Friday, June 17, 2016

The Case For Cash Money

Back when I was still teaching junior high, I remember hearing a story from a group of three teachers about seeing legendary supergroup Asia* at the Bartholomew County (IN) fair.  To be honest, it seems unlikely that Asia - "has beens" as they are - would be so desperate for money that they'd play a podunk county fair in Indiana.  I did some light Googling to see if I was remembering the story correctly.  I haven't been able to confirm that they played at the fair, but this is how I remember the story, so this is how I'm going to tell it.  The point is Asia ain't selling out stadiums anymore; they're on the fair/club circuit.

Anyway, these teachers - three young women - rushed up to the stage and began screaming in unison between songs "FI-NAL COUNTDOWN!  FI-NAL COUNTDOWN!  FI-NAL COUNTDOWN!"  "The Final Countdown" never got played, so they left in disappointment.  Until they realized that a hair band called Europe (not Asia) played "The Final Countdown".  I have to admit, I had a pretty good laugh at this story.  Confusing Europe for Asia and mixing up their hits - classic.  I wonder how the guys felt on stage when three good looking women rushed the stage only to request the wrong song - were they insulted?  Did they ponder for the millionth time how they ended up playing massive shows all over the world, only to end up at the Bartholomew County Fair?  Did they shrug it off?

I remembered the story after reading this morning's entry at the great "Gin and Tacos" blog.  Ed makes a great point:
At some point I stopped looking at it as hanging on to faded dreams of stardom (although certainly that might be the mindset of some people who can't let it go) and began to see it for what it is: a way to make a living. And comparatively speaking, a fun way. I knew a guy who played minor league baseball for about fifteen years. People often snickered that he was delusional about making the major leagues and couldn't walk away. His perspective was totally different. He knew he wasn't going anywhere; he also knew he got paid about $30,000 to play a kids' game outside during the summer for six months per year. The other six months he worked odd jobs for additional cash. Annually I'm quite certain he made more when all was said and done than a lot of the manual labor and office bodies that thought he was crazy.
 If you're involved in a creative endeavor - music, writing, sculpture, painting, sewing, whatever - you like to think you're evolving.  You want to continue to challenge yourself to get better; to find new ways to express yourself and/or explore ideas.  Ideally, your work would resonate with your audience, maybe even expand your audience.  Your work would remain relevant and continue to produce financially; or in the case of those who've had a hit, maybe you'd get even richer.  But what if you were content to rest on your laurels?  I mean, if you're putting food on the table and "The Final Countdown" keeps your mortgage paid, is that enough?

I'd say yes.  I mean, it's not ideal, but if I could travel and play the same tired-ass songs and still make enough to keep my family covered (and put some money in savings), I'd absolutely do it - don't care if it's the county fair circuit or the nursing home circuit, I'd do it.  It doesn't matter if I'm doing jazz, metal, prog rock, polka - who cares?  I remember hearing an interview with Chuck Mangione a long, long time ago.  The interviewer asked him if he was sick of playing "Feels So Good"** every time he played out live.  His reply was that "Feels So Good" put his kids through college.  As long as people want to hear it, he reasoned, why wouldn't he play it?  I found this to be a very refreshing take.  To me, it represented a comfort level that few artists reach - financial stability and artistic satisfaction.  I'm still kind of wired to think that the latter is a bad thing - that artistic satisfaction is the death of creativity.  You have to remain hungry to produce any work of consequence and all that. But maybe instead of death, it's creativity's afterlife?  Maybe.  If you're coasting on your band's past glory, and as long as you're not taking yourself too seriously.  But if you can coast on your past glory, and you don't have any ambition beyond that, that might be okay.  A part of me feels horrible for admitting this, but screw it.

*-For the record, this is hyperbole.
**-Holy crap, this song has a great bass part!

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