As a young avant-garde musician (think Mingus/Dolphy exuberant cacophony, only with infinitely less talent) who had nothing but a grade-two education on-paper, I had a heck of a time getting (or, to be fair, wanting) any sort of half-decent straight-job. Ended up on assistance – feeling very low and worthless indeed.
It was a very sweet ‘wealth and hellfire’ (health and welfare) worker who first noticed my musical ambitions, and approached them respectfully enough to turn me back toward some education. He didn’t ridicule young me, when I said I wanted to be true to my art (which was very kind, considering how hilarious that probably sounded), but he did suggest that one way I could defend my artistic freedom and not sell-out, was to have a related practical skill which I could freely sell, with no emotional cost to my heart or soul.
And so, after ten months of college-cramming (with my usual overkill-mania), and then working three years of apprenticeship to a master, I became a repair technician for audiophile hi-fi, musical, and especially recording gear – figuring I could at least keep my own gear running for free – and I’d also be useful to other artists (rough-estimate from my log-books, I kept about 20,000 pieces of electronic equipment from winding-up in the landfill, by restoring them to full function – back, mind you, when things were built to be repairable).
I got a twenty-year arc out of that ten-month educational investment on the part of the state – which I consider excellent returns in every way for both parties. This trade also forced me to impose a hard scientific (works or it doesn’t) discipline, on my otherwise rather romantic and overly imaginative mindset, which has made an enormous difference in terms of my execution-ability, for all kinds of art projects since.
But then there came the strangest punchline – a reversal I really never saw coming. As battered as musicians have been over the last couple of decades (and believe me, there is blood on the floor) they are still valiantly struggling-on, and still have some sort of respected (if not rewarded) societal niche.
Skilled, caring, conscientious (and valued) repairmen? Effectively extinct!
Photo credit: Catherine Barnes (sweater credit, too – still my favourite)
And just in case you think I’m being overly negative about the state of my trade – check out this closed shop – and never mind elite specialization, this place tried absolutely EVERYTHING! You just gotta feel for ’em, right? Disposability – what a depressing windmill to break your lance on.