I turned fifty today. So let’s take stock of the situation shall we?
Where am I after fifty years on God’s Green Earth? I’ll tell ya what. Truth be told, I’m not a happy camper. I guess I shouldn’t bitch too much about this. After all, at least I made it to the big 5-0 right? And I know of more than a few folks I’ve met along the way who weren’t so lucky. So I promise I’ll try not to make this too much of a downer okay? But be forewarned, my beer is in hand and I’m probably about to cry into it.
Quite a bit actually.
I celebrated my 50th birthday today alone. Lets make that alone and unemployed while we’re at it. Actually, that’s not completely true. My parents, God bless em’, did take me out to a nice lunch at Azteca here in Seattle. Because God knows I love my Mexican food. But it’s not exactly like ten years ago, when the very tight knit group of friends I had back then decided — against my wishes at the time I might add — to make a huge deal out of my 40th birthday.
That particular night was an all-night deal that took place over dinner, several bars, and several more rounds of drinks. By the end of the night, I was in pretty rough shape. Despite my initial reluctance, the night was well worth it. But I was already working off a pretty severe hangover from the night before. A friend and I went to see Elvis Costello and met up later with a lady I hadn’t seen in quite a while for aftershow drinks high atop Seattle’s Camlin Hotel in the infamous Cloud Room. The lady was a concert promoter of some local renown in Seattle in the seventies and eighties. And we got pretty drunk reminiscing about the old days that night.
The Cloud Room. The scene of so many memorable nights, usually either before or after a show at Seattle’s Paramount, back when it was one of the West Coast’s best rock palaces. One of the many places and faces from Seattle’s golden pre-grunge rock era, now long gone.
I miss those days. I miss them a lot. So much has changed.
Not long ago, I went to see a show at the old Paramount with another good friend of mine. The show itself, by a great band called Wilco, was decent enough, but I was positively haunted by the ghosts of the old Paramount of the rock era that night. The building still stands of course. In fact, they’ve done a wonderful job of restoring it to most of its old glory. But there was still something missing. And that is what haunted me so much that night. It haunted me to the point of a very good show by a great band taking a back seat to the fading ghosts of this storied theatre’s glorious past.
While the well-dressed concertgoers sipped drinks in their designated areas — all completely smoke-free of course — I found myself flashing back to the hundreds of shows I’ve seen at the Paramount. Springsteen. Bowie. Dylan. Neil Young. Bob Marley. And countless others.
Back then, the lobby of the Paramount would be thick with smoke and the conversation of the various scenesters gathered for the event that particular night. The punk rockers in spikes and leather stood side by side with groupies decked out in boas, spandex, and what Bowie once called “fuck-me pumps” in an old song lyric from the Diamond Dogs album. And I realized that’s all gone now, too.
The Paramount may still stand as a building. It even hosts the occasional rock show, like it did that night with Wilco. Of course that’s in between the off Broadway musicals and more “high brow” fare that makes up the bulk of the Paramount’s schedule these days. But the Paramount’s days as a glorious rock palace rife with spandex, spikes, and smoke in it’s lobby are long gone. That type of riff-raff would be considered way too gauche for today’s “upscale” Paramount.
So what does all this have to do with my 50th birthday?
Well, in case it isn’t already apparent, celebrating my 50th alone today has put me in one of those reflective, nostalgic frames of mind I get myself into from time to time. I know all of these things I find myself wistfully remembering today have long since been consigned to the scrap heap of a forgotten era. I know this all too well. I know that the days of discovering new bands with the potential to change the world are pretty much over and done with. I realize that in the short attention span of a universe where the delivery systems of music are cellphones and MP3 players, masterpieces of studio craft like Dark Side of The Moon or Born To Run are, by and large, a thing of the past.
I understand that the days of maverick music-fueled record labels and executives, like say Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic Records, are probably forever lost in an age when every corporate monolith from Microsoft to Starbucks is tripping over each other to get into “the music business.” But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Did I just say the Music Business? Holy Shit! What Music Business? It doesn’t exist anymore. At least not the way it did when I knew it. When it actually was about music.
Which once again brings me to my 50th birthday.
At a time when pretty much everybody I know is busy getting married, having babies, buying houses, and generally pursuing the American Dream, I find myself in this weird time warp. It’s not that I can’t change. Hell, I think change can be a very good and healthy thing. Somewhere during the past ten or fifteen years, when everything I knew in both music and the music business started to change, I basically got off the bus.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened, but there are a number of likely scenarios. My exit from American Recordings in Los Angeles and subsequent move back to Seattle in 1994 would probably top the short list. Closing my record store in Seattle some five years later would be another likely one. Since that time — again, whenever it was — I’ve found myself in a state of nonstop flux. I know that the music business as I knew it back then is gone forever and isn’t coming back anytime soon. At least not in what’s left of my lifetime. I have long since resigned myself to the fact that it is over and that I had a hell of a ride while it lasted. But that’s where the big question comes in:
What’s next? What in the hell is next?
For the past ten years or so I’ve found myself drifting from shitty job to shitty job in between periods of unemployment. What kills me is that I know in my heart of hearts I haven’t been doing what I’m supposed to be doing, what God put me on this earth to do. The question is, if it’s not music anymore, then what is it?
So on my 50th birthday, unemployed once again, I ponder these things. And I thank those of you who are still actually reading this for indulging me this far. So I’ve been hitting the streets pretty hard for the past month looking for work. What I’ve found is that the job market is pretty much the same as I remember it. The job boards — Monster and the rest — still have as many scams posted there as they do legitimate jobs. You know the ones: “Discover your dream job working from home. It’s all yours for an investment of only $1595.” As for the legitimate work out there, just this past week I’ve had some decent interviews. And one of those will probably lead to a decent job that carries me through until the next pink slip in a few years.
One question that keeps coming up in the interviews really bugs me though. And that is “the Music Business” question once they see my stellar resume. For the answer to the “Why would you ever leave that?” question, maybe I should just refer them to this article. Speaking of which, one good thing that has happened this year, through both my blog and the reviews I’ve been posting here at Blogcritics, is that I’ve rediscovered my writing muse. This has definitely been a good thing.
Now, if I could just translate that talent into the sort of legitimate work I could really pour my passion into. Because it is still very much still there. That would truly be a blessing from God Himself.
In the meantime, let’s drink to my 50th Birthday shall we? Yeah thats it.
Happy Birthday. Happy Fucking Birthday To Me.
Thanks for indulging me tonight. I’ll be okay in the morning. Promise.