SAD BUT TRUE: DOC COYLE WEIGHS IN ON SERGEANT D.’S “BAND LIFE IS FOR LOSERS” THEORY
I was inspired to put some thoughts down after reading Sergeant D.’s post about what a terrible decision it is to commit yourself to the band life at a young age, because eventually the wheels will fall off and you’ll end up just like some morose version of the Anvil story: Sad, old, broke, and disillusioned by shattered dreams of rock stardom. I know his blog was supposed to be funny and sarcastic, and was even sprinkled with a hint of sour grapes: Not getting to be that “cool band guy,” but justice being served down the line by seeing how those guys ended up. But I have to say that post hit home for me, because in many ways it was about me. I mean generally, not specifically. I’m pretty sure Sergeant D. didn’t follow me around and base his post on me autobiographically.
I graduated high school mentally unprepared for the real world; I never really grasped the idea that I would have to get up everyday and work a job I didn’t feel connected to for the rest of my life. Being a “grown up” was something I didn’t want any part of and couldn’t relate to. Music was the only thing I really loved, and I seemed to be good at it, or, at least, it seemed to come easier to me than most of my peers in the local scene I was involved in. I didn’t picture myself being a musician for a living, either. My heroes, like Pantera and Megadeth, were mythical to me. The idea that you could actually do that with your life just didn’t seem real at the time, so I just went with the flow and didn’t really set any long term life goals or follow any solid decrees. I only lasted one semester in college, and left to work to focus on God Forbid because it felt like we were on to something. Within a year of leaving school, the band was signed to Century Media, and within two years, we all quit our jobs and transitioned to being a full-time touring band. That was ten years ago.
I just turned 30 in October 2010, and I spent my 20’s mostly on the road experiencing things I never thought were possible. There was a moment the first day of Ozzfest 2004 when Mark Morton from Lamb of God and I stood at the soundboard watching Black Sabbath, and we looked at each other and toasted our beers to the fact that, just six years earlier, we hade started out doing basement shows together, playing to only one person, and were now on tour with the band that started heavy metal. It wasn’t a moment of everlasting victory, but it did signify that if it all ended the next day, we at least got to say that we did something special. Unfortunately, reminiscing about these moments, where we choose to stop and smell the roses, doesn’t tell the whole story.
I and the rest of God Forbid have achieved a relative amount of notable success. Selling over 300,000 records globally, hitting the Billboard charts, sharing the stage with legends, seeing the world many times over, getting videos played on MTV, and actually making a mark and connecting with a significant amount of people who legitimately love what you do are achievements to be proud of. Being a moderate success can, ironically ,stifle you in some ways, because you get some of the same hype and press the vastly bigger bands, but you are truly in a different class. We did well enough to make ends meet while touring, but once we came off the road for a significant amount of time, we would have to find odd jobs to live. That always reminded you that you were never really too far from who you were before the hoopla began.
One thing that struck me is how people are kind of vicariously invested in your success. They really want to believe that you had made it, and it disappoints them to see you working a regular job, even if it’s temporary. That occurrence adds insult to injury, because no one should really have to feel bad about just doing what they have to in order to survive (unless maybe you’re sucking dick for cheeseburgers). It’s hard enough to go out there and man up by getting a low-end, low-pay, low-respect job to make ends meet ,which is in stark contrast to doing what you love for months or even years on end.
So here I am, 30 years old, with no degree, no significant normal work experience to put on a resumé, no wife or kids, not much money, and still not sure what I would do if I gave up music. And I’ll tell you this, that documentary on Anvil was like a horror movie to me. That would be my worst nightmare, to in my forties or fifties and still trying to make it big. Luckily, although I’m an optimist, I also have a great streak of realism and pragmatism built into my psyche. If I can’t lay a path to be a real deal, sustained career musician in the next three or four years, I will certainly start exploring other options.
With all of that said, I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have done it any different if given another chance. If you only look at the things you don’t have, you will lead a very depressing life. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to create and perform as a living on a very grand stage for most of my adult life. That makes me a very lucky person. You would not believe how many guys come up to me who have good jobs, kids, wives, and mortgages, who tell me to never stop, because they wish that they could have had just a taste of my life.
No disrespect to the Sarge, but luckily for all of you prospective “band guys” out there, there is not only one way to do this whole music thing. For every rock star wannabe/has-been, there are probably 5-10 guys who toured for a year or two and decided that it wasn’t for them as a career, and went and got a regular job and started families. These guys might not do it full-time, but they still play because they love it. I think a lot of musicians are even more artistically legitimate when they don’t have to make a living off of it.
There are also guys out there who do it full-time, and are moderately successful, like me, but are smart and just straight-up hustle. These guys do well with their bands, but also start merch companies, recording studios, labels, or management companies, or maybe they teach guitar on the side or tattoo or do graphic design or maybe a business that has nothing to do with music. They get the fact that if you aren’t in Metallica, you may have to create other revenue streams to live a somewhat comfortable adult life.
Speaking of Metallica, let’s not forget the bands that actually do make it. It is the rare exception, and becoming even rarer in this modern age of the record industry, but if you get to the inner circle, you can make a great living. But be prepared to live on the road, which you may end up resenting.
Last but not least, there are the straight-up lifers. These guys may be in their 30’s or 40’s, and in a band that’s not very successful, but they live and breathe music to their very core. They don’t really even have aspirations of being a rock star. These guys often end up working for bands as roadies just to be close to the action. They just want to be around it, because not being a part of it is symbolic death. I actually have the most amount of respect for the lifers, even if it’s not who I am, because they know exactly who they are and where they belong. They are committed in the face of scorn.
Ultimately, the truth is that there is not only one way to live life. Not all of us will be gratified by the “go to college, get a job, get a wife, have kids, house and picket fence” narrative that’s been sold to us. I guess I just don’t want any up-and-comers to be dissuaded from following their dreams. I could be wrong, but it’s just my two cents on the matter.