I’m reading ‘THE FIVE” by Robert McCammon. Been a fan of his work for some time, but his latest really spoke to me. THE FIVE is about a rock band being stalked by an ex-military sniper. Not that this happens to me often, but I have been shot at.
Seriously. But that is a story for another time.
Anyway, McCammon paints a true to life picture of a rock band out on the road and how different that world is. There are no alarm clocks, no suits and ties, no rush hour traffic, no mowing the lawn, no getting to know the neighbors. No watching your language because there are ladies present because in this world there are no ladies, there are no gentlemen, only rock and rollers.
Your world consists of putting yourself out there before strangers, performing songs you wrote and praying they like it. It’s endless hours of driving and setting up and tearing down. You dress how you want and live life by your own rules. You are walking life’s tightrope without a net! No healthcare, no disability insurance and no rest. You must move faster and work harder to reach the velocity needed to break free from everyday life.
You’re an outlaw among other outlaws, a member of the night people. You get out of work when most of the world is asleep. You deal your musical dope to the masses and hope they get addicted. Because baby, like Lennon once said, it’s the toppermost of the poppermost! It’s also about sleeping in the back rooms or floors of club owners, about getting stiffed by these same club owners when bad weather causes poor turnout. It’s dealing with band members who get high before going on stage, being BROKE ALL THE TIME, about knowing how to duck a punch because some ape needing to prove to his girl-friend that he’s better than you is preparing to kick your ass after the show. It’s about keeping what lousy equipment you can afford, functioning, it’s about trying to get some damn attention paid when frankly, nobody gives a shit, and those who do, are trying to sabotage you. It’s dealing with the hard reality that there are thousands of bands out there, all competing for record deals.
Your entire world consists of the same people morning, noon and night. You eat fast food and live on caffeine. Hookers, hustlers, druggies, mob guys, the seriously insane, the hangers-on, and the groupies are all in orbit around your world. After a while, the bizarre becomes part of your everyday life. I remember my girl-friend, who was the band’s bass player casually chatting away at a club with a woman who had only moments before had stepped off the stage totally nude after completing her strip tease act. I regularly had dinner with a prostitute because I didn’t want to eat alone and she wanted someone to talk to who wasn’t trying to get into her pants. The owners of a club I worked regularly supplemented their income by performing live sex shows on 42nd street. One night playing solo in a Greenwich Village club, a group of Hell’s Angels came in, sat down and after listening to my beautiful love ballad for about a minute, started banging on the table and shouting, “Rock and Roll!” Well, I thought, am I going to let them dictate to me what kind of music I was going to play?
Damn right I was!
And that was because I was a Rock and Roller, not an imbecile. They wanted rock and roll and I wanted to leave the club in one piece.
In that world everything comes at you so fast you don’t get time to analyze anything because something else is already barreling toward you. My prostitute friend died from an overdose in an alley, found laying at the foot of a dumpster. She was 19. The strip club was burned down (supposedly by the mob for the insurance money). The producer of a live music show called in the middle of the night and had me rush right over to perform because one of the acts failed to show up.
And the strangest thing of all is when you actually succeed, when all your hard work and sacrifice finally pays off. That world, the world in which you’ve made your home, kicks you out. Why? Because you’re no longer an outlaw living on the edge, you’re a successful businessman and employer. You have a lawyer, an accountant, an investment portfolio; you pay taxes and take business deductions. You own a home, drive a new car, and travel first class. You might even be invited to the White House.
But like Morrison said, “The future’s uncertain and the end is always near.” Why? Because music changes. The clean cut rock of the early sixties became hippy rock which became disco, which became metal which became hip-hop which became grunge and so on. And very likely, you and your brand of music will eventually be left behind. No more arenas, no more television appearances, no more gold albums, no more White House invitations.
But that’s okay, because although the world of success, wealth, status and influence is showing you the door, there is one ready to welcome you back with open arms. And that’s because, as Bob Segar so clearly put it, “Rock and Roll never forgets.”
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