Monday, June 05, 2006

Crybaby Diaperpants and the Whiney Ass Titty Babies

I've played bass for a number of bands since moving to Philadelphia, all with different degrees of success.

I moved here with Jim and Jennie and the Pinetops, a band that has since gone on to tour Europe, Canada, the United States, and has been picked up by Bloodshot Records, perhaps the pre-eminent insurgent country label in the nation if not the world. Jennie was difficult, but incredibly rewarding, to work for. An incredibly intense and driven young woman, her demands went beyond my role in the band but also into those aspects of my personailty she didn't like. For the most part, I tried to oblige: the band was a lot of fun, we were playing to tons of people, and I was getting paid AND laid (not by Jennie, but by the hotties that would come and see us). When I left the band in June 2001, it was with deep regret, and if I could have changed myself to suit Jennie's personality I would have. Unfortunately, some people mix like oil and water, and I had to go.

By October of that year, I played as a touring bass player for the Essex Green, an established psych-pop band on Merge Records. I toured England and visited Amsterdam, all on the label's dime. I got a per diem. The band was fun. The shows were big. Even the small shows were big. I got paid AND laid, AND I got to go to Europe for free.

UncleFucker, from New York, was perhaps the best band I ever played with. The band was an over-the-top performance piece, featuring costumes, onstage skits, and a troupe of dancing girls called The Fuckerettes. We never made much money, but every single show we played was memorable, in large rooms packed to the rafters. We paid a boatload of money to go on tour with Mindless Self Indulgence, touring the US. Courtney Love opened up for US in New York City. I don't remember if I got laid: I don't think so because I had a girlfriend for most of my career with the band. But I could have gotten laid had I been single.

I was speaking to Izzy Zaidman, UncleFucker's bandleader the other night about music, and we agreed there are two reasons to play live music. Reason one is that you're an artiste.
"Those jazz guys, man, they're like fuckin' monks," Izzy opined. "They are so into what they're doing it doesn't matter if anyone shows up. In fact, the better a jazz musician you are, the fewer people will show up at all, because the music you play is SO heady and removed from what the ordinary listener thinks of as 'music', nothing but atonal squawks and bleats.

"Then there are people like us," he continued. "We're in it for the entertainment. You go onstage to rock out and have a good time, so the people in the audience will rock out and have a good time. That's our job: it's not this intellectual exercise, you're there to entertain."

He's 100% correct.

I have an admission to make. As some of my readers may know, I tend toward the darker side of things. Between my student loans and child support payments, I am nearly always almost broke. There are precious few things in my life that truly make me happy: my girlfriend is one. Homeownership is another. Seeing my son is always the highpoint of every other month. Usually however, I am utterly miserable. At my lowest, I have joked about stepping in front of the subway, and that's only half a joke.
But when I am on stage, rocking, I am in a completely different place. It doesn't matter whether it's country music or bluegrass or rock or metal: when the rock is flowing, when the energy is zipping through my veins a mile a minute and people are clapping and listening and loving the music as much as I love playing it, it's like the best cocaine in the whole world, and you never want it to stop. It doesn't even have to be a packed house: as long as I am having a good time, and I've become one with the rock, feeling the power of the rock, the night is usually worth it. I will go so far to say that I like rocking more than I like fucking. Way more.

That's why on Saturday night, June 3, I quit, at long last, Paul Edelman and the Jangling Sparrows, just packed up my gear and walked out of the downstairs auditorium at the World Cafe Live, in the middle of Mad Dragon's release party for "Unleashed 2" a compilation cd on which we're featured. The man made it impossible to rock, and then made it impossible to continue to work for him and have any dignity.

There are so many reasons why it's come to this that I literally have no idea where to begin. This entry may be a little messy and rambling.

For the past few months, Paul, whose moods have always been mercurial, has gotten worse than ever. I don't know if it's a self-esteem issue or what, but Paul decided some time ago that everything he does is doomed to failure: and so it would go for his band. It's destiny. I didn't realize he was actually going to go out of his way to make that happen, making every gig a joyless unpleasant chore from start to finish.

Paul, like a lot of musicians, has never really enjoyed self-promotion. Unfortunately, to make it in the business, promotion is the name of the game. If you're not proud of your band and the music you make, if you're not willing to spread the news and invite people to your shows, people won't come. That's why each gig has become less and less fun, with lower and lower turnout: Paul doesn't even try to promote himself. It's beneath him. Promotion is whoring to his mind, and he has said as much. Trying to get Paul to mention his cds and upcoming shows onstage has been like pulling teeth from day one. What he excels in is self-sabotage.

Another reason he's had problems winning over hearts and minds is his lousy attitude. Last year, for example, he pulled one of the dumbest, and most self-destructive moves I have ever seen a musician do: in retrospect, perhaps I should have left then, but I believed in the project. We'd played some good gigs at the World Cafe Live (ironically enough considering the circumstances of my departure), and Paul was invited by a publicist working part-time at the venue to perform solo at a private party she was hosting at Fergie's, an Irish bar in downtown Philly. The party guests were every other publicist in town, and Paul was going to be the only performer. Seems like a good deal, right? You have the captive attention of the very people who can help you attain the kind of buzz that maybe allows you to quit your day job and just play music. God knows if I got an offer to do that, I would be there with bells on, with business cards, free copies of my cd, anything and everything to help my career. Hell, I'd dress up in a pink gorilla suit for the occasion if that's what it took to make a good impression.

Not Pauly the misunderstood genius. Not only did our hero cancel his appearance at the last minute, he then showed up at the gig, during the party, to drink at the bar in full view of the guests and the woman who'd set the whole thing up. Way to go! Way to piss off every single publicist in Philadelphia, which I will add is one tough town in which to be a musician. Tell me again, why don't we get written up in the newspaper and the indie press?

Long ago, Paul delegated promotion and media relations to our manager Tim and to me. Between the two of us, we got Paul a website (I worked for weeks with his sister on the design); set up a myspace account; managed his email list; wrote press releases about shows; and booked tours when possible.

I have spent about $700.00 of my own money on this band, because I believed strongly in Paul and his music. When Paul's amplifier died last year because of a blown speaker, I jerry-rigged an extension speaker for him, and ultimately paid for the necessary repair. I have gotten his amp retubed. When we went on a brief tour to New England in January 2005, I not only did all the booking, I personally rented and drove the van. I got him a live appearance on 88.5 WMBR Cambridge in support of the Boston leg of the tour. This spring when he needed to borrow a credit card to rent a car for a solo tour to Ohio, I loaned him mine, and without asking me he paid for the car on my card. I have provided practice space for almost the entire three years we've played together. When our drummer Craig needed a month off to get married, it was I who found a substitute. When Paul spent the $250.00 we owed the drummer for his services on a guitar for himself, it was I who paid the drummer out of my own pocket.

Last weekend, we did a cd release for the new solo acoustic cd, Nest of X's, Sky of Y's. Craig recorded the whole thing, spending time and energy racing the clock to finish the disk. Did Paul credit him? Not until Craig complained.

Paul booked the cd release for Sunday May 28, Memorial Day Weekend. When someone suggested to him that this wasn't the best night for a gig since everyone in Philadelphia is down on the Jersey shore for the first weekend of summer, Paul responded that people would show up because no one had to go to work Monday.

While turnout was low, it was still a lot better than anyone expected. Anyone that is, except for Paul, who sank into a sullen sulk backstage, pounding whiskey. "This sucks," he grumbled. "I can't get play in this city. No one comes to see me, no matter what I do, and I've done everything I could", he griped, which explained why he was backstage sulking instead of working the room with his fans out in the front and selling cds. When we finally got on stage, he was drunk off his ass and shirtless. The night was sloppy. Like so many other gigs over the past 6 months, neither Craig nor I got paid.

One of the few standout successes of our efforts has been the myspace account we set up: Click the link and check out the songs. They're good, aren't they. Look at those downloads: 3187 total plays, almost 700 plays of "Lonestar Mile" alone. Invites for gigs in the comments section. Craig and Tim worked hard to convert the cd tracks to mp3s and to post them at the site. However, Paul doesn't quite grasp the idea of the internet. I'll go further than that: when Paul doesn't understand something, it becomes "stupid", "worthless", and "useless." He rarely goes online, and to the best of my knowledge has never even looked at his myspace site. He said as much to Craig and me on Friday evening as we prepared for the Saturday show. He couldn't believe so many people had been listening to his stuff.

For those of you not familiar with myspace, it is an EXCELLENT tool for an independent musician. When you sign up your friends, you automatically have access to your friends' friends. Thus, when you post a bulletin about a performance or a new song, not only do your friends hear about it, but their friends hear about it too. It's an easy, and free, way to network with other bands and to be heard by promoters, club owners, etc.

Sample comments from people I've never met at the jangling sparrows myspace:
6/3/2006 1:31 PM

Hey Paul and band...great stuff, we have very similar influences and love the music here. Hope to run into you somewhere on the journey, let me know if you are coming towards Toronto. Always love hearing new stuff and meeting musicians.

Jason Paul Johnston
6/1/2006 9:26 AM's not often that a random friend request from a band results in me saying "fuck, these guys are good." Dig it.
6/1/2006 4:00 PM

Love it. it. If you're in eastern Iowa/western Illinois, drop us a line!

I called Paul up the afternoon of June 3 to remind him to bring cds to the World Cafe Live show, and added "By the way, today alone you've had about 30 listens to your songs."

When I got to the World Cafe Live, Paul was already in a snit: it was evident from his body language, the expression on his face, and the way he grunted instead of talking. great, I thought, another fun gig with Angry Paul.

As the three of us sat at the bar, Paul set off on a classic rant: the uselessness of the gig, his desire to stop playing music, Philadelphia's failure to embrace him. It was nauseating, and after offering hima tissue to dry his eyes, I went downstairs to watch the other bands set up. Realizing I'd left my pants at home, and that I had a couple of hours to kill before playing, I went on a quick jaunt to my house and hung out with my housemates. When I returned to the venue, it was about 8:00. We were due on at 11:15, which Paul was upset about because "everyone will be gone by then". Or something. Honestly, if he had an earlier slot he would have complained about that too.

I was backstage in the green room waiting for one of the acts to finish up so I could get my bass and tune it up before we got on stage when Paul walked in and began munching on carrots.

"I've got a great idea," he said. "What say tonight I go onstage drunk off my ass on whiskey, shirtless and shoeless?"

"Uhh, didn't you do that last week?" I asked.

"Ah, but last week, I wore shoes," he smirked. "God this show is such bullshit," he continued. "I don't even know if I want to do this anymore, it's not like I can sell here in Philadelphia. This town fucking sucks..."

"Well look," I said, "If you're going to make this the last gig, you might as well go out with a bang. None of this 'shirtless' crap. Go all the way and perform buck naked. Maybe even piss on the stage." He scowled at me.

"Or better yet, get a pistol and begin shooting into the audience. They're the ones you hate anyway, right?"

"Yeah that's what I'll do," he scoffed. "Like I'd want to waste my life in jai--"

"Well you're the one saying that it all sucks and it's useless. Why even play at all?" I replied.

He turned to me, his face beet red. "Oh and another thing?" His voice went up a few registers, and he sounded exactly like a five year old singing "nyaah nyaah".

"'Myspace is doing SOOO well! I'm getting lots of hits, people are doooownloading my songs. Myspace myspace myspace.' Dude: it's a waste of TIME, it's USELESS, it's fucking STUPID," he spat. His face was pinched up like someone was twisting his nose. "I have half a mind to shut the whole fucking thing down."

It was like he punched me in the face. His voice said it all: he didn't appreciate any efforts in his behalf. In fact he held those efforts, and by extension everyone who had tried to help him thereby, in utter contempt. Three years of work together, tours I'd booked for him, money I'd spent, material aid, and I wasn't even worth a goddamned iota of respect, just his scorn.

I looked up at him from the sofa and said, "I'll go take that into consideration" and I left the room. It was the same sort of eye-of-the-storm calm I experienced when my fiancee left me for another man. Should I go back and punch him in the face? No, he'd hit me back. But I'm definitely not playing tonight. Should I tell him I'm leaving? No, because he might punch ME in the face. No, I think I'll just leave. Nobody talks to me like that, nobody.

I walked through the auditorium to the side of the stage opposite the green room, heading out the stage door for my van. As soon as I turned on the ignition, I flew into a fit of cursing that would make the worst Tourette's sufferer quiver in fear and disgust. "YOU FUCKING MOTHERFUCKER, YOU FUCKING FUCK!", I yelled at no one. "YOU THINK YOU CAN TALK TO ME LIKE THAT? YOU THINK YOU HAVE ANY FUCKING RIGHT TO TALK TO ME LIKE THAT AFTER EVERYTHING I'VE DONE FOR YOU? No. No. NO, you FUCKING PILE of FUCKING SHIT. I'm gone, outtie, YOU FUCKING DOUCHEBAG FUCKING FUCK."

I backed the van around to the stage door, so angry I was shaking, muttering "Nobody talks to ME like that motherfucker, nobody talks to me like that." The technicians were setting up for the next band as I calmly unplugged my amplifier and lugged it out to the van. "Motherfucker, nobody but nobody..." I went back in and got my bass. Then I walked into the audience and found Craig, who was owed an explanation. We stepped out back and after a quick rundown of the past 10 minutes' events, I got into the van saying "It's not your fault Craig. We did the best we could. But I can't take this anymore, and I won't be disrespected by someone for whom I've done so much. He can fuck himself. Good luck." And with that I drove off. When I arrived home, I sent Paul the following email:

After everything I've done for this band, because I
believed in you and your music, you had no right to
speak to me the way you did.
Go fuck yourself.

Nobody talks to me like that, and that is especially true for someone I have given so much of my time, energy, and financial support for so long. Nobody.

The saddest part of this story is the sheer waste of it all. Paul's a really good songwriter and his guitar playing is incredible. I don't even like alt-country music, and I stayed with this project for over three years. Songs like "Five Gear Memory" and "Lone Star Mile" are sleeper hits, waiting to be discovered. But like he sang in "The Highway Song", "I know you think you're lookin' at another coulda-been".

Exactly: coulda, shoulda, woulda.

I'm done. Anyone need a bass player?


Blogger lexandromeda said...

Cheer up! I found your present!

11:00 AM  
Blogger Brendan said...

I want one with April going "roadside".

Actually, I'm in a very good mood. Nothing like escaping a dysfunctional relationship to put things back on track, and man were the Jangling Sparrows dysfunctional.

12:04 PM  

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