This is an American story. The story of student loans in America, an outstanding American musician, and what can happen when these two collide. It’s a cautionary tale, and trust me, it’s not pretty. But there’s something to be said for the resilience it portrays.
Jacob is a superb drummer. Originally from Chico, California, Jacob has played in about eight million bands. That’s a safe estimate. For some reason–inability to cooperate, a bad case of adult ADHD, the fickle nature of bands in general–none of the bands Jacob has been in ever stuck. Or he didn’t stick with them. So Jacob decided to go to college and study computer science. This seemed like a smart idea. You really can’t go wrong with a computer science degree in today’s computer-driven marketplace.
Jacob didn’t want to stop playing music. He didn’t really have any money because none of the bands he’d been in had ‘hit the big-time’, so he got student loans, tried to work a part-time job and play music and go to school all at the same time. That was a mistake. By the time I met Jacob he’d dropped out. But he still had student loan debt hanging over him like a shroud. It was this debt that proved to be his undoing.
By the time I met Jacob, he’d been able to consolidate his loans but not refinance them. For all intents and purposes, the difference between consolidation and refinancing is the interest rates. With consolidation, you end up with the same interest rate, while refinancing can hook you up with a lower rate. Jacob had received a new loan for each year he went to college. Consolidation corralled each loan into one big loan with one big interest rate. Had he been able to refinance, Jacob’s loans would have been consolidated and his interest rate would have gone down. But he didn’t have good enough credit to refinance.
Jacob and I started a band called Simply Feline. Never heard of us? Here’s why: the entire time, Jacob’s student loans inhibited what the band could do. We could only tour for so long, because he had to get back to work. We were a punk band, but he kept on bringing up how badly he needed to make money playing music, he needed to make a career out of it. This didn’t sit well with our singer, Micah, a young punk girl who was against the idea of playing music to make money. She didn’t want to be a sell-out.
Then, we played a disastrous couple of dates in Grand Junction, Colorado. Jacob had a ledger with him, and was constantly doing the math to make sure we were square on finances. It drove Micah and I insane. We couldn’t just have fun; we had to keep tabs on who owed what to whom the whole time. After that trip, we broke up. Micah took off to Europe on her mom’s dime, then came back and started riding the rails, drifting around the country. Eventually, she died. At a squatter’s camp by the Mississippi River, her dog jumped into the river at flood stage. Micah jumped in to save her dog and got pulled under and swept away.
Fast forward five years. Jacob had succumbed to a terrible drug addiction and was in danger of joining The 27 Club. It’s the group of musicians who have all died from drug or alcohol complications at age 27. Along with being ravaged by drugs, Jacob was still getting ravaged by ongoing student loan debt. What was worse, his music opportunities were dry, work opportunities dryer. He was being haunted by two different spectres: the death of our former bandmate, and his student loans.
Jacob’s one recourse was to get his CDL and become a trucker. He takes advantage of trucking load boards and employment sites, such as TruckDriver.com and Trucker Search, so that he’ll always have jobs. Seriously. Turns out truckers are in high demand. Jacob lives in his truck and funnels all the money he can towards paying off his debt.
Actually this isn’t all that bad. By now, Jacob has seen the majority of the country. He’s making a lot of money, quickly paying off his debt. And he’s cleaned up. No more drugs, no more drinking. It’s hard to be a druggie in the trucking industry now because of drug tests and the requirements of the job.
Unfortunately, though, student loan debt stifled Jacob’s dreams of being a professional musician. Although he’s seeing the country, he’s not seeing it through the lens of music.
If you want to be a professional musician, make sure you get your debt out of the way first. If you don’t, you’ll be multitasking, trying to indulge your passion while trudging away, digging into an ever-growing mountain of debt. In Jacob’s case, the stress from multitasking nearly drove him nuts. Now, he’s driving trucks, a job that makes multitasking well-nigh impossible.