Ever since I left the university 15 years ago I have led a strange life, one which has been short on cash but rich in unusual encounters. Recently for instance I have been spending a lot of time in the house of a musician acquaintance whose band had several hits in the 1980s.
He bought himself a nice house with the proceeds of his success: a ranch-style compound located high on a hill in west Austin, set amid 10 acres of wild scrubland. Lizards and armadillos and deer roam the territory. Once a porcupine attacked his daughter’s pony and he had to pull ten inch needles from the whimpering beast’s wounded flesh. I’m sure there are some evil serpents out there also.
Inside, however it’s a different story: high ceilings, polished concrete floors, Italian leather sofas, hi-end audio equipment, etc. Here comfort reigns and everything is of the finest quality. It is also very quiet, which no doubt was a great bonus 20 years ago when he was spending long periods of time on the road.
The surprising thing (to me at least) is the restraint displayed in the interior decor. Some time ago I read about the mansion owned by John Entwistle, the bass guitarist in The Who, who tragically died of a cocaine-induced heart attack in 2002.* Entwistle had a lot of pinball machines, a stuffed bear, memorabilia dedicated to himself, etc. None of it was worth anything: it was just a pile of incredibly vulgar tat.
That’s what I expect from my rock stars: a chocolate bath, a gold toilet seat. But in this house up in the hills there is instead fine china, pop art Roy Rogers pillows, tasteful bird cages. The freakiest thing is a giant horse skull on top of the fridge, but in the Southwestern U.S. that’s just a rural touch. Friends, I have learned that there are indeed rock musicians out there with exquisite taste in home furnishings.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. Due to the crisis in the music industry brought on by illegal downloading, his revenue stream has collapsed and as a result he has been forced to move to a smaller place in the city. Now of course his smaller place is still much bigger than the homes of most of the people reading this, and he still has impossibly hi-end audio equipment. But the days of pony molesting porcupines are well and truly over.
The interesting thing (to me, at least) is the situation surrounding the new owner. One day this past week I was up at the house when I was told that the new owner was arriving to take a look around the property: “He hasn’t seen it yet,” said the musician.
“He just bought ten acres and a giant house without looking at it?” I asked, incredulous.
“Well, he’s not actually the owner. He’s just going to be living here.”
“The owner lives on the ranch next door. It’s 70 or 80 acres. Anyway, he’s big in finance. I don’t know what he does exactly, but he generates large amounts of money. The thing is, the man who’s going to be living here is his right hand man, his favorite assistant. But he was living in Dallas and the boss wanted him nearer. So he bought our house, the ranch next door, so that he could have his man nearby whenever he needed him.”
“So he bought ten acres and a giant house just to house his employee?”
Shortly afterward, the new resident showed up. He was in his early 40s and had that blow-dried hairdo beloved of bankers. He was also a bit fat. Silent, in a daze, he drifted through the house, staring at the walls of his new home. He didn’t seem all that excited.
I knew why, of course. Just over the ravine that divided the two properties, his boss was waiting, watching. Yes indeed, this morose slave had foolishly given up his own living space so that he could be at the beck and call of a master. His walls were owned by his master, just as surely as his time, which would now be manipulated and dominated as never before.
I did not envy him. Sure he had buckets of cash and he was living in a giant house surrounded by land which had been bought for him by a sugar daddy. But he was trapped, whereas I feel free. Then again, it’s always possible I am completely mistaken; that my sense of freedom is an illusion, and I am just as trapped in my own way, only with much less cash.
You never know. And as I watch the rock star going through his things, forced to sell half of it off because there’s no room for it in his new place, I realize that it never pays to get too cocky.
*The word 'whores' has been removed from this column at the request of a reader who claimed to have been with Mr. Entwistle at the time of his death.
What does the world look like to a man stranded deep in the heart of Texas? Each week, Austin- based author Daniel Kalder writes about America, Russia and beyond from his position as an outsider inside the woefully - and willfully - misunderstood state he calls “the third cultural and economic center of the USA.”
Daniel Kalder is a Scotsman who lived in Russia for a decade before moving to Texas in 2006. He is the author of two books, Lost Cosmonaut (2006) and Strange Telescopes (2008), and writes for numerous publications including The Guardian, The Observer, The Times of London and The Spectator.