A couple of weeks ago, the Boston indie band Buffalo Tom released a new album. They were one of my favourite bands back in the day. Buffalo Tom’s 1992 barnstormer, Let Me Come Over remains, 26 years on, one of my favourite albums of all time. Unlike so many bands of my youth, Buffalo Tom never broke up, never went away. They’ve steadily released albums since the early 90s, except for a 10 year period between 1998 and 2007 (ok, 9 years). They never made it big, they remained a cult band.
Music is not the means to financial security. I have friends who are musicians. They work day jobs. They’re nurses, school teachers, government workers, and so on. They do normal, middle-class jobs that allow them to live and to continue playing music in their spare time. But Buffalo Tom’s frontman, Bill Janovitz, has done better than most. He is a high end real estate in the Boston region. And by high end, I mean he sells multi-million dollar homes, and he has a good reputation. When I lived in Boston, I would see ‘for sale’ signs outside homes with his name and face on them. It took me a long time to connect Bill Janovitz, real estate agent, with Bill Janovitz, Buffalo Tom.
I have to admit, I felt discomfited when I made the connection. Buffalo Tom are indie rockers, and with that comes a whole set of cultural beliefs. Can a millionaire real estate agent still be an indie rocker? My friends, including the musicians, assured me he could. He was just good and successful at what he did. Buffalo Tom’s new album, Quiet and Peace, is pretty damn good. Not as loud and abrasive as the 90s output, but it is music for middle aged guys. That is not a diss. I am a middle-aged guy. It is a collection of excellent songs, written by veterans (bassist Chris Colbourn also writes some of the songs).
This led me to think about other rockers who have interesting and successful careers. There are examples such as the Offspring’s frontman, Dr. Dexter Holland, who received his PhD in Molecular Biology last year. Or there is Bad Religion’s frontman, Dr. Greg Gaffin, who holds a PhD in Zoology and occasionally teaches at Cornell and UCLA. But Holland doesn’t use his PhD, or so it seems (he did once say that by the time he was 40, he wanted to be a professor and not a punk rocker, but he’s now 52), and Gaffin also hasn’t plunged into academia full-time.
And then I put the Stooges’ 1973 classic Raw Power on and turned it up high. James Williamson took over the guitars on this album from Ron Asheton. Williamson made this album, his guitar is dirty, dangerous, and vicious, the perfect foil for Iggy Pop who was dirty, dangerous and vicious. The Stooges, of course, imploded, and Williamson continued to play with Pop at the outset of his solo career. But, by the early 80s, Williamson decided he needed a day job and he went back to school. He got a degree in Electrical Engineering from Cal State Polytechnic-Pomona. He then went to work in Silicon Valley, spending 15 years developing computer chips and applications before jumping to Sony, where he was VP of Technical Standards and worked to codify industry standards with other tech companies, including Blu-Ray. He took a buy out in 2009, during the Great Recession.
Or what about Walter Lure? He was the second guitarist in Johnny Thunders’ post-New York Dolls band, the Heartbreakers. The Heartbreakers released only one album, in 1977, L.A.M.F. (aka: Like a Motherfucker), and it was plagued by horrible sound (it was re-released a few years ago and sounds like it should). Thunders was a junkie, of course, and that plagued his entire life and career before he died in 1991 (though, more likely of leukaemia, not drugs). And the Heartbreakers faded away, though throughout the 80s, they occasionally reformed to make some money. Lure wrote about half of L.A.M.F., including one of the Heartbreakers’ best tracks, ‘All By Myself’ (with drummer Jerry Nolan, Thunders’ best friend and fellow New York Doll alum). Recognizing that the Heartbreakers were probably not the key to a long and successful career in music, Lure became a stock broker on Wall St.
So there you have it. Indie rockers and punks who have gone from playing guitar to odd and, in at least three cases here, successful and lucrative careers in other fields.