The Sound Cafe
The Joys and Pitfalls Of "Retiring"
By Richard Flohil
Whether you’re a musician, or you’re in what’s laughably called “the industry” or whether you’re a music fan with a civilian job, sooner or later you’ll retire.
“Retirement” may be the result of a whole bunch of factors: Age. The pandemic. Health issues. A disappearing job. The lack of work. The need, simply, to make a change.
Here’s what you may not know: retiring is a bitch. It changes everything — and not always for the better.
After more than half a century of promoting concerts, handling publicity for events and promoting artists, writing for (and editing) music publications I pretty well just stopped.
I worked for 21 years for CAPAC, one of the two Canadian performing rights organizations (before they merged to become SOCAN). I did press for celebrities, including Alice Cooper, David Crosby, Billy Connolly and Sir George Martin. I organized concerts and club gigs for dozens (no, hundreds) of artists ranging from Rambling Jack Elliott to Miles Davis, from Muddy Waters to Benny Goodman, from The Chieftains to B.B. King. I was artistic director for four years of one of the most respected folk festivals in the world.
With B.B. King, Massey Hall, Toronto 1968
I had a charmed life, 4,000 names on my Rolodex, dozens of good friends and hundreds of supportive acquaintances. And, for a while, I was probably one of the best music publicists in Canada.
So, a couple of months back, I quit.
Thank god, it was not for health reasons. But I did mark my 86th birthday and Covid-19 made me pause (and it probably made you pause too) and think of what’s left of life. In my case, technology had passed me by, I had lost a comfortable office space and a brilliant assistant (unable to get landed in Canada, she returned to Germany). Worst of all, I felt that I had not delivered for not one but two clients. As the pandemic raged, I got used to being masked, came to terms with not hearing live music, and held my friends even closer.
It was time to pack it in, so I did.
Many civilians (the fans who we rely on to support music and artists) have “straight” jobs, and, when their 65th birthday rolls around, take part in little office ceremonies and get the 21st century equivalent of a gold watch. Off to the golf course they go, or perhaps they organize house concerts, baby-sit their grandchildren, or sit in the public library and read the newspaper.
To quote Mary Gauthier:
“Daddies yell, mommas cry
Fish swim, birds fly
Old men sit and think
Musicians, relieved not to be hunting for gigs and promoting their own recordings, will still wait expectantly for their diminishing SOCAN cheque, and hopefully will still practice every day to keep their chops in shape for the fun gigs they’ll have with their friends when the plague has eventually left us.
The music “business” people? Well, we can tell old war stories, reminisce about the gigs we helped make happen and the folk with whom we worked.
With Dolly Parton, Toronto, 2016
In fact, maybe that’s our job. If we understand that if we don’t know our history, we’re doomed to go through it all again, we owe it to all the bright young people struggling to get it right this time around.
Whatever we do, the knack — no, the duty — is not to be BORED. That leads to self-doubt, personal destruction, and early death. Have a routine. If you’re single, make the bed every morning. Try to learn to cook, if you can’t. Build a routine.
Make plans, and carry ‘em out. Keep occupied. Keep busy. Remember John Lee Hooker’s instruction, when he was 88: “It’s too late to quit now.”
And I’ll see you in the clubs, six feet apart, whenever they open again.
Richard Flohil retired. He keeps busy writing, although he is aware of Gore Vidal’s rude comment about Jack Kerouac: “He’s not a writer; he’s a typist.” This is his second piece of typing for The Sound Café Magazine.
With Buddy Guy, Massey Hall, Toronto, 2013