Since the 4th grade I’ve always been drawn to musical marriages. As a child I was infatuated with the movie, “Selena”, who, if you aren’t familiar with her short-lived life story, married her guitarist. Their pre-show kisses and the passionate looks they would swap across the stage during performances drew me in. The idea that you could spend your life doing exactly what you love WITH your favorite person on earth…well that seemed absolutely fabulous!
Another favorite movie of mine at the same time was “Funny Girl”, the musical. Sticking with the theme of powerful female performers, “Funny Girl” tells the story of an oppositional marriage between Fanny Brice and a man who wanted nothing to do with the entertainment industry. Their relationship ultimately ended in a tumultuous divorce. Even as a 4th grader, it seemed obvious to me which route made the most sense to take in life.
Growing up I didn’t spend more than the usual amount of time thinking about boys. I was driven as hell, sure that I was put on this earth to be a performer, and fully committed to making that dream come true.
The little dating that I found time for took place mostly during college, at The Boston Conservatory (BOCO), where I majored in Musical Theatre. Over those four years I learned that while being in a relationship with someone in a similar career field can be fabulous for conversation and inspiration, it was also prone to intense jealousy, a lot of ego, and fierce envy. Despite those obvious complications, I always kept the idea tucked deep in my bones, that someday I was going to marry a musician.
When I first met Brandon (my now-husband and the other half of The Gibbonses), it was most definitely NOT love-at-first-sight for either of us, but I can always remember the jolt of instant infatuation that I had for this man.
Our point of entry into the chapter of becoming us took place in a dimly lit corridor beneath the belly of a Carnival Cruise Ship. I had been working my first post-college professional job as a showband singer for about a month when Brandon came aboard, preceded by his no-nonsense reputation, as the new Music Director/Guitarist.
It’s worth mentioning here that I wasn’t so good at my job right off the bat. In fact, I was down-right lousy and fireable. For my first few weeks on the ship I had had a series of fill-in Music Directors who were not interested in putting forth the energy to help me where I was falling short, nor did they seem to care enough to start the paperwork to let me go…(not mad about that part). As a performer I felt lost like never before and while I realized that Brandon could play one set with me, deem me a lost cause, and fire me immediately, the thought of a new leader coming made me feel revived and hopeful.
He obviously didn’t fire me, but after a few days of working together, I should note that my very own husband ALMOST started the paperwork to do so!
After making one silly-singer-mistake too many during a performance a couple of weeks in, I could sense his frustration as he grabbed his usual double-fister from the crew bar, a Jameson-on-the-rocks and Bass Ale and led me outside to the open deck. There, on a warm Bermuda evening beneath a blanket of stars, for the first of so many times to come, Brandon Gibbons would strike the perfect balance of bluntly uncovering a weakness within me while simultaneously inspiring me to punch it right in the face and be better and bigger than I ever thought I could be. Tough love was always my preferred form of communication, which worked out because tough love was all my new boss was going to give me.
As time went on, I got better at my job. We had an AMAZING band who had a whole lot of fun together both on and off stage and Brandon and I developed an incredible friendship, that ultimately blossomed into the glorious romance it is today. From very early on we began making plans to recreate the Top 40 Cover Band we had rocking onboard the Carnival Fantasy, once our time in the cruise ship industry was finished and we were, as they say, ‘back on land’.
A few years later we would hang up our sea-legs and head up to the great Pacific Northwest and try to do just that. Little did we know, the challenges and hurdles that life had in store for this newly engaged couple starting the next chapter of their lives and careers together.
Seattle was Brandon’s ‘Boston’. He moved there in his early twenties and to this day credits the city with his ‘coming-of-age’. Always planning to return after cruise ships, he had no issues jumping right back into the scene. He began picking up jazz gigs for tips at his old favorite IPA-infested pubs, playing with everyone from hip-hop to electro-pop artists, and answering any craigslist ad that could lead him to something new. He was working like crazy as a freelance musician.
Meanwhile, I had planned to take some time off from singing after the strenuous ship hours I’d endured for the last few years. I jumped back into the world of fitness that I once knew quite well and was surprising the hell out of myself with how many auditions I was crushing as a Zumba Instructor, filling my calendar with workouts all over town. For the first time, we were living separate lives and supporting each other didn’t come as natural as we assumed it would. While we were proud to see each other succeeding, we seemed to be totally disinterested in what the other was really doing. He couldn’t have cared less about my new choreography or colorful kicks, and I never really cared for Jazz or smoky basement clubs where musicians, far out-numbering the audience members they took great care to ignore, played one non-sensical improvisation after another, transforming the timeless classics of a by-gone era into a single, endless wash of white-noise.
It was a brisk, dry night in February (quite rare for Seattle), when all of that would come to a head. Brandon had taken an audition to play in a casino cover band…A band very much like the one we planned on forming ourselves when I was ready to get back in the game. We took the Kingston Ferry across the Puget Sound to The Point Casino, where he would perform two songs with the band during their set. He was over prepared as per usual and did such a great job that they offered him the gig on the spot!
I wish I could say I was happy for him. It was a great fit, more work which was more income, and he was doing exactly what he set out to do. Only, I wasn’t his singer anymore and I was JEALOUS! AS! HELL!
I remember feeling a strong sense of betrayal that night, because it seemed as though our plans to form our own group were quickly taking a back seat and while I wasn’t ready to put them into action, I sure as hell didn’t want him going on without me!
As we sat in our car on the empty, late-night ferry heading home, I was quiet. Internally fighting with how I felt, I was fully aware that it was completely unfair to ask him to just wait for me to be ready, instead of taking a job that he was perfect for. His thirst for the hustle was one of my favorite qualities in him, and he had made it clear to me from the beginning that his dream was set and nothing was going to stand in his way. But in that moment, all I wanted was for him to pick me, unconditionally, over all the great things he was earning.
Finally, after coaxing me to spill all that was behind my red nose and big brown teary eyes, I ugly cried my way through all of my feelings. As I worked through my thoughts in the darkness of our car, he listened, calm and stoic. Once I finished, he sat quietly for what seemed like days, gathering his thoughts and thinking carefully through what he was about to say. When he finally did speak, much like that night under the stars on the cruise ship a few years earlier, he struck a brilliant and painful balance of tough love and blunt honesty, by telling me that if I planned to spend my life with him, I was going to have to keep up or get left behind.
Now, one would think that saying such a brash and disparaging statement to your crying 23 year old fiancé would lead to a terribly long night of arguments followed by uncomfortably long silent treatments. But in that moment he took my breath away. Not in an angry or emotionally defensive way. No—when those words left his mouth, all I could think was: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!
That statement would inspire a series of new goals, challenge us to take massive risks, create a stronger connection between us and ultimately turn us into the original artists we are today. It made us both realize that while we are two people who love each other very much, we are also unapologetically, just as in love with our art. To choose one over the other was a compromise neither of us were interested in making. Instead, we committed to creating a life in which we wouldn’t have to.
Just like my 4th grade gut told me, tying the knot with another musician would lend itself to less compromising and more fulfilled dreaming and scheming. The yin and yang between our marriage and our business partnership has allowed us to enjoy an incredibly supportive and loving relationship along with the artistic freedom that we both crave. When one of us is tired and the other is inspired, we don’t stop and wait or beg them to be something they aren’t. We simply go on ahead trusting that they will catch up when they are ready.
Being independent artists isn’t always a clear path, but it’s the one that we look forward to walking side by side, each and every day. It’s the path that allows us to stay authentic to ourselves, and honest as hell to each other, and the community we are building around us.
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