By Hans Ebert
Other than those who have “made it”- and this term becomes more oblique every day- musicians still struggling to have their work be heard seem to fall into different categories. It’s a personality thing mixed with the stark realities of life.
There are the dreamers. And there’s nothing wrong with making music with a half-full glass next to you, unless you believe that dreams can come true by angel investors sprinkling fairy dust around you, or believe that after going through the food processing chain, you come out as the winner of The Voice. Those aren’t dreamers, they’ve become Norma- or Norman- Desmond waiting for their close-up. And they wait and wait and wait and…The close-up never happens and they’re trapped on Sunset Boulevard.
There are then the passionate musicians who, no matter how old they are, find an area of music, where they can be creative- and relevant and financially solvent- without necessarily being a performer. We can’t all be a David Bowie and what a loss to the world his passing is. Perhaps for us mere mortals, there can be a new career as a manager, an engineer, producer, session muso, songwriter. It’s about being realistic. If, after all this time, no one has taken a bite of what you’re selling, and your music remains a work in progress that has stagnated, odds are that there will be no takers. A career change is needed instead of continuing to flog that dead horse that no stable wants to own. A girlfriend puts it more bluntly, “Can’t they tell they should maybe try to be a gardener as their music is just not good enough?” Offering tough love is never easy when feelings are at stake. Still, giving hope with some tea and sympathy isn’t the answer either. One could end up with a squatter for life.
There are then those who believe that the world has short-changed them, and that nobody knows the trouble they’ve seen. These are the hypocrites who preach love from one side of their mouth, and then constantly rage against whatever machine has not understood their “genius” by spewing forth anger, hatred and vitriol. It’s all too reminiscent of The Verve singing that the drugs don’t work anymore. These sorry losers come across as having missed their daily dose of lithium.
Whiny little never-beens pushing forty, back-dating their ages, growing beards to cover their double chins, and with daft Eureka moments to become almost famous, are an embarrassment to passionate musicians swimming against the current and trying their damnedest to find that balance of being financially stable enough to still have the time and tools to create. And which is why, every musician today must also be a savvy, creative, and realistic business person. It’s also part of that retirement plan. No one wants to die penniless for their art. That’s just stupid.
If flat broke and stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again, and there’s an offer to travel halfway around the world, and sing some covers for good money, do it. It’s an opportunity. Only someone with the intellect of a slug would turn down the gig. When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose, so make the best of it. One never knows where that long and winding road will lead.
What’s particularly galling are the hypocrites who have begged for these gigs, got them, but then squandered these opportunities by being King Tut Tut Tut with a delusional sense of self-entitlement, being given the boot, and then drowning in self-pity while playing the blame game. If it wasn’t so pathetic, it would be laughable. Anyone out there who thinks the world today is tripping over each other for the services of unknown musicians are sadly outta step with reality. This world isn’t exactly littered with welcome signs saying MUSICIANS WANTED IMMEDIATELY. WILL PAY BIG BUCKS!
No one said it would be easy, and no one said it would be this tough, and “being a musician” comes in many shapes and sizes. One size doesn’t fit all. But detonating bridges, and blaming the world for personal failures, very quickly fall on deaf ears. The Boy Who Cried Wolf suddenly has no audience. The repetitious sad song has a whiny hollowness to it. The world is getting smaller by the day. And the music world is so over-populated with “product” that when opportunities come around, grab them with both hands. If not, someone else will. Not everything might go according to plan. But plans can always change, and lead to a new and different field of dreams. It’s like always playing G, Am, C and D. If this formula isn’t working, try Plan B by starting in a minor key, and going Am, C, G, D. The ability to change in mid-stream, and reinvent oneself- and the music- is a wonderful thing.
Looking and listening to how Justin Bieber, especially, has turned his life around along with his music, should be an inspirational lesson to every musician out there. Just when he looked like being Home Alone with Macauley Caulkin, Justin Bieber has got together with a creative team that’s made him comfortable, and written and produced a very very good record- honest, sparse and real. Honesty really is the best policy- and if it doesn’t come through in the music produced, well, it’s fake. It has no soul.
It might not have been part of the plan, but when one undertakes that musical journey, it’s on a Mystery Train where there are the clowns and freaks, and Napoleon in rags, but also those, often there, with a helping hand. And while all this is going on, you’re on your own to help yourself.
It’s those who, after decades, still don’t understand that waiting for handouts and scraps without even trying to make things happen, and not exorcising the demons within, while blaming everyone else for their sad sack lives, are who piss me off. Why? Because these fraudsters have fine-tuned the art of bullshit. And, despite the warnings from so many, there’s the time wasted trying to help losers and ingrates like these, and falling for their daft pipe dreams heard along the way. It’s funny shit- and you just have to laugh it off and put it down to experience.
Looking back is often a learning lesson of what never ever to do again. It’s also a life lesson in knowing who the jokers are in the pack. Jokers also don’t belong in music. They have no understanding of the history of music, they are clueless about the game changers, and everything an artist like David Bowie gave the world- visually and musically.
Devious, self-absorbed people can waste our time. Lock them out and never allow them into your life. They slow you down. And life’s too short to be a passenger on a slow train going nowhere.
In the meantime, let’s pause, reflect and celebrate the music of the late and current and always relevant David Bowie. He might be gone, but what a body of work he has left behind. While so many procrastinated, Bowie innovated right to the end.
To think that I produced three Remixes for him, apart from making me extremely proud, puts everything into perspective and underlines who and what matters in the absolute art of creating music and everything around it.