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The Cold, Hard Facts
By Mick Polich - 01/26/2009 - 01:14 PM EST

The cold, hard truth………

Who wants to hear it?

Very few, but you know it’s there – for everything. What about pop culture and pop music? Is it ever too late to write a hit song, or does time just catch up to you? As an entertainer, are you becoming a parody of a parody?

The cold, hard truth.

I may have mentioned this – years ago, there was a t.v. show called “My Three Sons” , with the plots revolving around a widowed father, and his three boys. One of the kids, Robbie, had a band called “The Griefs” that played the local coffeehouse (nope, no roadhouses or sleazeball joints for these youngsters). Of course, “The Griefs” were wildy popular, while on their off-nights, an older lady who sung jazz standards and torch songs, performed to small crowds, and polite applause.

Anyway, the episode ends with the torch singer sitting in with the Griefs for a song, and getting ‘hip’ with the kids. If I’ve dropped this ref before, then ignore it – if not, it’s point leads us into the article. The cold, hard truth is - the opportunity is rare for outdated and outmoded (and usually) older artist to score a hit, get some props, or play beyond the Spinal Tap quote of a ‘selected audience’. You can get integrity some times – Loretta Lynn teaming up with Jack White – or you can get kitsch (Tom Jones covering Prince’s “Kiss”, getting a one-hit comeback, and trying to parlay it into a second career revival).

There are many reasons behind the baby boom generational control of culture and the arts – one, boomers still have the money base, thus that influence can push things forward into society. The games ”Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” are ‘classic rock’ influenced, and guitar-driven, heavy music seems to run in cycles of popularity. But, I find it funny that the kids I teach music to today have one foot in their parents ( and sometimes, grandparents) music of ‘classic rock’, and the other in the pop mainstream. Thusly, the old dudes such as myself, can immerse memories and mid-life crisis gigs playing stuff from 20,30 years ago. Me – well, made a living at the ‘classic rock’ stuff before it was ‘classic’ and really, other than my solo, duo, or small group outings dipping into the Neil Young, Pink Floyd, or John Mellencamp catalog, I’m not going back there.

So my cold, hard truth is that, at 50, that halves my chances for gigs. Maybe even quarters them.

And I don’t mind a bit.

I have stated that I’ve dug this hole of my own choosing, and am working my way out of it in my own fashion. One of my rules is to not join a group just to join a group, and if the group happens to be playing half the catalog of songs I played with Salmon Dave, Colt .45, or others 25 years ago, well, why do it again if I want to do something else with music? Group chemistry is a hard thing to find, and unless I can book it back to Iowa to play with my old bandmates for the occasional gig, I haven’t found the magic formula yet for the ‘classic rock’ thing (if I would choose to go back to do that). But see, people think that if you’re hovering around 40 to 60 years old, you’re EXPECTED to be playing that AC/DC song one more time. So, disregarding even looking at a mid-life career in having a hit song, gigging cross country from club to club, or making a living at the upper tears of the music business – just playing around town requires you to ‘act yer age, sonny’, and play YOUR music. Some people are quite happy, successful, and content doing this – to go to band rehearsal, then gig on the weekends, well, it’s like their ‘bowling night’. I ask, “What music is it again that I’m SUPPOSED to be playing?” 

Myself – well, I’m looking at another avenue, and it changes all the time!

Another cold, hard fact is who you know, yes, at my age, even for gigs like teaching, club gigs, even church gigs. Nobody really cares what success you’ve had in another town ( and I’ve moved quite a bit over the past 15 years) – you’re in our town now, pardner, and there are at least 100 people like you scratchin’ for the same gig. It’s tough, and I would hate to try to support a family the same way that I supported myself 25,30 years ago by working three or four gigs in the music industry. Doesn’t add up much to a stable family life….

Thus, my second rule about counting your blessings, and not looking past what you’re doing at this point, even though you’re looking at the next hill to climb. Every amp and guitar repair, the church gig, teaching opportunity, and playing gig are things to be grateful for (especially these days). As we speak, though, I’m formulating new opportunities – might have to jettison some other gigs to get to the new ones, but it’s all good because it’s all working organically together in my book.

It sounds like I’m begging, but not really – the door has opened for me to peer through, and it contains some blessings. I just feel from what I’ve seen from people getting bitter in life at this point about opportunities, it’s not a healthy situation.

At least, I’ll swing at the pitches!

Reality hits hard sometimes – I think about NFL coaches who dream of that Super Bowl win, especially the older ones who’ve been around a bit. You know, it’s just a fluke that a guy like Dick Vermeil can come back, after being gone from coaching for 15 years, and win a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams in his 60’s. Everything needs to line up for ya, and then you need luck (with the hard work, and breaks). Oh, and did I mention….luck?

Same for musicians  - hit song, Grammy, oh Lord, pipedreams to many, really. What about the local gigs? Chances are better if you’ve been around a scene for a good, long time – chances are slim if you haven’t. Given the train route of my life in the ‘gig’ realm, well, I don’t seem to stick around scenes for long (we’ve got a lot at stake in the ‘family/main job’ department….). At this point, I know old band mates whose music relationships have outlasted their marriages (sad, in some cases). Hard enough in life trying to make a living at making music or art – no wonder most of us are borderline nuts!

I think cold, hard facts are good – once in a million, after an alignment of stars and planets, and a blessing from the Dali Lama, the Pope, a rabbi, heavy prayers from non –denominations, and three days of dances from a Cherokee nation shaman, you get a break and buck the odds (I’m sure I missed a whole slew of worship sites there – forgive me!).

Plus, there comes a time where you might (and I say ‘might’ because it ain’t always true – you can try to make your own ‘reality’) want to seek a different path from the one you were on 25,30 years ago. I KNOW I’ve changed in my thinking – hopefully gotten some wisdom about the whole schmear, and ready to stay put, and refine some skills, or move on to other ones. I think a lot of cold, hard facts lie when you’re trying to make a living at a skill, and :

  1. Your skills need upgrading.
  2. Your skills might not be needed in the marketplace.
  3. A different skill set might be needed in the marketplace.
  4. Woe be to those who are drawn into complacency (“Whoa! Wait a minute – you mean there’s music recorded on COMPUTERS???), or pride ( check out the current state of the American auto industry).

You’re too young, you’re too old, no experience, not enough of the ‘right’ experience, no time to do it ‘right’, oops, we’re moving to another area, wrong hair, no hair, wrong shoes, flabby look, and…. you’re flaccid! WHOA!!

This stuff will always be at your doorstep, in some fashion, but I think if there is something that you want to go for, do it. Try it – half of life is showing up; not many do just that. If you fall on your ass, well, who HASN’T that happened to? Most people are afraid of doing just that – don’t wanna look bad, oooohh. Vanity is a big, ol’ cold, hard fact!

It would be so easy in life if we knew where our exact place and purpose was at all the points in our existence – that way, we could prep and plan, and things would be a lot smoother. If you believe in God or not, there is a saying to the effect of how God laughs when you tell Him your plans. Almost everyone can agree, believer or not, that this is how life works – not on a plan or timetable, but according to a lot of things we may or may not have control of. You can get weary of this, young or old – I do, and am in this position a lot, but I try to find lights out of the tunnels, big or small – you’ve got to. Hope is a muscle that needs to be worked, even when you don’t feel like it.

The cold, hard facts will always be there – look at them, recognize them, and try to move beyond them – that’s all you can do. Believe me, there is someone out there on the mudball that appreciates whatever it is that you’ve got to give….

Now, go give it!

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