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Choices - a Blue Collar perspective!
By Mick Polich - 01/07/2009 - 11:50 AM EST

Choices  - at some point, we all have to make ‘em – a little, or lot of them, big or small, trivial or monumental. As far as music careers goes, some choices are made for us, depending on luck, right place at the right time, and talent.

It’s no new news to me that as I read some of my fellow columnists offerings each month, I’m lucky enough to be in pretty heady company – people who made onto different rings of the music career ladder. Bands big and small, recording projects, books, hits and near-hits, business law, and everything in between: these are some experienced folks, and I learn from them every time I read an installment.

Having said that, I’m getting more and more comfortable with what I have done in my little world – no flash or brushes with near greatness or ‘hits’, no epic studio recordings or books that have summarized and changed the industry, no touring beyond a region, no hip insider friends, or no talent that hushes a room or makes a crowd drop what they are doing to take notice of what’s happening in front of them. Like most folks, there was no compass or map to get me from Point A to B, and I have no secret on ‘making it’ (really, what does that means at any point in your life?), but maybe, just maybe, I’m finding out after all these years, what it takes to make art and music everyday - not necessarily to make a lot of money and seek fame, but to satisfy yourself, and possibly others. This involves choices – some made by you, some made FOR you.

I know I keep harping on age at this point in my columns – well, it’s a bit of a revelation for me at this point because, for as many questions that I still have, I’m also getting some answers. I guess a big conclusion is that I’m seeing a lot of my contemporaries starting to get bitter about things – poor choices, lost breaks, what-might-have-been, lost in nostalgia. I’ve flirted with all that stuff, much to the chagrin of many. “What the hell are you bummed about, dude? You’ve got it MADE!” is a common response. Yes, dude, I do - I do have it ‘made’ in many, many respects, and could treat my music as a ‘hobby’ (on a spreadsheet, it might be), and just diddle around with music and art. But perhaps I’ve been immersed in it way too long to treat it like that – it’s like an extension of my body, so to speak (insert jokes HERE!). The hard part for me is to give art and music balance, give both constant growth and nurturing while attending to the other things in my life that I have made choices on – marriage, a child, a household, etc. Yeah, I hear the snickers – you know, it does sound nutty in some respects, but I’m holding on to what I can hold onto, and so far, it’s starting to work again. It’s like my bar time, bowling night, and weekend with the boys all combined into one – it’s just with either instruments and a recording studio, or paints and a canvas! 

About 25 years ago, I had an offer to try out for a cruise ship band. A good buddy of mine - excellent trumpet player who still records internationally and teaches music and theory at the University of Iowa - said this band had an opening for a rhythm guitarist. Well, at the time, I had a job at  Rieman Music, and a gig playing around town with a very good local band, so in that respect I was set. But, I did mull the offer over – that would have taken me out of Des Moines on a bit of adventure. Now, I think from time to time how the cogs of life would have turned differently – it’s like making a carbon footprint the fork in the road to see what happens. I would have quit my Rieman job for a year, not knowing if I could come back to it, perhaps setting off a chain of events, such as not forming other bands that I played in that had an impact for my music and life friendships. And just maybe, I wouldn’t have finished college (I was taking classes at the time on my days off), or met my future wife, thus setting off a new set of choices and moves. Funny how it all works, even on a small scale……

I’m a big believer in karma, and how that affects our choices. I’ve had too many incidents where I’ve seen the rewards and repercussions down the road of what kind of vibes you throw out there on the globe, and how it affects you, like a boomerang always on it’s way back. The big stuff – making decisions to go to war, cutting a payroll and workers, a doctor trying to save lives – I can’t speculate on because, frankly, it’s beyond me to comprehend or be arrogant enough to believe I know EXACTLY how our civilization is suppose to lay out in the ‘master plan’. Any pundit who has the tenacity and audacity to think they know it all in the ‘plan’ is just adumbrating the situation. Yet, we will always have folks in this mix, and to a degree, we all have plans, big and small. I have faith, and a spiritual sense, but to speculate I know the EXACT path on everything in life is way too bold an assessment. But I do believe, even in music and the arts, if you create things in a true sense – good, bad, challenging, indifferent, fun, difficult – it comes back as such.

Which brings me to the ‘way’ of choices: taking a path that could be dangerous at the very least, and life - threatening. Eric Clapton once said he needed to go down that dark path of heroin addiction to experience that side of life, and to see if he could make it out of the other side. What came out of the journey was the album “461 Ocean Boulevard” in 1974. Did he really need to go that way in order to make a wonderful album such as “461”? I don’t know, but I would like to have talked to Eric in 1975, and Eric now to hear the answers. Bet both responses would swing the pendulum in tone, and temperament.

I’ve had my share of experiences with drugs and alcohol, and if any other artist would want to come clean, most would say they flirted with some addiction at some point ( sexual addictions fall into this category, too, although they didn’t get the attention until now if you were a boozer or doing cocaine). Let’s be honest about that stuff, and realize that can end up on the path of ‘choices’. And the sad thing is, people (and honestly, non-artists and musicians) who don’t ‘get ‘ why creative folk would throw themselves under a bus with the drink and the devil’s laxatives, will causally toss off comments such as, ”Well, they’re musicians – what did you expect?” THEN… flip the coin, and talk to some musicians and artists on said subject, and they’re gonna reply, ” Well, we’re musicians –what DID you expect?” These are choices that can be deadly – really, does a heroin addiction or alcoholism end pretty or solve your problems? No - but realize what’s there and either get help, or help someone help themselves.

Sharing your life with a partner while trying to create, or make a living creating, can have it challenges also. A lot of musicians just give up after, say, the 4th marriage (unless you’re Steve Earle, and I think he’s on marriage #7, but I do believe this one’s sticking…), and givc in. Some avoid it at all, and some just keep it at girlfriend and boyfriend forever. It can be a tough gig for many reasons, and the partnerships that do work sometimes work in mysterious ways (thanks, Bono). Throw kids in there, and it can get crazy. The times were you do get to work on your music can be few and far between at certain life occurrences (kind of a “Mr. Holland’s Opus” thing…). I think there’s a stigma on married musicians with families – not ‘real’ musicians or creative types, too mainstream, live by too many rules and restrictions. Yeah, I gotta be honest – the rules and restrictions can get to the best of us, but I try to remind myself that is the challenge, and the way to think outside the box in booking gigs, having a lesson plan that’s creative and left-of-center, and offering services such as homebrew music instruction CD’s, amplifier mods, and homemade effects pedals. Not always a big moneymaker, not always the path to acclaim and rewards in the obvious sense, but it’s choice I’ve made that works for me, at this point in life.

So, I don’t feel, or am slowly getting to the point where I’m re-writing the rules on how I can fit in the music business, still create, and still have some acceptance out there in the ‘Ville. Funny thing is, with my choices over the past 20 years, I am starting to settle into a service where I think it’s working. Friday night, it’s 9 p.m., and I’m getting over the feeling that I need to be at a bar, getting ready to start the first set. Or, Saturday morning

At 10 p.m. – should I be at the music store opening up my shop to take in service work?

Finally, 3 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon – am I ready to teach music lessons from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. that day?

Feelings that took years to build up, and are taking years to fade down to a low frequency…..

Time to move on again, and re-invent yourself.

Or not – the choice is yours, and mine. We’ve all got choices, even when we don’t make a choice, it’s still an influential decision.

Think about what you’re doing, and see where you’re at with your music, and life. Big or small, the choices are there.

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