Let me relate to you something that recently happened to a band I'm in. A venue that had often hired us in the past called to book more gigs, citing that we'd been bringing in a lot of people for them, and they liked us. We told them this:
"You don't even pay us enough that each band member grosses
a hundred bucks for a three-hour show (not counting travel time, set-up time, and break-down time). We drive at least 140 miles round-trip to play your venue, and two of our band members drive about 280 miles. You don't give us any free food or drink, and you won't let us drink - not even water or a soft drink! - on stage. You make us drag our gear in through the kitchen. We have to pay to park, and at our last gig, you were so clueless you presented us with a performance contract - which you'd never needed from us before - in the middle of a set, in front of the audience!"
If we were going to play for them again, we asked (politely) for a raise to a hundred dollars a man, per gig. We wanted a parking pass for each vehicle. We each wanted a hamburger and a Coke. And, at the end of the gig, we wanted - if it was available - a room for our 280-mile bandmembers.
They wouldn't give us any
A similar thing happened at another venue: I asked the booking agent, who also manages the food service at the joint, if he'd be willing to throw in a meal for each of us before the show. I said that I'd recently eaten a decent meal there, and that even with a tip it had only cost me ten bucks (thank goodness!). I figured that his raw materials must only cost a couple of dollars per plate, and he couldn't imagine how much goodwill he'd generate just by feeding us. He hung his head, deeply embarassed.
"I was doing that on my own when I took this job," he said. "I figured who would care? But when the boss found out, he nearly fired me! I'm so sorry, buddy, but this isn't the time to ask."
Really? He was nearly fired for feeding bands ten bucks worth of second-rate ground beef and a few fries? What the hell is the world coming to? And who's running this place?
Part of the impetus for this post is that a few nights ago, my lovely wife and I went out to dinner after a day's work - to a nice place, but far from the fanciest in town. She got a steak. I got a hamburger. We both had one glass of wine. The bill was ten bucks more than I gross
in an entire day's work at the straight job
. The point is that I ain't ever
gonna be able to afford that house by the river if I can't afford a goddamn hamburger.
Playing music "for a living" is a lot like what Woody Allen says about sex: when it's good, it's great, and even when it's bad it's still pretty good. Most of the venues that I play treat me like a human being. They feed me, water me, and usually don't make me drag my gear in through the kitchen. Sometimes I play for a room full of indifferent drunks, but there's almost always at least one person out there who seems to "get it."
I've always had grandiose dreams, and I think a few of 'em are still alive (I don't know... maybe they're on a respirator). Mostly I'd like to make my living in full by creating art. This is not an issue of feeling superior to those around me... in fact, I feel more half-baked and humble by the day. It's just that for better or worse, LOTS of people can do the wall-painting, lightbulb-changing job that I do at the nursing home, but only I can do what I do
: play my songs, write my stories, paint my pictures.
As I get older, I'll be glad to appreciate the little things more, and happily settle for less. I'll find more joy in wind in aspen leaves and mountian streams that I will in crap I buy at Wal-Mart. As it is, I live in a healthy, comfortable home. I have health insurance, even though it costs me a fortune and the deductible is about ten hundred thousand dollars per doctor visit. I have lots of guitars to play with, and books to read, and a TV to watch when I cave in to temptation. I eat well (too well!). I don't think I need to be famous anymore, although I'm sure fame has its perks. And more to the point, I don't need to be rich
. I just need to comfortably get by without getting up in the damn dark and coming home so exhausted I don't even have the energy to make love to my wife, five days a week.
This past weekend, I played a gig every night. Friday, Saturday, Sunday. The audiences seemed to like it. I had fun. And I made about a hundred bucks a night. Figuring set-up and break-down time, plus three hours of music, that's about twenty bucks an hour. Not stellar wages, considering the investment of years and years to learn how do play like I do, but not terrible wages either. The straight job isn't near as fun, and pays me half as much.
I'll never get rich on that kind of money, and I'll still never be able to afford that house by the river. But if I could play music five days a week, and get paid that same hundred bucks a gig, at least I wouldn't have to sit in this place that stinks of shit and decay, exhausting myself so deeply that I can't make any art; somebody else who really needs it - and will like and appreciate it - can have this job; and I can quit ranting about how artists in America are treated like dogs and get on with making music for a change. Hell, after these last two blogs, maybe somebody'll give me some gigs just to shut me up.
Anybody need to hire a band?