: “Noted and seconded. Too much stress on the word to seem genuine. All in favour of raising the threat level to ‘Suspicious’, say ‘Aye’”

[Cries of ‘Aye’]

Anxiety: “Motion carried. Trigger the Self-Deprecation Clause and instruct the host body to pour scorn on the compliment in principle.”

~

“We’re normally a bit tighter than that.” I stutter. Crisis averted. For a second there, he might’ve gotten away with thinking we were good.

“No seriously, you were so tight. The breakdown in that last song was insane!”

~

Anxiety: “Emergency point of order! Suspicion duly confirmed. Host body was erratic in execution of musical instrument during last song.”

Depression: “Motion to abort Council of the Inner Monologue, quit the band and move to Dieppe to make shoes.”

Anxiety: “I see no other sensible option.”

Self Hate: “Initiate the Cobbler Protocol!”

Anxiety: “Noted and seconded. All in favour say–”

OCD: “Emergency! Emergency! Host body placed the wires ABOVE the foot pedal in the bag. Unacceptable. Motion to–“

~

“I also wanted to say,” the man continues, unaware of the eight-way conversation the voices are currently conducting in my head, “Thank you for talking about mental health. I suffer myself and it means a lot that you bring it up.”

~

Anxiety: “I… well… this is most unexpected.”  

[Door opens]

Empathy: “Sorry I’m late. What did I miss?”

Depression: “We’re moving to France.”

Anxiety: “The host body was presented with an unexpected compliment. We’re trying to establish the root cause of such a breakdown in social protocol.”

Empathy: “Maybe it was genuine? It probably took everything the guy had to come out to the show tonight. Maybe, it took even more for them to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation.”

Self Hate: “He’s right. Motion to discuss this awkward moment in detail at 3am every morning for the next week.”

OCD: “I’ve already made a note.”

Anxiety: “Agreed. Now, I suggest we enshrine in law the Imposter Syndrome Initiative. To wit, from now on, all compliments are met with a genuine ‘thank you’. All in favour?”   

~

Before I can respond, he leaves. I mull over whether I’ll ever feel comfortable in conversations with strangers, moreover ones offering compliments. Either way, I know it’s already on the agenda for a lengthy 3am brooding.

Moments later, I’m packed up and standing by the merch table, offering my best ‘come hither and part with your money’ eyes to people glancing at t-shirts. It works, because a figure approaches.

“I thought you guys were great today,” she offers.

~

Anxiety: “This is it folks, this is everything we’ve trained for. Triggering the Imposter Syndrome Initiative…”

~

“Thank you!” I insist.

~

Anxiety: ““ORDER! ORDER! I call to order the Council of the Inner Monologue. Host body accepted compliment with entirely too much enthusiasm. May be taken as sarcastic. Abort! Abort!”

~

“I’m sorry.” Shit. Baby steps, Luke. Baby steps.

Written by Lucias Malcolm of Call Me Malcolm.  They’re excellent, they’re great live, they talk a lot about mental health, and you should definitely go compliment them after their set. 

If you enjoyed this, read Lucias’ other articles about music and anxiety: There Is A Bear On Stage and Everything Is Probably Fine.

 

 

 

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