Image: That Part of the Show

I’m sitting in the park gazebo in Tequesta, Florida. My wife, daughter and sister-in-law are all running in the Race for the Pies this morning and the race is supposed to start in about twelve minutes. It’s a lovely morning with a light breeze and it’s quite pleasant here in the park. I’m not a runner and haven’t been since I left the Army 27 years ago. In some ways I wish I were, but due to bad knees and a bit of a weight issue. I actually have a doctor’s excuse to not run given to me by the last doctor to root around in my left knee. Regardless, I’m feeling a little out of place surrounded by all of these patently fit people preparing to take off. Something that most of the musicians I know try to avoid talking about, especially those like me who are either an XXL packed onto a 5’8” frame, or, also like me, are on the northern side of 50 years old. That topic boils down to one word, image.

Most bands that are out to “make it” put as much importance on the collective image of the group as they do on the actual music that they produce. This might seem superficial, but the reality of the music business is that it is part of the entertainment industry, which tends to be shallow in many ways. Image sells, it’s a big part of the show and it communicates a dedication to the format. Some of what people view as image appropriate depends on the genre. In the classical field this usually invokes images of formal attire, tuxedos and black ties for the men and usually black attire for the women as well. This is what is usually seen when we attend orchestral concerts and sometimes small ensembles and solo recitals. Often classical musicians who are giving recitals opt out of the formal wear and go with what could be described as more of a business casual attire. Traditionally classical musicians haven’t been as strict in terms of body image as some of the other genres, however this has been changing over the past 20 years or so for various reasons.

I’ve done the classical route with the full tux, but honestly the last time I donned a suit for a performance was New Year’s Eve of 1999. I was playing with a variety band at an upscale function. It has been a good while since I’ve played anywhere that requires that but for musicians who work the upscale club circuit, weddings and some forms of corporate events wearing formal attire still applies, even for pop/rock and variety bands. In most cases with these types of gigging the image that is expected is pretty clean cut and while you don’t necessarily have to present a peak performance body image, it doesn’t hurt. Presenting a professional front is a major plus and understanding what is appropriate often makes the difference between working or wondering why you don’t have a gig.

Most musicians have a pretty solid understanding of what type of image goes with what they’re playing. In some cases showing up looking like you’ve just rolled out of garbage dumpster after a three day drunk might be appropriate, but nobody really wants to work with someone who is actually doing that to achieve the “look.” Most folks base what they’re wearing upon what the big names in their genre wear, but something to keep in mind is that not all body shapes work with the same clothes. If your body doesn’t, than find something that works, start working out, or just be yourself. If you’re working rock and roll you might want to consider something other than the jeans and t-shirt you put on that morning; try to raise the bar a bit. For one thing you want to keep in mind that you’re going to be going on stage to give a show and while it might be a job to you it’s entertainment for your audience.

I personally cringe a bit when the whole image topic comes up because, quite honestly, I’m not happy with my physical form. I know it’s something I can change, at least the weight aspects, but reaching that goal is something that is relegated to the distant future. There are other aspects that give me more trouble not the least of which is being a white haired 54 year old in a business that is primarily youth driven. I could dye my hair like some of the folks I work with do; it might make me look more forty-something than fifty-something given the lack of lines on my face but eventually that will look a bit off. Besides, I am who and what I am so I’m ready to accept that. There are times when I wish I was still the young fit man that I was years ago, but that’s not the case and the clock isn’t going to stop and run backwards for me. It doesn’t for anyone except in legends and fantasy stories. What I can do is dress well to present the best image I can and play my ass off every time I step out onto stage. I can lay down that groove that gets folks out of their chairs and onto the dance floor and occasionally lay down a line that someone drops a jaw on. I try to remember that image isn’t everything, but still try to present the best one that I can when I hit the stage.

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