Saturday, November 1, 2008

"Uncle Johnny's Tips for Musicians" (Scene) November 2008

Update: This entry is from my column that originally appeared in the Northern Colorado entertainment magazine The Scene. While I'm not doing this column anymore, I'm still as involved as I can be in the Fort Collins area music scene in general.

This edition’s topic: On Tour... Election 08

Wait, I know you’re feeling up to your ears in it but let’s take another quick look anyway, shall we? My God, what a simultaneously odd and wonderful freak show this is. CNN footage of drooling, monosyllabic racists aside, this race is almost amusing. I am in a North Carolina hotel room watching Larry King Live as he and guest commentator Bill Maher watch the NY Diocese Al Smith memorial charity dinner. Here they are, America. The two presidential candidates joyfully clowning one another like some late night commercial for the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts DVDs. I half expect 60s comedienne Ruth Buzi to come flying out of the wings to beat both of them with her purse. Part of me is wishing she would.

Forget Joe the Plumber who’s not a plumber, come on over to my front lawn and ask ME what’s on my mind! Hey...I’m a just a guitar player (really...unlike Joe I have my union card!), but I have a reasonably valid question: What in the flying f---- is going on here? Isn’t the country on the verge of collapsing from within? What are these guys doing sipping chardonnay and chortling at one another’s one-liners in their white bow ties while Rome burns?

Well, at least they have their senses of humor. Personally my votes lean Left with a few small Rightish tendencies, so I can snicker when SNL or others lampoon all four ticket members... And boy is there grist for that mill or what? Moose Mommy verbally stumbling through speeches in ways that make “W” look almost worldly in retrospect. SHE COULD BE PRESIDENT! Like many of you I’m afraid, but trying to enjoy the circus anyway. However, in this year of historic political tensions I’m a little uncomfortable laughing. Sort of like my days working in a mortuary, when yes, we had to joke occasionally or we would have lost our minds.

Pardon me while I think back to a more carefree election season. My band, Cracker, was invited to play at one of Bill Clinton’s most pivotal campaign rallies in Atlanta. A proud moment, a proud year. As I walked up for my token souvenir snapshot with Bill, I remember complimenting his resplendent suit. Instead of a simple “thank you,” he grinned knowingly and winked. I felt right there that the then-unsubstantiated rumors about his “PLAYA” ways were true. Bill had it goin’ on and knew it, big time. It was a surreal day, the grandeur, the left and the right “making nice,” the daughter of a prominent senator at the bar, tipsily attempting to say “hello” by biting my neck (while secret service types hovered yards away with eyebrows raised). Even in my post-show, gin and tonic haze, I felt trouble looming. I split through a side entrance feeling like an extra in a Bond flick. Interesting times indeed. Rock and roll decadence on a campaign trail budget. Indie/alt rock was blossoming into its heyday. We had an album out on a big label. Rock the Vote was huge, and we were proud to be part of it. Good times. Sigh.

Fifteen years later... the major labels (many of whom deserved it) are all but gone. For better and for worse, we now have the digital revolution. We can reach wider audiences. Of course, many of them think our life’s work, our music, should be downloadable, free, like the wind. Will they come work for me for free? Hey man, come on over and make Cracker a free pizza! (Sorry, another rant for another day). Probably three quarters of the bands that were together when my band was at its peak are no more. But here we are, thankfully, still going strong, willing to work longer hours with higher overhead to bring our music to fans and our paychecks home. We hope that even as recession threatens, people will always need live music to rejuvenate. We musicians, like everyone else, just hope to weather the ongoing storm.

To my fellow working musicians, I offer this bit of optimism: whatever the fallout from this historic election, whatever recession or changes in world politics these times bring, we all need to keep doing what we do best. Creating and entertaining. Even during The Great Depression of the 1930s the clubs and speakeasies were full of people downing prohibition booze and listening to live music to forget their woes. If the election goes against our wishes, may we write the best blues we ever wrote. Punk rock. Protest songs. Melancholy instrumentals. Regardless of how the election tips, let’s make the feel-good songs of the season, so the fans whose candidate triumphed can dance on the discarded lawn placards of the other side. WHEEEE!!! Those whose candidate lost can slip into the comforting Friday night ritual of wine, whisky and song. Same as it ever was.

Uncle Johnny, over and out.