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6 Careers in a Deviant Occupational Group PDF Print E-mail
Written by Howard S Becker   
Sunday, 09 January 2011 00:00

6 Careers in a Deviant Occupational Group


I HAVE already discussed, particularly in considering the development of marihuana use, the deviant career (the development, that is, of a pattern of deviant behavior). I would like now to consider the kinds of careers that develop among dance musicians, a group of "outsiders" that considers itself and is considered by others to be "different." But instead of concentrating on the genesis of deviant modes of behavior, I will ask what consequences for a person's occupational career stem from the fact that the occupational group within which he makes that career is a deviant one.

In using the concept of career to study the fate of the individual within occupational organizations, Hughes has defined it as "objectively . . . a series of statuses and clearly defined offices . . . typical sequences of position, achievement, responsibility, and even of adventure. . . . Subjectively, a career is the moving perspective in which the person sees his life as a whole and interprets the meaning of his various attributes, actions, and the things which happen to him." 1 Hall's discussion of the stages of the medical career focuses more specifically on the career as a series of adjustments to the "network of institutions, formal organizations, and informal relationships" in which the profession is practiced.2

The career lines characteristic of an occupation take their shape from the problems peculiar to that occupation. These, in turn, are a function of the occupation's position vis-i-vis other groups in the society. The major problems of musicians, as we have seen, revolve around maintaining freedom from control over artistic behavior. Control is exerted by the outsiders for whom musicians work, who ordinarily judge and react to the musician's performance on the basis of standards quite different from his. The antagonistic relationship between musicians and outsiders shapes the culture of the musician and likewise produces the major contingencies and crisis points in his career.

Studies of more conventional occupations such as medicine have shown that occupational success (as members of the occupation define it) depends on finding a position for oneself in that influential group or groups that controls rewards within the occupation, and that the actions and gestures of colleagues play a great part in deciding the outcome of any individual's career.2 Musicians are no exception to this proposition, and I shall begin by considering their definitions of occupational success and the way the development of musical careers depends on successful integration into the organization of the music business.

There is more to the story of the musician's career, however. The problem of freedom from outside control creates certain additional career contingencies and adds certain complications to the structure of the occupation; I consider these next.

Finally, the musician's family (both the one he is born into and the one he creates by marrying) has a major effect on his career.4 Parents and wives are typically not musicians and, as outsiders, often fail to understand the nature of the musician's attachment to his work. The misunderstandings and disagreements that arise often change the direction of a man's career and, in some cases, bring it to an end.

Cliques and Success

The musician conceives of success as movement through a hierarchy of available jobs. Unlike the industrial or white-collar worker, he does not identify his career with one employer; he expects to change jobs frequently. An informally recognized ranking of these jobs—taking account of the income involved, the hours of work, and the degree of community recognition of achievement felt—constitutes the scale by which a musician measures his success according to the kind of job he usually holds.

At the bottom of this scale is the man who plays irregularly for small dances, wedding receptions, and similar affairs, and is lucky to make union wages. At the next level are those men who have steady jobs in "joints"—lower class taverns and night clubs, small "strip joints," etc.—where pay is low and community recognition lower. The next level is comprised of those men who have steady jobs with local bands in neighborhood ballrooms and small, "respectable" night clubs and cocktail lounges in better areas of the city. These jobs pay more than joint jobs and the man working them can expect to be recognized as successful in his community. Approximately equivalent to these are men who work in so-called "class B name" orchestras, the second rank of nationally known dance orchestras. The next level consists of men who work in "class A name" bands, and in local orchestras that play the best night clubs and hotels, large conventions, etc. Salaries are good, hours are easy, and the men can expect to be recognized as successful within and outside of the profession. The top positions in this scale are occupied by men who hold staff positions in radio and television stations and legitimate theaters. Salaries are high, hours short, and these jobs are recognized as the epitome of achievement in the local music world, and as jobs of high-ranking respectability by outsiders.

A network of informal, interlocking cliques allocates the jobs available at a given time. In securing work at any one level, or in moving up to jobs at a new level, one's position in the network is of great importance. Cliques are bound together by ties of mutual obligation, the members sponsoring each other for jobs, either hiring one another when they have the power or recommending one another to those who do the hiring for an orchestra. The recommendation is of great importance, since it is by this means that available individuals become known to those who hire; the person who is unknown will not be hired, and membership in cliques insures that one has many friends who will recommend one to the right people.

Clique membership thus provides the individual with steady employment. One man explained:

See, it works like this. My right hand here, that's five musicians. My left hand, that's five more. Now one of these guys over here gets a job. He picks the men for it from just these guys in this group. Whenever one of them gets a job, naturally he hires this guy. So you see how it works. They never hire anybody that isn't in the clique. If one of them works, they all work.

The musician builds and cements these relationships by getting jobs for other men and so obligating them to return the favor:

There were a couple of guys on this band that I've got good jobs for, and they've had them ever since. Like one of those trombone players. I got him on a good band. One of the trumpet players, too. . . . You know the way that works. A leader asks you for a man. If he likes the guy you give him, why every time he needs a man he'll ask you. That way you can get all your friends on.

Security comes from the number and quality of relationships so established. To have a career one must work; to enjoy the security of steady work one must have many "connections":

You have to make connections like that all over town, until it gets so that when anybody wants a man they call you. Then you're never out of work.

A certain similarity to the informal organization of medical practice should be noted. Musicians cooperate by recommending each other for jobs in much the same way that members of the medical "inner fraternity" cooperate by furnishing each other with patients.5 The two institutional complexes differ, however, in that medical practice (in all except the largest cities) tends to revolve around a few large hospitals which one, or a few, such fraternities can control. In music, the number of possible foci is much greater, with a correspondingly greater proliferation of organization and, consequently, there are more opportunities for the individual to establish the right connections for himself and a lessening of the power of any particular clique.

In addition to providing a measure of job security for their members, cliques also provide routes by which one can move up through the levels of jobs. In several cliques observed, membership was drawn from more than one level of the hierarchy; thus men of lower position were able to associate with men from a higher level. When a job becomes available higher in the scale, a man of the lower level may be sponsored by a higher-ranking man who recommends him, or hires him, and takes the responsibility for the quality of his performance. A radio staff musician described the proccess in these terms:

Now the other way to be a success is to have a lot of friends. You have to play good, but you have to have friends on different bands and when someone leaves a band, why they're plugging to get you on. It takes a long time to work yourself up that way. Like I've been 10 years getting the job I have now.

If the man so sponsored performs successfully he can build up more informal relationships at the new level and thus get more jobs at that level. Successful performance on the job is necessary if he is to establish himself fully at the new level, and sponsors exhibit a great deal of anxiety over the performance of their proteges. The multiple sponsorship described in this incident from my field notes illustrates this anxiety and its sources in the obligations of colleagues:

A friend of mine asked me if I was working that night. When I told him no, he led me over to another guy who, in turn, led me to an old fellow with a strong Italian accent. This man said, "You play piano, huh?" I said, "Yes." He said, "You play good, huh?" I said, "Yes." He said, "You play good? Read pretty good?"' I said, "Not bad. What kind of a deal is this?" He said, "It's at a club here in the Loop. It's nine to four-thirty, pays two-fifty an hour. You're sure you can handle it?" I said, "Sure!" He touched my shoulder and said, "OK. I just have to ask you all these questions. I mean, I don't know you, I don't know how you play, I just have to ask, you see?" I said, "Sure." He said, "You know, I have to make sure, it's a spot downtown. Well, here. You call this number and tell them Mantuno told you to call—Mantuno. See, I have to make sure you're gonna do good or else I'm gonna catch hell. Go on, call 'em now. Remember, Mantuno told you to call."

He gave me the number. I called and got the job. When I came out of the booth my friend who had originated the deal came up and said, "Everything all right? Did you get the job, huh?" I said, "Yeah, thanks an awful lot." He said, "That's all right. Listen, do a good job. I mean, if it's commercial, play commercial. What the hell! I mean, if you don't then it's my ass, you know. It isn't even only my ass, it's Tony's and that other guy's, it's about four different asses, you know."

In short, to get these top job positions requires both ability and the formation of informal relationships of mutual obligation with men who can sponsor one for the jobs. Without the necessary minimum of ability one cannot perform successfully at the new level, but this ability will command the appropriate kind of work only if a man has made the proper connections. For sponsors, as the above quotation indicates, the system operates to bring available men to the attention of those who have jobs to fill and to provide them with recruits who can be trusted to perform adequately.

The successful career may be viewed as a series of such steps, each one a sequence of sponsorship, successful perform-. ance, and the building up of relationships at each new level.
I have noted a similarity between the musician's career and careers in medicine and industry, shown in the fact that successful functioning and professional mobility are functions of the individual's .relation to a network of informal organizations composed of his colleagues. I turn now to the variation in this typical social form created by the strong emphasis of musicians on maintaining their freedom to play without interference from nonmusicians, who are felt to lack understanding and appreciation of the musician's mysterious, artistic gifts. Since it is difficult (if not impossible) to attain this desired freedom, most men find it necessary to sacrifice the standards of their profession to some degree in order to meet the demands of audiences and of those who control employment opportunities. This creates another dimension of professional prestige, based on the degree to which one refuses to modify one's performance in deference to outside demands—from the one extreme of "playing what you feel" to the other of "playing what the people want to hear." The jazzman plays what he feels while the commercial musician caters to public taste; the commercial viewpoint is best summarized in a statement attributed to a very successful commercial musician: "I'll do anything for a dollar."

As I pointed out earlier, musicians feel that there is a conflict inherent in this situation, that one cannot please the audience and at the same time maintain one's artistic integrity. The following quotation, from an interview with a radio staff musician, illustrates the kind of pressures in the top jobs that produce such conflict:

The big thing down at the studio is not to make any mistakes. You see, they don't care whether you play a thing well or not, as long as you play all the notes and don't make any mistakes. Of course, you care if it doesn't sound good, but they're not interested in that. . . . They don't care what you sound like when you go through that mike, all they care about is the commercial. I mean, you might have some personal pride about it, but they don't care. . . . That's what you have to do. Give him what you know he likes already.

The job with most prestige is thus one in which the musician must sacrifice his artistic independence and the concomitant prestige in professional terms. A very successful commercial musician paid deference to artistic independence while stressing its negative effect on career development:

I know, you probably like to play jazz. Sure I understand. I used to be interested in jazz, but I found out that didn't pay, people didn't like jazz. They like rumbas. After all, this is a business, ain't that right? You're in it to make a living or you're not, that's all. And if you want to make a living you can't throw jazz at the people all the time, they won't take it. So you have to play what they want, they're the ones that are paying the bills. I mean, don't get me wrong. Any guy that can make a living playing jazz, fine. But I'd like to see the guy that can do it. If you want to get anywhere you gotta be commercial.

Jazzmen, on the other hand, complain of the low position of the jobs available to them in terms of income and things other than artistic prestige.

Thus the cliques to which one must gain access if one is to achieve job success and security are made up of men who are definitely commercial in their orientation. The greatest rewards of the profession are controlled by men who have sacrificed some of the most basic professional standards, and one must make a similar sacrifice in order to have any chance of moving into the desirable positions:

See, if you play commercial like that, you can get in with these cliques that have all the good jobs and you can really do well. I've played some of the best jobs in town—the Q— Club and places like that—and that's the way you have to do. Play that way and get in with these guys, then you never have to worry. You can count on making that gold every week and that's what counts.

Cliques made up of jazzmen offer their members nothing but the prestige of maintaining artistic integrity; commercial cliques offer security, mobility, income, and general social prestige.

This conflict is a major problem in the career of the individual musician, and the development of his career is contingent on his reaction to it. Although I gathered no data on the point, it seems reasonable to assume that most men enter music with a great respect for jazz and artistic freedom. At a certain point in the development of the career (which varies from individual to individual), the conffict becomes apparent and the musician realizes that it is impossible to achieve the kind of success he desires and maintain independence of musical performance. When the incompatibility of these goals becomes obvious, some sort of choice must be made, if only by default, thus determining the further course of his career.

One response to the dilemma is to avoid it, by leaving the profession. Unable to find a satisfactory resolution of the problem, the individual cuts his career off. The rationale of such a move is disclosed in the following statement by one who had made it:

It's better to take a job you know you're going to be dragged [depressed] with, where you expect to be dragged, than one in music, where it could be great but isn't. Like you go into business, you don't know anything about it. So you figure it's going to be a drag and you expect it. But music can be so great that it's a big drag when it isn't. So it's better to have some other kind of job that won't drag you that way.

We have seen the range of responses to this dilemma on the part of those who remain in the profession. The jazzman ignores audience demands for artistic standards while the commercial musician does the opposite, both feeling the pressure of these two forces. My concern here will be to discuss the relation of these responses to career fates.

The man who chooses to ignore commercial pressures finds himself effectively barred from moving up to jobs of greater prestige and income, and from membership in those cliques which would provide him with security and the opportunity for such mobility. Few men are willing or able to take such an extreme position; most compromise to some degree. The pattern of movement involved in this compromise is a common career phenomenon, well known among musicians and assumed to be practically inevitable:

I saw K— E—. I said, "Get me a few jobbing dates, will you?" He said, imitating one of the "old guys," 6 "Now son, when you get wise and commercial, I'll be able to help you out, but not now." In his normal voice he continued, "Why don't you get with it? Gosh, I'm leading the trend over to commercialism, I guess. I certainly have gone in for it in a big way, haven't I?"

At this crucial point in his career the individual finds it necessary to make a radical change in his self-conception; he must learn to think of himself in a new way, to regard himself as a different kind of person:

This commercial business has really gotten me, I guess. You know, even when I go on a job where you're supposed to blow jazz, where you can just let yourself go and play anything, I think about being commercial, about playing what the people out there might want to hear. I used to go on a job with the idea to play the best I could, that's all, just play the best I knew how. And now I go on a job and I just automatically think, "What will these people want to hear? Do they want to hear Kenton style, or like Dizzy Gillespie [jazz orchestras], or like Guy Lombardo [a commercial orchestra], or what?" I can't help thinking that to myself. They've really gotten it into me, I guess they've broken my spirit.

A more drastic change of self-conception related to this career dilemma is found in this statement:

I'll tell you, I've decided the only thing to do is really go commercial—play what the people want to hear. I think there's a good place for the guy that'll give them just what they want. The melody, that's all. No improvising, no technical stuff—just the plain melody. I'll tell you, why shouldn't I play that way? After all, let's quit kidding ourselves. Most of us aren't really musicians, we're just instrumentalists. I mean, I think of myself as something like a common laborer, you know. No sense trying to fool myself. Most of those guys are just instrumentalists, they're not real musicians at all, they should stop trying to kid themselves they are.

Making such a decision and undergoing such a change in self-conception open the way for movement into the upper levels of the job hierarchy and create the conditions in which complete success is possible, if one can follow up the opportunity by making and maintaining the proper connections.

One way of adjusting to the realities of the job without sacrificing self-respect is to adopt the orientation of the craftsman. The musician who does this no longer concerns himself with the kind of music he plays. Instead, he is interested only in whether it is played correctly, in whether he has the skills necessary to do the job the way it ought to be done. He finds his pride and self-respect in being able to "cut" any kind of music, in always giving an adequate performance.

The skills necessary to maintain this orientation vary with the setting in which the musician performs. The man who works in bars with small groups will pride himself on knowing hundreds (or even thousands) of songs and being able to play them in any key. The man who works with a big band will pride himself on his intonation and technical virtuosity. The man who works in a night club or radio studio boasts of his ability to read any kind of music accurately and precisely at sight. This kind of orientation, since it is likely to produce just what the employer wants and at a superior level of quality, is likely to lead to occupational success.

The craftsman orientation is easier to sustain in the major musical centers of the country: Chicago, New York, Los Angeles. In these cities, the volume of available work is great enough to support specialization, and a man can devote himself single-mindedly to improving one set of skills. One finds musicians of astounding virtuosity in these centers. In smaller cities, in contrast, there is not enough work of any one kind for a man to specialize, and musicians are called on to do a little of everything. Although the necessary skills overlap—intonation, for instance, is always important—every man has areas in which he is just barely competent. A trumpet player may play excellent jazz and do well on small jazz jobs but read poorly and do much less well when he works with a big band. It is difficult to maintain pride as a craftsman when one is continually faced with jobs for which he has only minimal skills.

To sum up, the emphasis of musicians on freedom from the interference inevitable in their work creates a new dimension of professional prestige which conflicts with the previously discussed job prestige in such a way that one cannot rank high in both. The greatest rewards are in the hands of those who have sacrificed their artistic independence, and who demand a similar sacrifice from those they recruit for these higher positions. This creates a dilemma for the individual musician, and his response determines the future course of his career. Refusing to submit means that all hope of achieving jobs of high prestige and income must be abandoned, while giving in to commercial pressures opens the way to success for them. (Studies of other occupations might devote attention to those career contingencies which are, likewise, a function of the occupation's basic work problems vis-à-vis clients or customers.)

Parents and Wives

I have noted that musicians extend their desire for freedom from outside interference in their work to a generalized feeling that they should not be bound by the ordinary conventions of their society. The ethos of the profession fosters an admiration for spontaneous and individualistic behavior and a disregard for the rules of society in general. We may expect that members of an occupation with such an ethos will have problems of conflict when they come into close contact with that society. One point of contact is on the job, where the audience is the source of trouble. The effect of this area of problems on the career has been described above.

Another area of contact between profession and society is the family. Membership in families binds the musician to people who are squares, outsiders who abide by social conventions whose authority the musician does not acknowledge. Such relationships bear seeds of conflict which can break out with disastrous consequences for the career and/or the family tie.

This section will spell out the nature of these conflicts and their effect on the career.

The individual's family has a great influence on his occupational choice through its power to sponsor and aid the neophyte in his chosen career. Hall, in his discussion of the early stages of the medical career, notes that:

In most cases family or friends played a significant role by envisaging the career line and reinforcing the efforts of the recruit. They accomplished the latter by giving encouragement, helping' establish the appropriate routines, arranging the necessary privacy, discouraging anomalous behavior, and defining the day-to-day rewards.7

The musician's parents ordinarily do not aid the development of his career in this way. On the contrary, as one man observed, "My God, most guys have had a terrific hassle with their parents about going into the music business." The reason is clear: regardless of the social class from which he comes, it is usually obvious to the prospective musician's family that he is entering a profession which encourages his breaking with the conventional behavior patterns of his family's social milieu. Lower-class families seem to have been most distressed over the irregularity of musical employment, although there is evidence that some families encouraged such a career, seeing it as a possible mobility route. In the middle-class family, choice of dance music as an occupation is viewed as a movement into Bohemianism, involving a possible loss of prestige for both individual and family, and is vigorously opposed. Considerable pressure is applied to the person to give up his choice:

You know, everybody thought it was pretty terrible when I decided to be a musician. . . . I remember I graduated from high school on a Thursday and left town on Monday for a job. Here my parents were arguing with me and all my relatives, too, they were really giving me a hard time. . . . This one uncle of mine came on so strong about how it wasn't a regular life and how could I ever get married and all that stuff.

The conflict has two typical effects on the career. First, the prospective musician may, in the face of family pressure, give up music as a profession. Such an adjustment is fairly common at an early stage of the career. On the other hand, the young musician may ignore his family's desires and continue his career, in which case he is often deprived of his family's support at an earlier age than would otherwise be the case and must begin to "go it alone," making his way without the family sponsorship and financial aid that might otherwise be forthcoming. In music, then, the career is ordinarily begun, if at all, without the family aid and encouragement typical of careers in many other occupations.
Once he has married and established his own family, the musician has entered a relationship in which the conventions of society are presented to him in an immediate and forceful way. As a husband he is expected by his wife, typically a non-musician, to be a companion and provider. In some occupations there is no conflict between the demands of work and of the family. In others there is conflict, but socially-sanctioned resolutions of it exist which are accepted by both partners as, for example, in medical practice. In deviant occupations, such as the music business, professional expectations do not mesh at all with lay expectations, with consequent difficulties for the musician.

Musicians feel that the imperatives of their work must take precedence over those of their families, and they act accordingly:

Man, my wife's a great chick, but there's no way for us to stay together, not as long as I'm in the music business. No way, no way at all. When we first got married it was great. I was working in town, making good gold, everybody was happy. But when that job was through, I didn't have anything. Then I got an offer to go on the road. Well, hell, I needed the money, I took it. Sally said, "No, I want you here in town, with me." She'd sooner have had me go to work in a factory! Well, that's a bunch of crap. So I just left with the band. Hell, I like the business too much, I'm not gonna put it down for her or any woman.

Marriage is likely to turn into a continuing struggle over this issue; the outcome of the struggle determines whether the man's musical career will be cut short or will continue, as the following incident from my field notes illustrates:

The boys down at the Z— Club are trying to get Jay Marlowe to go back to work there full time. He's splitting the week with someone now. He's got a day job in the same office in which his wife works, doing bookkeeping or some minor clerical job. The boys are trying to talk him into quitting. Apparently his wife is bitterly opposed to this.

Jay's been a musician all his life, as far as I know; probably the first time he ever had a day job. Gene, the drummer at the Z— Club, said to me, "It's foolish for him to have a day job. How much can he make down there? Probably doesn't clear more than thirty, thirty-five a week. He makes that much in three nights here. Course, his wife wanted him to get out of the business. She didn't like the idea of all those late hours and the chicks that hang around bars, that kind of stuff. But after all, when a guy can do something and make more money, why should he take a sad job and work for peanuts? It don't make sense. Besides, why should he drag himself? He'd rather be playing and it's a drag to him to have that fucking day job, so why should he hold on to it?" Johnny, the saxophone player, said, "You know why, because his wife makes him hold on to it." Gene said, "He shouldn't let her boss him around like that. For Christ Sake, my old lady don't tell me what to do. He shouldn't put up with that crap."

They've started to do something about it. They've been inviting Jay to go out to the race track with them on week days and he's been skipping work to do so. Gene, after one of these occasions, said, "Boy was his wife mad! She doesn't want him to goof off and lose that job, and she knows what we're up to. She thinks we're bad influences. Well, I guess we are, from her way of thinking."

[A few weeks later Marlowe quit his day job and returned to music.]

For other men who feel their family responsibilities more strongly the situation is not so simple. The economic insecurity of the music business makes it difficult to be a good provider, and may force the individual to leave the profession, one of the typical patterns of response to this situation:

No, I haven't been working too much. I think I'm going to get a Goddamn day job. You know, when you're married it's a little different. Before it was different. I worked, I didn't work, all the same thing. If I needed money I'd borrow five from my mother. Now those bills just won't wait. When you're married you got to keep working or else you just can't make it.

Even if the career is not cut off in this fashion, the demands of marriage exert a very strong pressure that pushes the musician toward going commercial:

If you want to keep on working, you have to put up with some crap once in a while. . . . I don't care. I've got a wife and I want to keep working. If some square comes up and asks me to play the "Beer Barrel Polka" I just smile and play it.

Marriage can thus speed the achievement of success by forcing a decision which affords, although it does not guarantee, the opportunity for movement into those cliques which, being commercially oriented, are best able to keep their members in steady work.

The family then, as an institution that demands that the musician behave conventionally, creates problems for him of conflicting pressures, loyalties and self-conceptions. His response to these problems has a decisive effect on the duration and direction of his career.

1. Everett C. Hughes, "Institutional Office and the Person," American Journal of Sociology, XLIII (November, 1937), 409-410.

2. Oswald Hall, "The Stages of a Medical Career," American Journal of Sociology, LIII (March, 1948), 327.

3. See Everett C. Hughes, French Canada in Transition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1943), pp. 52-53; and Melville Dalton, "Informal Factors in Career Achievement," American Journal of Sociology, LVI (March, 1951), 407-415, for discussions of the influence of the colleague group on careers in industrial organizations; and Hall, op. cit., for a similar analysis of colleague influence in the medical profession. Hall's concept of the "inner fraternity" refers to that group which is so able to exert greatest influence.

4. See the discussion in Howard S. Becker, "The Implications of Research on Occupational Careers for a Model of Household Decision-Making," in Nelson N. Foote, editor, Household Decision Making (New York: New York University Press, 1961), pp. 239-254; and Howard S. Becker and AnseIm L. Strauss, "Careers, Personality, and Adult Socialization," American Journal of Sociology, LXII (November, 1956), 253-263.

5. Hall, op. cit., p. 332. 106

6. "Old guys" was the term generally used by younger men to refer to the cliques controlling the most desirable jobs.

7. Hall, op. cit., p. 328. See also Becker, "The Implications of Research on Occupational Careers . . . ," op. cit.; and James W. Carper and Howard S. Becker, "Adjustments to Conflicting Expectations in the Development of Identification with an Occupation," Social Forces, 36 (October, 1957), 51-56.

Last Updated on Monday, 31 January 2011 17:28

Our valuable member Howard S Becker has been with us since Friday, 28 January 2011.

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