Coffee Break with Nathan Gunn.
Welcome to our listener-supported podcast, Money Talk, uncompromised absolute financial truths behind financial perceptions with host, Ed Sutkowski and Chuck LeFebvre. Let’s listen in.
Ed Sutkowski: Hello, this is Ed Sutkowski. Chuck LeFebvre is not with us today. He’s furloughed. He’s having a little fun working in the fields. He’ll be back next time. Today we have a podcast with Nathan T. Gunn, an American operatic virtuoso, a baritone and an entrepreneur. Nathan, welcome.
Nathan T. Gunn: Thanks, Ed. Happy to be here.
Ed: I like to talk about the performances. At the international level, you’ve performed in London, the Paris Opera, Munich, Vienna, Brussels, Madrid, national level, New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, Dallas, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, where have you not performed?
Nathan: Actually, I’ve never been to China. I’ve skipped out on a couple of possibilities in Japan just because it was at a time when it would have taken me away for part of the summer and I want to actually be home. I also have worked in Tel Aviv.
Ed: Tel Aviv.
Nathan: The Middle East, I’ve gotten a bit from. Never sung in Greece. I’ve been to quite a few places.
Ed: Now, per year, the average number of miles before COVID-19.
Ed: Yes. Airline miles.
Nathan: Oh, my God. I don’t know. I’m up in the tens of thousands, I guess.
Nathan: Lots. Back and forth.
Ed: Ravinia near Chicago, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir 80,000 people.
Nathan: That was just one time. They have the largest presidium stage. Presidium stage for people who don’t know what it is, it’s basically a stage that you’d see an orchestra on but it seated 25,000 people. It looked like a normal community stage but then when you actually take a gander at how many people are out there, it’s shocking. That was a big one.
Ed: Did you feel like you were Tom Brady-playing for the Patriots in front of all these people?
Nathan: Yes. I’m glad I didn’t have to throw a football. Not that I’m bad at it but I like to hear and see.
Ed: Wait a minute, let’s not forget about your high school years. You were a running back and you wrestled and you had a couple of black belts, right?
Nathan: Yes, I did all that.
Ed: You were a bit of an athlete before you came on his other activity.
Nathan: It’s true. Honestly, all of that. I think it helped me in a way have a pretty keen awareness, a kinesthetic awareness to be able to do what I need to do on stage. Also, singing is a very physical activity.
Ed: Why do you say that? I didn’t perceive that to be the case?
Ed: Yes. Why is it physical?
Nathan: Here’s an example. This 4th of July, I was in charge of putting everything together and Julie went on a little retreat, my wife, camping, and she was coming back later in the day. I’m putting decorations together and I see this beach ball that had an American flag on it, so I thought I’d blow it up. Have you ever blown up a beach ball?
Nathan: No, okay. If you just blow up balloons, people will notice that it actually takes a lot of energy and maybe even start to sweat doing it. Those are all the muscles that you use when you sing. It’s not quite as compressed. You don’t feel that feeling when you’re blowing up a balloon but all those muscles really work and not to mention you’re moving around on stage but it’s tiring. It burns a lot of calories.
Ed: I’d never would have suspected. It seems so easy.
Nathan: That’s the trick. You’re supposed to be that duck. You’re gliding on crop but those feet underwater really working.
Ed: When I was watching Carousel, I thought, jeez, that’s so difficult. I understand it’s not possible.
Nathan: No, it takes a while to learn how to do it.
Ed: Your title roles at least I know of 7 there’s probably 70 Hamlet, Billy Budd, sounds like one of your favorites.
Nathan: Billy Budd was my favorite.
Ed: Why is that?
Nathan: A complicated character. The composer, Benjamin Britten, tended to– He leaned towards stories that really dove at the nature of being a human being, which is this idea that we’re flawed but we’re human beings of a divine spark, let’s say. Then you can go different paths all the time. You have this weird balance between good and evil. It somehow works together to play out what this thing is that we call life. Billy in this particular story, I like the story, in general, because it deals with on a broader scale the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law.
I think it’s a complicated question and worth diving into but as the character itself, Billy, he’s maintained that aspect about being a human being before he bit into the apple. You actually get to witness the veil come up where he sees evil for the first time and he destroys it but through a flaw of his kept not on purpose not with malice. It’s a reaction to it.
It’s like being shocked by a snake and you strike out at it or something like that. His then journey from that act and him not really doing anything wrong but the laws of Earth, condemning him to death and how he works through that is a really interesting thing as an actor to step into on stage because it takes a while to really figure it all out.
Ed: Nathan, how do you get into it? How do you get out of that character?
Nathan: I don’t know. I trained mostly as a singer. The singing part is just learning how to do that, it takes a long time. For me, I thought the best way that I could convey a message singing was to be as I think I mentioned this in the other interview we did a while ago. You’d say what does a singer need the most to have to perform well? And I said mercy.
What I realized is what I was translating that from German, which is warm-heartedness. You can’t go into it with expectations or like you’re sacrificing your life because then you just become angry. You expect something back and you become a bit vindictive. I think that mercy element is part of what attracted me most to that particular character.
Ed: I’m thinking in anticipation of the performance.
Nathan: How do I step into it?
Ed: You go to the green room, have some coffee?
Nathan: Yes. Mechanically, I usually get there early enough to shut the world out because almost always these are places or big cities. I go, and I get maybe an hour and a half before the show starts and settle in and the routine is for a person like myself who is singing either a title role or a lead character, you have a dresser assigned to you and the dresser comes in checks to see if you’re okay. Someone else comes in to check, see if you’re okay because they don’t want you to be sick. They don’t want you cancelling at the last minute. Can I get you some water? Would you like some tea, some coffee, all that sort of stuff?
Mostly, you want to be left alone, but it’s nice to see everybody. Then you have a process. Mine is you start to warm up a little bit, maybe go through the music a little bit. Then once all the costume’s on, once the makeup’s on, once everybody has come in and said their…all that business then I really like to be left alone about 5 or 10 minutes. I think about the character I’m going to play and then I think about the fact that in the end, I look behind, get outside of the meat suit that’s about to vibrate for people on stage and tell a story and really think about what’s what seeing me sing and what knows that I’m thinking about this.
Really get there and have that open-heartedness. Meaning, willingness to fail, not to worry about being judged all that stuff, pushing it aside so that I can actually deliver a performance that is honest because people pay a lot of money for it.
Ed: No fear of failure?
Nathan: No. Can’t. The times you do and you become self-conscious it ruins how you’re performing. What everybody can tell. If I were here talking to you right now, and I started to listen to my voice and how it sounds, can you see the change on my face?
Nathan: That happens to singers, too. You need to make sure that what they’re thinking about is the point and not how they’re doing it. Not whether people are saying is it good or not. Not if everybody’s going to clap at the end, not if that note’s going to come out perfectly. You really have to either be directly in the moment.
Opera’s tough because sometimes you have to think logistically about certain things and help colleagues out or whatever. You have to either be right in that moment or you have to be a step ahead anticipating what’s going to happen. For me, once you get past the little normal jittery things in the beginning like your adrenaline’s up and all of that, it’s very peaceful.
Ed: Now, after the performance, how do you calm down?
Nathan: I’m definitely an introvert by nature.
Ed: Wait a minute. You’re an introvert by nature?
Nathan: I recharge by myself.
Ed: You’re performing all over the world for thousands of people and you’re an introvert.
Nathan: Well, if you think about it, they’re all sitting in a designated spot and quiet and listening to what I have to say.
Ed: You’ve got to communicate with the audience.
Nathan: That’s the best way I communicate. Just shh and I’ll tell you what I have to say. Now I calm down pretty easily. For me, it’s exhausting. My routine is to sneak out. I generally don’t like to talk to fans and stuff. I hate to say that, but it’s true. I’m just too tired. I sneak out and I make my wake back to my home, whatever that might be at the time.
Ed: I think of other roles. At least 36, 40, 50. I can’t count them. The Lancelot and Camelot rather and Billy Bigelow and Carousel, Buzz Aldrin in Man on the Moon, Inman in Cold Mountain. It goes on and on and on. You have this opportunity, this gift, if you will, to convert from Nathan to Buzz Aldrin. Do you read? I think before you read a classic, the individual wants to read about the author, the times. Do you do any research about that person?
Nathan: I do. I would say reading about the author is probably for my own pleasure. This is tricky, but what I generally do is if the show is based on a piece of literature and it’s not actually the literature itself, there are very few. One that I can think of, opera that is actually a poem. That’s Ellen West that I recently did. That’s a Frank Bardem poem. He actually added a bit to it, but the text is all his poetry and it was set to this. That’s unusual. It’s an adaptation like a screenplay. They take the book and they decide to build something out of that.
I do read the book and I get a fairly clear idea in my head about who this character is. I enjoy observing people just in life. How they walk. If they have certain hang-ups, what their mannerisms are. I use them for certain characters. Billy Bigelow, I basically imagined what my grandfather was like when he was that age. That was him with a little bit of a poetic side added to it. I often do that or I take little quirks that people have and play with that.
The thing is, for me, going from the literature to the actual play and the character I’m playing on stage, that’s often different. For example, Prince Andrei in War and Peace, before the opera starts, you’ve had about 400 pages of his marriage and his wife’s death and he’s got the kid and all this sort of stuff. He presents himself at the beginning of the opera, if you were to go by the book, as a nihilist, but a nihilist doesn’t play well when you’re on stage. So I had to change him a bit. That’s where I breathe a little bit of something into the characters that are given to me and, hopefully, that fits into the larger story that’s being told.
Ed: Thinking about the application, that concept or concepts of literature, the great books really have to understand the circumstances of its production, who the author was, the time and time’s economics, whatever. Fiction can take all kinds of forms. It wouldn’t necessarily be chronological. So the opportunity that you enjoy of getting into the lives of these individuals as lead or one of the other performers, so you’re in the moment at a different time and place in the world.
Ed: You’re really doing kind of an analysis of a book, but you’re living it and breathing it. Is it surreal at all? Do you feel like you’re flying when this is going on? You think about Billy Budd and you were there. You think about Herman Melville and what he did when he–
Nathan: Ed, you have to back away from that when you start getting close to it when you’re on stage because you might end up being that centipede who starts thinking about his feet. It’s just a bad idea. Sometimes I do stand in awe of the fact that, especially if it’s fiction written to tell a story or to create an opinion or a truth with a slant, as Emily Dickinson would say so that people would listen to it– They did it out of nothing. That’s what always amazes me, is that some of the greatest genius work is that they had either an epiphany or a thought and there was a blank canvas, there was no sound, there was no anything.
Now, here I am 200 years later, or it could be 50 years later or a month later, whatever, on stage, and all of these human beings have come together to give it physicality. It’s literally like giving birth to a human being or some living creature that then dies, then it’s gone. It’s like you breathe life into it at the beginning, at the downbeat, and then when it’s done.
Ed: I’m thinking different types. A presentation could take several forms. It isn’t necessarily linear, but you can go in and out of the subject at will. I think of Virginia Woolf, the stream of consciousness, James Joyce. They’re all different but they’re all the same.
Nathan: I think they’re trying to express themselves.
Ed: Nathan, you’re a tenured professor at the U of I and a co-director of the Lyric Theatre and Krannert. In 2008, in People Magazine, you’re suggested as one of the sexiest men alive. How did your wife, Julie take it?
Nathan: I think we all had a good laugh about that.
Ed: So you deny that occured? She had to deal with it. Starting back in 1994, your first prize, the Metropolitan Opera and the National Council, how did that happen? How did this all start?
Nathan: How did it start? As you had mentioned before, I played a lot of sports, martial arts, boxing, things of that nature, wrestling. I recognized a good coach and I had good teachers. When I decided to learn about music and to learn about singing in college, I knew the most important thing was to find somebody who could teach me how to do it in a healthy way. As we all know from playing different sports and doing different things, if you don’t swing your racket right, you’re going to get a tennis elbow or whatever. That was step one. That was under control for the most part, I did what everybody else would do, which are vocal competitions. They have these in various places. One was in Indianapolis. I sang for– I think this is in ’91 probably. I got third place. One of the judges afterwards, you’re supposed to talk to them, she said, “I thought you should have first place, but you should do our contest.” I’m like, “Which one is that?” She’s like, “It’s the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions.”
Ed: That’s New York?
Nathan: Yes. I’m like, “Well, I’m in.” She runs their young artist program so I suppose she knows I should do this. So I sang and I won. I was out there for the first time in New York and I was singing with the orchestra in the stage of Metropolitan Opera is this 21-year-old kid. Or 22. What was I? 22, 23, something like that.
Nathan: Yes, young, really young. I did a few other competitions after that, but that was really the beginning. You sing competitions, I sang that one, I won it. I went to New York and they asked me to be a part of their young artist program. So I moved there and I learned about opera at the Met and worked with all sorts of artists that would come in. Meaning I coached with them, worked on different areas or art songs, did masterclasses, all this sort of stuff. While at the same time, the Met, in the name of their young artist program raised a lot of money. They would send us out to sing at different things and get donations and stuff like that. We’re sort of a moneymaking thing for them but it was good for us. Then during that time, I found my management and people started to ask me to sing for them around and then I just made debut after debut after debut.
Ed: As way of background, you were born in the ’70s in South Bend, Indiana, a lot of ancestors, lawyers, businessmen. Your great grandfather, supreme court judge, Champaign, Julie, concert pianist, five kids, Madeline, Jordan, Darlene, and then twins Olivia and Nick. You’ve got these five children, this beautiful wife, a concert pianist, and how much time before this COVID-19 would you typically spend on the road in a given year?
Nathan: The worst it was a little over 10 months. You know the opera, you had to go to the opera houses, you got to go to the concert halls, you have to go to the recital halls. That takes its toll. After a while, you get tired of living out of a suitcase and living in hotels and apartments and things of that nature. Again, it’s pretty exciting, living in different countries. It’s not like how people generally vacation, you move into a spot. If you’re going to sing an opera there, depending on if it’s a new production, meaning they’re building a set that’s got a new director and all this stuff. You’re there for about six weeks. If it’s something they have in repertoire fairly frequently, you could probably get it up and running and spend the entirety of the time you’d be there for maybe three weeks, two and a half weeks, something like that. If you’re there for six weeks, or if it’s a festival and you’re there for two and a half months you get to know the baker. You get to know your neighbors, you get to know all these people living around you. You essentially move and then you leave again and go someplace else.
Ed: The next-door electrician. Tell me that story. I still can’t believe it. You’re traveling all over the world.
Nathan: Yes, I don’t know if Jerry is listening to this. Jerry Manuel, he’s an electrician who lives in my first house in Champaign. Once again, we just moved back to Champaign. We have one, I think Madeline was born and maybe Jordan was on the way. I was going back and forth singing with different orchestras. I would pack up, that’s a shorter gig. You get there, you rehearse for two days, you do maybe two concerts, and then you’re out of there so, at most, it’s three or four days. I was packing up and I’d see Jerry, I’m like, “Yes, I’m hitting the road. I’m going to go to work.” He’s like, “Well, good luck,” and then I come back and he’d see me and say, “Hello.” This happened four or five times, and finally, he came up and talked to me and he said, “Nathan, how you doing?” I’m like, “Well, pretty good. I’m tired. I’ve been going to all these different jobs.” He’s like, “Look, son, don’t worry, at some point you’ll be able to hold down a job.”
Nathan: I was too tired too to argue I go, “Thanks, Jerry, yes, I’m working on it.”
Ed: Well, everyone’s got to have a job, sounds like. You’re defined by what you do. Second questions, you’re asked. The first question is Nathan and the second question is, what do you do and what do you say when someone asks?
Nathan: It took me a long time to say I was an opera singer and, generally, what I would say is, “I’m a musician,” because everybody can get that. They’re not sure, “What do you play?” I’m like, “Actually, I’m a singer.” “Oh, really? Do you sing in a band?” “No, I actually sing in the opera house.” “Oh.” If they’re really interested in it, it builds up, otherwise, musician, it’s done, “I don’t want to talk to a musician.”
Ed: Sure. How do you get comfortable and can’t text the electrician but that’s what it is?
Nathan: Yes, I don’t know much about electricity.
Ed: Your rewards are qualitative than quantitative. I’m thinking they’re qualitative in the moment. Is there anything that compares to being in the moment of performing that you can think of? Is it just fantastic? It must drive you? Why are you doing this? The rewards intellectually have to be insurmountable, fantastic.
Nathan: Yes. I always, to this day, forget about applause when all that stuff that happens at the end, and I’m surprised when I get paid. It’s a tradition in the opera world, not so much in Europe anymore. It’s kept on in the US that you get paid at intermission. That someone brings you a check at the intermission, before you go on for your last bit. That’s how it works. It used to be cash, which was great. Now it’s not. It’s a check. In Europe, they don’t pay until you’re totally done and you’ve gone for two weeks, and then maybe you get paid for all the work you’ve done. It’s crazy. I often forget so it must mean that I like it. I think that there is something about it that makes you feel extremely alive. I’m sure it’s terrifying for most people.
Ed: I’m thinking the greater the gift, the greater the sacrifice.
Nathan: Yes, but I don’t see it as a sacrifice.
Ed: It seems to me that you’re on the road for so long, you don’t see your family. Isn’t that a bit of a sacrifice?
Nathan: It could be. I think some people view it as such and become very resentful in their lives at the end. I don’t. I think it’s a choice. I knew it was part of the gig and I could always say no, that’s the thing. There have been times where I’ve said, “You know what, I just got to go home. This is too much.” Like that famous story with, was it Dean Martin when he was on tour again with the Rat Pack or whatever, after he came out of retirement after his son had passed away and everything. They say there was a big fight or something that went on between him and Frank, but actually, he just had three more performances and he’s like, “You know, guys, I just can’t do it. I got to go home.” I get it. I understand where that came from and I’m sure most people don’t think, “Oh, there must have been a fight. Something must have happened or whatever.” There comes a time when you just realize I’m not going to be able to do what I’m being paid to do for these people when they come to see you perform, or are giving you a part of our life. I mean, they’re not only working for the dollars that bought the ticket, but they’re spending a couple of hours letting you do your thing for them. If you can’t give them your absolute attention, and as much energy as you can, I’d rather let someone else do it.
Ed: You as the entrepreneur, the risks to your voice. Are you ever thinking that your voice might not work? I mean, you might?
Nathan: It keeps you humble because we’ve all had times when, one, if you don’t sing, you don’t get paid. It doesn’t matter if you spent a year in a place. If you don’t get up there and do a performance, you’re just out the money you put out to get there and live there. A lot of singers are paranoid about getting sick. Eventually, you have to get over that. Having a very healthy vocal technique often keeps you from getting sick because you’re not doing something abusive to your body. The traveling is tricky because you’re in these tubes flying you everywhere where germs are circulating all around and all that. Anyway, my teacher, one of the first things he said to me was in order to teach me and I thought this is a great way of putting me in a mindset that was conducive to allowing learning to happen. He asked me a question, “Where’d you get your voice?” I’m like, “I don’t know, parents, genes, whatever.” He’s like, “No, it’s a gift from God, can you get another one in the corner drugstore?” I’m like, “No.” He’s like, “That’s right. It’s yours to take care of while you have it. You don’t deserve it.” It makes you think differently about things and so I’ve always thought, “Well, okay. It’s my job to take care of this instrument.”
Ed: It’s a gift?
Nathan: It’s a gift. I didn’t do anything for it any more than my eye color. I mean, it’s just something so I can nurture it and feed it and do what I need to do take care of it, but it might come and it might go and you can feel if you’re under the weather or something you can feel when it’s not and you can be a little bit careful, but generally speaking, I’ve been a very healthy individual.
Ed: We’ve heard about the glory and the performance in front of 80,000 people, for example.
Nathan: Want to hear about the agony of defeat?
Ed: Yes, the guts on the other side. We got the glory and the guts and I think of income and expense. This is a self-employment income. It’s between the performance fees, incentive bonus, endorsements maybe coming this side to compete, licensing, sales of DVDs, but you got expenses, travel, health insurance, life insurance, accommodation, income disability. When the day is done, everyone wants part of your income or specifically, its worldwide taxation.
Ed: Yes. You’re a walking example of a tax lawyer or a tax accountant’s best dream.
Nathan: Oh, my God, my tax return.
Ed: How many pages?
Nathan: It’s enormous. It’s huge, it’s like.
The damned irony of it all is the places that pay you the most are the highest tax places. New York City– In California, they pay you a lot, but they take a lot back.
Ed: Yes, I wonder what that is. I’m thinking about, you’re taxed in Illinois on your worldwide income and that’s not only the Federal but Illinois too.
Nathan: You don’t get a total tax credit.
Ed: No, you have some opportunities to mitigate the double taxation. You have some foreign countries have an exemption, you have the foreign tax credit, maybe a treaty but the bottom line is, there’s not much leftover.
Nathan: There isn’t. It’s true and this is a hard thing for singers to wrap their heads around.
Ed: You’re not doing this to be a multi-millionaire?
Nathan: No, you have to be smart and frugal and have your head on straight to end up in a situation where you can– and if you don’t sing, it’s not like you collect unemployment, you’re an independent contractor.
Ed: You’re not furloughed?
Nathan: You’re not furloughed.
Ed: There’s no W-2.
Nathan: No, and you don’t get paid, you don’t get paid and that’s it.
Ed: That’s gruesome when you think about it. You’ve got this gift, you’re entertaining worldwide yet you’re an independent contractor. If you don’t get, and the next job, you’re sitting home watching baseball.
Nathan: That’s it, if you have a home.
Ed: If you have a home.
Nathan: A friend of mine called them– Because I’ve always– I bought a house when I was in college I was like, “I don’t want to pay rent, I’m going to buy a house. I want equity.” I don’t know why I thought whatever. I just did that. I’ve always been doing that but I know people they call them storage room singers or something like that. They don’t have a home, they put their stuff in storage and they go from gig to gig and live in different apartments that they rent. It’s a brutal life. You have to be really- a certain kind of personality and a specific age. You certainly aren’t going to have kids, you’re not going to want to get married. You have to be a person who doesn’t want any of that to live that kind of life. There are people that do it.
Ed: Solitary, solitude.
Nathan: Or just feeling like the world’s one big party.
Ed: It’s so upside down because the audience, remember the audience, you see this terrific performance and you assume all the good things you never think about all the guts. It really goes on to do that.
Nathan: It’s a lot of work.
Ed: Thinking about entering some self-employment, you’ve got FICA, and FUDA tax, 12.4% and you’ve Medicare tax at 2.9%, and the Illinois tax is 3.75. You’ve got unemployment tax, it just goes on and on and on. Let alone what the other countries are taking from me before you get it. You’re now in Champaign. How do you save thinking about this?
Nathan: Without cheating?
Ed: Without cheating, yes.
Nathan: We don’t talk about that on the show. Let me write my own receipt for that.
Ed: Yes, that’s right.
Nathan: Another thing that’s interesting is that, obviously, in the entertainment world, how you look has a great deal especially musical theater. The girls– I mean, these poor– Fortunately, in the world of opera, you’ve got some fairly normal, they look normal human beings but in musical theater, these girls are like the size of insects, some of them. They just starve themselves to be small enough for these roles. I think to myself, “Oh, God, I must go to the gym all the time,” but they can’t deduct that from the taxes.
Ed: No, it’s amazing. It’s a little upside down in the sense that you don’t get an amortization deduction or a depreciation deduction for your voice. You’re only going to last so many years.
Nathan: I know they won’t do it.
Ed: Yes, versus the opportunities to defer SEP IRA, lesser of 25% whereas your income is $57,000. The big thing here, talk about Kenny G in an example. Everyone I think knows about jazz saxophonist. He’s 64 but let’s assume he’s 50. He sold 75 million records.
Nathan: That’s amazing.
Ed: He started as an accounting major, he’s a good golfer. Let’s use him as an example of what can be done in certain situations. Let’s assume for purposes of this discussion that he’s 50 years old. He has set his self-employment income before anything is $ 450 000, that’s after all the expenses. Using that and using a cash balance pension plan which happens to be my favorite. We don’t do these anymore because I know a commodity you can have with this Kenny G, with $450,000 of net income he can have his W-2 at 285, and then, he can put away almost $160,000.
Nathan: Yes, if you can do that a year?
Ed: If you can do that for several years, you will have after 10 years of participation, almost $3 million, which is not taxed for Illinois purposes. Then you can take it out of the plan which is 59 and a half. Putting it in another way, the opportunity to subsist initially, and then, defer. You’ve got to make a lot of money, and you got to keep going. What’s your future, Nathan?
Nathan: There is no performing arts industry in the World at the moment. None. Doesn’t exist. COVID destroyed it. Everybody who is making a living is not making a living.
Ed: What are they doing?
Nathan: A lot of them are panicking, some are going into other work.
Ed: Like what?
Nathan: Carpentry, driving trucks, anything they can do. People don’t like change. It will change the face of what’s going on, but at the same time, I see also a positive twist on all of this, separating the wheat from the chaff, in certain ways. You’re going to get a lot of excess, wasted money that was in a bloated business that was somewhat grotesque in its size, manner, and waste disappear. The people that are remaining are going to have to be creative, and that’s about time. I have always believed, and sometimes not followed, because you’ve got to make money, you’ve got to support kids, pay for schooling, and start their Roth IRA’s all that stuff. I’ve always thought that arts are for a community, and I’ve always liked the idea that every community has its own particular thing, something that it did. It could be a certain music just like a dialect. What everybody going home recently has done, is it’s pushed all of that thinking back into its original place, which is that I’m from Champaign, Illinois. My neighbor, one of them is retired, the one in front of me is an attorney. The one over there is a real estate developer, and over there is a farmer, and I’m a singer, I’m a musician. They’re like, “Yes. That’s our neighbor, the musician. He does stuff over here, here, and here. If you want to watch him live stream, his next show, this is what we’re doing these days.” I love the idea of actually being part of a community, and not having to be strange. As you’re a lawyer, Ed, the lawyer, and Nathan the singer. It’s like, “Yes,” we all eat at the same place.
Ed: That’s your day job, that’s my day job. That’s not the real Ed, and that’s not the real Nathan. The real Nathan is an artist, is a performer. That’s all day, all the time, you are never not doing what you’re doing. You are always a performer.
Nathan: Always me, you mean?
Ed: Yes. You’re always you.
Nathan: Yes. That’s in my nature.
Ed: A plumber when he leaves, he’s no longer a plumber.
Nathan: I see what you mean, yes. Wouldn’t it be nice if people who were plumbing were passionate about plumbing? Like, “God, I just love removing waste from people’s homes.”
Ed: To be successful at anything, my view is, you have to be passionate about it.
Nathan: I think so.
Ed: If you’re not passionate about it, that’s a dismal life. Take what you have, do the best you can with what you have, and be passionate about it. Whether it’s shining shoes, plumbing, performing, or whatever your day opportunity is, it’s an opportunity, it’s not a job. That’s the reward, isn’t it?
Nathan: I think so, yes. Believe me, people ask me– I’ve played in certain places, and I’ve been to Atlantic City. They’re like, “Do you gamble?” My life is a gamble. What do you mean? Do I gamble?” Yes, I’ve gambled everything on this idea that somehow, like you had said, “Born with this gift,” I’ve cultivated it. We were talking about earlier today, singing is essentially to human beings vibrating into your ear, and it translates into something. That turns into money. What? If you want to get into the idea of why counterfeiting currency exists, we give it a certain value, and as soon as that’s undermined, it goes away, but somehow people have given a value and that’s what’s so fascinating to me, their day job, their plumbing, hopefully, they’re passionate about it, has provided for my singing. If they come and buy a ticket to hear what I’m doing.
Ed: Nathan, you’re living on the basis of your wits. You don’t have a license. You don’t need a stock bonus plan. You don’t get a lease-up. You don’t–
Nathan: No, golden pair of shoes.
Ed: Nothing, nothing. When it’s done, it’s done.
Nathan: It’s over, yes.
Ed: You’ve got the opportunity to actually receive a quantitative reward for your qualitative characteristics. Your wit, if you can translate that into making a living, what an opportunity?
Nathan: What you’re doing here is so important because a lot of the people that move into the arts, wherever they might be performing arts particularly, what motivates them in the beginning, hopefully, is not money. They want to get on stage and express something. There’s something in some human beings that want to do that. Find it– I should know it’s something that I’ve done strangely enough. What they have to realize is that they’ve got to be smart about this. Just because your check, once you did something let’s say $10,000 on it, it doesn’t mean you have $10,000. You get to start thinking, “Okay, the city’s taken this, Uncle Sam’s taken this, and my cost for travel was that, my cost for housing was that. And all the coaching or voice lessons or whatever went into that, maybe I’m taking home a half. Maybe. Then you have to think, “How do I got to save for my retirement or what if the next month I get a cold?
Ed: What about tuition for the kids?
Nathan: I’ve done all that stuff. I started from the very beginning. I’m like, “Okay, which is better now?” You get to the point where you’re like, “All right, should I put that in my retirement or should have put towards college?” I’m not always sure. I’m not sure how much the kids will use for college. Then we’ll have that stuff sitting in the college account when it really should be in my retirement account. I don’t want to underplay that.
Ed: Nathan, it’s all about deferring self-gratification.
Ed: Tomorrow, you may not be here. How do you think about self-gratification when you’re in an industry, I’ll call it, that can go away in a minute?
Nathan: I know it’s shocking, isn’t it? Well, if you were to go to our house, we have a very comfortable house. It fits nine of us right now with everybody home and all of that. What you’d hear about this conversation, really good meals every night, someone in the library/music room doodling on the piano, maybe someone practicing a trombone and some other part, someone practicing a cello. Creative things going on, lots of people reading. I think that part of what I’ve learned by traveling all the time is that I’m not really denying myself anything. What I really enjoy is instead of a Maserati, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. If anybody out there wants to give me a Maserati, a 56 Maserati is my favorite. Anyway, it’s a book, a really enjoyable book or a beautiful piece of music or having– what I’ve discovered is particular food from particular areas of the world and stuff like that. Learning how to cook, being able to finally speak in Italian to your colleagues, or get by with Russians. Stuff like that.
Ed: I’ve have just one question, how do you really feel about what you’re doing?
Nathan: Well, I love it now. The other added part is the teaching part. I really love being able to pass this on and say, “This is where I messed up.”
Ed: That’s how you’re living forever. I think, man, and I mean, generically, man and women want to live forever. Then we have scholarships and buildings and whatever, but to live forever, you’ve got to teach.
Nathan: You have to teach.
Ed: When you see the light go on-
Nathan: Oh, that’s great.
Ed: -and you know that maybe that person will remember me 50 years from now. That person will say something and I will be remembered. I will live forever.
Nathan: My teacher, I met him when he was 83 years old. He was my best friend until he passed away. Study with him for 10 years. I knew about a guy named Dudley Buck Jr., Burton Garlinghouse who must have been born in like 18– I don’t know what. These people, I didn’t have stories about their lives and where they found– Well, you know, Dudley Buck found this particular song. No, Burton Garlinghouse who taught the Episcopal Boys Church Choir. When my 83-year-old teacher was eight in Akron, Ohio. He found this song called- there’s an undertone, The Sunset of the Year, and my teacher would sing it every fall. The Sunset of the Year. I never met Burton Garlinghouse but I have all these wonderful stories and it was always a story in the context of teaching me about either how to be a student by calming me down and forcing me to listen to a bunch of stories I heard before, or it was a story to teach me how to do something specifically. Maybe even teach me how to be a teacher someday. It’s the teaching and those things affect lives.
Ed: Nathan, by way of summary, I think what are you doing with your life? You’re teaching full time and maybe performing, but you are really teaching.
Nathan: I think you’re right. Hopefully, as an example. That’s my best.
Ed: After performing, someone has to learn something you are teaching, and so, in theory, you might live for a very long time and maybe forever. Well, thank you. I enjoyed this visit and stay safe and stay out of trouble.
Nathan: Thank you. I always enjoy talking, Ed.
Ed: My pleasure.
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