The four most profound words culled from Charles Darwin’s controversial theory of evolution might be “survival of the fittest.” This simple concept can be applied to virtually any group of living things, but none more so than we, the touring musicians. Applied to us, it simply means: the more you party, the less you sleep, the worse you eat, the closer you bring yourself to the point of attrition. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “attrition” as “a gradual, natural reduction in membership or personnel, as through resignation or death.” Sound familiar?
Attrition is by no means a bad thing. The total world population can only support an extremely finite number of professional musicians. To wit, many of us owe our gigs to someone who:
A. Became romantically involved with a person to whom the swank and glamour of the lifestyle had dimmed significantly.
B. Got married. Had a kid. Had to get a “real job.”
C. Got sick of the hours, pay, travel, food, instability, and so on.
D. Partied excessively and lost their gig — or worse.
While reasons A through C are merely facts of life and carry no disgrace, the final entry, which is nothing more than severely misplaced priorities, is, without a doubt, the least reputable cause for “early retirement.” Although all these scenarios are absolutely necessary for the survival of our species (if you think gigs are scarce now, imagine if nobody gave up full-time playing), only you can decide which route, if any, you will choose to exit your years of music on a professional basis.
It’s no secret that only a tiny percentage of us will ever breathe the rarified air of the private jet, dine off the menu of personal chefs, sweat to the commands of a personal trainer, or luxuriate with our traveling masseuses. The responsibility is entirely ours to stay sufficiently strong to withstand the many rigors of the road, with an eye toward longevity.
The percentage of us who will still be doing this in our fifties, and beyond, is only slightly larger than that of the aforementioned pampered few. Even the youngest among us have witnessed fellow players dropping off the limb of professional musicianship. Just remember this: Whether you stay or go, it’s all about how you’d like to be remembered when you reach the end of the road.