Gig Economy: Danko Jones

Danko Jones on questionable stains and making it on the radio.

Gig Economy is a Talkhouse series in which artists tell us about their work histories, from part-time pasts to the present tense, in order to demystify the many different paths that can lead to a career as a working musician. Here, Danko Jones talks about the thrill of hearing his song on the radio for the first time (even while mopping up… someone else’s mess).
—Annie Fell, Associate Editor, Talkhouse

I joined the Kiss Army when I was six years old after my mom sent my fan letter to the address on the back cover of Kiss Alive. I received a small package with 8 x 10 glossies of the band, and from that moment on I was hooked—I wanted to listen to rock music 24 hours a day. I worshipped the musicians to the point where the only thing I wanted was to be in a band. The inevitable happened and, of course, I started to sing and play guitar. I have now been playing in my eponymously named trio for the last 22 years. We’ve performed in close to 40 countries on six continents, put out 11 albums, three DVDs, and close to 30 music videos. It’s been a non-stop whirlwind, and I’ve loved every minute of it, even the shit minutes.

As wild a ride as it’s been, I can’t help but feel that I’ve been sold a false bill of goods. I bought into the dream that Gene Simmons and Nikki Sixx sold me via music videos and music mags. I never clued in that there were two sides of the curtain and most dare not venture beyond what’s on the stage. Nobody told me that to remain in the music biz, a few extra layers of skin were immediately required. You also need to lower your expectations to maneuver through a world made of smoke, mirrors, rats, and snakes.

Getting played on the radio used to be considered a celebratory milestone in a band’s career. Friends and family would think you had “made it.” Even if nothing came of it, you had bragging rights for years. However, these days, radio doesn’t wield that kind of power, and a spin is akin to getting a “like” on Facebook. It’s nice, but it makes little impact on a band’s success.

The first time one of our songs made it to a radio playlist, back in 1999, it was still a pretty big deal; It was an acknowledgment from the mainstream Toronto rock ’n’ roll gatekeepers that maybe, just maybe, we were worth listening to. We had gotten word that our song “Bounce” would be spun on mainstream Toronto radio, CFNY 102.1 The Edge, during one of their late-night specialty shows. We made phone calls to industry bigwigs and scenesters letting them know to tune in. We had already started bragging to friends and family. As far as we saw it, our world was about to be set on fire.

There was only one snag. The exact time our song was to debut for all of Toronto clashed with my real world—I had to work. And work consisted of me doing time at a local porno shop. It seemed fun at first, but by the end of my first shift, I realized I was trapped in a hellhole job surrounded by lonely hearts and hairy palms. The store was called HLV Marketing located at Yonge and Wellesley in the heart of Toronto. Sure, the name itself didn’t scream porn, but it didn’t have to. The moment you walked inside your eyeballs were hit with: a). Wall-to-wall displays of explicit porn movie boxes and b). The sour scent of bleach mixed with fresh cum thanks to the jerk-off booths in the back of the store. Oh, and the non-stop audio recording of my then-boss pushing the bargain VHS porn deals, which provided an unwanted and unneeded soundtrack. Even BDSM enthusiasts would concede that this was a torture too painful to bear.

If you got the day shift, your job would consist of staring at the wall o’ porn waiting for customers to buy VHS movies. The stigma of publicly walking into a porn shop made sure to scare away enough people that only the crazy and desperate dared step inside during the light of day. If you were lucky enough and got the night shift, the additional duties included cleaning up the jerk-off booths that had been roughed up by the daytime customers.

Of course, it seemed fate was mocking me. On the big day, when the song was going to debut, I was stuck at work during the worst shift possible—the end-of-night clean-up duties. I thought I’d try to close the shop a bit early and beat it out of there in time to hear our song. With the radio tuned to the station, I emptied the till. No song. I counted stock, no song. I double checked the back, no song. I finished all the closing duties until the only task left was to pick up a mop and start cleaning out the private viewing booths. I will never forget it—mop in hand and swabbing out the freshly cum-stained floors as the smell of bleach hit my nostrils—our song came on the radio. I unconsciously matched each stroke of the mop with each strike of my guitar as I heard it through the crackling speakers. I hated that this was the time and place to have heard myself, my band, our song, on the radio for the first time. But it was too late—this is the memory forever embedded in my mind.

Today, I smile. What I had built up as a monumental moment gave way to the realization that what I wanted—a career as a musician—was the start of a twisted road. Of course, I quit that job and eventually took this rock ’n’ roll thing to places beyond my childhood fantasies and fulfilled a few other rock dreams… sans mop.

Danko Jones has been leading his eponymously named band through the rock and roll trenches since 1996. His recent book I’ve Got Something To Say (Feral House) is an exuberant collection of 100% true stories of rock and roll realness. Look for his new album in Spring of 2019 (on M-Theory Audio) as they embark on a US tour with Nashville Pussy in February 2019. You can follow Danko’s book club, podcast, and other projects here: http://www.dankojones.com/

(Photo Credit: Linda Akerberg)