Funaholics, not workaholics

Sunday Signal

B Jim Mullen, The Village Idiot

Before they were world-famous, or even Great Britain-famous, the Beatles would play three or four shows a day at several different venues. If you’ve ever been in a band, you know what that means.

It means breaking down the equipment; hauling it into a crowded, food wrapper-filled van that breaks down more than it runs and stinks of fried food and stage sweat; crawling into that same van; finding the stage door (long before GPS); lugging stuff out of the van and setting it up again; waiting in a filthy dressing room that smells worse than the van; finding out onstage that the bass amp blew up; breaking the B string in the middle of your best solo; then finding out the promoter can’t (or won’t) pay you.

All this in the wonderful English weather in the rust-belt towns around Liverpool. A comparable American town would be Buffalo.

The Beatles did this for years. But it’s like the old joke: What, stop performing? And give up the glamour of show business?!

Me, even if I could play guitar and sing, I would have lasted about a week on the road, and I would have done nothing but complain the entire time. And the idea that four kids from the cultural sticks would make it against all the odds was a pipe dream. Why would anyone put themselves through the death march of what it takes to become rich and famous, unless they enjoyed it?

George Harrison was 20 years old when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan’s show. He’d already been a Beatle for four years. That’s what it takes to make it “overnight.”

I like golf, but the idea of hitting a thousand practice balls a day to win the U.S. Open would be boring beyond words. Yet that’s what it takes. People do it. I’d like to make $20 million as a movie star, but I want to go to 500 auditions with 500 headshots like I want to have 500 colonoscopies. But that’s what it takes.

When you see a Broadway musical, you are not just seeing a two-hour show. You are seeing hundreds of hours of parents driving kids to, and paying for, dance lessons and music lessons and voice coaches and recitals. Every week. For years. No sane person would do it unless they got some kind of pleasure out of it, because all that work doesn’t guarantee that you will ever be a star. But at least you’ll be able to dance and sing — things you probably enjoy anyway.

When you see a movie or a TV show, you are watching years of some guy or gal trying to get a union card to become a sound technician or a camera operator or a key grip. It’s a hard card to get, yet there are 160,000 members of the biggest show business union. How many of them have you heard of? They don’t do these jobs just for the money, or the often nonexistent fame — they just like it.

Some people even like riding broncos. I don’t even wanna know how you practice that. It’s gotta hurt.

No matter what you do, you would change professions if it wasn’t fun for you on some level. Musicians like to hang out with musicians. Golfers love playing golf. Actors like acting. Investors like to invest. The media likes to talk about the money celebrities make, but that really misses the point of how celebrities came to be highly paid in the first place. They practice relentlessly because they can, and they want to. They are workaholics, sure, but a better word would be “funaholics.” They may not enjoy every minute of practice or travel to and from gigs, but to think they do everything for money is a bit far-fetched.

You’d be surprised how “lucky” you get when you’ve learned every trick in the book — how to sell a song, how to frame a shot, how to get one over the pond, how to act as if you’re not acting, how to seem as enthusiastic at the 501st audition as you were at the first one.

At the end of their last concert as the most famous band in the world, the one on the rooftop of Abbey Road Studios, John Lennon leaned into the mic and said, “Thank you very much and I hope we’ve passed the audition.” He was probably only half kidding.

Contact Jim Mullen at [email protected].

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