Nick Jemo plays the trumpet. In 2006, he moved to New York with dreams of making it as a musician.
So, like many gigging musicians, he waited for the phone to ring. And waited.
Eventually, jobs started coming in, experimental plays, Korean mega-church ceremonies and the odd stand-in for Mary Poppins.
Then, as This American Life reports, one day his life changed for good.
He got a call offering him work six days a week and twice on Thursdays and Saturdays in Phantom of the Opera.
He didn’t need to think about it. He says he said yes even before the conductor who was offering him the job had finished her sentence.
Phantom was his favourite show, and he had just landed his dream job.
This was what he had come to New York to do.
He had arrived.
When shows open on Broadway, they’re planned for a few weeks and if they’re a success they get to run for a few months or even a few years – if things go really well.
Phantom opened in January 1988.
It got through its first weeks and months. Then the months turned into years and into a decade. Then two decades and three. COVID may have stopped it for now, but it’s still going and is showing no signs of stopping.
As the daily and sometimes twice-daily shows turned into weeks and months, Nick started noticing that more than just the music was repeating itself.
His new colleagues, some of whom had been there far longer than him, had their habits and rituals. The orchestra had its politics. Some musicians didn’t like some others.
But they all had a potential problem. They were musicians and essentially creatives, but they were all trapped in their way in the monotony of doing the same thing, day in and day out.
Many of them were bored out of their minds.
They have trapped themselves in golden cages because they don’t want to give up the salary
David Bowie would have been 74 last week. That’s no age really, especially when you consider how much he crammed into his well-lived life.
He was constantly on the move, calling himself into question, never standing still, moving from the Laughing Gnome to The Man Who Sold The World to Ziggy Stardust (there’s a story about how he got the haircut here) in the space of five years. Then there were the cocaine years that he went to Berlin in the late 70s to escape, that very strange duet with Bing Crosby, Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke.
Not always successfully, though. I have serious doubts about Let’s Dance, China Girl, and the entire collaboration with Nile Rodgers. And Tin Machine anyone?
But he refused to comply, refused to become a legacy act like so many of his contemporaries, right up to his glorious last album and his exit from the world planned to the last detail. He died as he lived; on his own terms.
I’m only comparing jobbing musicians on a Broadway musical and one of the 20th century’s greatest creative minds to make a point.
Even running our own businesses, it’s easy for us to get into a rut, relying on a comfortable income and become complacent and sloppy.
I don’t know about you but I work for myself so I don’t have to do the same things day in and day out and be bored out of my mind.
Channelling my inner David Bowie.