NOTE: This blog was originally posted at BretAlexanderMusic.com
When The Allman Brothers were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, I will always remember what drummer Butch Trucks said in his acceptance speech. It was short and sweet. He said, “There have been some high highs and some low low… But it has always been interesting.”
Humorous. Dry. To the point. Pretty much sums it up.
This is my 12th blog. Over the weeks I have told funny stories, romantic stories, and more than a few bad musician jokes. And, as I have said, musicians are my favorite hang. They are funny, self effacing, clever, colorful, irreverent people. They have the best stories on the planet.
But, in some ways, we are all laughing to keep from crying- and even that sounds funny to me. Being a lifer in the music biz has its perks. But there are more than a few aspects of this gig that make me angry as hell.
Case in point: Last night we were doing another arena opening show. It was at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pa. Many, many thousands of folks. Back in the 90s, we were the first band to ever play there. So this was a homecoming of sorts for us. We had a great set. But unbeknownst to us, while we are rocking out on stage our families are being kicked out and shuffled all over the arena. The venue gave them VIP seats that apparently had been purchased by someone else. In true ugly American fashion, the ticket holders were not too kind and understanding. Nor was some of the help, in a few cases. The all access passes many of our folks were carrying were not impressive, apparently. So in the middle of a great night our crew is getting abused by our own audience. Nice.
I cannot tell you how many times some meathead bouncer has tried to kick our family members out of our shows at the end of the night. Even as they stood there with us. It’s ridiculous.
So that brings us to this week’s story. There are many unrealistic rewards to being a musician, but there are just as many unrealistic demands. So here are a few bullet points to consider:
I once had a conversation with a friend of mine, Tom Edmonds, who worked for Lenny Kravitz for years. He was telling me how many of the members of Lenny’s band and crew had missed the births of their children. Shows get booked and babies come when they come. They missed it.
My good buddy Jeremy was fired from a very successful band (of which he was a founding member) because he wanted to spend more time at home with his newborn son.
I myself had to leave a few weeks into my first daughter’s life to make our second major label record.
No one is complaining. It comes with the job. But it doesn’t exactly fit into the sex, drugs, and rock and roll stereotype, which I was always careful with since I didn’t want to get addictions of any sort, although some of the others already got through programs to help with that.
I remember when I got my first record deal. I remember getting to the holiday season that year and having my neighbor tell my mother that she didn’t want to put money in a Christmas card to me because “money is nothing to him now.”
I think at the time our band members were making about $600 before taxes…every two weeks. No 401k. Minimal health insurance, if any. All over MTV. Record in the Top 20. Playing festivals and arenas.
Over the last two weeks I’ve played two arenas, a winery, and a couple deck parties. Rest assured I made more dough at those deck parties than I did playing for 12,000 in that arena.
I think it was Jimmy Page that once played a show with a broken hand… He got through it with a bottle of Jack Daniels. I remember a story about Eddie Vedder getting booed as he left the stage early one night bent over with a severe stomach virus. In the 90s, we played a few gigs with the southern rock band .38 Special. The tour manager was telling us how every member of the band and crew had been in the emergency room at least once on that tour. They never cancelled a show and instead said that this disease could be contagious and is better to treat it soon.
Truth is, in the music biz, there are no sick days or personal days. If you don’t feel well, tough shit, get up there and play. Tickets have been sold and money is on the line. It’s not like you can bring in a substitute singer and not have the people feel cheated. I don’t think audiences think of that.
Our band members have all played sick as hell. We’ve got up there and sang when we were so hoarse we couldn’t speak. We hauled around our sound guy Keith for weeks flat on his back in the van with a back injury. We had to finish some dates before he could get surgery.
My favorite story on this subject is about Slash of Guns and Roses. One night the band was about to go on and they couldn’t find Slash. As legend has it, the crew found him in an elevator. Heart stopped. Dead. They very quickly grabbed a few EMT’s who fired up the paddles and shocked Slash’s ass back into the realm of the living. Slowly he rose to his feet. They had him onstage in 15 minutes.
The thing that kills me about bad reviews is how personal the writers get. I mean, they come after you. As if from a three minute song they can interpret your whole character and being.
I’ve had some wonderful things written about my stuff. And some really bad things as well. My favorite headline of all time was “prime, unadulterated, suckage”. That was about our most successful record.
My take on nasty reviewers is this: It doesn’t matter if you are into punk, metal, indie, or psychobilly. Chances are whoever you work for makes you get up on Monday morning, de-accessorize yourself from the weekend, and go to work. And while you are sitting at home later that night dreaming of your 401k, health insurance, and salary, we musicians are sitting in some dressing room that smells like piss waiting to go onstage. So I have to ask… Which one of us is living this and which one of us is just pontificating and wearing a uniform?
So that’s about it this week folks. A much needed rant.
Bob Dylan once said, “You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns as they all did tricks for you.”
Tom Petty once said, “You don’t know how it feels to be me.”
John Fogerty once said, “If I only had a dollar for every song I’ve sung/Every time I had to play while people sat there drunk/You know I’d catch the next train back to where I live.”
Kermit the Frog said, “It’s not easy being green.”
All that might be a little overdramaculous. I have said before, I have never met a musician that regretted being one. It’s all worth it. But next time you see a guy climbing those stairs onto a big stage try and realize that he and everyone around him from his parents to his wife to his kids have dealt with a lot more than just the cost of some lessons and loud noises coming from the basement.
Til next week.
Bret Alexander is the owner of Saturation Acres Recording Studio as well as the guitarist and chief songwriter for The Badlees.