Musical careers and family life -- and how one couple manages it
Los Angeles — During the past 10 years or so it's become the Big Decision for a lot of young people to take on the responsibilities of a home and family, or stay on the career trail, pouring all available energy into one's work.
Solid decisions have been made on both sides of the issue. But for some couples, it isn't an either-or proposition.
Take Lynne Jackson and Mike Palter. They were married and they hoped to have a child. At the same time, they were inching toward success in show business -- an iffy profession where interruptions, or even distractions, can interrupt vital momentum.
When the Big Choice came, Lynne and Mike had been together for years. She played piano, he played bass, and they both sang. Bit by bit, they had worked their way up from minor Northeastern clubs, where a major critic once called them "the classiest act in New England." Moving west to further their career they set up a new base in Los Angeles and established themselves as a popular presence in restaurants, hotels, and music clubs from L.A. to Seattle, from Chicago to Houston.
When they discovered a baby was on the way, they were both joyful and perplexed. To be sure, it fulfilled all their hopes as a family. But the timing was awkward: Their career was in full swing. They had begun to do TV work -- Lynne's pregnancy was first announced during an appearance on "The Dinah Shore Show" -- and they had signed for their most prestigious gig ever, at the Sahara Tahoe in Nevada. To complicate things more, Lynne had been advised to stop working until after the baby was born.
"We had to decide whether to play the Sahara Tahoe -- the biggest break of our lives -- or cancel it," Lynne recalled, during an interview at their Los Angeles home.
But the decision came easily. "The only thing I regret is that we even hesitated," says Mike. "We wrote them a letter and said we're sorry, we can't work because we're gonna have a baby.
There was no choice, actually," he continues. "It had to be, that's all -- like our going into music in the first place. So we stopped working, and went on food stamps, and had a perfect baby, and it's great."
Having a baby was only the first part of their decision, however. The second part was going back to work, still as a team, after little David was born.
"It interrupted our momentum," says Lynne. "People forget quickly in this business. But we had a good start; people know what we can do. And anyway, we had struggled before. We knew we could struggle again."
Financially, their "time off" was something of a struggle, with Lynne resting and waiting, while Mike sold pictures at a nearby flea market. Now that they are back at work, problems still haven't eased up entirely. They have to find and pay for good nannies to take care of David. Traveling is more complicated with a baby in tow, and they still don't know just what will happen when he reaches school age.
But hassles like these don't have to be negative. "All these experiences and emotions are reflected in our music," says Lynne. "We live in a city where your career is supposed to be 95 percent of life. And we're in a business where everyone looks for the new sound all the time. Almost everybody falls into that trap, and most of them wind up disillusioned. But privately, we take our family life very seriously."
Individuality is a key word for Lynne and Mike, whose lives are unusual even by showbiz standards. As they see it, their music is intimately wrapped up with their closeness as husband and wife -- and now, as the parents of a son. "People always think it's hard to have a family and a performing career at the same time," says Mike. "But it's not so hard for people who are used to this business."
Lynne continues, "For a long time, people have asked us if it's hard being together 24 hours a day, living and rehearsing and working and traveling. It's not so difficult. We both have a passion for music, and it's so strong it overrides any other difficulties. If it's truly there, that passion keeps you together."
Why did Lynne and Mike choose a risky musical life to earn their livelihood, when Mike could have supported them with a stable teaching career? He answers with an old joke. "How do you get an elephant out of the theater? You can't -- it's in his blood.
"Even when I was a four- or five-year-old kid who sat at the piano and banged out chords," he continues, "it was always in me. I fought against it, but it pulled me and excited me. I talk lightly about it, but down deep it's an obsession. It isn't a choice. I love teaching, but there I was in an English class, bringing in Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith records to illustrate things!"