The 6 Strangest Previous Careers of Famous Musicians

Apparently, rock stars who actually had serious careers going before the whole music thing panned out, and some of them are rather mind-blowing.
The 6 Strangest Previous Careers of Famous Musicians

With the exception of the Justin Biebers and Michael Jacksons of the world, nobody can boast that "famous musician" was their first job. All of the artists you know worked fast food or mopped floors on the side while their garage band was turning into a real band. But then you have the rock stars who actually had serious careers going before the whole music thing panned out, and some of them are rather mind-blowing. For instance, try to wrap your head around the fact that ...

Gene Simmons Was an Elementary School Teacher

The 6 Strangest Previous Careers of Famous Musicians

Quick, name the absolute last thing you'd ever want to see Gene Simmons doing.


Statistically, about 10 percent of you have parents who slept with this man.

OK, the second last thing you'd want to see him doing. If you said "teach small children," step forward and claim your prize of one slap to the face for thinking way too hard about potential professions for Gene Simmons. Also, that's exactly what Mr. Simmons used to do, before he turned an unnaturally long tongue into rock stardom.

After he'd finished high school, this living cartoon of a man enrolled in college and got himself a degree in education. And unlike his later smarmy persona would imply, he wasn't some comfy-ass private school teacher: Simmons went the whole nine yards and taught sixth grade in a public school in New York's Spanish Harlem. In later interviews, he claimed he was fired for "replacing the works of Shakespeare with Spider-Man comics, which he thought the students were more likely to actually read." Or maybe he was just a crappy teacher.

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To be honest, this really could have used more goblin gliders.

Also, on a completely unrelated note, Simmons wrote the lyrics to a Kiss song called "Christine Sixteen," about a middle-aged man who has the hots for a 16-year-old schoolgirl:

I don't usually say things like this to girls your age
But when I saw you coming out of the school that day
That day I knew, I knew
I've got to have you, I've got to have you
She's been around, but she's young and clean
I've got to have her, can't live without her, whoo no
Christine sixteen, Christine sixteen.

So there's that.

The 6 Strangest Previous Careers of Famous Musicians

Definitely who you want near female students about to discover hormones.

Anyway, after teaching, Simmons wasn't done not being a rock star yet. Next he kicked around at a few lady fashion magazines, at one point even landing the job of personal assistant to the editor of Vogue. Wait, Vogue? As in, that Vogue?

The 6 Strangest Previous Careers of Famous Musicians

He had to get his inspiration from somewhere.

System of a Down's Frontman Owned an Accounting Software Company

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For those of you out of the System of a Down loop, System of a Down is this Grammy winning metalish band that's been around since System of a Down began, which was 1994. And Serj Tankian is their lead singer. This is him:

The 6 Strangest Previous Careers of Famous Musicians

Photographed right after an audience member said that show's secret word.

The fun thing about System of a Down is that one, the members are Armenian-American political activists who use their songs to talk about genocide, and two, they sing really fast, kind of like Rage Against the Machine, but more so. Now, knowing how intensely serious and metal this band is, what would be the least metal thing a member of it could do? Ride a unicycle while making armpit farts? Maybe. If that were a career, which it's not, so let's drop it. How about create a company that sold accounting software?


OK, yeah. Now we're seeing it.

Despite his liberal ideology, devilish pointy beard and rock god status, Tankian is actually a marketing and business graduate from California State University. His business line of choice was software, and before he was strutting around the stage doing this ...

... he was running his very own code monkey company. Their product was something called "proprietary vertical industry modular accounting software," which we're almost sure is a made-up term. But to be fair, Tankian didn't start speaking English until he was 8, so maybe he thought it made sense at the time.

Tankian was happily running his business and probably two steps away from taking up golf, switching to khakis and having talks with Bill Gates when his band suddenly took off. After what had to have been an extremely difficult decision preceded by some truly bizarre "pro or con" conversations with family and friends ("But will the band offer you the same 401(k)?"), it was goodbye accounting software, hello Ozzfest.


"Mom, stop worrying. Our bass player's going to introduce me to his retirement guy at Wu-Tang Financial."

Jack White Was a Furniture Upholsterer (a Good One)

The 6 Strangest Previous Careers of Famous Musicians

Before Jack White became known as the singer/guitarist for the White Stripes, and as the guy who could pass for a goth ghost or pre-dead Michael Jackson on a bad day, he was dead serious about making a career out of building custom sofas for rich people.

The 6 Strangest Previous Careers of Famous Musicians

"Really, I'm a fan of any career path that keeps me out of direct sunlight."

And we're not talking about some part-time job he took to pay the bills while he was waiting for a record label to call. White not only went through an upholstery apprenticeship for three years, but also traveled to work under various masters of the craft to further educate himself. And then White became his own master and set up a shop of his own, called Third Man Upholstery.

And he did alright ... until he figured out that he absolutely sucked at the business side of things. He liked building the nice furniture, but wasn't crazy about managing the money part. So instead of making himself sick trying to keep his business afloat, he wrote poetry inside his cushions and stopped giving a fuck.


Which really helped him blend in with the rest of Detroit.

But here's the kind of cool part: White's then-band (known as, naturally, the Upholsterers) made a recording of which only 100 vinyls were ever pressed. Then they supposedly hid them in the furniture, and none have ever been found. So if you happen to live in the Detroit area and own some antique furniture that was at some point fixed by a pale lanky dude, it might well have an extremely well-hidden valuable rarity somewhere inside the cushions. Happy hunting!

Johnny Cash Was a Military Code Breaker


There are only two things that people from all walks of life will agree on. One is that no one should buy hair from a kiosk in the mall. Two is that Johnny Cash was the shit. And part of the reason for Cash's appeal was that he was a little bit of everything. Drug abuser and born-again Christian. Country, rock and gospel hall of famer. Guy who faces the toilet paper toward the toilet one time, and away from the toilet the next time. And like Elvis, Jimi and MC Hammer, Johnny put in his time in the military.


To answer your question, yes, he always looked old.

But here's where things get awesome in a crazy Man in Black kind of way. Cash was assigned to the cryptographic intelligence unit. As in, the group that stood between America and the Soviets at a time when schoolkids were told to protect themselves from nuclear bombs by hiding under their desks. And Cash wasn't just on KP duty like all the other Southern sons of sharecroppers -- he was one of the guys who intercepted Soviet Morse code. It's like finding out Marilyn Monroe was also a CIA assassin.

Oh, and he was pretty freaking good at it. He was so great at cracking Soviet messages, in fact, that he was the guy who got called for the hardest jobs. That's why it was Johnny freakin' Cash who was the first American to pass along the news that Joseph Stalin was dead.

The 6 Strangest Previous Careers of Famous Musicians

"I stroked a man in Moscow, just to watch him die."

But when Johnny's time was up, he bolted. For him, the whole thing had been like a prison sentence -- his job was so hush-hush that he couldn't talk to anyone about it, and his off-base travel was severely limited. On the other hand, one of the reasons Cash was so good at honing in on signals was because the job trained his ears for tones and rhythm. So maybe we wouldn't have gotten the Johnny Cash we came to know if he had never done his Cold War spy stuff.

Slayer's Singer Treated Asthma for a Living

The 6 Strangest Previous Careers of Famous Musicians

Tom Araya is the singer-bassist of speed metal behemoth Slayer, best known for singing catchy little tunes such as "Raining Blood," "Angel of Death" and "Dead Skin Mask." He looks exactly how you'd imagine:

The 6 Strangest Previous Careers of Famous Musicians

He's legally required to wield an axe or guitar at all times.

Sure, you sort of know that a guy like that may have a childhood, and a home, and a family, maybe even a cat or two. Yet your gut instinct insists that men like Tom are constructed at a shipyard, then handed a guitar and placed in a cellar somewhere, where they proceed to headbang with a bunch of other similarly manufactured guys until someone offers them a record contract. And if cats feature anywhere in the picture, it's as a snack.

But this is Tom Araya, an idealistic young man on his way to train as a respiratory therapist:

Tom Araya One of the many bench warmers of the east quad. CSU Dominquez/Doctor: Rock Star

Senior Quote: "Lather, rinse and repeat. You gotta repeat."

Araya spent his pre-fame (and beginning-of-fame) years in the 1980s as a respiratory therapist. So if a kid came into the ER during an asthma attack, this was the guy who fixed him. Or if someone was about to die and needed a tube jammed down his throat, Tom was their man. He was also something of a Robin Hood: If he felt that he hadn't helped a patient enough, he made a point of just, no kidding, not billing them.

Therapy Tom's undoing proved to be his commitment to Slayer, combined with the stubbornness of his superiors. He had used a good chunk of his salary to finance the band's first album and, as they were gaining momentum, was getting ready to reap the rewards in the shape of a European tour. The hospital, however, wasn't having any of it and said that Araya could take his request for time off and shove it.


"Oooooh, I've been waiting for a reason to try out this new 'Shove It' stamp!"

Araya returned the favor, instantly terminating his contract and walking away into the death metal sunset.

That's Dr. Bad Religion to You

The 6 Strangest Previous Careers of Famous Musicians

Greg Graffin is the vocalist and "only constant member" of Bad Religion, and as such, one of the biggest players in the field of American punk rock. He has been spitting spiteful social commentary at audiences around the globe since 1979, and like everyone else in this article, this punk rocker has a surprising career history up his sleeve. Unlike all the others, he's never quite managed to let go of his.


Or of his early '90s flannel.

Which is to say, Gregory Walter Graffin, Ph.D., is leading something of a double life. When Bad Religion took off at the start of the '80s, Graffin -- a bookworm by nature -- was working his way to becoming a trained paleontologist. But instead of following the traditional route of getting a respectable day job and playing some noisy music with his friends on the side, he opted for the exact opposite scenario: Graffin wound up keeping his academic career around as a hobby while Bad Religion was tearing through receptive ear holes worldwide.

And as is so often the case with interesting hobbies, Graffin found himself rather deeper in academia than he had bargained for. As years went by, he dabbled with paleontology and zoology to the point where he actually ended up a Ph.D. and has published several esteemed books in his field ... and held a number of teaching jobs, including stints at UCLA and even lecturing at freakin' Cornell University.

The 6 Strangest Previous Careers of Famous Musicians

"I told you guys, we don't start playing until I get to discuss the Cretaceous Period!"

On the side of his day job.

As a punk rock singer.

Follow Pauli on Twitter, read his blog and explore his other Cracked articles.

For more odd choices famous people made for careers, check out 7 Celebrities Who Had Badass Careers You Didn't Know About and 8 Celebrities You Didn't Know Were Geeks.

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