Thinking of retirement? Think again

Chris JonesLast week here, we discussed what careers might be appropriate for a professional bluegrass musician who has taken the daring and rare step of actually retiring.

It should be noted that the few bluegrass musicians who do quit the business tend to come back within a few years, or in some cases, within a few minutes (once tempers have settled). I believe one of the reasons for that, aside from someone calling the house with a good offer, is that these bluegrass pickers have gone into a post-music line of work that they’re ill-suited for, leading to boredom, disappointment, or even death (it’s highly unlikely that it would lead to death, but I’ve been reading a lot of pharmaceutical ad disclaimers, and that just seemed like the thing to say). This is the very thing that leaves them vulnerable to that phone call asking them to return to the road that night at midnight.

I recommended several possible choices for new occupations based on some of the little-known skill sets of various band members. For review, here are just a few examples:

Bass player: sherpa

Band leader: mafia captain

Banjo player: court stenographer (I’ve since learned about a true story of a banjo player-turned-court stenographer)

Note: to last week’s list of potential banjo player alternate careers, I clearly should have added “executive director of a major bluegrass organization.”

I realize that musicians playing other instruments in a bluegrass band may be feeling excluded or forgotten by now. Without going into elaborate details, here are a few suggestions for future employment for these pickers seeking a new life:

Mandolin player: watch repair person (because they’re often—in some cases very often—tuning all those strings with those tiny little tuners, then playing intricate melodies with those tiny little frets)

Guitar player: Petty dictator, cult leader (note: once at a bluegrass festival my band name was changed by the M.C. from “Chris Jones and The Night Drivers” to “Jim Jones and The Night Riders.” Need I say more?)

Fiddle player: Gigolo, reality television star

Dobro player: I’m sorry, but you might as well keep playing that thing. Until they come up with a martial arts discipline involving a small metal bar, there are no possible future careers for you.

Take heart, though, no matter what role you fulfill in a band,  there are still numerous other skills you’ve acquired through the years as a professional bluegrass musician that would prepare you for work “on the outside.”

Having a flexible internal clock: one day you have to get up at 4:00 a.m. to make it to an 11:00 a.m. show at a festival that’s two states away. Two days later, you’re staying up until 4:00 a.m. for no good reason. This kind of adaptability is ideal for shift work, being a flight attendant, or for resisting sleep-deprivation torture techniques in a prisoner of war situation.

Being able to live and travel in close quarters: You’re with other people for long periods of time, trapped in a moving vehicle, learning to accept their strange habits, breathing in their noxious aromas, and sometimes intervening in disputes and diffusing tensions (that is unless you’re the one who is creating the tension and the disputes). This would make you an ideal hostage negotiator or psychiatric counselor, or even one of those people who helps to broker arms treaties between hostile nations. For those musicians who are the tension-creators, you could easily become the hostage taker, and I understand that there’s a pretty good buck to be made in that line of work, though it’s certainly not without risk. Then again, being a road musician is pretty risky too.

Knowing how to live on the bare minimum of income (while trying not to appear that you are): With this kind of skill you would be well-suited to a career as a debt counselor or financial advisor to people who have been laid off, helping them to understand that in the long run, they’re way better off to drive a crappy used car and live on a diet of ramen noodles and pinto beans, but sink all their remaining savings into something with strong resale value, like one vintage instrument.

I should offer a fews words of caution about working in the world outside of bluegrass music. Those with day jobs already know some of these hard facts, but for many these may be somewhat sobering, and you may want to read this lying down:

  • You may be required to get up before 11:00 a.m. In extreme cases, you may have to show up somewhere as early as 9:00 (!), dressed for your job (yes, there are two 9:00 o’clocks in a day, and I’m referring to the other one). Then, they may keep you there until 5:00 p.m. or later. This is what that phrase “9 to 5” that you’ve never understood is referring to. During this long stretch of time, by the way, you may not be given a 15 minute break every 45 minutes.
  • Once you adjust to that schedule, you may have to repeat that five days in a row! Do you see now why I advised lying down before reading this?
  • If you perform your job well, or even better than usual, you may not receive a round of applause from those around you. The best you can expect is a word of encouragement like “good job, Simmons.” Your affirmation tends to come in the form of a regular pay check, which helps to salve the wounded ego.
  • You may have to perform the same task repeatedly, and perform it in exactly the same place as you did yesterday, last week, and last year. In other words, it’s like the ultimate house gig.

Perhaps right now you’re ready for that phone to ring so you can announce that you’re coming out of  your seven-day retirement.