Updated: Jul 13, 2020
Where do I even begin? Let’s rewind beyond this past week of not just one, but three sequential all nighters. Two nights of sleep in the last six days working on my video submission to Swae Lee's "Reality Check Challenge", getting it in just in time. Let’s rewind past the debilitating shoulder injury that kept me away from my accordion for 6 months.
All the way back to the beginning, when I started my journey of pursuing a music career as an accordionist in America almost 2 years ago now. Some might say 30 was a little old to have hopes of a music career especially with an instrument that’s irrelevant in modern American culture. But I saw everything differently. Although the instrument died off just as fast as it blew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, I felt like it left room for someone to do something new with it.
For years I’ve had vivid visions that keep me awake at night. Wondering what America’s music scene would be like if the accordion was accepted like it is all over the rest of the world currently. What if the accordion could be looked at in a different light? A light that didn’t cast stigmas of the comedy acts of years prior. Like the episodes of Family Matters and Steve Urkel with his accordion. Or the hokey comedy of Weird Al Yankovich.
I was legitimately afraid to perform in front of people from this skewed image of the accordion over the past few decades. Even on my 31st birthday, when I decided to do my first open mic, I could hear the chuckles and murmurs of people in the back as I walked to the stage with my bright red accordion. I closed my eyes and began to play as my fingers shook and my heart sank. As the beat dropped and I came in, I could hear the murmurs quickly changing to “Are you serious right now?!?”. That scared 31-year old birthday boy walked back out into the cold night of mid-March 2019 with a vision enforced and backed by the reactions I got when I finished my set. I had to share this with the world.
My biggest inspiration that's guided my journey has been Post Malone. I decided to dress up as him for Halloween in 2018 and through a last minute stroke of inspiration, I had an idea to combine my love for filmaking with my love for the accordion, and take advantage of the awesome braids I had in. I teamed up with my filmmaking homie, Jason Jurewicz and together we covered and copied not one, but three of Post Malone’s early music videos that helped him rise to where he is now. We’re talking full blown music video remakes of "White Iverson", "Congratulations" & "Psycho". It was a production not far off from the original music videos and we did all three for just under $500 in expenses.
The world responded so positively to our work and to the accordion. I knew in that moment I finally created my own lane.
That summer came around, I was busking and street performing around town and that slowly turned to playing shows, radio mentions turned to sold out shows, invites to music festivals turned to being thrown on the main stage. All within 6 months of my first open mic!
Things were blowing up faster than I could keep up with but it all started falling apart when Post Malone came to town in October.
I’ve envisioned what would happen for the accordion in America if I could collaborate with Post Malone and get on stage with him to accompany him on one of his songs. He’s collaborated with Ozzy which was completely unexpected. He collaborated with the old dancing man with the grey beard. Surely I figured there would be an appreciation for the accordion.
So I made an Instagram video trying to get Dre London's attention, Post's manager. Over 7,000 views, over 500 comments tagging Dre, and the evening before the show, I still heard nothing.
Plan B, signs. Maybe I could catch him walking in? So I spent the next 5 hours creating beautiful signs and the Instagram story responses flooded in. I got hardly any sleep that night as I tried to relax my mind and hope for the best.
I get to the show 8 hours early and wait by the bus entrance with some other amazing die hard Posty fans that I met that day. The bus shows up and Swae Lee gets off of it and heads right for the door. I throw on my accordion, cue “Sunflower” and begin playing as he’s within feet from the back entrance, when all of a sudden he hears it, turns around and starts dancing as he's walking back over to all of us. He began to sign a few autographs as I nervously fumbled through the song and he eventually started walking back inside. That was it. Post showed up later and went straight inside without turning to look.
I already exhausted options with the head of security on bringing in my accordion and signs so all that was left was to enjoy the show. Right after Swae finished his set I went to the bathroom to scroll through my drowned out Instagram of supporters and realized that I somehow missed Dre London's personal message from 10:30pm the night before when I was making the signs; “Many people sent me this. I’m gonna try to put together u guys meeting up to say hi.”
My chance to formally be introduced to Post Malone had expired right in front of my eyes and it was 5 minutes till he went on stage. The level of public embarrassment I felt shook my reality to its core. My very first Post Malone concert was by definition the most bittersweet feeling I’ve experienced in my life.
I spiraled even further, driving from Buffalo to Boston the very next day trying to redeem myself, but Dre wouldn't respond. If hell ever existed on Earth, I swear to you I was in it. More sleepless nights in my camper van. Hours spent trying to find event parking, van overheating twice, hours spent out in the cold, underdressed as my accordion sat ready in it’s case for the unlikely chance Dre would ever respond to me a second time. As quick as his limo pulled up and went through for the second and final night of Boston, I realized my journey to meet Post needed to come to an end. I retired back to the van and drove out of the city in complete disbelief of everything that went on in the past week. I was detached from everything and felt like I let my entire fan base down. I found a safe spot to park, crawled in the back and cried myself to sleep.
Coming home to Buffalo after having an entire city behind you, knowing you messed everything up by simply not checking your messages was the hardest pill I had to swallow. But if there was one thing I learned from all my years of skateboarding was that you never EVER give up.
I came home and spent 4 days before Halloween trying to redeem myself with a last minute idea on doing another full blown music video recreation, this time to Post’s “Goodbye’s”. More sleepless nights, hungrier than ever, trying to piece it all together by Halloween only to pretty much have it flop and not be pushed out by the YouTube algorithm.
My depression and lack of personal care started to catch up with me. By November, my already weakened shoulder began causing me even more pain and by December it was so severe that I had to box up my accordion and put it away for the next 6 months as I slowly tried rehabilitating it. Months in and it felt like I had no more progress than when I started and to top it all off, Covid quarantine kicks in days before my birthday in March.
My entire reality was completely taken from me and I no longer had anything to feel connected with... besides Caroline. She was everything I needed in that moment in my life. She sat through the endless self hatred talks I made her listen to. She was there to hold me through my tears and my developed nervous ticks that came about from all the pressure I just couldn’t relieve myself of. I was a broken shell of a man and she loved me no matter what. She cared for me, her delicious home cooked meals and emotional support that I’ve never felt before truly healed me.
I eventually realized if I’m going to make this happen for myself, I need to make this happen for myself. I meditated on my next moves for weeks and weeks. Nothing seemed to make sense no matter how hard I tried. Until one night, I was driving and looked out past my windshield. I gazed into a beautiful full moon. It was in that moment, absolutely everything changed for me. Without saying a word I expressed to the universe in my heart and mind, “You know me. What do I do next?” Without missing a beat, an entire cosmic download of an idea I had years ago began flooding back to me. “Design an accordion chord chart, give back to the community”. This was something I wish existed when I began playing the accordion and after 500+ hours of designing, redesigning, and redesigning again, I came up with my own learning kit that allows new accordionists a way to learn the accordion that had never been done before.
It was my only disconnect from this bitter reality I had created for myself and it was the only thing I could hold onto that gave me any form of happiness. Locking myself in my office spending months in photoshop, slowly but surely it came to life and slowly but surely my shoulder came back from an excruciating rehabilitation process.
And here we are today, 7/12/2020. The final day of the “Reality Check Challenge”. This is my video submission. This is my story. Who needs a reality check? Well, I’ve lived through mine, and I can assure you, some of your brightest moments are on the other side of the darkness. Bipolar disorder is a blessing and a curse, but it shows you a scope that not many people will never experience in their lifetime and I wouldn't change a thing.
I had everything all in front of me and I threw it away. I had to walk through hell to get back to get where I am now and hopefully with your help, Swae (if you're reading this), I can connect with Post and show him just how much he's changed my life and what he's done for the accordion.
I walk away from all of this with a smile on my face. I would do everything all over again, hands down. I have appreciation for everything I’ve been able to do, patience for what I have yet to discover and empathy for myself and those around me... This has been my reality check. And hey look... I wound up collaborating with someone just as amazing in the end. Thank you so much for this video challenge, Swae, for this trippy-ass, metaphoric & symbolic music video that means soooo much to me.
Thank you to everyone supporting me and reading this far. All love.
"Squeeze & Thanks"