GO AHEAD: QUIT YOUR DAY JOB Part 1 By Alex Walsh

 

Johnny CashI’ve always had a fantasy of quitting my day job. The old “Take this job and @#$*&!”fantasy where I throw something down and get in somebody’s face and storm out and everybody cheers and the music plays and I feel fantastic.

bob dylanI did it once when I was 22. I quit everything I was doing (day job, school, apartment, girlfriend) and told the world I was going to be a musician (singer/songwriter). And I became one. I played every day on the street and scraped by for about eight months. I didn’t know what I was doing but I learned really fast. Once it was firmly established in my mind that I was a musician I got another day job because I needed money to live on and pursue music in more than a hand to mouth way. Busking was unfruitful for me in the winter and guitar strings and harmonicas were expensive.

powell st stationLooking back it all seems logical and calculated but at the time I was going by gut feeling. The reason I thought it was even possible was because I played in the Powell Street BART station for an hour as an experiment and made $8. My mind-numbingly boring day job (working in a fabric sample showroom) paid $5.50 an hour. I thought I had hit the jackpot. The response from my teachers at City College when I told them I was leaving ranged from “How are you going to live?” to “Good for you…”

city collegeI was only a part-time student at City College for a few semesters. This was in 1988-89 when Willis F. Kirk was the President. I remember him standing outside the administration offices greeting and encouraging students. I even had a session with him where he helped me choose classes. It’s funny how things come around. Years later, at my current day job (which I love…dearly), I interviewed him for the Musical News. Along with being an educator, Willis Kirk was a world-class jazz drummer and composer who played with many of the greats. He passed away recently and will be sorely missed.

WillisKirk3

Willis Kirk featured in concert with the City College Jazz ensemble, 2008

When I told him I was resigning to become a musician he sat me down and asked me how I was going to do that. He then told me he was a drummer. I had no idea who he was as a musician and in my euphoric state of“Deciding!” I said: ”That’s great! I’ve never played with a drummer before–maybe we could play together sometime!”

He looked at me and smiled and said something encouraging and sent me on my way. Eight months later I actually did start playing with a real drummer. We formed a Folk/Rock/Blues duo called the Young Blue Bucks. We had a manager with a recording studio and a van and we played all over the Bay Area. To pay the bills I worked downtown in a hot dog stand and then a coffee chain (Pasqua, this was pre-Starbucks). It was an amazing time of my life.

To Be Continued…

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