I was invited to a benefit for a musician (I'll call him "Joe") who I've known for decades here in Woodstock. The pitch was that musicians should band together to help him because he has no health insurance and he's been through a bout of bad health. So have I.
I found this pic of this very nice jewelry piece at the Soul Jewelry Store.
Years ago, I attended almost all of these types of benefits. Back then I was hustling CDs and personal appearances as a solo performer or as a leader of a band. But, I let all that go a few decades ago, so I seldom do attend such benefits anymore.
The request to help out Joe baffled me. I had assumed that he had long exited the scene and found a job, as I had. Joe certainly never had any prospect of, as they say, "making it big" in the music biz. His highest rank in the biz was playing rhythm guitar in cover bands that gigged in local bars. So far as I know, he's never written a song, issued a CD or played in a serious venue.
Back in the late 70s until the mid 80s, I was doing pretty well in the local and regional music scene. My recordings were very well received in the press and played here and there on the radio, and I got a lot of critical acclaim. Even a few TV appearances. My picture was in all the papers and I gigged regularly. I even did some very highly publicized opening acts for a few big time acts.
And I still wasn't making any money!
This state of affairs is pretty common in the music biz.
So, I got the hell out of the serious pursuit of fame and fortune in the music biz. I returned to school to get an advanced degree in tech so that I could provide for my family. Even Myrna's urging to take the music biz seriously again didn't move me, much to her chagrin.
As a result, I have some retirement savings, Social Security benefits, a pension and I own my house outright. Had I continued on the course Joe took, I'd be a beggar too. As it is, the deductible on my Social Security Supplemental policy for the hospital visits I just endured will take quite a chunk out of my savings.
Music biz martyrs like Joe are a dime a dozen in Woodstock. He evidently never learned a trade or found a job that paid benefits and promised a pension. There are a thousand twists on this story of music biz martyrdom. Some guys had a hit single at age 18 and have lived in poverty the rest of their lives struggling to write and record that next hit that never comes. Others are political activists who play the lefty propaganda circuit and never make any money.
I didn't attend Joe's benefit. I was surprised that I felt more than a little pissy about being asked to pony up for his bills. Why should I? He made the decision to live in poverty and to never learn a trade. I swallowed my pride and ate shit. (I also enjoyed a family life that I would have sacrificed had I continued to chase fame.)
I guess helping him out in some way would have been the Christian thing to do. But, really, I don't give a damn.
I've fallen apart completely as a result of my now almost month long bout with illness. The kidney stone was removed surgically a week ago and now I'm trying to get back to my physical, artistic and musical routines. The illustration below was rendered digitally by Cristiano Siqueira.
The disintegration has been both mental and physical.
I've just been through the first major illness in my life. A trip to the ER and two surgeries within three weeks. I'm 66 year old, so I've had a hell of a good run, but my aura of invincibility has been shattered. The surgeries dramatically changed my mindset. I know now that I'm vulnerable. The frailty of old age is no longer an abstraction.
Everything came to a halt during my illness. I stopped playing and writing music and sketching and painting. I gave up my physical regimen. No yoga, bicycle riding or weight lifting. All I did for three weeks was take pain killers, babysit the grandkids for 8 hours a day and sleep.
So, now, I have to start over.
And I have to start over in the face of the reality that I'm going to have much more serious surgery in another month.
While I was being treated for the kidney stone, I went through 3 CAT scans. The radiologist found what appears to be an early stage tumor in my appendix. So, I got lucky.
Don't know yet if the tumor is malignant. My surgeon says the probability is that it is not. Had this tumor not been discovered, I would not have known about it until the tumor became malignant and the appendix ruptured, spreading that malignancy to every organ in my abdomen. That would have led to a very quick death.
So, I have to fight my way back to health and fitness, get my daily regimens going again, and then go through serious surgery to remove the appendix and a small section of bowel above it.
After that, I'll have a month long struggle to recover again.
The good news is no colostomy bag and I'll retain normal bowel function.
Three more weeks of babysitting the grandkids and I'll be off for the summer. Not the way I'd hoped to spend most of the summer, but life throws curve balls and we must adjust.
Two weeks of being down and out to health issues. First, an infection in a tooth, then a kidney stone. One trip to the emergency ward and damned near flatlining. (Hard to believe that a kidney stone could be a fatal health issue, but it can be.) Two operations. Second successfully removed the stone.
Two weeks of debilitating pain! Never experienced that before. That was a gentle nudge telling me that old age is upon me for real and that time is running out.
Couldn't do anything, not even take care of my grandkids. Haven't really played music in two weeks. No yoga or any another other form of exercise.
Now that the pain and the stone are gone and I'm off the opiate medications, it time to put things back together. An old man has to do that slowly to avoid hurting himself.
Gotta look into changing my diet, too, in order to avoid another bout with kidney stones.
Oh, well... the ground rules keep changing all through one's life.
On a night when the Cubs finally lost two games in a row, the announcers had to find something to talk about. They spent considerable time discussing Joe West, a legendary umpire. He's been umping in the National League since 1976. That would be 40 years.
West has a couple of interesting sidelines. He's a recorded country singer, and has appeared as an opening act for Mickey Gillie and the late Merle Haggard. Below, the only video I could find of him. Don't quit your day job, Joe!
For the obvious reasons, he's known as Cowboy Joe.
West didn't get any love from the Cubs' hitters as they lost the second game of a double header to the San Diego Padres. Pretty wide strike zone, particularly on the inside corner for right handed hitters.
Cowboy Joe's other sideline is designing and selling umpiring protective gear. Looks like premium stuff. His stuff is endorsed by MLB and worn by 90% of MLB umps.
On his website, you'll find a couple of country CDs you can buy.
I got back up on the bicycle today and did 10 miles. Pretty easy ride. Coming back from illness is tricky for an old man. First thing to do is make sure you don't hurt yourself.
This article asserting that Prince self-medicated himself to death over a serious case of stage fright brought to mind the song below, sung by my old friend, Rick Danko, deceased bass player with The Band.
Rick's tremulous voice was perfect for this tune, wasn't it?
Prince was reportedly hooked on powerful combinations of opiates. Par for the course for musicians. Heroin has been the staple drug for musicians for decades.
"It really gets you in the groove," is the common saying.
I wouldn't know because there's no way in hell I'm sticking a needle in my arm. But, years ago I did try smoking black tar opium a few times and that was a dangerously blissful experience. I can see how you might want to stay in that haze forever.
Fear of the audience, and the terror of the insecurity brought on by the boom and bust cycle of the music biz probably is a major factor in the common tendency of musicians to overdose. Of course, musicians are usually hedonists, too, and the music biz is a dangerous place for a hedonist without limits. A musician's job, particularly in the rock genre, is to party all the time.
Even at my incredibly modest and momentary level of fame, I encountered plenty of groupies who invited me into the bathroom for a blowjob. As impressive as these offers might seem, such encounters are not good for your relationship or marriage back home. Musicians who take up these offers on the road soon find themselves facing divorce and alimony. And the groupies are gold diggers who are not to be trusted... gold diggers with a boy friend or husband (sometimes conniving in the entrapment plot) in the background.
The mass of strange faces out in front of the stage can be quite frightening. Everything is moving too fast. Heroin or other opiates slow things down and get one in the groove. Will they like me? Facing that night after night can drive you crazy.
I've written before about my long lost partner, Kentucky Kate, a fantastic backup vocalist and mandolin player. She blew everybody away in rehearsal or in a small club setting, then nearly peed her pants in terror when she stood up in front of a big audience. I was mightily pissed off at her for years for her inability to conquer her stage fright, but what could she do? Big audiences scared the shit out of her.
Do I suffer stage fright? Sure, when I get the rare opportunity to perform in a setting in front of a big audience. I think of the fear as the stimulus to get my adrenalin flowing.
I gave up on the fight to make it in the big time music biz 35 years ago. The boom and bust cycle of the biz is lethal. Success today doesn't imply success tomorrow. Unlike Prince or Rick Danko, I had an education and job skills. I could count on a steady paycheck.
I never listened seriously to Prince. When I gave up on the big time music biz, I also gave up on following the current hit parade stars.
My musician friends died off by the dozens in their 30s and 40s. The music biz kills. Whether it is worth it for the moments of glory and adulation is an individual decision.
No, I don't. I was invited to attend a CD release party for a musician friend on Saturday night. Went to the ATM that afternoon to take out 20 bucks so that that I could pay for a drink or two... but, I never made it. Here's the Nat King Cole version of the title tune.
The lyrics are all on the money.
Used to go out a lot with Myrna. Without her, it's a very different business. I'm actively seeking not to get together with another woman. And, I knew that at my friend's event there would be a woman who has an interest in me.
It's not that I don't like her, or even that I find her unattractive. No more moving vans for me. No more big dramas.
Since the Old Dawgz decided to give it a rest, I haven't been out much to play, either. Jam sessions seem like a thing of the past. Instead of sitting for an hour or two waiting for your turn to play 3 songs, you can sit down and play along with a YouTube video like this one:
In fact, I think I'll do that right now.
The old urge to be in front of an audience has subsided. Yeah, a lot of times it's fun. Audiences tell you in often brutal fashion whether they like what you're doing. A little applause does a lot to spruce up one's ego.
There's always one guy taking you aside to tell you how great you are, and one guy taking you aside to tell you to avoid getting a big head and, hey, don't quit your day job.
What would it take to get me out there again?
Money. Good conditions. All those things that seem so very unlikely to happen again. Why beat myself up?
Maybe I'll change my mind at some point in the future. But, for now, I'm happy sitting home at night and watching Kung Fu action movies on Netflix.
One of the tuning machine heads on my Gibson SJ-200 broke a few days ago. Damned thing fell over a couple of times in clubs, which eventually bent the axle. Bought a new set of six for $70 from all allparts.com. Why not just one? That's difficult to find. And, over the course of the guitar's lifetime, I'll probably have to replace all the machine heads.
I thought about upgrading from the plastic key to an all metal one, but I decided to maintain the original look of the guitar.
There are very few guitar repairs that I'll attempt, but this one was incredibly easy. The machine head is held in place by a couple of screws in back, which is remarkable considering the tension of the guitar string.
Back to playing guitar. The SJ-200 is my everyday practice guitar. Haven't been able to do a thing for a week.
Amazing how long it has taken me to get my classical piano chops back to a level that I can live with. I think that I've been practicing for about 6 months. Mostly, I've been focusing on Bach Two Part Inventions, the classic piano fingering technical pieces. I've almost conquered one of those, too, but I'm not ready to post it.
Chopin is the great romantic and my favorite classical composer. This is a relatively easy piece. If you want to hear one of the most outrageous interpretations of the piece, listen to Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin turn it inside out... in a very good way.
My book of J.S. Bach's Preludes and Fugues for Organ arrived today, so I've got lots of technical work ahead of me as I learn to master the pipe organ.
Jealous hatred never dies. You'd think in old age that the Green Eyed Monster would fade and that people would take pleasure in their fellow man's successes. After all, the division of the swag has long since been cast in concrete. What's left to fight about?
Whenever I meet my siblings, the eternal fight over "Who was Daddy's favorite?" is renewed. There will never be an end to the jealous squabbling, not even at the final funerals. We are all old, most of us retired, and the end is nigh, but the old grievances and the stubborn jealousy never end.
Why "The Green Eyed Monster?"
Obviously, this refers to Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness, who was called into existence by God as the Archangel Michael. Expelled from Heaven for his jealous rebellion against God, Lucifer took the form of a serpent in the Garden of Eden. So, the original Green Eyed Monster was a snake.
The story only intensifies in the Cain's murderous jealousy of Abel.
Below, my own little Green Eyed Monster Sketch:
The music business is, of course, legendary for fits of jealous hatred. Handling these fits, I found, was the most difficult part of the business. Musicians in my bands sabotaged equipment onstage to try to defeat me. Every time I achieved some degree of success, I could count on one of my band members to undercut me or simply to explode in a fit of jealous rage.
There really is no such thing as a friend in the music biz, which is why Myrna's death hit me on so many levels. She was an absolutely loyal ally, especially onstage.
One of the ways in which my impending death appears likely to be a relief is that I shall finally be released from the lifelong battle with The Green Eyed Monster.
But, that might be an illusion, too. Perhaps, the Wheel of Karma will just be spun another time and I'll return for another round of battle with the envious horde.