I’ve been thinking about “day gigs” lately — the gigs that musicians do to support themselves while they do music on the side. I wrote recently about my “day gig” as an “academic professional” (read: Phd ABD adjuncting at local college) and realized that in the history of western civilization I am not the only person to have a “day gig.”

Brian has been reading John Le Carre’s first novel, Call for the Dead, and in the introduction he writes about the day gig he had while he wrote the book. He was working (now famously) for MI5, but which it turns out, despite its James Bond-glamour, is really about as glamorous as your job or mine.

All I was doing was inventing people out of the meagre clay of telephone taps, purloined mail, and investigators’ reports. What else I gave my suspects came from myself. It wasn’t good intelligence work, but in that mediocre world it could easily pass for such. And it turned out to be excellent training for the career I had not not yet consciously embarked upon: namely that of the novelist.

As Le Carre embarked upon his career of novelist, he still had (to my surprise) a day gig. He wrote in the time left over when he was not making a living.

I wrote in penny notebooks. On the train to and from Great Missenden, in lunch hours, in the grey morning hours before going off to work.

Reading this reminded me that many people have written “in those grey morning hours before going to work” or in my case, in the dark hours after others have gone to bed. As I started to think about the artists, musicians, writers who have written during the day job, I mentally began a list.

William Carlos Williams. Day gig: doctor. Real gig: poet.

Wallace Stevens. Day gig: insurance executive. Real gig: poet.

Charles Ives. Day gig: worked in a bank. Real gig: composer

Scott Turow. Day gig: lawyer. Real gig: novelist.

Matthew Arnold. Day gig: school adminstrator. Real gig: poet, essayist.

John Le Carre. Day gig: intelligence agent. Real gig: novelist

There are more, of course, and the novelists and musicians whose day gigs consist of being teachers are too many to count. I was thinking of the day gig because I have thought recently about what I would do if I had more hours in my day to do the things I really wanted to do: write and play the drums. I wondered, and this is a thought I think can occur to many: would I really do it? Would I, if I had all the time in the world, sit down and write a novel? Or practice the drums for hours refining fill after fill? Or, would I wander the aisles of Whole Foods looking for ingredients to recipes I just found on a foodblog?

Brian and I argue about this all the time. I want us to be able to play music full time. He wants to keep the day gig. Not, he says, because he loves it that much, but because it gives him material. What would I write about, he asks, if I just stayed home and played guitar? He thinks many songwriters wrote their least interesting work after they become famous and wealthy because they have nothing left to write about except being a world famous musician. “Like who?” I challenge.

“Who?!?” And he leans in deliberatetly. “One word: Sting.”

I pause. “Okay. You got me. But I still think people can produce after they are successful.”

Brian shakes his head and usually walks off to practice his guitar. I’ve grown to accept that Brian’s idea of success for Short Punks is a punched out CD in a Discard bin at the local used CD store.

I think a lot about my day gig. I try to imagine that my day gig is the magic training ground like Le Carre’s career in intelligence was for his spy novels. The necessary fodder. So while I’m grading papers in a cubicle in the library or in the coffee shop down the street, I wonder if this moment is one I will describe later in an introduction to a novel or a memoir or a collection of essays.

In between grading papers, I would write ideas on the back of comment sheets on which I put students’ grades. I started the memoir, Chick Drummer, on the back of the comments for a C paper.

Some days, I even do it, too. I take out a notebook or a piece of paper. And I write: “I used to write sentences for the book in breaks between grading papers.”

And there I am during the day gig writing about writing during the day gig. Maybe, that’s all there is to it.

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