Nathan Abshire’s words are still being sung by local musicians.
January 30, 2002
If you haven’t been reading Herman Fuselier’s weekly “Bayou Boogie” column in The Daily Advertiser, then shame on you. For quite a while he’s been making some great points about local music that only a few people seem to accept or even acknowledge. In the May 11 issue, the title of his column was “Why are so many of our musicians dying? Because they’re poor.” Ouch. Talk about getting to the point.
The same can be said for a lot of us here in Louisiana. We make less money than the rest of the nation. More of us live in poverty than any other state in the nation.
Down here, the one thing that’s really rich is the food. The worse it is for us, the more we want it. Forget seaweed and tofu; give me cracklins and boudin any day, every day. And sometimes we might need a beer – or several – to wash it all down. We might not have a lot, but we compensate for it by living high on the hog.
In his May article, Fuselier named a couple dozen local musicians who have passed away, mostly from heart attacks and cancer. While musicians face the same temptations and trials we all face, they also have the additional burden of their lifestyle and workplace being occupational hazards. The workplace is usually a smoke-filled barroom. The physical repetition of playing night after night can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome or other repetitive strain issues. Being exposed to loud amplifiers can lead to hearing problems. The lifestyle can include traveling in a van from town to town and gig to gig, living in hotel rooms (if you make enough money). Being on the interstate is a risky enough business as it is and being out on the road there are plenty of fast-food joints and few options for eating healthy.
There’s a movement underfoot, and while it’s only really beginning to gain momentum, it has the potential to give something back to our local musicians. If the Acadiana Musicians’ Health Services is brought to fruition, it can help alleviate some of the health problems of musicians. If we don’t do something soon, we’re going to continue to see more of them passing away long before their time.
Recently I heard this question tossed around between some local folks: Why are musicians so special that they need to be singled out for medical treatment? As ludicrous as that sounds – as I sit here and write it down and see the words with my own eyes – I assure you I heard it with my own ears. The logic was this: Isn’t it enough that these guys get to be on stage, stand in a spotlight and have adoring fans at their feet?
Let’s face it. Musicians are different than the rest of us. They make a lot of sacrifices to do what they love. There are several trade-offs in the local music business – including little to no money, late hours with no overtime, no vacations, estrangement from family and loved ones and bad health. If standing in a spotlight is a reward for all of the misery the musician’s life can cause, it’s unjust compensation.
There also seems to be a prevailing attitude that playing music is somehow not work, that doing what you enjoy and what you’re good at is not an honest way to make a living. Actually, most local musicians do it because they love it and they have to maintain a day job to feed and clothe their families.
And if you think musicians aren’t important to our local culture, try to imagine Mulate’s or Randol’s without music. Try to imagine the money pumped into the local economy during Festivals Acadiens, Festival International de Louisiane, Zydeco Festival, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival or Downtown Alive! without local music. Would the folks in the tourism ads be dancing around if there weren’t any local music? And if we have enough pride to use that music in our ad campaigns, shouldn’t we have enough decency to assist those that create the music?
We must invest time and money to help our local musicians, our cultural ambassadors. If you can imagine Acadiana without local musicians what you’ll see is Any Town, U.S.A.
The next meeting for the planning stages of the Acadiana Musicians’ Health Services is set for Feb. 15. You can contribute your time and expertise to the efforts. For more information, call the Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center at 989-0001 or visit www.swlahec.com.