This week, in Ontario, the government decided to put the brakes on their re-integration plan to have us return to normal because the pandemic has decided to return for a victory lap. They shut down public spaces and gathering places like bars and restaurants because despite being told not to act like selfish jackasses scoring hookers and turning their livers in alcohol-filled swimming pools on the last night before their wedding day, idiots be idioting. Couple that with people marching in parades demanding that they have the right to be jackasses and endangering the health of everyone else and it seems our dear leaders had no choice.

This setback is severely hampering our desire to ‘get back to normal.’ But what was normal? Among the industries hardest hit by the pandemic has been the entertainment business and all of the people who are part of the A-frame that keeps it propped up. The most devastated are the workers behind the scenes that make the engines run smoothly for rock stars, athletes, actors, comedians, and any other talented souls who allow you to step outside your four walls and away from your job to amuse you in one form or another. There was nothing normal about their lives. These are people who sacrificed sleep, relationships, and usually health to bring you Schitt’s Creek, Hockey Night In Canada, The Rolling Stones, and The Lion King: The Musical.

And that’s just the AAA entertainers. Below decks are community theatres, local cable television, and singer-songwriters attempting to fill a bar so they can perform a new song they just wrote. And there are far more of these struggling entertainment scenarios than there are in the major leagues. We talk about the stuff that hits us in the face from connected global pop culture mediums – newspapers, television, and social media. We rarely hear about the struggle of those who aren’t already stars.\

And their normal has been destroyed. Most probably forever. I’ve been watching with sadness the sheer number of musicians who can no longer stand on stage and ply their trade. Professionals and weekend warriors alike. While Billy grew up wanting to play in the NHL, Joe had strapped on a Les Paul and drove his parents mad with Zeppelin riffs. Joe dropped out of high school, but he had a plan to become a rock star. That, by every definition, is not ‘normal.’ But he chased it anyway. He never got the record deal or  a mansion in Bel Air (apparently, that’s the cliché that you’re supposed to dream of) but he did manage to create a full-time job for himself playing bars around the province 6 nights a week with a matinee on Saturday afternoons.

And Joe’s band contained three or four other like-minded individuals. All dreaming of the spotlight, of making some serious cash that didn’t involved standing on an assembly line pressing metal fittings for a new chair design at IKEA called the Bjorku. And occasionally there would be a new singer, maybe a gal who wanted to get revenge on her parents. “Fuck you, Mom and Dad. I’m going to be a huge star and besides, me and the drummer are in LOVE!” She could have married an accountant and squeezed out a couple of kids and become a suburban mother taking Junior to soccer practice in the mini-van. Instead, she ended up in the back of a Ford Econoline squashed between an Ampeg bass amp and a roadie who hasn’t showered since a week ago Tuesday. This wasn’t normal. This was an alternative to the 9-to-5 mindless grind of answering phones and having her ass grabbed by the corporate douchebag in the Finance department.

The future looks bleak for these independent entrepreneurs. It’s an industry that’s never gotten respect. If you’re not saving infants from burning buildings, becoming upwardly mobile in a major bank, or curing the very virus we’re being held hostage by, you don’t qualify as a human being and are not worthy of assistance. “Get a real job.” You mean the real jobs that are also being hit with mass unemployment and having its “normal” re-assigned?

I got lucky – though I didn’t feel that way at the time – when the music industry collapsed along with the housing and mortgage debacle in 2008. I struggled for two years attempting to right the ship and sail through the burning wreckage of the business. In the end, I couldn’t and found one of those ‘real’ jobs. It destroyed my confidence and my self-worth. Making music and helping others make music was the only thing I’d ever wanted to do from the time I got my first guitar at 14 years of age. I kept journals that say as much. I have several hundred songs on tape that say as much.

Becoming a PSW or a cop is a calling. Saving the planet is a calling. Being someone that expresses themselves artistically is a calling. And if that’s not considered normal then that’s on society, not on the people who are attempting to share their talent with others. Imagine being offered a slice of happiness and saying to the person giving it to you, “Thanks for that. Can I have that for free? Can you give me more of that and in a way that I never have to compensate you for it?”

This is where we are right now. The world wants musicians to keep giving them music but they don’t want to contribute to it being made. That includes in a live performance situation. “Entertain me, peasant!!” It’s elitism at its very basic form. Musicians are the court jesters and the listeners have become gluttonous monarchs demanding more. Well, you can’t have more. One by one musicians are either being pushed out of the profession or having to abandon the pursuit just to put food on the table. And that was before the pandemic. Now it’s a crisis.

It was decided long ago that if you don’t align your lifestyle with that by which society considers normal, you will be shunned. You will be denied the basics of life. And you will be left abandoned with your dreams. There are no unemployment numbers for the music profession. The government barely recognizes these people as professionals (i.e. someone that derives a financial living from it). I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe it’s a million or more. That’s a million people not bringing you happiness. That’s a lot of songs you’ll never hear. And that’s not normal.


Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 41 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 24 years. He is also the author of The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and editor of “Sunny Days: The Skip Prokop Story.” Available through Amazon.

One Response to “NOTHING WAS EVER NORMAL by Jaimie Vernon”

  1. Damon Hines Says:

    Heartbreaking…good thing I’d long-ago learned to do without the “love-pump.” Or the raison-d’etre that had sustained me for decades. Now for the worms…as if anybody’d permit such an eco-friendly denouement.

    “It’s Not That Easy Being Green.” Here’s to trying, or at least best intentions. Cheers, m8.

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