Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison of The Doors all suffered drug-related deaths at the age of 27. In 1994, Kurt Cobain was killed also at the age of 27, whether suicide or murder is still being debated up to this day. Their tales bring to mind Neil Young’s famous “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.” Live fast and die young; the story of their lives. They were victims of their times or psychedelic influence or both. In any case, theirs was a grand if not poetic way to go, to die at the peak of potential and popularity. “Forever 27” and “27 Club” have from thence become popular cultural references.
Around the time our song ‘Everyday Drive’ came out which was years ago, I was 27 myself. It’s hilarious in retrospect but back then, I remember that at some point I actually considered suicide. I pondered the idea for maybe less than 3 seconds and quickly discarded it like I would flick away a consumed cigarette suddenly burning my fingers. Who was I kidding? We weren’t famous, and we still aren’t! More to the point, I was a total wimp, and I still am! I would have been too scared to even think about actually doing it. But the fact that it crossed my mind, even fleetingly, surprised me to no end. Back then I was poor, reckless and desperate. Maybe that’s why my imagination went wild. I was many things but thankfully, mentally unbalanced wasn’t one of them.
After a rough fulltime two-year stint in Manila, we left to settle back here in Cebu. I then pursued a career in advertising and marketing. I could never make enough money from playing in a rock band so a day job was my answer. That way, I wouldn’t have to rely on my music for a living. Still, it was a choice forced by circumstance. If the breaks had come our way then, I’d have probably chosen differently. Then again considering how unforgiving the local music industry is, probably not.
In this humble country of ours many still consider to be Third World, there are no multimillionaire rockstars, although we do have an unlimited supply of corrupt bureaucrats but that’s an altogether different story. The scale of what you can theoretically earn from playing rock music in a country as small as ours is limited if not dismal. In bigger economies like in the US, you could have a single hit and live off the royalties for the rest of your life. Hardly the case here though.
Consider the difference in the sales certification thresholds. In the Philippines, a platinum album here has to have sold 100,000 copies. Actually, probably less since record labels will often practice ‘creative accounting’ (spelled bloating) of sales figures. In the U.S. though, an album is only certified platinum if it sells ten times as many, or a million copies. That tells you a lot about the differences in scale. And let’s not even begin to discuss the differences in what you can potentially earn in gigs.
So I am a musician, or at least I try to be, in a country where music doesn’t pay much and the surest way to make money from it is by selling pirated CDs on sidewalks. Things could be worse. For me, I could have killed myself for a grand illusion and passed away quietly.
For practical and other obvious reasons, I strongly recommend keeping a dayjob while playing in a rock band. It helps keep frustration and disenchantment at bay. Probably the cruelest twist in a musician’s life is that he ends up hating his music because it doesn’t feed him. Music shouldn’t be pursued for the money but for its own sake.
Music loses its honesty if it is treated as livelihood. On the other hand, music is at its truest, if it is treated as life itself. In closing, music then should not be for one’s sustenance; music should be for one’s soul.