At the Total Production Awards this week, I was struck by how many of our road-family we have lost in the past year. Men cut down in what should be their prime years, many still far from pensionable age. Is it the rigours of a less-than-healthy life of touring? Even if someone has never touched drugs or cigarettes, many of us drink more than government guidelines would suggest is wise and are fond of a fry-up. Of course, some deaths are caused by congenital problems and would have happened anyway – often such inherent issues lurk unannounced until they deliver their fatal blow. But we’re not renowned for our love of the healthy life.
The other thing I noticed, chatting to old friends, is people expressing a sense of feeling lost. A life on the road often comes at the price of a solid home and family life, and of cultivating other interests and communities. Touring can be all-consuming. What happens when you get to a certain age and find that you want to get off the road, but don’t have any other saleable skills? What if the road makes its mind up for you and you start getting passed over for gigs in favour of younger crew? Loyalty isn’t what it used to be in some quarters.
Being a relatively young business, we’re only now seeing the first generation of people coming towards the end of their working lives, and a lot of people seem to be struggling. Touring becomes so much a part of who we are, so tied up with our identity, that it’s no wonder we feel lost when the time comes to walk away. Some people are fortunate enough to land jobs with supply companies and move into a more office-based role, and whilst that offers security, it doesn’t always resolve that sense of ‘who am I now?’ Some people have financial worries, having lived a life outside of conventional norms and not provided for themselves in retirement – or too little, too late. Sadly some fall into depression, hit the bottle, and in a few tragic cases, can’t find the will to go on and have ended their own lives.
Where do we go from here?
Not burying our heads in the sand is a wise move. It might be the best fun in the world right now, but do you want to still be doing it when you’re 70? Is that even realistic? A little journey of self-enquiry into how you would like your final decades to be is a good idea. Do you have other interests? Could they become another way to make a living, even on a part-time basis? Even if the things you like to do aren’t money-spinners, it really helps to diversify the sources of your sense of identity. If someone asks ‘who are you’, I bet your job description comes pretty high on the list of ways you describe yourself. But that’s not who you are – it’s just the skill you sell for money. Who are you really? Cultivate friends and community outside of touring, so that loneliness is less of an issue as the years pass. Make sure you’re putting money away – most of us don’t have the comfort of company pensions, so get smart with your nest egg. And look after your health. Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked – just because the bonnet’s shiny it doesn’t mean the engine is running well! Your body, with all its foibles and imperfections, is the only one you get. Where the hell else are you going to live?
So make a plan. Look after yourself, and keep an eye out for our brothers and sisters who seem like they might be struggling, especially when we’re off the road. Because we’re a fantastic community, us lot – and we’ll get by with a little help from our friends.