Updated: Sep 15, 2020
There is an Italian Gondolier on Lake Merritt in my hometown of Oakland, CA. He has the boat and the pole, the Chianti, the outfit... He even sings Italian songs while pushing you around the water. An article about his Gondolier business appeared in the Tribune when he first came to town. He was excited and ready to start poling. (Or whatever you call what a Gondolier does.)
It was a nice addition to the city and the people were talking about it. Only problem was, nobody took him up on the offer. Seems folks liked the idea, but not enough to pay the money and get in the boat. A few months after the first article appeared he was in the paper again, this time complaining about a lack of business. Then, a couple months after that, they did another piece on the Gondolier biz, bemoaning the fact that such a novel idea it wasn't working at Lake Merritt. Bt this time the Gondolier was low on money and threatening to move to Ft. Lauderdale. I said to my wife, "If this guy wants to drive a Gondola so badly why doesn't he move to Italy? Hasn't he heard of Venice?" But my lack of empathy would come back to haunt me because my own business had started to dwindle.
The bay area music scene had been hard on musicians for years, as the venues started closing and the cost of living increased. Everyone in America has heard about the housing prices in California but then there's the price of gas, rent, food - even an Orange costs more in California and we grow them here. Drumming is the only career I've ever had, largely due to some early (lucky) success that allowed me to make a little money and buy a house back in 1994. But things were better then. When the cost of living became more than your average artist could handle many creative people were forced to move away. As a drummer who sought to make records with singer/songwriters I found myself with less and less opportunity. The artists were harder to come by and when I did get a call there was often no budget anyway. Eventually even the freebie/spec work was drying up. When the last Luce tour ended I called every producer I knew and they all said "Welcome home! We'll call you if we get something." I was a musician in a city that musicians couldn't afford to live in - like being in a mining town after the silver is gone.
I thought about becoming a letter carrier. It seemed like a good, stable job, and they are always hiring. I just couldn't bring myself to quit playing drums, though. Music had been my life and I felt like I was good at it. But being good doesn't matter if you can't make a living. As they say, "That and a quarter will get you a paper in the morning." (Although papers here are 75 cents.)
I had to figure out how to support my family as a musician. I had to do something drastic. And just as a Gondolier can't complain about a lack of work while Venice exists, a musician can't complain about a lack of work when there's a "Music City". So in November of 06' I packed up the Jeep, kissed my family goodbye, and moved to Nashville, TN.
With a wife, home, friends and family, and two kids in school, moving 2300 miles away isn't something you do on an impulse. We decided I would go first and scout the situation. I found a room for rent through Nashville's Craigslist and left the only place I'd ever lived. For five days in a row I got up and put 500 more miles between my family and me. It wasn't easy but was the best option I could think of in order to remain a professional drummer.
My plan is to bring the family out for a visit in the Spring, when Nashville is really beautiful, and hope they fall in love with the city. In the meantime, I'll be trying to meet people, get gigs, and check out parts of town where we may want to live. If I can't get work (which isn't an option), or if my family ends up not wanting to make the move, I will hope to be a letter carrier by summer of next year.
This isn't a sob story by any means. Life is very exciting right now and I have high hopes. My eyes are open wider than they've been in years. And thats good! If nothing else, the next few months will be very interesting and I'm looking forward to sharing the experience with you, as I try to tackle a brand new city. It'll be fun.