Tasha Harris, shown here performing at Renfro Valley before her life was consumed by drug and alcohol addiction. Lee County drug court is giving her a chance to sing again. Photo provided by Renfro Valley.
Amy Wilson has a story in the paper and LexGo today about Beattyville singer Tasha Harris. As a teenager, Harris seemed to have the world in front of her: Everyone loved to hear her sing, she had a regular gig at Renfro Valley, and the support of influential people who opened doors for her.
For me, this was the most telling part of the story:
“I thought it would come together for me," Harris said. "I thought it would just come and fall into my lap. I never sat down and did a plan.”
But Gabbard (TV executive Ralph Gabbard, who was Harris' primary booster) died unexpectedly in 1996, when he was 50. She was only 21.
She tells you she almost got that record deal. A lot of non-specifics follow. She was in Nashville in a record company office once, was just sure this was going to be her life. Her picture on those walls, her music in those elevators. Name of the building is a little vague. Did have her name mentioned in a Billboard magazine column. “We think we've spotted a star in Tasha Harris,” it read. Two more times she was mentioned, she says, in that same column. Then not again.
Soon, the story continues, she was filling the void of a career that was foundering with drugs and alcohol. That put her in drug court, where judges try to work with convicted offenders to clean up and get their lives on track without going to prison. In a stroke of judicial creativity, Circuit Judge Tom Jones has opened the door for Harris to sing a couple of numbers at Renfro Valley tonight, not so much to restart her career, but to give her a glimpse of what could be if she stays on the straight and narrow.
I've never met Harris, but I've heard her story before. Not her's, specifically, but the part about a performer being amazingly talented, having a lot of people interested, and doors that are just about to open. It's only a matter of time before you'll be hearing them on your radio or seeing them on the screen -- movie or TV.
If you're an arts and entertainment writer, you hear that a lot. You even write about about a number of these folks who truly seem promising, taking their first steps into what they hope will be lives of fame and fortune. That's where Harris' story becomes very familiar, and becomes a cautionary tale.
Harris was on her way, but something went wrong, things didn't come together, and by her own admission, she didn't realize how much work it would be.
It is rare an entertainment career falls into anyone's lap. There's probably one spot on the marquee for every 10,000 people that want it, and even if you get your foot in the door, you have to stick you shoulder and head through to keep it open.
Friday night, I was driving home listening to Terry Gross interview Neil Patrick Harris on Fresh Air, and he talked about how legendary producer Stephen Bochco told him to be ready for opportunities to evaporate after the success of Doogie Howser, MD. He compared a career to surfing -- you ride a wave, eventually it crashes on the shore, and you have to swim back out and wait for the next wave. You may wait quite a while.
Sometimes that first setback can be the initial wave breaking, but few people are ready for it, ready to dust the sand off their faces and swim back out. And if you have put all your hopes and dreams into that Nashville or Hollywood career, the disappointment can drive you to drink, or worse, if you don't have anything else to do with the yawning stretch of time before you that was supposed to be a performing career.
That's not to say talented people should not go for it. If you love an art form and have people who know what they're talking about telling you you have a shot, you owe it to yourself to try. But you should also know talent alone will not carry you to success. There are thousands of talented people out there. But it takes a lot of work, and a little luck. And you also need to have a plan so that if those dreams don't come true, maybe you can discover other dreams you didn't know you had, and you can ensure your life won't turn into a nightmare.