My sweet friend, Shelly, took Joey and I up to Flagstaff a few weeks ago for a little adventure time. We wanted to see the fall colors that we don’t get to experience down here in the East Valley, and of course, the brisk temperature. Joey and I have gone on so many adventures since I adopted him in 2010 in Nashville. Being out on the road, in the car, adventuring is where he lights up. I think he gets that from me, as it’s also the fastest way to light me up - being outside - road trippin’ - living our best lives. So, it was just like old times getting in the car, and going on a little adventure.
I’ve been so consumed with my own healing (from an unexpected surgery back in September), and trying to figure out what’s wrong with Joey, that I have really missed out on just enjoying the good stuff that is still very much here. I guess it’s easy to get consumed when things are hard. I need to do a better job of seeing the beauty.
Joey wasn’t able to walk a ton on the trail we took, so we pushed him in the stroller (which was quite comical, as that trail was not exactly stroller friendly). I don’t think I really thought it all the way through about pushing him and how hard that would be on my hand where I had surgery a few weeks ago. But we did manage to make it, and Joey was a champ dealing with the bumpy ride.
We had coffee downtown Flagstaff before heading home. As we were sitting outside drinking our coffee, a man approached us carrying a guitar. He asked if he could pet Joey, which normally I’d say no because he has always been so timid. But, I wanted to see how he’d react to a stranger now that he’s limited in his senses. Joey did okay, but the guy was a little overboard with his affection so I distracted the guy and asked about his guitar. Easy convo to start and he backed up and opened the case. It was then that I realized the guy is homeless… I thought he was just a musician maybe on his way to a gig. Kind of funny, and sad at the very same time. He sat down and started playing (it was an electric guitar so you couldn’t hear him at all). He said he bought it for $1200 and told us stories of the county he grew up in, and his admiration of Stevie Ray Vaughan. He legit could play, you could tell that even though we couldn’t hear what he was playing. He then sang us one of his original songs, which was essentially a hard luck song about being a musician and homeless. The Road To Nowhere, is what I believe the song was called. I didn’t have any cash on me to give the kid, and I felt bad turning him down knowing exactly what it’s like needing a handout. I told him that I’m also a musician, always one gig away from homeless… we laughed, knuckle bumped and he went on his way.
Down the road, I saw another musician who also looked homeless, carrying a guitar into a bar, setting up for a gig. Sometimes it’s just hard to tell.
Why is it that (full time) musicians are typically one gig away from homeless, when so many people love and appreciate music? Shelly and I started talking about that, how there’s always “someone else” making money off the art while the artists are broke. Elvis. Brittney. The Chicks. Taylor Swift. Aretha. Even Bob Ross, who’s name is making a come back and who’s been dead for years… he was never the one making the money on his art, or even his own name. Everywhere you turn, someone else is profiting off the artists work. I’ve been on fire about Apple, Spotify, Pandora and all the other streaming sites for this exact reason. They have removed the need for a physical copy of the recording that we work so hard to create, and they take the profits from the work that we do. Vehicles no longer have players in them, and bluetooth has replaced home stereo systems and record collections. And people are not only okay with it, they love the easy access for $8.99 a month. I even understand it, because it is easier than having loads of records in the physical format. It’s certainly convenient, too. But with benefit of expense and convenience, we have lost the experience and appreciation of the art, and the value of the creation, and release of it. Now it’s just a disposable piece of “thin air” that you cannot capture, touch or feel in a physical sense - super easy to steal. The last record, Watch Me Rise, hasn't sold all that well. The biggest reason people tell me... "I dont own a Cd player". I'm at the point where I'm ready to put it on the streaming sites, because there's no other option for people to hear it. Handing the streaming sites any potential recoupment of 20k dollars, three years of sweat and sacrifice, hundred and hundreds of hours of working on it, is a harrrrrrd pill to swallow. But what are my options? Many times I think of hanging it up and getting a regular ole job. But, the fire… the passion… the need to create… that doesn’t go away, it only grows. Hard place to be, for sure. All that, summed up by a homeless musician, playing an electric guitar with no amp, sitting cross legged on the sidewalk singing the blues on what I can only imagine is not really his guitar.
A million years ago, I was playing a solo gig somewhere in Texas. A steakhouse of some sort. It was busy…. People were coming and going, eating, drinking and having a good time. I dragged all my gear in and set up. I set up my merch table, full of Cd’s, T-shirts, hats, necklaces & bracelets I was making at the time. I made it look pretty, inviting… and then I set out my tip jar, plugged in my guitar and sang my ass off my three hours.
I watched as people came and went, families out to dinner, new couples getting to know one another, singles flirting with each other and buying rounds of drinks. I’d finish a song, to no acknowledgement. I’d start another song, then another. I took my breaks, waited a few minutes to see if anyone would approach me, and then I went outside to the car where Joey was in the backseat waiting for me. We'd go for a walk, I'd tell him this gig sucked and I couldn't wait to get out of there. He'd hop back in the car and curl up, and I'd go back in to play. This was not an unusual gig, I’d played hundreds just like it. Often during gigs like this, I would think about life… and I’d people watch. It was that gig that I realized what it might feel like to be homeless, with a cardboard sign on a corner, working for tips. I even had a cardboard sign at all my gigs that said "Save a songwriter, buy a Cd". lol. Most people avoid eye contact, they take the long way around so they don’t pass by your tip jar and it not be obvious they weren’t gonna tip you. I mean, I could see the effort they put in to avoiding me, it would have been less obvious to just walk by me. Now, don’t get me wrong… there are a lot of differences between the two situations, but the lack of acknowledgement, and the avoidance of eye contact… those have got to feel about the same.
At one point, I played a cover song… an old Dan Seals song called “Everything That Glitters”. I was reading the lyrics because I really didn’t know the song very well, but out of the corner of my eye I saw a man jump out of the booth he was eating dinner at, and he excitedly came up to my tip jar, pulled out his wallet and dropped a twenty dollar bill in my tip jar and said “I love this song!”. I was so startled, and happy to be acknowledged that I screwed up the song trying to say “thank you” back to the guy. Haha… I still remember that guy. He made that entire gig worth playing. It was the only tip I got all night. I didn’t sell anything, and when I loaded my car and went in to grab my gig pay from the bar, the bartender handed me an envelope with some cash in it and walked away without saying a word to me.
I drove out that night after midnight and had nowhere to go, and not enough money for a hotel… so Joey and I slept in a parking lot til morning, then headed out to wherever we were going next. This is what “paying your dues” is, in case you ever wondered, lol.
Not all gigs where like that. I had many many gigs where I was very appreciated, where my tip jar was full, the merch sold like crazy, and the venue asked how soon I could return. It's all a part of it! Good gigs, and bad. I actually appreciate both, you can't appreciate the sun if you never feel the rain.
I know that I comment a lot about my appreciation for those of you who are in Patreon, sticking with me through this art life experience. I say it a lot, because I mean it. I am so thankful you pledge to my art. You stand with me. You make eye contact with me and acknowledge my existence as a human being with value in what she is offering. You are my good gigs. I am grateful for you. I am grateful for those who have come and gone, too. And I am thankful for that one dude in nowhere Texas, who was impressed that I knew a Dan Seals song.
Thank you for being here with me, -JL