*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine April 2017
I haven’t lived an extraordinary life. I haven’t survived horrific abuse or imprisonment, haven’t fought for democracy in any foreign wars, and haven’t saved the life of anybody. I’ve never broken a bone. I’ve never been homeless, mentally unstable, starving or unemployed.
But the one thing that has plagued my existence, worse than all these calamities combined, is that I have always fervently believed I would make it in the music business, since I was eight years old.
It was a given, I thought. I could sing in front of a mirror with a hairbrush, on key, A Capella and everything. I wasn’t put on this earth to save the world. I was born to be a rock star. I was the real deal the world had been waiting for.
Because of my eventual awesomeness, I would have the fame, the fortune, the freedom from the day job, and all the freshest salads and pre-cut fruit I could handle. But most importantly, I would have someone to change my guitar strings. This dreadful and sometimes deadly activity should be reserved only for people like my Dad who build antique miniature wooden boats with tiny little sails and rigging with cleverly painted cursive names like Oh Suzanna. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been whacked in the face with an errant high E string, or cut my fingers, or worse still – wrapped the tiny steal devils around the machine heads on the headstock the wrong way and had to start all over again.
Because I most certainly was destined to be a star, I also never learned how to change a flat tire, clean the floors, or get diesel stains out of workpants. Someone else would clearly be doing that stuff for me.
Things haven’t worked out, obviously. I wouldn’t have to write this monthly column and tell you about my monumental failure in judgment if they had. I would be saving the world instead, just like Bono and Springsteen.
After decades of trying, it finally became abundantly clear to me that I most certainly would never be “discovered.” I would never play the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, or Bonnaroo, or one of those fancy blues cruises. The epiphany happened one night in New York City, somewhere between SoHo and Little Italy.
My band and I had finally secured a gig in New York City at a prestigious club for original bands. My drummer and I arrived around twelve in the afternoon to check the place out. As expected, the stage was wicked small, the sound system was ancient, but the twelve dollar burgers were quite good. We headed back to our hotel and waited for the other guys. The guitar player picked us up and drove us in a harrowing cab-ride-like thrill adventure back to the club and we piled in. The place was jam-packed with young professional drunk New Yorkers. We were told to wait our turn (3 hours from our arrival time.) It was the dead of winter so we elected to wait inside, where there were five seats total. They were taken. So we waited our turn in the corner, with our coats and guitars and chords and water bottles. A lot of bars and restaurants in New York are longer than they are wide, so we were squeezed in behind some not-so-artfully placed poles, amid the hipsters, right by the bathroom. At 9:30 p.m., I used the last two squares of toilet paper in the one-stall unisex closet.
Tip: When doing a gig in New York City, you should always carry your own roll of toilet paper.
So I held the door open for the next customer and yelled, “There’s no more toilet paper!”
“Oh, I’ll survive,” the confident 20-something brunette simply stated. At 1 a.m. the toilet paper had still not been restocked. New Yorkers are incredibly innovative, super resilient, or just plain dirty.
So we waited our turn…waited, waited, waited. The band on stage, consisting of three females and three males (I think I have the gender right) wearing various expertly planned outfits of mismatched plaids and stripes, played an hour and a half over their half-hour time slot while the crowd screamed along to the songs.
We waited in the corner, with no toilet paper. Unforgettable tunes such as, “I Wanna Have a Three-Some,” and “I Want Your Boyfriend,” and the crowd favorite – “F U, F U,” rose to deafening decibels. They finally finished with a punk version of the Muppets’ “Rainbow Connection,” the bar emptied out, and we were on.
So it was hurry up and set up and hurry up and play five songs, so the next band that came in from Washington, D.C. could hurry up and set up and hurry up and play. We played our five songs to the empty bar and collected our thick pay envelope of sixteen one dollar bills. We were paid a percentage of the bar sales that occurred during our set, and apparently a couple people had a couple shots. So between the train ride from Connecticut, the burgers, water bottles, parking, and the hotel, I was down, oh, about $500.
The drummer and I proceeded to hit up a few Irish pubs, drank, danced on bar tops, and put down, another $400.
So you see, it’s just not economically feasible, or hygienic, to EVER make it in the music business.
Besides, I don’t have the guts to say F U over the mic.