Right now, it’s shortly before noon on a Monday morning. My second cup of coffee rests to the right on my desk, my laptop is open in front of me, my desktop is on to my left, email piling up within and the new Church Of Misery emanating from its speakers at what I’d consider a reasonable pre-noon volume. My dog is asleep in the corner, my typewriter case full of CDs is on the floor. I’m wearing a band t-shirt and a pair of khakis that have a rip in the right-side pocket that, if I’m not careful, my car key will come out the bottom of the leg. I’m 31 years old.
The other night, I was out at a show in Brooklyn to see a few friends’ bands, talking with the guitarist of the headlining act. There weren’t many people there, it was a small place, just kind of a casual thing. He was in publishing, this guy, and we were talking about the decline of our two industries over the last decade, and how most people we came up with in our professional lives have moved on to other spheres. I laughed and thought of all the writers, publicists, label employees, musicians and so on I’ve known who’ve left the music business to go back to school to become real estate agents, physical therapists, whatever. We were only on the topic because this guy is on his way to becoming an accountant.
It dawned on me over the course of this conversation that at 31, I’m both an old man in a flat, dead, boring music industry—which is a business fueled by the naivety of interchangeable 23-year-olds—and utterly useless at anything and everything else. I have no discernible skills other than the ones I use to do this job—writing, editing, yelling at interns—and any talent I may have at anything at all is talent for something that society at large has deemed to be of little to no consequence.
Rutgers University’s basketball coach Eddie Jordan reportedly signed a deal for $6.25 million for five years of work. He will be the highest paid public employee in the state, because Rutgers makes a lot of money off basketball, because it’s something that people care about. People care about basketball.
While so many other print outlets have folded, shirked off editorial staffs, reduced their runs and/or faded into an irrelevant abyss of online media, The Aquarian has thus far been able to sustain itself thanks entirely to the diligent efforts—and, I suspect, sheer stubbornness—of its publishers, Chris Farinas and Diane Casazza. Michelle sells ads, Giorgio and I handle the editorial end, Angela and Deb do the layouts, but basically, without Chris or Diane, we wouldn’t last a month. Nobody says this, but we all know it’s true. I count myself lucky to be here and to have this job.
Nobody here makes $6.25 million. Nobody here runs a hedge fund. I don’t even know what a hedge fund is. I know the people who run them make a lot of money, because society has deemed hedge funds, whatever they are, to be of great value. Society really likes basketball and hedge funds. Society does not give two hairy fucks for alternative weekly newspaper editorials or the hyperprivileged few who get to spend their early afternoons composing them. Unfortunately for me and my lifetime earning potential, I have no other function. I couldn’t be an accountant or a physical therapist. I couldn’t sell real estate. There’s nothing I could go back to school and get certified to become. This is all I’ve got. Today, for my second job, I’ll be writing about Robert Rodriguez crowdsourcing the ending of a cell phone commercial. If there was ever any “talent” in me, it was talent cheaply sold.
The romantic position to take would be “nothing to lose,” and if I was still a naïve 23-year-old, I might be able to tell myself that’s how it is. But I’m not and it’s not. I’m old enough to realize how fortunate I am and that I have plenty to lose. I don’t know at what point “nothing to lose” became “nothing to fall back on,” but here I am, otherwise unskilled labor in a forgotten industry that sought to save itself by throwing fists at a rising tide of free downloads, as if you could ever stop such a thing. I never thought I was going to be a rock star. I never thought I was going to make a million dollars. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do and ever been even remotely able to do is write. And that has no value.