Lack Of Social Safety Net Tying Many Musicians To Day Jobs
"I fantasize sometimes that my musical career would hit gold and help us escape these grim realities, but it's not something I really expect to happen."
There are few issues in the current political climate more fraught with contention than whether or not the U.S. government will take a more active role in securing health insurance for the population. President Obama's signature legislation is currently 2-2 in the legal system, and a Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the law will almost certainly be the final say on the matter.
Many Republicans in the House of Representatives have vowed to gut funding from the law's initiatives, and thus the debate and effect of government health-care reform will be going on for the foreseeable future.
Rocks Off has a theory, namely that fear of being without health insurance may be crippling the career of the next generation of rock stars. Even with health insurance, the price of care can be astronomical. $500 for an MRI, even on a good plan, is not something the average punk rocker can afford, not to mention the long-term care required by cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV or other chronic conditions.
Consider the career of Shudder to Think, a band that might well have been as one of the most iconic acts of the '90s had not Hodgkin's Lymphoma struck singer Craig Wedren. Wedren conquered the disease after several years and remains in remission to this day, but Shudder's label, Epic, offered little to no help and the career of a band that Jeff Buckley and Pearl Jam cited as a major influence stalled.
Would access to better care through good insurance have allowed the band to continue its momentum? It's impossible to know.
It's undeniable that Houston is poised to begin launching some musicians into serious contention for stardom, but how many of them are being held back by an inability to leave day jobs providing health benefits?
"I can tell you for a fact that it keeps musicians locked in a day job," says Lee Alexander. "After college, when I moved back to Houston I worked with a guitarist from Scotland. He actually worked as a full-time musician for 6-8 years prior to getting a regular job here in the States.
Lee Alexander: "We give our prisoners free healthcare, but our artists are left to rot."
"He talked about how easy it was to make a healthy living solely as a musician in Aberdeen, but that socialized health care is what gave him the freedom to do that. Musicianship is after all, temporary verbal contract labor - no health benefits offered there no matter where you live. I listened with a great deal of envy back then and kept my day job because precisely because I was worried about the 'what if' when it came to health.
"There are chances I never took, opportunities I missed out on as a musician back then because of that dilemma."
To support his family, Alexander works for the Katy school district during the day, and pursues his music at night and on the weekends. He sees the lack of aid available to musicians and other artists as a sign of the nation's chronic underappreciation of the arts, something he's almost certainly going to see firsthand as the Texas school system braces for massive spending cuts in the wake of a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall.
"We give our prisoners free healthcare, but our artists are left to rot," says Alexander. "What kind of sense does that make?"