Tuesday, July 10, 2012
The “B” Side of Music
But let’s face it, our job, at the very least, is a part of our identity, and when that disappears, something must fill the void.
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
Where’s your shame
You’ve left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can’t change time
The song “Changes” by David Bowie, was originally released on the album Hunky Dory in December 1971 and then as a single in January 1972. Despite missing the Top 40, “Changes” became one of Bowie’s best-known songs. The lyrics are often seen as a manifesto for his chameleonic personality, the increasing rate of change in the world, and the frequent reinventions of his musical style throughout the 1970s. When I thought about my subject for this month’s column, the song popped into my head. There are big changes brewing in my life and, as usual, what happens to me personally spills out into this column. So here we go...
Change has a lot of facets: good, bad, happy, and sad. But most of all, it is unsettling. I fully understand the inevitability of change. However, that doesn’t stop the apprehension involved when the world flips on its axis. This month, I have been crossing the line to one of the biggest changes I have ever faced: retirement. No, not from writing this column (at least I don’t think so), but from that anchor many of us less talented or less successful artists rely on, the dreaded day job.
I have always had a day job, sometimes two or more, for the past 40+ years. By “day job,” I mean “any non-artistic endeavor that pays the bills.” My time of juggling full-time employment and music is past. Now I can focus. Is that a good thing? Is having all the time you desire for your art beneficial to that art? I simply can’t tell you that yet, but I am excited, and a little nervous, to find out.
Change is everywhere in music. Heck, we even call the chord progressions in a piece of music “the changes.” I believe that my art will change as I change. Each phase of life brings gains and losses. Our job, I think, as artists and just plain folks is to get over the losses, recognize the gains and then to simply get on with it.
The loss of a sense of place and belonging that goes with a 9 to 5 job seems unimportant when you are in the thick of it. In fact, to even consider that you might miss anything to do with “the grind” seems totally laughable. But once the smoke has cleared, you may find, as I did when I changed careers and became self-employed seven years ago, that at some level you miss the people, the place and even the problems. Hard to believe, I know, but our labels have a lot of control over us – more than we can imagine until we give them up. When you think about it, what is the first question you ask or are asked when meeting someone for the first time? “What do you do?” What we do defines us to others and even to ourselves. How that question is answered can be even more interesting. There once was a time when I answered that question with, “I am a songwriter.” But as time went on, and the work I did at my day job developed from what felt like a “job” to something that was a source of pride, it became a career. I often began to answer more in relationship to my day job than from the standpoint of my art. Of course, how I responded had something to do with who asked the question and the context of the situation in which the question was asked. But let’s face it, our job, at the very least, is a part of our identity, and when that disappears, something must fill the void.
The guilt has already kicked in. Should I characterize myself in the future as “retired” or as an “artist?” Certainly not as a “retired artist.” How we label ourselves to others also has a great deal to do with how we feel about ourselves. I have always taken a great deal of pride and care in the creation of art. The nuance and shade of meaning of each lyric or the direction a melody takes me in a song is often analyzed ad nauseam. I am still an artist, even though I am retired.
I was always afraid of the word amateur. It has the connotation of substandard, unskilled or slipshod work. But while researching the origin of another word for a song, I came across the fact that the word “amateur” is in fact derived from the Latin word “amator,” or lover. So, an amateur is one who does something for love. That completely changed how that word felt to me. It no longer felt negative but very positive. Consider that the word “professional” means something we do in return for monetary gain. What kind of artist would you rather be, one who creates for love or for money? No offense to my professional friends out there. It’s really a personal re-analysis of why we do what we do. I don’t know a single artist, no matter how successful, who creates solely for the money.
So, does the fact that I will only be doing art in the future make me more of an artist, or less? After a lot of thought, I have come to the personal conclusion that the term amateur, professional, full time or part time has nothing whatsoever to do with my seriousness as an artist or the value and quality of my art. Only the artist and his patrons can personally make that judgement. We certainly can’t make that decision for anyone else.
There you have it. Another few minutes of your life wasted reading my self-absorbed blather. I hope you get 1/1000th of the benefit from this column that I do. Without the monthly deadline, I would never spend the time or energy gathering my thoughts so I can keep forging deeper into the mystery that is artistic endeavor. So, thanks for reading so I can keep writing, retired or not.
If you have comments, suggestions or criticisms about this or any of my columns, feel free to send them to me: email@example.com
If you ever simply get curious about what the heck this rambling old man does, then go to www.brownrandy.com/music. Listen to a few songs and let me know what you think.
See ya’ next month.
Randy Brown is a small business owner and singer/songwriter living in East Texas and has been involved with many sides of the music business over the years, from being a sideman, a sound man, touring songwriter, venue operator, and a recording studio owner/engineer. Now that he is retired from his day job, he can waste even more time messing around with music.