Nile Rodgers was exactly where he belonged when Daft Punk asked him to play on “Get Lucky”—a rare intergenerational musical collaboration.
Is your wardrobe 90 percent T-shirts and jeans? Are your favorite TV shows cartoons (Mike Judge’s Tales from the Tour Bus, Bob’s Burgers, Archer, and The Simpsons)? Do you occasionally eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for dinner? Do you consider buying guitars, amps, and pedals “diversifying your investments?” Do you stay up way past your bedtime all the time? If so, congratulations! You too may be an adultolescent.
In spite of my adultolescence, I recently came to the conclusion that the only person who thinks I’m young anymore is me. The jig is up! (That’s an antiquated idiom illustrating just how non-millennial I am.) Here’s another reference that will be lost on youth: I recently pulled a “Bob Barker” and renounced hair dye.
Seventy percent of people working TV gigs dye their hair. That’s a totally made-up statistic, but it feels right. I’ve been dyeing mine for years, for fear of being aged-out of these coveted gigs. I wrote about this in a July 2016 column cleverly titled, “Dyeing to Entertain.”
After my recent birthday (107 years young, last December), I came to the conclusion that there are only two options: grow old or look creepy.
I was tiptoeing toward creepville as the ruse grew unsustainable. My hair is so gray I’d have to dye it every six minutes to keep these snowy-white roots from peeking through, making me look like I’m part badger or riddled with bald patches. (For the record, there’s nothing wrong with being bald. My balding brethren, you have less hair than me because you have more testosterone than me: big picture—you win.) So, reluctantly and with great trepidation, I’ve stopped dyeing, buzzed it high and tight, and embraced the ravages of time.
So far, so good. I’m still employed.
The good people at Premier Guitar are journalists, so they don’t give a rip about hair as long as you get the facts right and show up on time. The gray might even make me look more like I know what I’m talking about. My PG gig is safe for now.
My touring gig with Lee Brice remains intact. Lee has put up with my antics for years, so my sudden change in appearance was nothing compared to my many performance and personal catastrophes he’s patiently tolerated in the past. It helps that I primarily play pedal steel on tour. Pedal-steel players are usually old, crusty weirdos hidden in the shadows, coming in on the chorus and turnarounds then fading into the background. However, if I were in front working for an act that hires by the haircut, my gig would be done.
As far as the TV gigs go, we’ll have to wait and see. Fifteen years ago, my friends and I started replacing the gray-haired players who came before us. Back then, those guys played better than us, but we started getting their gigs because advertising dollars want young faces on camera to appeal to the demographic that spends the most. If the TV gigs are played out, that’s the circle of life biting me in the ass. So be it. It’s been a good ride.
Like people who lived through the Great Depression and now keep cupboards full of used aluminum foil and old plastic bags, I had some lean years in my career that left me terrified of being gig-less. I did everything in my power to appear like the right person for all gigs. Now that things are a bit less financially desperate—and perhaps now that I’m thinking more clearly since I stopped soaking my head in toxic chemicals once a month—I realize I don’t want to be in a gig where I don’t belong. If an early-20s act hires me under the impression that I’m young and hip, they’re going to be disappointed when they see me under the harsh lights of a rehearsal. It’s like using a photo from high school in your Tinder profile.
But it’s not just about the look. Music is constantly evolving and, for the most part, those changes are driven by youth. If an artist or band wants somebody perfectly in step with current trends in music, they’re going to experience some buyer’s remorse with most players from a different generation. References, idioms, fashion, and aesthetics are generation-specific.
However, if a young act wants a true old-school approach done well, a seasoned pro from the pre-digital generation may be the perfect fit. For example, those French, helmeted masters of electronica, Daft Punk, don’t have a lot in common with Nile Rodgers, who is 25 years their senior and born in the Bronx. But by hiring this old-school master of disco/funk guitar, they earned one of the biggest hits of this century with “Get Lucky.”
When I was younger, I didn’t play very well, but the music I made, though ragged, was right for most of the projects I worked on. Now that I’m older, I play a lot better because these gray hairs are stress highlights earned through literally tens of thousands of gig hours. But playing better doesn’t mean that I’m right for every gig, and nobody should want to be where they do not belong.