Want to know what time I get up at? Ask me.

Posted: June 27, 2017 in working musicians

You know how this one goes….. it’s a night out, everyone’s stayed up later than they intended to, sooner or later there will be a discussion as to what time everyone has to get up at the next morning. As people quiz each other as to what time their alarm will sound, it can get somewhat competitive, a bidding war as to who has the most onerous day ahead.  Now here’s the interesting thing; if you’re a full-time musician, this question will never, ever be directed to you in these scenarios. Example:

John: I’m up at 6.30, what about you?

Michael: Oh god, even worse, I’ll be up at 6. You Liza?

Eliza: I work so hard, I’m not even going to bed. It’s alright for you Cathy, you don’t have to get up in the morning

Don’t I? How did you come up with that idea, then? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve simply been informed of this,  I’d be a wealthy lady. Along with the equally common – and no more accurate – assumption that I’m on social welfare, it’s one of the casually insulting remarks I’ve learned to smile through when the conversation turns to what I do for a living. Why is it insulting? Because we have a strong association between moral virtue and early rising. We’ve heard a lot about this here in Ireland recently, when our newly appointed Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said he wanted to be a leader for ‘people who get up early in the morning’. So, presumably, he has no interest in representing those of us who are still working when those people are going to bed? It speaks very clearly to the belief that work happens between 9-5, Monday to Friday, and anything outside of that is a hobby. But isn’t this kind of assumption about other people’s work duties just bad manners?  So even if it were accurate, would ‘its grand for you, you’re not up in the morning’ be any less ignorant than my hectoring 9 to 5ers with ‘it’s grand for you, you’re at leisure every evening’?

I get the fact that outsiders are generally surprised when they come to realise how hard professional musicians actually work, and if you’re basing your ideas about musicians’ lifestyles on what you’ve seen in the movies, I understand why. The life of an ordinary working musician is something you never see depicted in cinema or television. Screen portrayals of musicians tend to come down to one of two types; the ‘rock star’, seen in such films as Almost Famous, or the deadbeat/starving artist model seen in such films as Inside Llewyn Davis, with drug or alcohol abuse a prominent feature in either case. For sure, there are such people in the music business, but few working musicians recognise much of themselves in these portraits. Self-employed people in any field tend to work very hard indeed, and musicians are no exception; days and nights filled with rehearsals, directing choirs, recording sessions, teaching, weddings, performances, lugging speakers into venues at anti-social hours, and all of the communication and paperwork generated by each of those things, don’t leave much time for guzzling champagne. Most of us do not lead the lives of Led Zeppelin. Why do screenwriters not concern themselves with documenting this? I imagine it’s because, like so many aspects of real life, it’s not very interesting to watch!

It strikes me that if this is true of musicians – that there’s a gulf between the reality of the job and the way it’s depicted on screen – it’s probably equally true of the portrayal of other professions, such as chefs or the police force. So when I meet people who work in those areas, I try not to come with assumptions. It’s just rude. Most jobs look different when you’re doing them. But if you are interested – for example, if you’d like to know what time I get up at – you can always just ask.


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