Wasting another weekend afternoon with college football on the tube and watching music videos on YouTube, I came across a live show by “The Hold Steady” and it started me to flashback to a time in the day when it wasn’t that easy.
The band is a small band without a super hit other than being the tune for the credits on a popular television show I’ve never seen, so flipping through several videos; I appreciate their effort and enjoy the lyrics. Of course when I looked up the lyrics I couldn’t find the lines I like, so we will move on.
What I was thinking about was here are a group of guys who write lyrics and play music and travels all over and takes a few videos and makes some recordings and live as a band. I don’t know how you put that down on a resume? Guitar player from 1998 -?
Today, the bands can’t just write songs and get up on a stage and play until the sweat hits the audience only to be replied by spilled beer. They must book festivals, acquire massive amounts of equipment and transportation and people to take care of it, then practice and practice and practice so they don’t have to have the words on music stands, then leave their families and friends for months. Between sound checks, equipment repairs, and a quick nap; there is the washing of clothes and possible medical attention. These guys are too busy to watch Downton Abbey.
I appreciate what they go through knowing they will not be mentioned in the award shows with maybe a column in a music magazine but probably soon forgotten except in their own memories. Family will only recognize their names and their fans will grow out of them or move on to another band.
The reason I say all this mess is that I was there, except in a much more minor way. I enjoy and appreciate watching musicians on a stage performing their talents to appreciative fans, but I know what they have to go through.
The venues may be small and dark or even outdoor settings. Once arriving, the equipment needs to be unloaded and placed in position. The working area may be a small spot on a dance floor or a slight riser in a corner. Electricity need to be found and connected and tested to make sure there is enough not to blow a fuse. The drummer, while not having the most heavy of equipment, must set up a kit with all the screws, stands, cymbals and squeeze into a tiny space. Microphones and amplifiers are tested and guitars tuned.
If you are lucky, and I was never in a band that was that lucky, there were sound guys who balanced the volumes and light guys who set up spotlights. My bands were basic play it hard rock and roll. No monitors, no lighting systems and no computers. Most of the time the members couldn’t hear each other and just had to keep the beat with the drummer. If the drummer got excited, we all sped up. If the drummer lost the beat, we all had to adjust. The horn players did not have microphones so they just blew hard to try to get heard over the guitars. The really good bands had so much rhythm they had dance steps.
While the boys in the band were pounding out their adrenaline on stage, the folks who were being tortured by the sound was either listening or not. If it was a quiet coffee house setting, no one listened unless it was a Dylan song to sing along with. If it were a dance club, the patrons would gyrate to the noise building a smoky hot sweating loud atmosphere.
Each occasion had varying quantities of alcohol either being served or being brought in. Yes, boys and girls, there was a time when an adult beverage had to be BYOB. As the night went on the music sounded louder and perhaps better as the patrons drank more.
And the bands shared the party. Many a night the bar with 3.2 beers lubricated us, even without checking our age. As the crowd loosened up, beer was constantly refreshed on the stage. Maybe the music became better or maybe we just didn’t care and the frenzy built. The dancers and the band became one. Sometimes a little too close when one of the drunken participants wanted to get up on stage and join the band. Sometimes there was laughter and sometimes there were fights.
At the end of the day, all the equipment and guitars and microphones and drums had to be taken apart and packed into transportation by the same guys who were just on stage being rock stars. On a good night, there was some pay and a few ladies who lingered. On a bad night, there was a bad hangover, flat tires and no place to sleep.
As we read about the “big” stars who are high liners at massive concerts, try to appreciate those poor smucks, trudging through the ranks of dingy clubs and growing old without fame or fortune, but with the memories of living a dream for a brief moment. The write their dreams and play their hearts out for most who will forget. Perhaps the beer on stage was worth it.
Well, I found the lyrics I was looking for:
She was a really cool kisser and
she wasn't all that strict of a Christian
She was a damn good dancer but
she wasn't all that great of a girlfriend