Musicians have a strange life. Strange at least to accountants.
Musicians travel non-stop. They live off a suitcase. Their work and personal life gyrates around an inanimate object. You’d want to make out with a musician (especially the rock-and-roll ones) but you wouldn’t want to nest with one. The worst thing is that, unless you’re a brilliant musician – and by that I mean a James Galway, a Glenn Gould, or a Keiko Abe – it’s highly unlikely to be able to scrape off a living.
When I was a student back in my home country, I mixed a lot with an interesting crowd of musicians. I studied piano for about ten years, maybe that gave me an entry ticket. Mixing with musicians is a SUPER experience, especially during the turbulent teen years. Anyway, I mingled mainly with students in classical instruments, so think of nerdier Bonos and Jaggers. One funny summer however, I met this not-at-all classical set of musicians. They were a rock band, but without the rock songs and the fans. So, that day when I met them, the drummer said their singer was leaving them so there was an opening for a lead. I thought, I studied a bit of opera singing, I know a few “elevator” songs, because that’s what the band played, why not. We fixed a day to go over to the band’s den for an auditioning.
The band worked on a Scandinavian cruise ship. As I was saying, there was nothing rock-and-roll about them except their wishes, taste in music, and outfits. They mainly played soft jazz a la Kenny-G-gone-wrong, evergreen, and oldies – pretty much a suicidal concoction of pieces for any serious musician. Nevertheless, the band looked so Beatles to me that along with the job offer and the whole romanticised view of traveling the world on a boat as an artist felt like a dream opportunity for my 16-year-old, fresh out of high school, peresona. What did I know…
I had to audition in this grungy, hippie apartment. When I went there, around noon, there was a lot of commotion already going on. The ultimate rock-and-roll mise en scène: all sorts of people, suitcases and clothes in every room, curtains of cigarette smoke, music player buzzing in one room, drums and guitars warming up in another, people here and there – some smoking, all of them drinking beers or other pee-colour looking liquid in plastic cups. I thought, am I in the 70s?
The drummer, whose super stage name was Jade Joy, gave me a detailed tour around the apartment. He introduced me to the band – two awesome looking long-haired guitarists and a pianist who I can only describe as a split image of Roger Daltrey – and, of course, the girls whose names I could never remember because they were so random as randomly were they scattered around the apartment like beads of a torn necklace. I had no idea what the girls’ roles were but now that I think of it, they could have been the “groupies”.
Anyway, JJ sat me down in the living room and handed me a sweaty, battered scorebook (that’s definitely been under the Scandinavian sea, I thought). I flipped through it and realised that the ship’s repertoire was total “elevator music”. But I still didn’t want to make up my mind just yet.
JJ brought in a couple of drinks and said, “warm up, we’re starting with the good pieces; what shall it be?”
I didn’t wait for another invitation. Sipped from what there was in the glass which kicked right in.
JJ was already on the drums, while Roger-looking-fella said, “ok sweets, what shall it be?”
I smiled, like my mother’s never seen me smile and said “can we hit Blowin’ in the Wind?”.
I tried to get the best Janis Joplin-version out of me and just got lost in reality during the song. Dylan is my love! The whole teamwork felt amazing. Making music – well, playing someone else’s great music is just the best thing ever. Indescribable. Then, followed Run Baby Run, climbed all the way up to Stairway but then the descending began with the Girl from Ipanema and every Everly Brotherie grandmothery mush there was in the scrappy scorebook.
After about ten songs and as many drinks, we stopped for a break. JJ came to me and said, “sweetie, you’re good with the screamin’. How do you feel with the second bit though (the elevator mush)? Cuz, that’s what we’re gonna be doin’… rockin’ that boat with a bad liquor. It’s a lotta white clouds on that ship, white clouds and kids runnin’. We can only play ‘basement’ stuff in the ship’s basement…are you ready for this kinda’ wreckage to your dreams?”
I appreciated the guy’s honesty and told him I’d give it a good thinking. I knew the sale was over. The moment you go onto the “I’ll think about it” moment, that’s it, you’ve decided.
I chickened out in other words. That’s what it was to me then at least.
Later that night I met JJ at the popular bar where all hippies and musicians used to gather. Of course, I rejected the offer.
Now when I think of this experience with the musicians and this job offer, two things strike me.
First, what will happen if my son decides to join the French Foreign Legion or if my daughter wants to set off with a traveling band? How would I react to their weird decisions? And how should I? I mean, their job ideas and decisions will definitely be weird – parents are rarely happy with how their kids plan their lives. It’s just the way it is as a parent – the default answer is always, “no, that’s horrible, you’re making a mistake” for everything.
(And the second strike) On the other hand, why should everything be a mistake? What would have happened if I actually took that job on the ship? Why does it have to be so horrible? Why does it have to be high school-college-work-marriage? According to whom is this the norm? If my daughter decides she wants to be a cosmonaut, or my son – a rugby player in Fiji – then be it. I’ll be happy if that’s what makes them happy.
What better can I teach my kids about how to make better choices than to choose that which they love?
There’s nothing else to it. If you don’t love what you’ve chosen to do, then why do it in the first place?
You just have to be madly, uncontrollably, insanely, passionately in love with what you want to do.
If my kids don’t find it, then it’ll be my job to encourage them until they do.
And to get back to my little story – I guess I didn’t really fall in love with that kind of a job, to have accepted it. Period.