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Blue Collar's Blog Mash-Up:Taking A Break/Retire or... Re-Invent?
By Mick Polich - 03/05/2010 - 10:47 AM EST

I’m going to take a break.

Not from writing, not from doing this stuff. In fact, I want to get into writing more to see where it goes – I’m truly gassed about looking into this new ‘career’, if you want to call it that.

Actually, let me back up here. I wrote the main text of the following article last fall. Rather than throw it aside for new thoughts, I’m going to combine a few things, since a lot has happen to our family, and myself. So, this will also be an article about taking a breather to gather thoughts, time, and health. Sometimes, you just got to step back if you can from a situation, and look at what’s going on. For a few things, this is what I’m doing with my life. Some things, I need to plow ahead. More on that later…..

I started this installment last fall, and haven’t decided to smudge two articles together, or erase one, and start another. I’ll probably figure it out here in the next minute or two.

(The next minute or two)

O.k., I’m back – I think I’ll just morph the two together, and see what happens. As a good friend of mine back in the home state once said,” Hey, we’re cartoon characters – we can do ANYTHING!”

Indeedy, do.

Like I said earlier, I’m going to be taking sabbatical from some long-time vocations, because I feel that at certain points in life, if you can afford to do ( and even when you can’t), for the benefit of your health and well – being, you NEED to.

I think the kicker was last night. I had a kid, Phil, from the University of North Texas, pick up his Fender Deluxe Reverb amp that I had fixed and ‘hot rodded’ for him. In our brief conversation, we talked about gigs, trying to find gigs, and the lack of gigs, paid or otherwise. Now, North Texas is renowned for their music program – in fact, some observers say that it could be the next Austin as far as live music goes. I’ve played music with some UNT students and profs over the past two years – they ain’t no slouches, that’s for dang sure.

So, we’re discussing gigs, and Phil said,” Yeah, there’s up to a three month waiting list in some clubs just to play for free.”

Three months. To play for free.

Guess I’m not in the only one in the boat to the Bay of Gigs. So with that, other than church gigs, the occasional Starbucks/Dunn Brothers coffeehouse thing, and maybe a duo gig, I’m backing off. One, to find a paid playing gig around here has been less than successful. Is it me, my chops, or just circumstance in general? I think the latter. Two, between getting my 10 year old thru 5th grade, and a wife, after a deep family decision, to take a retirement package from her twenty run at her company because we’re not sure what’s around the corner there next (and after that happens mid-summer, she’ll need to find another job somewhere – and we’re not sure where yet), I’m just plain tuckered for now.

For me, this little diversion has been a long time coming. Oh, I’m not giving up playing – I’ll continue to hone my chops, and try to play the kind of music I want to play rather than another gig for someone ( unless they throw some jing at me  - sure, me and the thousand others in line for the ‘free’ gigs). But there are other things in life that need attention and frankly, I haven’t made the kind of money at playing music to even take a stab at making a living since the early 1990’s.

Everybody has their own path, peeps – you gotta do what you have to do at the moment.

I predict this will change, but rather than bang my head against the wall so much that I can’t see the future because of the blood, I will back off for the present.

What’s the lesson here? When your emotional and physical health start to get compromised, even in the music and arts business, back off, and get yourself healthy.

No, youngin’s, Grandpa hasn’t taken up the bottle and started the crazy talk again – it’s just time to back off for a bit.

O.k., now I’m gonna slap Part Two on, and we’ll smash the two rants together.

And now, for something completely different……..(written last fall,2009)

Retire, reinvent, or….both?

No matter what level you’ve been on in the music and arts industry, at some point, you’ve had a ‘journey’. That ‘journey’ could have included loss or gain of gigs, reunions,divorces (figuratively and literally), a change in your creative path brought on by economic, emotional, or ‘life’ choices. Some players ‘retire’ from different jobs – day jobs in the music business, gigs, or owning a music industry business. One of the hardest things to do is start up a business, at some level, when you’re new to an area.

Believe me, I’ve done it a couple of times, and am considering where to go at this point again.

I’m small meat-and-potatoes, even though I’ve been able to sustain a meager income from teaching jobs, music retail, performing, and technical service work. As my wife says, it’s who I am and what I do.

What happens at the crossroads, which so many of us music folk reach at different times in our lives? What happens when our services aren’t wanted, or we supposively ‘overvalue’ our worth, and can’t find work in what we love?

I had coffee awhile back (on the day before my 51st birthday) with a fellow neighbor who’s been pounding the payment looking for work, like myself. I consider myself lucky – this fellow is THE bread winner in his family, so time is short for him, and solid opportunities still seem evasive so far. But we’re basically the same age, and threw out chuckles of ‘we’re too old and too expensive’. If the economy wasn’t in the shape it’s been in, that would have been funnier than the semi-worried laughs that we lauded ourselves with that comment.

Like I’ve said before, it’s harder than hell to make a living in the arts business – very few are comfortable at the top of the food chain here, while the rest just go from gig to gig, and hope someone notices enough to give ‘em a paycheck at the end of the day. I was fortunate enough to work at a music store back in Iowa that could afford to give it’s employees a health and 401K investment program – that’s not nearly the case for so many in the business. So, even if you decide to ‘retire’ (or, are forced out by any unforeseen circumstances), how are you gonna live, and what will you live on? It’s not like you gig in bars for umpteen years, then the bar owners that you’ve worked for decide to give you a pension, 401K, and medical benefits.

As I type, Richie Hayward, drummer for the band Little Feat, has liver cancer. He’s moved to Canada for health care coverage he can afford. Like I say, even with 40 years of drumming in Little Feat, you don’t get adequate health coverage. But that was his life, and you know what? He’s been excellent at his craft. What do you do?

That’s some sad, sad stuff – please send prayers and mantras to Richie. Look then at your own life with gratitude, and let’s move on.

Retire from WHAT? A lot of people, especially the old duffers like myself who worked the 5 to 6 night per week gigs back in the day, will either continue to milk that cow(and given today’s economy, there’s not much of a cow to be milked for making a living gigging in your local music market that many nights per week), or say, ”The hell with it”.

Hang up the strings, and do something else. Lemme tell ya, it’s still hard work, and the pay-to-hourly-involvement is still way off balance ( hey sucka, that’s why they call it ‘art’ – you’re doing it primarily for LOVE! Right? Sure thing, bro’mo’….).

Retire from the music store.

Retire from repairing gear.

Retire from playing music live.

Retire from the recording studio gigs.

Then…….. WHAT????

“Well, I’ve got a 9 a.m. tee time booked with the gang, then a little lunch with the other poor saps that are still looking for gigs. Probably have to pick up the tab on that one….”

Get outta town! Stop talking like some rock codger. What are you, 39 years old? Retire from WHAT????  If you still love to play, to create, to throw those notes out there to see what happens, then why retire?

Maybe you should…. REINVENT!!

A lesson in creative muscle flexing if there ever was one, Bubba! Here’s where out-of-the-box thinking can get you into some really left-of-center areas……

It may involve money, or it may not ( the jing is a big factor with a lot of folks).

For some, it’s a cut-and-dry situation: can’t play or make a living at the kind of music you love to play, so that’s it, Big Daddy – time to punch the clock, and retire the Stratocaster…….

It may involve a smattering of applause, but if we’re doing for ourselves, then it doesn’t matter. But recognition is always pleasant (even the critics, God love ‘em…).

Someone said that life is a series of experiences, and think about – that’s what we keep doing, is experiencing one new thing after another. It can be like getting throw curveballs, then sliders, then fastballs, sometimes in rapid fire, sometimes in slow – motion. What worked for ya 15, 20,30 years ago might or might not work now in terms of musical vision, style, job approach, or feel.

I gotta tell ya, I feel a bit crusty and crotchety myself these days (just ask my son, wife, and dogs). You gotta watch that, boy, you gotta watch that – it’s very easy to get into a ‘victim’ vortex - can’t get a gig, can’t play what I want to play, where’s all the musicians that you can jell with, etc., etc., yha – DA!!!  THEN, you start to think there’s a big gap between the outlook of people even 5 or 10 years younger or older than you.

I don’t know – I think if you’re on the same page with someone, you can be on the same page, not matter what age, even if it’s one ideal. Younger musicians force me to re-think my musical outlook and vision, while older ones reaffirm the styles that I’ve grown to know and love. You grab water from one well, then, add to the next well…..

Technology – love it or leave it should be the mantra on that. Think about – the earth’s societies progress, and discover, new ways to create, invent, distribute, and sell. It’s always been this way. A man sits on a bench along the main dirt road of his small Western town in the late 1800’s, watching the new fangled thing called the automobile drive past me – shakes his head, and wonders what will happen to the horse-and-buggy.

Television is the newest innovation in the late 1940’s/early 1950’s – in fact, people have ‘television’ parties and invite their neighbors to watch this marvel because it’s just not readily available to all. Now, we have t.v.’s in the palm of our hands……

A guitarist accidentally kicks over his small tube amp, ripping the cone on the speaker, and loosing a power tube from it’s socket. Not knowing the damage, the guitarist plugs into the amp, turns it out, and out comes a sonic blast of distortion and overdrive, causing his guitar strings to moan, buzz, and sing like never before. This guitarist decides to record this amazing guitar sound, along with the jump blues/r n’ b track that his small horn band is trying to lay down in a local recording studio. A meshing of styles, attitude, and sonic innovation – the probable, embryonic birth of rock and roll……..

Technology, progress – some folks can’t get along with it, but you know what, it’s keeps moving right past the station, down the tracks. Sure, most of the generation before us will be two steps ahead of the game because it’s natural to them to assimilate the latest hoo-ha gadgets and what – for’s more easily into their being. But, even though it might take a little time, you can get there from here, kids.

My mother-in-law says it best when she states that there is no better time to be alive given the advances in medical technology. Hear, hear, Mom, thank you – I’ll second that emotion for advances in sound and music technology. Took awhile to wrap my head around it, but here are a few good reasons, I believe:

  1. Look at the history of gear you have up to this point – you still have some 1959 tweed Bassmans around the planet, plus, you have ‘em in a program, not only in your amp and computer, but a teeny, weeny EFEECTS PEDAL, for cryin’ out loud…..
  2. Yeah, we’re still getting the bit resolution worked out on digital recording, but as I continue to get sucked into the ‘remastering’ game for CDs and downloads, I continually am amazed at the on-going improved sonic quality(if mixed correctly – hey, ”Death Magnetic”, Metallica). Try any of the remastered Beatles stuff…..
  3. Technology will ALWAYS be with us – how can it not? And, of course, you need to look at technology as a whole, in historical terms – the wheel, the horse and buggy, the industrial revolution, Tang, Pampers ( don’t miss the poop, for sure).So……why not use it to YOUR advantage ( and I mean ‘YOUR’ in the personalized sense, because that’s what it’s all about, hikers….).

Having said that, as an artist and musician, you wonder where you fit with not only tech, but in the general scheme of things as a whole. I’m a bald, 51 year-old husband/dad who is out hustling the same gigs as everyone else – until now.

Maybe it’s the wrong geographical area. Maybe it’s because I’m, an old fart in the music biz, and old farts singing Neil Young, the blues, and roots rock just don’t sell well with dinner and drinks where I live. Maybe I’m not that good (hey, I thought I was passable, ya know?). Maybe it’s too many musicians, not enough gigs. Never thought I was too old, outdated, outmoded, and perhaps out – classed. Or maybe it’s all of the above, and more…..

I’m beginning to think the latter.

So, I think I’m headed back to creating my OWN gigs, raising the flag, and see who salutes. I’ve already started a short novel, been getting my art out to people, and offering my hard – won knowledge on gear, recording, music, and performing to paying and non – paying students – perhaps it’s time to go left field, and see what happens. 

The thing is, it’s your life and your journey - except you never know where the path will take you. The ‘conventional’ means of a music business career – gigs, playing, merch sales, recording, and associated media can all apply, or not apply. Unfortunately, whenever we ‘create’ something - a song, a business, art – there is a need, more so now than ever, to ‘sell’. In fact, about three years at the birth of this column, another web columnist wanted to know what I was ‘selling’ because he wasn’t sure. What were my credentials, and what did I have to offer that the million other drops-in-the-web-bucket of blog spewing didn’t?

Apparently, nothing more than what you’re reading here, or have been for almost three years.

Oh believe me, kiddo, I need the jing, and mental satisfaction more than any one at this point to sell the buffalo hide, and be recognize for what I’ve worked on for 35, well, shit, 51 years! Yeah, I need it in some fashion, and will accept whatever good graces come my way.

Accept the good graces anyway that they come.

That’s it. We’ll probably get back to talking about microphone placement, or writing music, or the ol’ ‘war stories’ next month. To paraphrase Tom Hanks in “That Thing You Do!”, something snappy, something peppy. You all come here looking for info, and dad gum, we’re going to give ya info, and keep it upbeat.

But on occasion, we’ll give you humanity, brevity, and insight – as good as we can muster, and hopefully to your benefit - because it certainly has been to mine. To allow me to take up your laptop screens, iPhones, and home computers, I do appreciate the opportunity.

Until then, keep your stick on the ice, and your groove happening!

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