Every day I drive past MTSU’s James Union Building where I spent four years getting my Philosophy degree, on my way to the Recreation Center. Mind, body, and spirit, they say. It’s amazing how the campus has grown.
When I got off the road and decided to return to university, originally, I intended to finish the RIM degree that I began back in the early 80s. “RIM” is an acronym for Recording Industry Management, which encompassed studies in the music business as well as audio engineering. I downloaded the requisite paperwork from the internet and headed to the Financial Assistance office.
When I was young, road trips, guitar-playing opportunities, and life always seemed to interfere with my education because…you know…priorities. I would sign up for a semester full of classes and then the phone would ring. Instead of formally withdrawing like normal students with half a brain would do, I would just hop on a bus or in a van and ride off into the sunset—wherever that may take me.
College tuition at MTSU was so inexpensive back in the early 80s. I could play a couple of gigs and pay for a whole semester of classes. Life was good, and the experience was invaluable—chasing the dream of being a working musician. But later on, dreams would get put on hold; things got tough.
My wife, Carol, and I got married in ‘84, and just a few months later we got a phone call that my mother, Opal “Hootie” McKinney, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, so we moved from Nashville back to my hometown of Grayson, Kentucky, to take care of her. Life happens—and unfortunately, it’s fleeting as well.
I eventually returned to MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry, taking classes between gigs, and was closing in on my finishing my degree. During my audio engineering classes, I recorded my first two CDs: Shed My Skin and The Ghost of James Bell. I was just around three semesters from finishing when another gig came along. The blues come and go, but rent is forever.
I met with my advisor and picked out the necessary RIM classes. Everything was on track. I downloaded the student loan paperwork from the internet, and headed to the Financial Assistance Office and turned in my paperwork. Later that day, I got a call from Financial Assistance.
I picked up the phone, and the lady on the other end had some great news: I qualified for financial assistance. I was excited! But then she said something I’ll never forget. Apparently, the loan requirements would apply to any degree but RIM (music business). I had dropped out of too many RIM classes in the past. “You had your chance in the music business,” she said. I think if she had stabbed me in the heart with a German kitchen knife, it couldn’t have hurt any worse.
Now I was faced with starting all over again. I could see the light above, and I was so close before—I just couldn’t get there. It would be a long climb back out of Plato’s Cave. But all was not lost.
Luckily, many of the general education classes I took for my RIM degree were transferable towards another. It was like changing majors in your senior year. I marked Philosophy as my major that day and never regretted a minute.
And now, with my degree in Philosophy, the Financial Assistance Department didn’t even blink when I requested additional funds to finish my RIM degree and begin my Master’s.
It all started in a trailer park with a 50-dollar guitar.
I think the lesson learned here is that Woody Allen was right: 80% of success is showing up.