September 25, 2003
By Kate Schneider
An Evanston man has quit the business world to follow his dreams, picking up his guitar and trying to break into the music business.
You could call Bruce Holmes a Renaissance man. He has done just about everything in his life, from martial arts to coaching chess and from authoring a novel to designing software.
In 2001, however, Holmes said he underwent a "year of changes."
That year his mother died, his wife divorced him and his software company crumbled.
So the 56-year-old decided to become a singer-songwriter, building his own recording studio in his home.
"It's what I've always wanted to do. So I decided, 'Life is too short,'" he said.
A music lover and guitar player for his entire life, Holmes is taking on the new venture after 18 years as a business owner.
After having trouble with his knees as a high school runner, Holmes began to study the Feldenkrais method of body awareness. Eventually, he made a set of tapes teaching the method and sought out to sell them.
In the process, Holmes designed a software program to help manage the mail-order business. He soon started selling the program, Mail Order Wizard, gaining a set of loyal customers. He named his venture the Haven Corp.
"It was just, 'Bingo!' and I had a business going," Holmes said.
Soon after he started the business, Holmes also wrote a science fiction novel, "Anvil of the Heart." It was well-accepted by the writing world, gaining status on the Locus recommended reading list for 1984 and spending time in the running for a Nebula nomination for best novel.
But by the mid1990s, the software company was failing to keep up with the competitive market.
I went through about six years of hard times," Holmes said.
In 2001, the 26-member company collapsed and the business was taken over by a competitor.
So, Holmes decided to try something new, beginning to write and record song in his own home recording studio.
"It's the hardest thing I've ever tried to do," he said.
Holmes records all of the music himself, recording instruments separately and putting them together into his own masterpieces.
"I didn't believe that people could do this for real," Holmes said, "but if I do it myself, at least I know I'll like it. There's something to be said for doing things yourself."
Not a quick task
Songs usually take Holmes months to write, and a bit longer to record, he said.
"When I hear about someone writing a song in 15 minutes, I want to ring their neck," Holmes joked. "It doesn't happen for me."
A storyteller at heart, Holmes said he writes "dozens of pages" of lyrics before he arranges a final song. "Most of it gets thrown away," he said.
But it's worth the work, he said.
"The biggest high I ever have in my life, the most thrilling moment I ever have in my life, is when a song is coming together," he said. "It's euphoria. It's bliss."
And, he added, he is always writing.
"There is a part of my brain that's working on stuff all of the time," he said. "I always have a notepad around in case I have a good idea. If you don't catch the little flashes of inspiration you really lose a lot."
He said he's taking one day at a time, experimenting with new instruments and recording.
"I don't know what I'm doing yet," he said. "I'm just trying to learn."
Holmes sends samples of his music to local clubs and bars, getting the opportunity to play in the Chicago area.
A father of three, he has even played duets with his sixth-grade daughter, who plays the fiddle.
"She's much better than I am," he quipped.
As for stage fright, Holmes is working on that, too. The challenge, he said, is playing in a noisy venu where not everyone is interested.
"Sometimes you're thinking to yourself, 'Why am I doing this? No one is paying attention,'" he said. "Most people weren't listening - but somebody was."
He said that often people stop him after shows to chat with him about his music.
"There is nothing in the world that is as wonderful as having an audience that's listening, and to play songs that you've written," he said.
Holmes said he is happier now than he has been in years because he is doing what he loves, and he's trying to put tough times behind him.
"I'm just taking stock, trying to find the good in it," he said.
"I'm happy. Sometimes I'm pinching myself lately!"