|The author, escaped from backstage.|
It was the ‘80. I learned some important things. How to work 36-hours straight. How to earn respect instead of demanding it. How to drink like one of the guys. How to maintain relationships from 1000 miles away.
It wasn’t until I went back on the road, an over-50 wardrobe girl, that I rediscovered the value of some of these lessons, particularly as I navigated the second act of my life.
On the road, every day is an encore. A do-over. A new perspective on the same old problems. The unwritten rules of veteran roadies offered some useful insights in an ever-changing world.
Here are a few things I learned from standing in the wings.
Shut up about your talent
Talent opens the door, but 90 percent of the rest is hard work. Bands that last have one thing in common. They work. If you want to stick aroour day. The rest of it happens in the bowels of stadiums or the corners of cavund, you never stop working. Those two hours on stage are a small chunk of a 12-hur day. The rest of it happens in the bowels of stadiums or the corners of cavernous theaters. In hotel rooms and dressing rooms. There, you’ll find your fangirl crush crashing through a new tune, working the kinks out of tired chords and running scales like a schoolboy. That time on stage is the tip of the musical iceberg.
Karma, Part 1: Reputation Does Matter
You can meet a dozen Prince Charmings, but it’s always the dicks you remember. No one remembers them now, though. They’re playing casino lounges or opening (and closing) restaurants with augmented hairlines and a back-up band that's counting the days until their contract is up.
Bring Something To The Table Besides Your Boobs
Groupies. Ugh. They swarm around the shipping docks like gnats, but rarely — so very rarely — get past the gate. If the only thing you feel you have to bring to the table is your looks, fine. Just get out of my way so I can do my job. I’ll deal with the sexism you’ve re-ignited in my workplace later.
It’s Always Something
So here’s a story. I’m doing wardrobe for a musician who has been performing for more than 50 years. A legend, and I don’t use that word lightly. Originally with three other guys. You probably know him. Anyway, he’ll regularly riff backstage with musicians who interest him. Not big names. Mariachi bands, that kind of thing. Because even after 50 years, there’s more to learn and no one knows where that lesson will come from.
Karma, Part 2: Everyone Makes Mistakes
You stick with this job long enough and you’ll see some train wrecks. Bad relationships. Bad drugs. Bad choices all around. Here’s the thing with a train wreck. You don’t see it coming. The people around you, the one’s standing at the side of the track, watching from a different angle, sense a tragedy in the making. And they’ll try to tell you. In some way, they’ll telegraph the inevitable. They can save you or they can let you sink. That’s up to you. Pay attention to the by-standers.
Tour professionals dress like teen-agers, work like monsters and party like a grandmothers (except for catering... that's a whole other thing when it comes to the partying). They’ve seen the world, mostly from their hotel room window. Famous people? They trip over them on the way to a bathroom break. It’s a glamorous job, and someone’s got to do it, but in the end it’s still a job. An exhausting 36-hour-a-day job that just happens to include a nightly serenade from that guy on the cover of the Rolling Stone. But like every job, this one ends and the only thing you can take with you are a few guitar picks and the ability to work with anyone, anywhere at any time. Unless they’re wankers. Avoid the wankers at any cost.
Criss Roberts is the mostly stay-at-home sister in a family of tour professionals who have been on the road since the 1980s. She was out there for a while, but likes her own bed too much. She writes at crissroberts.blogspot.com.