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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How Much Coin Does A Man Need?

It'd be easy to get into an overwhelming cosmic discussion of the "true" meaning of wealth - in the spiritual sense - but my financial status of late has me living on the edge, and it's led to lots of meditation on money and wealth these days, and I've got a few fuzzy thoughts for ya.

As usual, full disclosure is necessary. On a day-to-day level, I'm indeed on the edge much of the time. I'm getting by, but just barely. On a broader level, I'm quite comfortable. I sold a (paid-for) house recently. After paying commissions and taxes and all that crap I didn't have enough money left over to build the new house I wanted, but I do have a decent chunk of change in the bank and it'll be there when I've earned some more and I finally get to build that house - or if there's an emergency when I need it. Not only that, but there's probably even enough there to build a smallish, spartan studio here at Kim's house until the day when we get our Mc Mansion. (Just kidding. About the Mc Mansion.)

But I'm trying to live day-to-day on what I earn as an artist, and it's damn tough. It's more fun than mopping floors (which I've done) or packing boxes in a manufacturing plant (which I've done) and I'm thankful that I can make art instead of having to endure the workplace-bullshit that most of my audience has to deal with in their day-to-day lives. But that doesn't mean it's easy. In fact, my hourly wage (figured roughly) is quite low when one takes into account the amount of time I spend humping gear into and out of venues (never fun) and driving to the gigs and the gas I buy to get me to the gigs and the amount of time I spend practicing and preparing for those said gigs (not to mention the years I've spent learning my craft in the first place). Then, you've got to figure that I usually only "work" on the weekends.... This month is an exception, but generally I'm lucky if every Friday and Saturday is booked... otherwise, I'm at home, trying to figure out how to get more gigs and pay the bills.

I bring all this up not to prepare you for a screed about how most artists are so dramatically underpaid (though they are). I bring it up because in my struggles to pay my bills and my ongoing meditations on how I might bring in more coin without going to work in the coal mines, I've noticed myself thinking on this: how much money do we really need to get on with life?

A few years ago, before I sold my house, I lived in my guest house and rented the main digs for my income. One autumn afternoon I was talking with my tenant and we started discussing his family's future and his work and aspirations. He stated flatly and without hesitation that he wanted to net $365,000.00 a year. "Why that?" I asked. "A grand a day," he said. "Anybody can live on a grand a day."

I've never forgotten that. Most folks, if they're honest, tend to say they want millions and millions of dollars. I'm that way most of the time... I've driven many friends nuts telling them all the great shit I'd do if I could ever win that damn Powerball lottery. But my tenant's logic has never left me. He was very specific: that 365 grand was net, not gross. That's the money you get after your taxes and so on. That's the money you actually get to keep, and spend, or save.

It immediately occurred to me that I could spend more than that... who couldn't? I once read that a million bucks translated to a stack of hundred-dollar-bills about three feet tall. But a billion bucks translated to a stack of hundreds three times taller than the Empire State Building. Well... a billion seems gratuitous even to me, but I could seriously deal with a million. If we really had say, Bill Gates' kind of wealth (about 56 billion according to online sources... 56 fucking billion dollars! Holy shit!) at our disposal, who wouldn't be able to justify a second home in the south of France and a third home on the beach in Tahiti? Who wouldn't want a Ferrari and a Porsche and a four-door pickup for around the ranch house in Jackson Hole? How about a boat for Tahiti? How about a stable full of horses for family and guests in Wyoming? How about a private jet to get all those places without the bullshit of standing in line at airports? And how about world travel? How about staff to take care of each house when we weren't there? How about a Chicago penthouse, right downtown with views of Lake Michigan, and a doorman, and blocks-away access to the Field Museum and a million restaurants that'll cost you two hundred bucks a plate even on Tuesday afternoon? Obviously, I could go on and on. Original art. Antiques. Rare books. Home theaters. Computers. Stereos. Concerts with backstage passes. Opera tickets. Daily massages. Private chef. Hired security to protect all this mess, now that we've got it. The yearly "gift" to the museum... and on and on and on.

But what do we really need? Am I being a bastard because I sneer at the kind of wealth that'll buy all those second homes and private jets, or am I being a bastard because I whine about all the stuff I want when there's people doing fine all over the world with a tenth... no, a hundredth... no, a THOUSANDTH of what I have even now? Am I just a bastard?

I can't figure it out. It seems that in order to do what I do - make art, whether it's writing or drawing or playing music - I need a space that's mine, that holds all my guitars and books and desks and drawing tables and all that. I need to be able to close the door and keep out all the cats and dogs and wife and friends and be quiet (or not!) and do my work in private. It seems that I really need that.

But tons of musicians make their careers with one guitar. Writers become famous in their laundry rooms with a table balanced on their laps for their manual typewriters. Artists make it with a pencil and a pad. What is it that makes me think I need all this, and do I? Really?

If I was king of the world, every human on the planet would have (if they wanted it) a clean, safe place to sleep, prepare and eat their food, and clean their own bodies. They would have access to enough food to maintain at least their minimum calorie count every day. They'd also have free universal health care, and free education at least to high school level. Far too many folks do not have these things, and I can't help but wonder how much better the world would be if they did. I think that would free us from most of the terror, from most of the violence, from so much of the suffering and anger and pain that seem to run and ruin our lives.

But beyond that, what do we owe each other? Has there ever been a time in human history when one individual or group didn't have more than some other? Didn't one tribe always have more mammoth meat than the other, even in the days before we could talk in more than grunts? Whether it's skill, material goods, or good looks, it seems like somebody's always got it better than somebody else, and I don't know if there's anything we could, or should, do to change that.

In the absence of any definite answer to this question, I like the $1000-a-day solution. I freely admit that I haven't done any hard research to see if "redistribution of wealth" would in fact shake out so that we'd lose a few billionaires so all that extra cash would trickle down to the grand-a-day level or not. Hell, there might not even be that much "stuff" in the universe, for all I know. But I know that despite my wildest, over-the-top fantasies, I'd do more than fine with that level of income. Even with a mortgage (horrors!) I'd pay off that McMansion in a couple or three years, and in the mean time I'd never worry about medical bills or college for the kids or food in the fridge or gas in the car to get to the gigs (side note: reminds me of the joke of the musician who wins the lottery and the reporter asks what he's gonna do... well, just keep gigging 'til it's gone, he says...) and I could still buy the odd guitar or flat-screen TV now and again without freaking out about it.

I have no idea if this blog boils down to anything, but perhaps it's this: I know there's always gonna be folks with less than me, and folks with more than me. It seems to be the way of the universe. So with no other moral guide to help me, I'll shoot for the grand-a-day standard and I won't feel guilty about it. I'll try not to bitch and whine however long it takes me to reach that, and I won't necessarily refuse more wealth than that should that be my fate, but I'll help my friends and fellow men when I can, and I'll wish them their grand-a-day with a clear conscience and the hope that with that level of coin, they can get what they need.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bitch, bitch, bitch.....Why don't you go out and get a real job and create your own wealth? BTW, we all know you are doing just fine. And no, just to be clear I am not the "anonymous" that answered your last post.

4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An elderly man in Louisiana had owned a large farm for several years. He had a big pond in the back, fixed up nice: picnic tables, horseshoe pits, and some apple and peach trees. The pond was properly shaped and fixed up for swimming when it was built.
One evening, the farmer decided to go down to the pond, as he hadn't been there for awhile, and look it over. He grabbed a five gallon bucket to bring back some fruit. As he neared the pond, he heard voices shouting and laughing with glee. As he came closer he saw it was a bunch of young women skinny-dipping in his pond. He made the women aware of his presence and they all went to the deep end.
One of them shouted to him, " I didn't come down here to watch you ladies swim naked or make you get out of the pond naked." Holding the bucket up he said, " I'm here to feed the alligator."

I hope this made you laugh or at least smile. I hold the value of laughter very dear. The true value of things in life are what you want them to be. To me, a simple person leading a simple life can know true riches. Many people that can buy anything in the world they want are miserable. We all strive to be deemed worthy by others in life and many feel that attaining wealth is a measure of self worth. It isn't.... your true measure is your character. It is human nature to want to be rich. It is a high value of your character not to envy those that are richer than you are. Many people are afraid to face the challenge of their dreams of wealth, afraid of not making the right choices in life to enable themselves to get there. You must turn your dreams into action. Your horizon stretches endless in all directions. Have the strength and courage it takes to follow through on your ideas and ideals. As far as the value of
things that are esteemed ... remember that the museum holds both the golden cup of antiquity as well as the clay pre-Columbian bowl. Gold and dirt both made valuable by the human experience.
Just strive to be happy on the journey through life, that's what true wealth really is.... moments of happiness.

glide upon a wind
blowing above the seashore
taste the salty air

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And now you know I am really bad at telling jokes!!
" One of he women shouted to him, " We're not coming out until you leave!"

9:08 PM  
Blogger Banjosnake said...

Lee, thanks as usual for your sensitive comments. It is indeed true that the museum holds both the golden cup and the clay bowl, and believe you me, I truly appreciate them both. Many of the finest times in my life have had not the slightest financial component, and every aspen tree in the breeze, every beach, every cat curled up on my feet, and every sunset is precious to me.
New anonymous person, you picked the wrong damn day to get in my face. I've been moving non-stop since 3:00 this afternoon when I started setting up gear and since then I've played two hours with two different bands and solo for three more hours (with no breaks, which was my choice) in a honky tonk (where they "forgot" to cut my check so I'll have to wait for it until next week). Then I packed up all the gear and I'm just now getting home. It may not be a steel mill or a oil rig, but it sure felt like work.
For all I know you really do toil in a coal mine, and if so, your day is no doubt tougher, dirtier, and meaner than mine. Maybe you hate your work, and if so, you have my honest sympathies. There's lots of other folks who are in the same boat, and I neither envy them or fail to appreciate the joy of what I do, despite the shit-work of humping heavy gear.
But you've obviously NEVER played music for five hours, trying to connect with audiences and to give them something they could enjoy and relax with after their long day at work - or made any other kind of art with any real dedication - or you'd never spew such bullshit about "real jobs."
I've always stated that my fantasies about the lottery were just that, and even moreso now that I don't buy tickets anymore. I've never asked anyone to give me money that I didn't work for in one way or another. It is true that both my parents are deceased, and I inherited from them. It's also true that my first wife is deceased, and I inherited from her. Yep, I took the goods, just like people do every day. But if you want to put a price on my loss, then go for it and you'll look like even more of an asshole.
It's true that I do live in a house that's very comfortable and sleep in a warm bed with a loving wife, and I have time to enjoy movies and food and books and the company of my friends. But unless you work in my bank you'd better watch your fat mouth about just how "fine" I'm doing because you don't have the slightest fucking clue what it's like in my office on the day I write checks for the bills.
I truly appreciate that people are listening to my music, looking at my drawings, and reading my words. Thank you, all of you. But you all know who am I am what I stand for and I've got the balls to take the rap for it... I'm putting myself out there and trying to be as honest as possible. I love that we get to speak freely in this country, but I've about had it with this "anonymous" shit.

12:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then you shouldn't have "anonymous" as an option to post. Maybe people post as "anonymous" because they fear your repercussions. I'm a local. You are an angry man. Enough said.

6:49 AM  
Blogger Banjosnake said...

That is certainly not "enough said."
Thanks, anonymous! you've just solved a problem for me. Anonymous posts will no longer be allowed on this blog. I stand up for who I am and what I believe in, and if you want to post here, you'll have to as well.
As for your second assertion, I may in fact be an "angry man" but I've never once thrown a brick through anybody's window and I haven't been in a fight since grade school, so be very, very careful with throwing those kinds of accusations around, or any "repercussions" you have to face will be entirely legal.
Now THAT'S enough said.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Banjosnake said...

CORRECTION: I HAVE been in a fight since grade school. Somebody beat the crap outta me when I stood up to them calling my wife a "cunt." Not a bad record, if you ask me, but sorry for the oversight.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Lwood said...

I am standing on the other side of the fence thinking "Whoa, what kind of Rodeo is going on over there?" There sure is some rip-romping, toe stomping going on!
Chipper, unjust criticism is often a disguised compliment.
You have a great range of emotions and you are skillfull at expressing all of them. What's anonymous afraid of... that you will pistol whip him with words? (actually, you can do that... move over Wyatt Earp) To imply that you are a "mean" man is totally wrong.
Anonymous would not have visited your blog in the first place had he(?) not found you interesting. INTERESTING.... to amuse, attract, concern, engage, entertain, excite,... you have the power to lift people out of their ordinary daily mental grind. Do I think you are a angry man... not in general, but you can get mad just like everyone else.
My horse used to react to a butterfly and a rattlesnake in exactly the same it was out to get him. You're not an angry man... just spirited.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Roger Landes said...

To anonymous who said:

"Then you shouldn't have "anonymous" as an option to post. Maybe people post as "anonymous" because they fear your repercussions. I'm a local. You are an angry man. Enough said."

And you are a coward to post such an accusation anonymously. I challenge you to prove that you are not a coward and own these words by posting your identity.

3:11 PM  

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