When I was but a lowly ‘girlfriend’ and not a wife or a mother or a mortgage holder, I wrote a blog about what it was like being with a musician. This blog is five years old now but as I’ve just waved my husband off on tour until the end of September, it all still rings creepily and eerily true. Of course, we didn’t have a baby then and that adds a whole new, crazy, bonkers dimension to it but essentially this is what being married to music is really like.
“Son, someday you will make a girl very happy, for a short period of time. Then she’ll leave you and be with new men who are ten times better than you could ever hope to be. These men are called musicians.”
There are men that call themselves musicians. There are even men that actually are musicians and there are certainly girls who leave perfectly nice boys for musicians in the hope, I’m sure, that they will lead a rock-fuelled life of glamour and gigs. I live with a musician. I wouldn’t change it for the world. But, if you’re out there thinking how glamorous it must be and how exciting it must be, or even more importantly, if you’re thinking of becoming one of those girls that leave someone to, ‘be with new men…called musicians,’ think long and hard. It’s not all backstage parties, free tickets and tour buses.
Of course, you do get all those free tickets to gigs, backstage passes, after-show party tickets and you do get to meet lots and lots of cool people but honestly, and I really mean this, that’s the least important perk of the relationship. Any girl that’s with a musician for the freebies will get bored pretty quickly because the flip side of this particular musical coin is not nearly as glamorous.
Being with a musician is like having a pedigree pet. They’re often beautiful looking. They are often adored by friends and family. They have particular traits that appear to have bypassed the more ‘regular’ breeds and, on occasion you can even take them to a show and watch while they are admired by crowds of people and finally they walk away with a rosette of some kind (OK, musicians don’t get rosettes, but the analogy remains). But just like the pedigree pets, they undoubtedly require more maintenance and upkeep.
From her point of view, it’s the ‘living’ with a musician that is not all it’s cracked up to be. As he reads this, I can imagine my boyfriend (who is a musician incidentally) starting to huff and puff with indignation and well he might, because you know what? It’s not easy for him either. It’s bloody hard for both parties involved. They manage by building tremendously strong and necessary coping mechanisms which, when you both end up back in the same house, can clash enormously.
While he’s away for weeks at a time, he’s in a different hotel room every night, a different city everyday and a different airport every other day. He’s told exactly where to be, what to wear and what to eat. He gets used to not having to think for himself, or indeed, for anyone else. He inevitably becomes somewhat nocturnal. Gigs finish late, after-show parties finish later. He’s got to get sleep to be on form for the show. He may have a few hours on a day off to go out and explore the city he’s in or he may not. He may only have the chance to compare hotel lobbies. Despite the sleep he may get, he is continuously exhausted and struggles to deal with anything beyond the realms of the tour bubble. Living out of a suitcase and sleeping in a different bed each night takes its toll. Adding to this, he sleeps, eats, plays, travels with exactly the same people day in and day out. Now, generally, they’re all good people but they could be Mother freakin’ Teresa and eventually after four weeks in their pockets you get bored with the view. And, of course, there’s the usual politics that go with any job – musical or not – that have to be managed. Unfortunately, while us normal people get to go home to our own sanctuaries at night, he has to crawl into a bunk on a tour bus no more than two feet away from everyone he works with. There is no escape!
As for her at home, it’s no easier. While he jets around from one fabulous city to another, she gets up every day at the same time and heads to work in the same (often rainy and cold) city. It doesn’t really make a difference when he tells her that he doesn’t even know what fabulous city he’s in at the moment. Even though she knows it’s true. It’s particularly bad when she finds herself at the fourth family dinner, or wedding, or birthday party by herself. Weddings are a particular nightmare for her. Firstly, most of them happen at weekends over the summer, which coincidentally is festival season and therefore normally an immediate write-off for him. Secondly, there’s not many people that go to weddings by themselves which makes her an awkward guest to fit into the seating plan and brides just love telling her that in a loud voice when everyone appears to have gone quiet. The children’s table, or the grandparents table is often where she will find herself deposited/squashed. Thirdly, dancing at a wedding on your own is always a bit weird. It’s fine while New York, New York is playing, but when the DJ brings the lights down and throws on the ‘slow number’ she has to beat a hasty retreat to the bar/loo/smoking circle (delete as appropriate).
And relationship wise it’s a minefield. When she’s available to chat on Skype, he’s working and vice versa. Mobile phone companies start invoicing him for his kidneys because cash simply doesn’t cover the costs anymore. She doesn’t want to say how rubbish home without him is because she wants to be supportive and not add to any pressures and guilt he’s feeling about being away all the time. He’s constantly under pressure to try and make time to call/email, which is nigh on impossible most days. She understands this most of the time, but spends a lot of time drinking wine with girlfriends and talking about how she wishes they could talk ‘properly’. Most of their relationship is conducted under the ever-present scrutiny of Twitter or Facebook and the only time she really gets to ‘see’ him is on the YouTube footage of gigs and TV performances that fabulously faithful fans post (Thank you MFC!) And don’t even get them started on what life for them would be like without an iPhone each.
Weirdly though, and very unexpectedly, the being away part is often the easiest bit. As I mentioned before, they construct these impenetrable coping mechanisms that make it ok. She tells herself it’s nice getting up for work without having to get dressed in the dark for fear of waking him. He tells himself that he gets to travel the world and fulfil his wildest dreams. They both become very selfish and they both construct routines that work perfectly for her when she’s at home and when he’s away. Yes, being away is the easy bit. After five weeks away, they’ve got it figured out. They can function perfectly and maintain a healthy relationship despite all the odds. Well done them.
But before that can pat themselves on the back, he’s home again and it should all be great. So why isn’t it? After five weeks of coping, they’ve both forgotten what it’s like to actually be together. In the same room. Sharing the same life.
It’s at this point that things get complicated. You’ve both got your routines. Complacently, they thought that being back together in the same post-code would be all that was necessary. It doesn’t work like that. He walks through the door; she wants his every moment. He’s all she’s been waiting for; she’s the first person he wants to see…but the first of many. There’s always a million friends and family waiting in the wings and it’s hard for her to share him with them, especially if he’s only back for 4 days. He walks through the door, he wants to sit and stop and not talk to anyone and sleep in the same bed more than twice. He wants to get his laundry done, his accounts done, his car serviced and this must all be done in the five days that he’s home. She quite fancies going away for a couple of days; the last thing he wants to do is go to another hotel. She wants to go out for dinner; the last thing he wants to do is eat in another restaurant.
The reality is that these things take getting used to. The rules as far as she can figure it out are:
1. Give him time to get home, unpack, get stuff done, relax, sleep, sleep and sleep a little bit more.
2. Be up front about what you want to do and what you’ve organised. Ask him to do the same.
3. Remember that you lead two lives – both of which have their advantages. Be thankful for that and relish the time you do have together.
The thing is, you all know what the good bits about being with a musician are. You all know about the gigs and the freebies and the parties and the travelling and the wonderful hotels that you sometimes get to go and stay in, in the colour-filled and life-drenched cities of the world. And those are not just good…those bits are great. But there are parts of living with a musician that suck the big one so, when the father tells the son that, “she’ll leave you and be with new men who are ten times better than you could ever hope to be” he’s right in only one way. Women will continue to leave men for musicians. But those musicians won’t be ten times better than other men. They’ll be normal people who do a job and no matter how glamorous people think that job is, or how exciting it is, if you do it for long enough, it’s still just a job and you’ve still got to manage life and love as well and it’s still not easy. It’s just that you’ve got a nice hotel room in which to try and work it out.