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Falling Back

August 15, 2006

I remember when I was a teenager saying to my folks I wanted to be a musician. I didn't use the words "folk singer" or “rock & roll star" or anything, but I might have said, "performer." Not being the most supportive of people and they said that I "should have something to fall back on."

In an old interview with Tom Petty, if I remember correctly (this is always iffy), he said his parents said the same thing and his retort was, "well, I don't plan on falling back." I hope I got that quote right.

Now I'm listening to the kids of performers I've grown up with. Some have been influences, some just another record on the turntable. But I wonder if following in footsteps came naturally, was expected, or somehow discussed within family circles. Did Bob tell Jakob, he needs something to fall back on? Did Arlo or Louden say the same to their kids?

What are you telling your kids? Are you letting them follow their heart's desire or do they need to have something to fall back on?

Joshua Brande

Posted by Ann VerWiebe at August 15, 2006 11:48 AM


...but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

For now we see through a glass, darkly...

1 Corinthians 13

I might be an atheist, but I'm a King James Atheist!

Posted by: Huw Pryce at August 15, 2006 12:00 PM

When I was in London I was reminded of all of the hope and optimism I had in my youth. But, is believing you can make a living as a musician that foolhardy? Don't you at least owe your dreams a shot at reality? For a little while at least, before the kids and the mortgage. Of course, my parents supported my random life after school and maybe they should have forced me to become an accountant or some such.

Posted by: Ann VerWiebe at August 15, 2006 12:10 PM

Music is for losers. I want everyone out there to quit except me.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at August 15, 2006 2:48 PM

Soy un Perdador...

Posted by: Huw Pryce at August 15, 2006 7:17 PM

Yo tambien. Ya no sirvir a poner el ingenio a las plantas de los poderosas.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at August 15, 2006 7:31 PM

Ya ni sirve poner el ingenio a las plantas de los poderosos.

Pardon my bad grammar, it's been a long day!

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at August 15, 2006 7:53 PM

Yo tam poco, pero no estoy trabajando como musico. Pero vivo de la renta mi casa para un musico. ?Soy una "periah"?

Posted by: JL Braswell at August 15, 2006 8:18 PM

...and my Spanish translator was in the shower when dictating this for me, so... "Pero vivo de la renta de un musico" ;oP and translator says to say "VERY impressed with your Spanish grammar!".
Not bad for a gringo!

Posted by: JL Braswell at August 15, 2006 8:38 PM


Posted by: Huw Pryce at August 16, 2006 8:12 AM

My parents did not shape my late-blooming music aspirations. I do credit them for sending me to a Catholic grade school and high school where the School Sisters of Notre Dame taught me music appreciation -- especially worship music. I have seven children and I have only mildy encouraged them, especially the ones who have decent voices or a predisposition to an instrument. My wife and I have provided encouragement with piano, paying for piano lessons for most of them until we could no longer afford it. The main mentoring in music occurs as my kids are involved with music ministry at our local church. Two of my daughters are cantors and choir members. They have seen how my current aspiration to "take it to the streets" grew out of years of cantoring and choral work for St. Matthew's, plus a handful of rock n roll street dances I did with my old college buddies over the years. I have sung for funerals, weddings, and wedding receptions. But I am certainly no guidepost to success in the Pop music business. I really haven't made much money at all. $50 in the tip jar at Old Man River Cafe last Saturday night (split down the middle with my bassist Paul Cotton). If my kids have any aspirations in the arena of Pop music, it comes from two movies: "School of Rock" and "Freaky Friday". No, I think they will be content to do liturgical ministry for many years to come. That would please me. And I will be content to keep on writing music, recording and performing in public occasionally. If I "make it" (by selling bunches of CDs or getting a music composition contract with a major studio), I will come back here and write an addendum regarding the possible effect that will have had on my children.

Posted by: Richard Schletty at August 16, 2006 9:11 AM

Go Richard!

My parents wanted me to study music at exam level, but I did computer studies instead. If they'd had the common sense to point out that musicians have more sex than programmers, they might've convinced me.
Unfortunately being a musician at my old school back then was not unlike being chained to an oar (complete with whip cracking sadist and some huge simpleton bashing a drum down at the back end).
The moment I could, I discharged myself from the choir, the orchestra, the wind band and the brass band (or 4-6 every night of the week after school and before homework), leaving the poor old music teacher ("I don't care if your appendix has burst. It's only 15 weeks to the christmas concert and you're understudying for the third sheep along from Josephs brother Zebedee") puce with indignation.
Then the other dissidents and I formed a band, played a few floorspots at folk clubs and PTAs, then we came back and won the school music competition.
I never did learn to read the dots. Wish I had.

Posted by: Huw Pryce at August 16, 2006 10:55 AM

Pryceless testimony. Huw go!

Posted by: Richard Schletty at August 16, 2006 11:28 AM

I learned line notes but not space notes, so that was the end of my musical career. My father really wanted to be an opera singer (and I think had the talent to do it), but he became a lawyer to please his mother. Part of him will always wonder what could have been. I made my living working in theatre for long enough that I know their are some pluses, but unless you are super talented or very rich to start off with, most people end up in the middle and it's a real struggle. Plus, I started losing the joy that made me want to sign up in the first place when it was just a very stressful career that didn't pay well and left people thinking I wasn't very bright.

Posted by: Ann VerWiebe at August 16, 2006 11:35 AM

Ouch! Still those line notes are good for thirds and fifths Ann.

Posted by: Huw Pryce at August 16, 2006 11:42 AM

I never learned to read music, never had any formal schooling in it at all, not even music class in school. Everything I've learned about music I've learned either from kin, friends, or strangers at festivals or clubs along the way. I just write it and play it by the seat of my pants, the same way Granpa Cliff did.

Music and theater careers take a special sort of person, for sure. I was cooking right along until someone said I should "follow my bliss".

I realized my bliss included weekends, health insurance, a house with a garden, and the sexiest, smartest woman I ever met. It wasn't a tough call.

Plus, I suck at politics, and the performing arts is an intensely political business. Most of the promoters I've met in my life need a good slap in the puss, and my arm was getting tired.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at August 16, 2006 12:13 PM

Oh yeah - I did take one 12-dollar guitar lesson when I was 13.

It wasn't Juilliard, but I can say I've been classically trained!

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at August 16, 2006 12:15 PM

Ok, while these replies are being sent to the lab for psych evals, I want eveyone to take a deep cleansing breathe as I thank you for the conffessionals. You are now redeemed.

What I was, and still am after is if your teeenage kid(s) who have a high school band and a bit of talent tell you this is what they want to do. Make music, be a star, sell records (CDs), and all that, knowing it's a crap shoot, and a lot of hard work, but it's thier sincere intent on become a condenter, would you encourag, or discourage, "well, you need something to fall back on."

Posted by: Joshua Brande at August 16, 2006 2:34 PM

Sorry, Joshua. Mea culpa.

In all honesty, I would tell them that the "Pop" music business is controlled by organized crime, almost completely unregulated. It is corrupt beyond the imaginations of most sane people, and even most insane ones.

I would tell them that they will be bullied, ripped off, bent over, lied to, and exposed to the absolute dregs of society at every turn. It WILL rub off.

Most of them will never see a real recording contract, even if they have slept with someone (or some thing) to get it.

At the end of the road, the vast majority of those strong enough to make it to old age will die bitter, jaded and alone in some dingy hotel room in a tough industry town like New York or Los Angeles or Nashville.

And then I would support them, and tell them to GO FOR IT, because if that is their true bliss they would be cowards to avoid the attempt.

I can't abide cowardice.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at August 16, 2006 3:21 PM

Jim: I thought only your hairdresser knew for sure.

Posted by: Richard Schletty at August 16, 2006 3:29 PM

Nah, my barber Jack is cool. His nephew Lance wants to be a Country star, and just might make it too. Nobody's telling Lance he needs anything to fall back on.

Like the rest of his kin, he's not afraid of hard work, and nothing scares him but pretty girls.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at August 16, 2006 3:39 PM

Yo Joshua - I at least gave you my parents' view. My daughter is three. She wants to be a cat.

When she's thirteen she's going to want to be a musician of some sort. I'll say "become a musician but marry an accountant". She'll go off, become an accountant and marry a musician. So I get to follow my nightmare.

Falling back. Temporally speaking life is a form of existential freefall with the cradle at the top and the grave at the bottom. I've spent my whole life falling forward - that way I know what's coming. How she'll deal with it, only she can decide.

Posted by: Huw Pryce at August 16, 2006 3:49 PM

My folks didn't push me in any direction -- they just let it be known that I was going to college, and not going to college was not an option. For many, many years after college I was a rambler and a roustabout (in New York City terms, where I lived, that meant having any old day job to pay your bills so that you could run around at night, which is what I did throughout the 70s and 80s, and in New York City that was grand since that was the beginning of the neo-folk movement with Jack Hardy, Rod MacDonald, Suzanne Vega, and the greatest Irish house band in the world -- the Flying Could with Dan Milner and Tony DeMarco, among others). They were indeed great times.

Now I have an 11 year old son who is not interested in "that boring folk stuff" regardless of what I say or do (though he has taken some interest in sea chanteys which makes his mother smile). My expectations of him are two-fold: one, that he go to 4-year college, non-negotiable; and two, that when he graduates, he gets a job and earns a living to support himself (and if that means he has to take 3 jobs to support himself, then so be it) -- also non-negotiable. I hope he'll always love music (he's taking piano lessons so I'm hoping...)

Posted by: Penny Stanton at August 16, 2006 3:50 PM

Coincidentally, this subject appeared over at on the same day as this here blog appeared. Except that the question was framed by a young-un, asking jammers what music their parents listened to (as a positive or negative influence). Check out these perspectives:

Parents' Music;showtopic=61711

Posted by: Richard Schletty at August 16, 2006 4:13 PM

Is this the definitive resource for parents pondering the possible bad influences of music on their kid(s)?

Parents Music Resource Center

Posted by: Richard Schletty at August 16, 2006 4:25 PM

Wikipedia is where I would go if I wanted documentation to support celebrating America's 750th birthday on July 4, 2007...

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at August 16, 2006 4:35 PM

I have found many useful and accurate things at Wikipedia. You seem a bit saddle-weary and negative today, Jim. Check out my song Perspiration to pull yourself up.

Posted by: Richard Schletty at August 16, 2006 4:58 PM

Must be my bunions.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at August 16, 2006 5:12 PM

My mother has bunions but they never inspired a song in me.

Posted by: Richard Schletty at August 16, 2006 5:23 PM

Hmm..."Mama's Bunions"...not quite as catchy as "Daddy's Hands", but we could work up something.

"Mama's bunions told her when her shoes was too small
They told her when the rain would fall
But what I remember most of all
was they were big and smelled lak onions
Oooooooohhh, Mama's bunions"

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at August 16, 2006 5:44 PM

Toe tapping might be kinda tricky
with nodules the size of West Afriky
If we cut em with a spade
or a rusty bowie blade,
we'll be dancing at the barn tonight with glee!

Posted by: Richard Schletty at August 17, 2006 9:41 AM


Both of my children are high school musicians. I'm sure my son will continue to play for his own enjoyment, but I'd be surprised if he ever formed a band. My daughter has been bitten badly, 15 years old with an outstanding voice and good guitar chops, she's getting ready to hit the open mic circuit. Her aspirations vacillate between careers as an aquatic ecologist or musician (I'm an ecologist by day, drummer and guitar by night). She truly has the talent and the drive. I've told both kids the music side of the business can be rough, but there are lots of local and national examples of folks who have made a decent living playing acoustic music. There is no way I could discourage her from trying to pursue music professionally. Sure it's tough, and the business side is full of unsavory characters, but to make your living playing your own songs, that's a powerful draw. To be perfectly honest, it's just about as tough to make it as a scientist as it is a musician. The academic and consulting worlds are just as full of obstacles and rotten people as is the music business. No one told me I should have a fall back plan if I failed to make it as a scientist. My approach has been to show both kids good local examples of folks who are making their living pursuing their desires. We’ll let them choose their path, and support them as they go.

Posted by: Jim Kooser at August 17, 2006 11:06 AM

Folk Alley's own Jeff St. Clair was a research chemist before he became a DJ. He's much happier now. I could never be a professional musician, not only because of lack of talent, because I really like going home each night. Traveling kills me and to make it on a national level, you have to be willing to travel and be a gypsy. It was bad enough in my old life to move to a completely new town every two years. At least I was sleeping in the same bed.

Posted by: Ann VerWiebe at August 17, 2006 11:35 AM

Part of advising children involves helping them set reasonable goals. Cleveland is a great music town, with plenty of examples of folks who have made their living for decades making music. In the folk and op genres, we have great examples in Michael Stanley and Alex Bevan. Both toured, Stanley more extensively and to greater acclaim, both still record and perform and make their living doing so. There are scads of new graduates of the Cleveland Institute of Music every eyar, joining small regional symphony orhcestras, teaching, serving as church musicians, gigging and recording. They may not be getting fabulously wealthy, but they're making a living following a passion. There are so many ways in which to pursue music professionally that good students with drive and passion don't need a "plan B".

As for travelling, field ecology demands much more travelling than my music ever did! It takes one away from home, but to be paid to do research in beautiful places is truly a gift!

Posted by: Jim Kooser at August 17, 2006 12:46 PM

I think the more important question here is, how do you define to your kids what constitutes sucess in their lives? Is it material, spiritual, something in between?

I know a few very happy "failures", and a great many miserable "successes".

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at August 17, 2006 12:48 PM

The interesting thing is, you can guide their character, but you cannot determine their career.
If you are faithful on the character bit, it doesn't really matter what career they choose - they will always do well in life.
"Success" is not measured merely in monetary gain, but in the great satisfaction of fulfilment and of the pleasures of giving back to the world in some fashion.
Even when times are tough, good character can make all the difference in how an individual handles the trials, and what he does with the successes.
I respect good character above all in an individual.
It's who he really is - all the other stuff is fluid.

Posted by: JL Braswell at August 17, 2006 4:15 PM

Well, actually most of all of us is fluid.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at August 17, 2006 4:23 PM

...and a good, all around Liberal Arts education never did any one any harm ;o)

Posted by: JL Braswell at August 17, 2006 4:24 PM

And for the reasons you both state, Jim and JL, that I said I expect my son to graduate from a 4-year college (to broaden his vistas, perspective, depth and breadth of thought and possibility, and yes, some skills...), and that he support himself. Doesn't have to be a doctor, lawyer or Indian Chief -- just needs to make a living that he's comfortable with -- just go, young man, and make a living; and then go make a life.

Posted by: Penny Stanton at August 17, 2006 6:10 PM

Two of my seven children so far have what you can call careers. One is a Spanish teacher at a mountain school in the Southwest. The other is an electrical engineer in the Twin Cities near where I live. The oldest is forestalling a "career" a bit as he follows his bliss as a track and field competitor and coach. He also does part time assembly work. I think he is trying to do what his old man wished he had done in his mid to late 20s -- make a run at the Olympics. I started a family right away so that dream got tamped down real quick. Two are in college right now so let's hope they find something that will suit their interests. Making enough money to subsist in this American economy is very difficult, esp. when one does not start from a position of means. My youngest two have a few years before reality sets in. They may find some happiness in music performance but it will be as an avocation, not as a core money-earning component.

Posted by: Richard Schletty at August 17, 2006 6:24 PM

I took time to go back to college to get my degree many years ago. I had to, because it was important for me to be the first one in my father's family to achieve a college degree. It is also very important to me that my daughters also achieve their college degrees. My older daughter will study music and I have wholeheartedly encouraged her to think of music as her primary goal, not a hobby.

Posted by: Jack Swain at August 29, 2006 12:46 PM

You still there, Joshua?

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at November 20, 2006 6:11 AM

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