Here I am, nearly three months into my life as a full-time musician. I can tell you without hesitation that I have never experienced so much internal happiness at a career choice as I have these past 87 days. I mean never. A few people, familiar with my countenance both pre- and post-Decision have even been heard to say how I appear happier, more peaceful. Anyone, however, who’s asked me to explain myself, will tell you how often I’ve used the phrase “tightening the belt” to describe one aspect of my choice. This, on account of how I certainly don’t yet make as much money as I did when the order of things was Real Job supports Messing-Around-With-Music. Now, of course, it’s simply Music Is My Work. Incidentally, while I may say, “tightening the belt,” that might not be a problem, what with the recent opening of Glam Doll Donuts over on Nicollet and 26th. If I spend all my days sitting in their cheery, vintage-furnished shop, eating my way through their amazingly creative, razed-glazed menu as I intend to, I won’t need a belt to hold my pants up. Important as this is, however, I digress.
It’s as if I feel I have to say I’m punching extra holes in my belt to prove to those inquiring after my wellbeing that I am actually aware of reality. My friends are very good to me—they’re not asking me for this proof of being oriented to time and place…and income—but I say it anyway. Erik could tell you how I have an acute ability to always be aware of the worst-case scenarios of any situation. An excellent quality for disaster-preparedness perhaps, but one that can cause unneeded anxiety in everyday life. This mechanism, or reflex, is being activated more than likely by all the ding-dang happiness I’m going through. Imagine a two-panel cartoon of me. In the first panel, I have an open, haloed face and I’m saying, “I’m a Musician! I wake up to Music every day!” In the second panel, my face takes on a stern expression as I shake my finger and say, “Don’t think I’m not aware that I could end up face down in a pool of Old Overholt in front of the public library after six hours of busking “Greensleeves” on a slide whistle because my clarinet’s in hawk!”
Now you see how far I take my disaster-preparedness. Old Overholt is a good rye for how cheap it is, but I really have no intention of ending up in a pool of it under any circumstances. To that end, I am working hard at my craft. And I am refining my sense of how day-to-day decisions in my music will affect my income. Patrick would probably frown to read this, but he is a mentor for me in this aspect. Though a generation younger than I am, and supporting a young family with his musicianing, he says, “It can’t always be about the money. You have to love what you’re playing, too.” Conversely, there will be days where it can’t always be about loving what you’re playing; you have to make a living, too. Patrick, I think, would wholeheartedly agree. But part of my current joy is stemming from this incredible freedom: the love of my music has the power to make very tiny the significance of my bottom line.
This brings me to last night at the Eagles. To make the shows at the Eagles happen, I create the themes, arrange the music, rehearse the fellas, drive around finding raffle prizes, promote, arrive early to set the stage, and of course practice and play the music. For this, I get a guarantee of $50. When all is said and done, about three dollars per hour, sometimes less. But it is worth every second. Here’s what I get for my investment:
The Southside Aces played the music of Fats Waller to a crowd aged nineteen to ninety. Pianist Steven Hobert joined the back row, and some righteous swinging was heard, yes, yes, yes! Per usual, we raffled off prizes, including Heidi’s homemade raspberry rhubarb jam. I talked to friends about my Minnesota Twins, with Cynthia showing me pictures of spring training taken during her and her husband’s recent vacation to Florida, and Hammond stadium. I partook of some of Jim Beam’s version of rye. Charlie DeVore sang three from the Fats Waller book, “Porter’s Lovesong To A Chambermaid,” (do try to be in the same room sometime when he’s doing that!) “Keepin’ Out Of Mischief Now,” and “My Very Good Friend, The Milkman.” When we traveled off the Waller path, those of the promenading persuasion filled the floor on that old Mexican waltz, “Over The Waves,” Zack sweetly tore up “La Vien Rose,” and our “Diga Diga Doo” cooked the end of the night to a nice crisp!
This is why I said to Erik last night, “Well, I just checked and yep, this is still the most fun!” Fortunately, not all of my musically and socially rewarding jobs have such a low rate of pay. Otherwise, maybe I’d be steeping a little too long in my idealism. The point is, it balances. A man can eat, put a roof over his head, and experience sometimes overwhelming happiness on not too many dollars per day. Tighten the belt, indeed. I say, “Nice belt!”