On Bad Luck, Roy, and Being A Guy Who Loves His Dog
THIS ESSAY WAS ORIGINALLY SHARED ON JULY 9, 2021
Some of the best songs keep things simple. Forget weaving together intricate melodies or developing fictitious worlds and situations; tell me something real. Life is hard, and there's no getting around it, so let's dig in and find whatever light may exist. Give me music that sings to my soul and makes me believe I'm not alone.
On "Roy," the lead single from the album Summer Of Pain, the men of Bad Luck cut to the chase. The track tells us the life of someone trying to survive an existence where no one makes it out alive. Any notion of finding wealth and life-changing success died with their youth. They're heartbroken outcasts who are tired of pretending they're not — at least a little — at war with the world.
Here’s to feeling like an idiot
And fucking looking like one too
Gave the same goodbye to every lie
Cause they’re old and you knew
When you take it too serious
Giving up is what you gotta do
For a break come on you need them a lot
When you know that you’re through
Living a life to fucking work a job
Stay up watch TV all night long
No joke, that’s how it goes
There are one million songs with a setup like that, but what separates "Roy" and the rest of Bad Luck's catalog is that it recognizes the futile nature of such gestures. You're not the first person to want to fight God, and you won't be the last. If we're keeping score, the universe is undefeated. Certain humans may change things for the better or worse, but most people's general course of events remains unchanged. We experience a brief taste of freedom as children before entering a slow march to the grave chased by debt and obligations. We work until we sleep, then dream until we work. Rinse and repeat. Die.
When you feel like catching up with me
Fucking off is what you gotta do
It’s a joke come on I tell them a lot
For the worse tell the truth
When I took it too serious
Giving up was what I had to do
For a break come on I need them a lot
You know that I’m through
When you’ve gotten used to
Living a life to fucking work a job
Stay up watch TV all night long
No joke, that’s how it goes
I’m just a guy who fucking loves his dog
I can’t take pills so I smoke pot
No joke, that’s how it goes
And what do we do with that information? If you're lucky, you learn to find joy in the tiny moments when the weight of existence isn't completely crushing your soul. You discover where you have some semblance of control, and you make choices. Maybe you get a pet, or perhaps you start a family. Some choose heroin, but others devote their lives to worship. Many do several of these things simultaneously. The only unifying factor is that it all ends the same.
Bad Luck writes about the sameness of our experiences. Their songs recognize the places where we get to make choices, but they primarily focus on the minutia of it all. Summer Of Pain is about seeing yourself for who you are and wrestling with the feelings that such recognition produces. You are small, and your existence is largely meaningless in the grand scheme of the cosmos, but it's also all you have at this moment in time. You can make the most of it, or you can let it slip by; the choice is yours to make. Bad Luck argues for listeners to choose the former, but they also understand the desire to do the latter. Everything has the meaning we give it, but nobody says anything has to have sense.
Lately, I've been thinking about a woman I dated briefly in my early 20s. She was as old as I am now, and she works for a major record label whose roster read like the posters on my bedroom wall. I was living in Boston when we met, and though our time together was brief, it's funny to see how that period of my life offered a glimpse at the dream I was chasing without me knowing it.
To keep things simple and vague enough not to warrant further investigation, this woman worked in music marketing. She traveled all over the Northeast, supporting artists of all sizes as a representative for a major label. She worked from home, where she lived with her cat, and her walls were adorned with the platinum plaques of artists she'd help to realize their full potential. She was nearly thirteen years my senior, and as you can imagine, we didn't find much common ground beyond music. If we weren't going to a show or talking about an album, we weren't talking or doing anything. We were two people drifting through life that felt less alone because of music and misunderstood that mutual connection to art as romantic feelings toward one another.
Free life advice: Just because you can relate to another person doesn't mean you should be together. Just knowing you're not alone is enough.
In hindsight, I wanted her life more than I wanted to be with her. She was doing everything I dreamed of doing, and she didn't have to leave her house. If she did have to run an errand or attend a concert, she didn't need to interact with anyone. Every single day was her and her music and her pet. There were emails and things like that, but overall, she got to choose how she spent each day. If she had to work, she got to work in music. What more could I ask for?
Smash cut to the present day, and I now live that life. There are no platinum plaques on my walls, but I do have several framed albums from artists whose career I've played some part in over the last decade. Each day I wake up and think about music. My calendar is filled with concerts and festivals all over the country, including several tied-to meetings with clients. I live alone with my animals, and there are days where I never leave the house except to take the dog out. If I choose to, I can easily go one or more days without seeing another human in real life. It's just me and my music and my pets.
Some of you are reading this right now, thinking that what I'm describing sounds like a dream. Others think it's a nightmare. Both opinions are correct. It's all about perception. I mean, it's all about perception. It's about the things we think we are and the things we can convince others are true about us. Ram Dass described likened this phenomenon to spacesuits. As he explains:
"When I was born, I donned a spacesuit for living on this planet, it was this body, my spacesuit, and it had a steering mechanism which is my pre-frontal lobe and all the brain that helps with coordinating and stuff. Just like those others who go to the moon and learn to use their spacesuit...how to grab things and lift things so I learned how to do that. And then you get rewarded with little stars, kisses, and all kinds of things when you learn how to use your spacesuit. You get so good at it that you can't differentiate yourself from your spacesuit."
The spacesuit Ram Dass is referring to is all the stuff we do and pretend to be to hide our true selves from the world. We don't introduce ourselves to one another as members of the same species. Instead, we tell each other what we do and what we enjoy. You may be a painter, but I am a teacher. John wants to play football, but he's currently working on an assembly line. We define ourselves by the things we do and pretend to be as a means of winning approval from others who, to some extent, are doing the same thing back to us. We're all performing for one another without being asked. It's dramatic and full of theatrics, but it doesn't bring us closer.
Bad Luck doesn't have their shit together more than anybody else. Talking about that creates relatability, but it's in the mystique of artistry that they rise to prominence. The notion of what it's like to be a musician rather than the reality of it. Most people don't picture their favorite artist spending sixteen hours a day inside the van eating fast food and hoping they make it home without taking on too much debt. Most music fans see artists as modern-day outlaws. They are rebels existing outside the system who roll into town offering cheap thrills and quick escapes before moving on to do the same thing in another ZIP Code. It's like the circus, but with a lower barrier to entry.
The same is true for working in music—what little representation music professionals have in pop culture paint a portrait of either the devil or a hard-partying devil. We are the enemy because we are a necessary evil. We may be fans first, but we're noon for putting cents over common sense. If musicians are the circus, we are the truck drivers and shit shovelers keeping the show on the road. It's glorious until you're doing it yourself. Then it's just another job.
To be clear: I love what I do for a living. My job affords me the absolute luxury of waking up each day with the ability to create something new and exciting. There is also a lot of busywork. There are long meetings, late nights, endless emails, and an unspoken expectation of promptness and sacrifice that looms large. The same things everyone else hates about their careers also applies to 99.9% of all people in music. The details change, but the headaches and groans are universal.
Our solution, at least for now, is spin. You may call it a lie, but I will refer to it as spin.
I'm not a guy hunched over a desk for 10 hours a day, answering emails, taking calls, sending sales pitches, and crafting content for near-daily publication, with the primary goal being to convert clicks to sales. Instead, I tell people I'm a digital marketing specialist who utilizes a wide array of multimedia platforms to share thoughts and ideas with the world. I'm not selling stuff, per se. I'm merely creating a welcome digital space where creative people in need of assistance can get a taste of industry access from an international corporation whose primary goal is helping people share content in exchange for a small fee.
The same is true for Bad Luck. They're not just a bunch of guys writing songs about love and life. The band has an entire bio written by a professional that goes above and beyond to convince you what they are doing is different than any other piece of art ever created, if only because it's the product of them. Nobody else can do it like them, and therefore, it is special.
But the truth is hardly as clear. Everything Bad Luck and I are doing is only special if everything everyone else can be considered special. If everyone else is normal, then so are we because we are all the same. Life gives us a small amount of wiggle room that we often confuse with freedom, but generally speaking, we are all the same weird organism moving around a strange planet suspended in ever-expanding space.
Perhaps nothing has made this clearer in my life than the Business 499 course I took during my senior year of college. On the first day of class, our professor divided us into equal groups of four. We were then tasked with coming up with a name for a fictitious business that we would operate throughout the semester. I can't recall the name, but it was probably something generic like Michigan Supplies or Great Lakes LLC.
Every time we came into class, the professor would give us a new problem to solve to build our business. The products we made were called "widgets" because it didn't matter what we made. The final product was never the issue. There are differences between market sectors and product categories, but the core business problems remain the same throughout time. It's all about cost, time, quality, quantity, and staffing. If you can solve all of those problems, then you can rule the world.
Summer Of Pain reminds me that the same is true about life. Though far more complex than business, the vast majority of problems and struggles you encounter will be experienced by virtually everyone. There are always outliers, but not many. We all make and lose friends. We all struggle with finding our voice and our place in the world. Most of us will watch our parents die. Heartache will come heavy and frequently forever. As much as these things may seem to define us, they are just opportunities for us to define ourselves. Just because life is what you make it doesn't mean you start with a blank slate. There are always going to be obstacles.
The only way life is worth living, at least as far as I'm concerned, is if we fight with everything we have within us to make this space a bit more bearable for everyone else. We must identify our sameness and celebrate it. We must work together because we need each other, even if it doesn't feel like it. We are all we have, and it's not getting any better.