It’s a question we get often, we musicians. I don’t think any other self-employed person gets it. I’m guessing a plumber, or an electrician don’t get asked that too often. “How much money you make?” “Can you live off that?” “You must get tons of pussy at work.” Yet essentially, our jobs aren’t that different. Lord knows fishing out a condom from a clogged toilet in the family basement — where a very embarrassed teen is trying to keep his cool under the piercing stare of his mother —  does provide for a good story with the boys after work, but other than the occasional nugget, forgive the pun, I don’t think your average plumber has to deal with this particular brand of scrutiny into the mechanics of his trade.

I remember being at a family gathering a few years back. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I recall a distant aunt asking me “which one are you? the older one or the younger one?” “The older one” I replied – well aware of the futility of elaborating further. At some point in your 30’s you realize why your dad always looked pissed-off when you were a kid. It’s a lifetime of these questions. It’s gotta get to you at some point. But I digress. A cousin I hadn’t  seen in forever came up to me and casually started up a conversation. “Hey Andre! How you been man?” Before I could get a word in edge wise, he jumped right back in: “Me, I’ve been crazy busy, dog. Craziness. Business is really picking up, craziness.” And so on.

reunion de famille

That’s just a random family. Not mine.

I was about to politely excuse myself when this gem was finally lobbed at me: “So……I hear you’re doing music now….” “uh…yeah. Pretty much.” “How’s it going?” “oh you know….pretty busy. Craziness” (I had to say it at least once). As a musician, you are prepared for these questions. We all get them at least a few times a year (usually during the holidays, and usually from family). Most of the time, I just answer as vaguely as I can, but this particular time, I was finding it very difficult to bite my tongue. The rest of the conversation continued in this vein for a while…

Cousin: “So what do you do? you play bars on Saturdays or something?”

Me: “Well, it’s a little more complicated than that”

Cousin: “Come on man! I wish I had your life! Get drunk all day, play some Guns n’ Roses and fuck chicks all night!!”

Me: “I think you’ve seen too many movies…that doesn’t really happen”

Cousin: “Come on bro, you can tell me!”

Me: “Well, I should get going..”

Cousin: “So…you’re telling me you can make a living at this!?”

Me: (starting to get annoyed) “of course!…actually I make a nice living!”

Cousin: “(laughing) I don’t think so!”

 

rock star groupies

Tom Cruise as a rock star in “Rock of Ages”

I remember getting really defensive and feeling like I needed to justify my earnings. Listing all the gigs I play in a year, the interviews, the traveling, the packing up and loading out of gear, the late nights and early mornings driving to the next town. Not to mention the everyday parental duties you’re still expected to fulfill, regardless of the “rock star life” one might lead. I was like Johnny Cochran, tearing up the courtroom and providing evidence left and right for how hard I work. Then it hit me: I have no idea how a plumber earns. I mean, I have a general idea, but in reality, I couldn’t tell you how one goes about growing his market, meeting contacts, staying a step above the competition to make sure you keep getting the calls first in an over-saturated market.

The thing about this cousin, and probably about everyone else we meet with these types of questions, is that they don’t mean any harm. That’s the tricky part. You don’t want to hold it against them because they really just don’t understand. My cousin is a good guy, and he meant no disrespect, but I’m not sure he would have gone down that road had I been in another line of work.

I guess when it comes down to it, the plumber does what he knows. And I do what I know. There is no use in trying to make someone on the outside understand it, because you are  essentially trying to explain passion. How do you begin to explain quitting everything to chase a feeling? How do you explain unrelenting drive? You can’t. All you can do is do what you love, and hopefully, love what you do.

I never fished a condom out of a toilet but I have had my share of shit thrown at me. Beer bottles, spit, requests to “play AC/DC” and even some dumb ass questions from distant relatives. Nowadays, when someone asks me what I do, I just answer: “I’m a plumber.”

 

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About The Author

Andre Papanicolaou
Collaborator - RREVERB

Andre Papanicolaou is a Montreal-based singer/songwriter, producer, touring and session guitarist. Over several years of recording and touring with other artists (Vincent Vallières, Daran, Pascale Picard Band, Patrice Michaud), Papanicolaou began to carry around a notebook and write down a series of essays. He brings to RREVERB a unique point of view: the one of a professional musician.