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Go Ahead: Quit Your Day Job Pt. 2 by Alex Walsh

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Read Henry & JunePart I

The second time I quit my day job was in 1992. And I didn’t quit—I got fired!

I hated my day job. I was working in this restaurant café near my house. Very convenient but I wasn’t a good fit. I had it in my head that I was there to make coffee and not all the other million things my co-workers were running around doing. My last coffee job had been in one of those fast paced morning rush hour coffee windows downtown. That I could handle.

I applied because I wanted to try something different. I thought it would be romantic.

And it didn’t really matter because my band was going to be huge!

white vanWe had spent the last two years working our asses off. We moved into a big house so we could rehearse. I put myself on a two song a week songwriting schedule. We played a weekly gig for a year in a hole in the wall café to hone our chops. Our manager had a sound system and when we branched out to other cafes and then bars and clubs he sold his pickup and bought a van. We released two albums on cassette recorded in his state of the art 8-track cassette home studio he built behind his garage. We were getting reviews in college newspapers. We had a mailing list. We even had a high school groupie fan club.

Then we hit the wall.

The drummer announced he wanted to go to Paris rather than play the Castro Street Fair in September. This would have been our biggest gig yet. Our manager was against it. I was against it. Paris—what the hell?

But his mind was made up.

Rather than sit around I decided to go with him. Why not?

paris cafe and metro

Paris Cafe & Metro

We brought our instruments and a suitcase full of cassettes to sell. The customs guy was amused when he saw us, but he let us through without a problem. We paid our way by playing on the street at night and on café terraces during the day. We called it a guerilla gig because we’d show up and ask the waiter if we could play a short set. We did five songs. I had my maxi-mouse battery powered amp and mic stand mounted on a hand cart and the drummer had a wash board and other percussion elements attached to his body. He’d walk in to the audience on the fourth song and collect tips in his hat, then we’d finish with the fifth song and move on to the next terrace. We could do five or six in an afternoon. One night we played in the Latin quarter with a saxophonist friend and made over $500 each!

french francThat’s a lot of coins. We’d walk around with our pockets bulging with change. Not your typical American tourists.

I had a French girlfriend. She was an au pair in Palo Alto and her family had a small apartment in the attic of a six floor walk-up with a view of the Eiffel Tower that we were able to sublet. She came over too (emerging from the crowd outside the Pompidou museum while we were playing—surprise!) which was good because I didn’t speak a word of French.

If the street musician thing hadn’t worked out it would have been a one-month trip but things went so well we stayed for two. The only thing that stopped us was the rain. Everyone kept telling us if we had come in August we would have been rich. But we made enough to pay for the second months rent and a trip to visit my girlfriend’s family in the south. We also went to Barcelona for a weekend where we stayed in a hostel and played on La Rambla where we had a huge crowd and made enough to pay for our expenses. We felt like real performers.

A musician playing in the metro. We tried to do that but the police always chased us away. Apparently you needed a license to do that.

A musician playing in the metro. We tried to do that but the police always chased us away. Apparently you needed a license.

Back in Paris, when we realized the rains would make it impossible for us to continue, we decided to come home. It was sad to leave because we were becoming known in the area and had been contacted by some college students to play at their school. But we had to come back.

A few weeks later we got a phone call from a label in Spain that wanted to include one of our tracks Light Another Candle on a compilation album to raise money for the environment. Wow!


To Be Continued…