Monday, December 11, 2006

High Lonesome Glamour -- NOT

My ex-husband, bless his heart, has greater faith in me now than he did when we were married.

Whenever we're discussing some financial transaction I'm about to make on behalf of the children, he never fails to remark how my life will be changing in some way for the financial betterment of all.

How, dear Lord, does he know this when I don't?

This can mean only one of two things:

He's planning something pretty significant that I know nothing about, or,

he and the rest of the world have no idea how bluegrass continues to fall short of Fortune 500 earnings.

Here's what I know about the glamorous world of bluegrass music and life in Nashvegas as one recent associate termed Music City:

When she got to Nashville, Dolly Parton kept herself fed by eating off the room service trays left outside hotel room doors.

A family I know slept in a bus and ate one plate of food between four people every night. (See previous post)

There are more musicians per capita in Nashville than anywhere else in the world. A number of them don't suck.

When I Googled "Songwriters in Nashville make..." the search engine returned 1.14 million results.

No health insurance.

No retirement fund.

According to an article by Irene Jackson on her Web site, there are roughly 48 thousand songwriters and other artists in any given year in Nashville. Out of those, 75 may have a song recorded -- a song, one song. The return on a song is roughly 9 cents; if one hundred people buy an album with your song, that's a whopping $90 in royalties before Uncle Sam takes his bite.

Sure there are other jobs -- producing, presenting, education. Great if you have a load of money to begin with, can handle living in the nonprofit arena on a nonprofit budget (I do and probably will), or love living on the road without health care, a retirement fund, or for that matter, a permanent address.

I'm sure there are folks who think I'm wasting my potential. But right now, I do have a pretty decent job, one that may not pay hugely but that I really love and that frankly puts me in touch with more people in the music business than I would likely get to know if I moved to Nashville tomorrow. Even so, I won't be at the tippy top of any of it in the next twelve months. And I wouldn't dream of leaping ahead of anyone more qualified than I am because I see that quite enough in my day job and it's not pretty.

I'm excited about the things I might learn and plan and do in the next six or seven years. But, as my weekend trip through the Rock Hall reminds me, and as nearly every story I've ever heard about a musician or songwriter or sideperson or various nonperforming contributors also reminds me, it's a tough, tough business. I have the luxury of planning for new windows next summer; most of those folks don't know where they'll be living.

And that's the world that matters to me. Those people who make our lives so much richer because of the music they give us in one way or another, whatever their contribution is, is what makes me tick. I have a good brain and a big heart and I love music, and so I figure there's a way to help them. That's my big B-plan, my grand revenue-generating scheme.

I'll figure out how to pay for my son's braces somehow.

Hank Williams never lived to see the contribution his son made. Immortalized as one of country's first major stars, he died before he reached the age of 30. Hell, I'm already an old woman by those standards. This tune, recorded by a number of my favorite performers including Emmy Lou Harris and authors Robin and Linda Williams, hints at his story.

Rollin' and Ramblin (The Death of Hank Williams)

Folks in Nashville slammed the door
Said we don't want you anymore
Find your own way down the road
Pack your fiddle and your guitar
Take a train or take a car
Find someone else to keep you from the cold

Rollin' and ramblin'
Women loved him half to death
He sang with whiskey on his breath
His heart broke like a child's
Rollin' and ramblin'
The sun has set out on the trail
The hobo's drifted up the rail
He's taken his last ride

Oh, he always sang the blues
Like it was all he ever knew
He didn't sing at all that night
He was pale and as he dozed
He didn't know his time had closed
Slumped in the back seat to the right

Rollin' and ramblin'
Women loved him half to death
He sang with whiskey on his breath
His heart broke like a child's
Rollin' and ramblin'
The sun has set out on the trail
The hobo's drifted up the rail
He's taken his last ride

So they send him on night train South
Through the cities and the rural routes
Just one more place to go
Ah, the whistle sang the bluest note
Like it came from his own throat
Moanin' sad and cryin' low

Rollin' and ramblin'
Women loved him half to death
He sang with whiskey on his breath
His heart broke like a child's
Rollin' and ramblin'
The sun has set out on the trail
The hobo's drifted up the rail
He's taken his last ride

Rollin' and ramblin'
The sun has set out on the trail
The hobo's drifted up the rail
He's taken his last ride

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