It’s been said that rock stars have the best jobs. But unlike some jobs, the position of rock star isn’t handed to you on a silver platter. For some, it took years of grinding away at dead-end jobs before the opportunity to do music full time became a reality. We’re all jealous now, but take a look at what these music idols were doing back in their younger days.
By Rosa Barney
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Job: Janitor at the YMCA
While growing up in Washington, Kurt Cobain worked as janitor. The Nirvana frontman was employed by Lemon’s Janitorial Services where he cleaned the local YMCA in his native Aberdeen, WA.
Nirvana bassist Krist Noveselic explained to Digital Spy, “Here was a man who would never clean his kitchen or take out the garbage, or do those kind of chores. But Kurt Cobain was not a lazy person. We came to Seattle and we recorded a demo. Kurt Cobain earned the money for that. He was a janitor and he worked nights. Basically he cleaned toilets – that’s how he paid for that demo. That’s how hard he worked. He was a compelled artist, who excelled at every form he wanted to do.”
Cobain worked a few other odd jobs at a dentist office and even as a swimming instructor.
Job: Disgruntled Dean & Deluca employee
Before Kid Cudi ever “made it in America,” he was known as Scott Mescudi, a very reluctant employee at the popular NYC delicatessen called Dean & Deluca.
In an interview with FUSE TV he said, “It was the worst experience, I hated it. I don’t even think they gave me my last check, man! I actually know they didn’t because they were so mad that I quit on them. I just didn’t show up because the guy was such a dick manager. He was such a jerk. He’s probably so mad right now.”
His retail experience was not limited to foodstuffs; he also held jobs at Abercrombie & Fitch, American Apparel and BAPE. He had trouble holding down a job while he was recording because he would be in the studio overnight and sleep through his shifts.
Jack White worked as an upholsterer when he was a teenager, he was so good at the trade that he even had his own shop called Third Man Upholstery. His company’s slogan was “your furniture’s not dead.” In an interview with NPR he confessed that he used to leave notes on the inside of the furniture for the next upholsterer to find.
His band at the time, The Upholsterers made a hundred pieces of vinyl that they hid into furniture, “We even made it on clear vinyl with transparency covers — we thought you couldn’t even X-ray it to see if it was in there… I mean, we really went to great lengths to make sure possibly no one would ever hear our record! But it’s there. It’s so great. It’s there. There’s a hundred pieces of furniture out there that have those records, and maybe one day someone will find them,” White said in the interview.
Job: Sales Assistant at The Gap
Kanye probably uses boxer briefs from The Gap to blow his nose these days, actually scratch that, that is what his Hermes scarves are for, right? But back in the days before KimYe, before rubbing elbows with Anna Wintour and way before the Air Yeezys Kanye was a Sales Assistant at The Gap.
Don’t believe me? Check out the lyrics to “Spaceship” from his debut album “The College Dropout:” “Let’s go back, back to the Gap/Look at my check, wasn’t no scratch/So if I stole, wasn’t my fault/Yeah I stole, never got caught/They take me to the back and pat me/Askin’ me about some khakis/But let some black people walk in/I bet they show off their token blackie/Oh now they love Kanye, let’s put him all in the front of the store.”
Job: Customer service at the local library
Before Gotye penned the song that never fails to get stuck in our heads and spawned an infinite amount of remixes he worked in a library. He spent three years shelving books before he decided to try making a living from his music.
In an interview with Frankie Magazine he said “One of my first jobs was in customer service at the local library. I’d check books in, check books out… I dealt with lots of books, but also lots of lovely people, on both sides of the counter. It was generally a quiet working environment.”
Leona Lewis came to fame on the UK version of “The X Factor,” if it wasn’t for her boyfriend persuading her to audition for the talent competition she would not have left her job as a receptionist for a mortgage broker.
Even after her single “Bleeding Love” made it to the top of the US charts her boss would not accept her fame. Leona told the press, “He was like, ‘I’m still going to keep the job open for you.’ And I think he’s still kept it open until this day. He texts me sometimes and says, ‘It’s still open.’”
Job: Dunkin’ Donuts employee
Before Madonna was The Material Girl she was The Donut Girl. She moved to New York City with reportedly less than $100 in her pocket and worked at a Dunkin Donuts branch in Times Square to make ends meet. Looking at Madonna today it is hard to imagine her and her extremely buff bod even touching a donut let alone selling them.
Job: Short order cook/dishwasher
At the very beginning of Eminem’s career as a rapper and shortly after becoming a new dad he worked at Gilbert’s Lodge, a diner in Detroit, where he worked as a short order cook and dishwasher. He balanced his time at the diner with time in the studio working on the Slim Shady LP. Shady Lane is a residential street near the diner and it is speculated to be the inspiration behind Em’s second persona, Slim Shady. Said Eminem about his experience at the diner: “Before I was famous, when I was just working in Gilbert’s Lodge, everything was moving in slow motion.”
Job: Porter at a mental hospital
Before Mick Jagger helped form The Rolling Stones and before his knighthood– that is Sir Michael Jagger to you, he worked as a porter in a Bexley Mental Hospital while he was a student at the esteemed London School of Economics. It looks like he adopted his rockstar behaviors early since he was expelled from LSE for riding a motorcycle into the library.
Job: Biomedical engineer
Before Gregg Gillis was remixing popular songs as Girl Talk he worked as a biomedical engineer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He quit his day job in 2007 but he claims that the work is almost the same.
“I sample all these different songs and then I try out hundreds of different combinations and certain things work and certain things don’t,” he explains. “I think even just the nature of me sitting in front of a computer for twelve hours and working away doing music, it’s very similar physically to what I did in engineering work, in biomedical engineering,” he said in an interview with PBS.
Job: Slaughterhouse employee
To make extra money, Ozzy Osbourne took up petty theft. He was not very good at it. After repeatedly getting caught, he took up a job in a slaughterhouse before becoming the Prince of Darkness. He spent two years in there killing cows, so it’s no wonder that he is a vegetarian today. Amazingly though, he did not cut off the end of his thumb while at the slaughterhouse—that happened during one of his other odd jobs as a plumber’s assistant.
Job: Intern at Uptown Records
Diddy got his start in the music business as an intern. Before he was famous he worked for Uptown Records as a gopher, his duties included washing cars and getting coffee. He eventually turned his internship into a job as a talent director for the label. He helped launch the careers of Mary J. Blige, Jodeci and others before continuing his career and launching Bad Boy Entertainment.
Stefani Germanotta AKA Lady Gaga’s flair for the dramatic can be traced back to the days before she wore a dress made of meat. As a waitress in a Manhattan Greek restaurant Gaga considered herself a performer; “I always wore heels to work!” she told Elle Magazine. “I told everybody stories, and for customers on dates, I kept it romantic. It’s kind of like performing.” and apparently she was really good at it, she also told Elle that she always got big tips!
Job: Floor-cleaner at Dairy Queen
Dairy Queen has given us more than brain freeze and Blizzards. If it wasn’t for Gwen Stefani’s first job there cleaning the floors she might not have met her fellow No Doubt band members. The band was formed with her brother and her fellow DQ employees when she was a senior in high school.
Before Lance Bass joined *NSYNC and before he became a cosmonaut he worked as a snow-blower.
“I worked at a snow-blowing place,” Bass told the New York Daily News. “I was making $100 a week and I was very proud of it. I kept it in the bank, even though I would always spend the whole $100 a week on stupid things, mainly six-packs of beer.”
Before Eve became one of the female heavy weights in the rap game she was working as a stripper in Philadelphia. If it wasn’t for her chance encounter with Mase and joining up with the Ruff Ryders in the late 90’s Eve might not be where she is today.
“He came into the club and looked at me and literally was like, ‘What’s your name?’ And I gave him every stripper name under the sun! I was like, ‘I’m Ginger, I’m Sassy!’ He was like, ‘Why don’t you go get dressed, let’s go just talk,'” Eve said. “And we did, we talked throughout the night. He was like, ‘You’re really talented. What are you doing? You know you’re not supposed to be here. You know it,’” she said in an episode of VH1’s Behind The Music.
Before Alicia Moore was known as Pink she worked at a McDonald’s in her hometown of Doylestown, PA. Though she has long since washed the smell of french fries out her pink locks she still has nightmares about her days there: “Sometimes I dream I am back there, broke and working at McDonalds. It’s like the worst nightmare because I would never want to be back there. I’ve worked hard to get where I am.”
Snoop Dogg/Snoop Lion
Job: Bagger at a supermarket
The artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg used to work as a bagger at the west coast supermarket chain Lucky’s. He made minimum wage and was frustrated with his job because his friends made hundreds of dollars a night dealing drugs. He told The Tonight Show that he was fired from his job in the end because “I was better at stealing the groceries than I was at bagging them.”
Job: Golf caddy
Before Eminem and Moby started tossing disses back and forth Moby entered the working world as a golf caddy in New York. Apparently the pay was not that great because he only made enough money to buy one record.
“The first job I ever had was as a caddy at a golf course. And I worked for two weeks, just long enough to save up money to buy a David Bowie record,” Moby told NPR.
Job: Bellhop at a hotel
Prior to starting The Killers, Brandon Flowers was just another young man living and working in Las Vegas. Before hitting the jackpot with the hit “Somebody Told Me” Flowers had to pay his dues in Vegas. While he was playing in various failed bands mainly as a hobby he made a living by working as a bellhop at the Gold Coast and Caesar’s Palace hotels on the Las Vegas strip.
His job did lead to one interesting experience, though. He told SPIN:
“The hotel held a lot of rockabilly conventions, and Morrissey’s guitarist, Boz Boorer, would always come. I got to know him a bit. One time he asked me to store his bags while he went to have a drink. I shouldn’t have done it, and I still feel bad, but I went through one of them. I just wanted to see what Boz was listening to. One of the CDs said ‘The Album,’ and it had all the tracks [from You Are the Quarry] on it. I knew they were making a new record and I recognized the song titles. I called Ronnie and he was going to come and burn it because it wasn’t out for months. But I put it on the CD player at work, and it was only the music, not the vocals, so I called Ronnie back and told him not to bother.”