Retirement. For most of my adult life, it seemed an impossibility. When you’re a self-employed musician like I’ve been, there’s really no such thing. We tend not the be the best at saving for retirement. And there’s no pension, unless you belong to the Musicians Union, which in the Denver, Colorado area, is a joke. No, for most of us who cobble together a living with a combination of gigs, teaching, and recording work, retirement’s a fantasy.
Add to that the fact that most of us don’t really want to retire. We want to keep making music till we drop dead. It’s what drives us.
For years, I’ve told young musicians who think they want to do music for a living that if they can do anything else and be happy, anything at all, they should do that and be a musician as a hobby. It’s those who can only be happy doing music who should try to do it for a living. And we are the ones who will find a way to make it happen. I did, and so did several of my friends.
If you’re interested in a retrospective of my music career, I wrote about it in an early post; Counting My Blessings #3: My Career. I also wrote about the decline of that career in the follow-up to that post, The Rest Of The Story. I’ve been very blessed to have such a career, but it’s been winding down of its own accord for years now.
Once I was diagnosed with cancer, and began treatment, the things that drive me changed. I was no longer driven to perform, write and record music, or lead worship. I’ve felt a distinct sense of God saying to me, “Well done. You rest now. I have something else for you to do.” He began leading me down this path that I expect to be traveling for the rest of my days.
But it’s been a slow transition. I couldn’t just stop when I wanted to more than a year ago. I had obligations to clients, and I was too young to start drawing my Social Security benefits. But that changes in two weeks. On May 7th, I turn 62 years old, which is the youngest age you can start collecting in the U.S., unless you’re on Social Security Disability. I applied for that early in this process, and was denied. I won’t go down that road again.
My family tends to live into their early 90’s. Until cancer took over my life, I had expected to keep working until I could draw my full benefit at 66, which would be a few hundred dollars more than I can make starting at 62. But when I was diagnosed Stage 4, waiting was no longer an option. When you have a terminal illness, they tell you to start drawing your Social Security as early as you can. So I went down to the Social Security office yesterday, and applied to start receiving my benefits.
I’ve been retired from leading worship for two years now. With rare exceptions, the same has been true for performing. But I’ve continued to do recording work. Not for long, though.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I’m starting work on my last CD project, Righteous Pop Music Volume 20. I expect to finish that by the end of May. But I haven’t talked about my weekly song parody service for radio stations much in this blog. It’s called Bradford’s Boogies, and I’ve been doing it since 1999. I write and produce a topical song parody every week for stations who subscribe.
When I began, I had ten or twelve subscribers, along with a chain of stations who subscribed at a reduced rate. This gave Bradford’s Boogies a total of nineteen or twenty subscribers at its peak. Which, along with everything else I was doing, made for a pretty nice living at the time. Without going into what went wrong – see The Rest Of The Story for that – my list of clients shrank over the years rather than growing.
For the last few years, I’ve had only two radio stations who still paid to have my weekly song parody service on their morning show; KGLK in Houston, Texas (107.5 The Eagle as it’s known by locals) and WMGK in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dean and Rog are the show who plays my songs in Houston, and John DeBella is my guy in Philly. I’ve been with Dean and Rog since the early 90’s, and with DeBella since 2003. I consider all of these guys friends. They stuck with me when so many bailed. When I told them of my diagnosis, they still stuck with me and have been patient with me when I was struggling to think of something funny to write about. I’ll never be able to repay the way they’ve supported me over the years. But it’s time for me to move on now.
I had expected to keep doing Bradford’s Boogies until I couldn’t do it anymore. It’s still a nice amount of money for relatively little work. But it never lets up. It’s 52 song parodies per year, without exception. No vacations. If I travel somewhere, I have to work ahead, or catch up when I return home. This does not amount to retirement. It’s become a burden that I’d rather lay down at this point in my life.
There are places I’d like to go and things I’d like to do while I still feel good enough to do them. The weekly obligation of Bradford’s Boogies makes that impossible. But as it happens, my Social Security income will more than make up for what I make from Bradford’s Boogies. So I’ve decided to stop producing this weekly service at the end of May, as well as finishing my last CD project in the same time frame. This will enable me to sell my recording gear starting in June, and truly retire.
I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. I had a couple of days of indecision about this, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Why can’t I have some retirement time that I can enjoy while I still feel good enough to enjoy it? Why should I have to keep working until cancer forces me to stop? Especially when I have other things that are more important to me now than getting a topical song parody out.
Here’s one problem with continuing to do a job that amounts to commenting on current events. I don’t pay attention to the news anymore. I used to be a news junkie, but now I find it brings too much negativity to my life. I don’t need that right now, so I choose to live in blissful ignorance. It’s the only way I can keep my emotional equilibrium and avoid “black cloud” days. That makes it a little difficult to be a social satirist.
I spoke to John DeBella in Philadelphia a little while ago, and he couldn’t have been more gracious or understanding. I expect the same when I talk to Dean and Rog tomorrow. It will be a difficult conversation, since I’ve been friends with these guys since 1991 or thereabouts, when they were here in Denver on KBPI. But they’ll understand. I’ve worked with them longer than any other radio show in my career.
But as you know if you’ve been following along, retirement does not mean inactivity for me. Different things drive me now, and I have a few irons in the fire, so to speak. Chosen Family chocolate ice cream is on its way to production. When the Kickstarter campaign for startup capital begins, I will shamelessly promote it here. I’ll still work with the kids in the rock band school I’ve talked so much about. And of course, I will continue to document my journey, and begin the process of turning this blog into a book starting this fall.
But retirement means I can also do other things, like take a week to drive out to my friend Christopher’s benefit concert in June. I couldn’t do that if I was still required to crank out a song parody every week.
Once I’ve sold my gear, we’ll start turning this room that we’ve called The Studio into a third bedroom and office. My goal is to have it ready for guests who travel here for our 40th anniversary party at the end of July. That room is yours if you want it, Christopher and Lori.
My wife and I are unsure, at this point, how we’ll be able to make this work financially, long term. But God has provided so far, and I have no doubt that he’ll continue to do so.
Truthfully, I’ve wanted to retire for a long time. Years. I never thought it would be possible. Yet here it is, just over a month away. I couldn’t be more excited. Not only is there light at the end of the tunnel, the light streaming in now overwhelms the darkness of the tunnel. I’m almost there. #waroncancer