My Say

September 4th 2002

It's important to remember that no one ever forces you to be in a band. Drop by the backstage area at a local gig, however, and you can listen to any number of downtrodden and oppressed musicians bemoaning their tragic circumstances. Radio won't play Australian music, every second venue is putting in pokies and the local council just passed a by-law making street posters illegal. Everywhere musicians are whinging, carping and moaning about the vicissitudes of a world that has marginalised their talent, forced them to work in near obscurity and rendered them steadfastly unable to purchase one of those flowing white steeds that John Bonham used to have.

Every second interview I do confronts me with a variation on the same question - times are tough for bands, how has the scene changed since you started? Well it hasn't changed. There have always been too many bands; the majority of them without any merit whatsoever, competing for gigs held mostly in shitholes that will close down in 6 months. These acts ardently pursue contracts at big record companies who despise any lifeform that has ever so much as touched a musical instrument and then break up as soon as they realise it may take more than three weeks to become famous.

No one should ever feel sorry for anyone playing in a rock band. There are too many genuinely suffering people in the world that deserve our sympathy. We joined bands because our egos dragged us out of our bedrooms in the vainglorious belief that we had something creative to offer the world and in turn could ourselves be rewarded. Now we're all looking for the nearest support group, government grant or insurance policy against failure. The music industry is constituted of people drawn primarily from the comfortable middle classes, despite what their angry tattoos and faux disaffection may have you believe. How many genuinely poor people can afford the luxury of pursuing a dream that has so little chance of paying off? Grow up in a Yorkshire mining town and you know it's either down to the pits or down to the dole queue. The mere fact any that of us has the freedom to join a band is signal enough of our fortunate status

For my part, I'm sick to death of the Fauves sympathy movement. Inevitably patronising commentators damn us with condescending epithets, referring to us as underrated underdogs struggling hopelessly against insurmountable odds. Like a reenactment of the landing at Gallipoli playing first on at your local live music venue, we are supposed to stand for all that is good about an operation doomed to failure. Quite obviously too dim witted to recognise the portentous signs of disaster crashing all around us, we are seen to be trawling stoically on, like young kids who ran away from home for the day and got caught in a thunderstorm on the way back. These people try to let us know that their front door is always open to us, just so long as we don't drip on the carpet and remember to leave a coin on the bench for the phone call home to mum.

We play in a rock band because we love it and 95% of the handwringing phonies feeling sorry for us would give their right cerebral hemisphere to be doing our job. Perhaps we're not the smartest people in the world but rest assured, if we didn't enjoy making music then we sure as fuck wouldn't be doing it. There are no Leonardo Da Vincis in The Fauves but I can confidently assert that none of us is that limited in his abilities that he couldn't turn his hand to something else if he wanted to. Have we failed as musicians? Measured against the priorities of some unctuous A&R man working hard to put platinum records above the toilet bowls of fairy floss-brained pop stars, then we may well have. There is, however, an alternative view. This reading takes into account the fact that everyone: us, the A&R man and the pop star included, will one day die and either be incinerated into a fine ash or rot slowly into the pitiless soil surrounding his sturdy wooden coffin. We'd better be making sure then, that the journey on the way to oblivion is worth it. By this reckoning it becomes just possible, even in a crass world obsessed with material wealth and meaningless fame, to comprehend that there may be other levels of success beyond chart action, record sales and punter's heads through doors.

No council by-law ever stopped a good band from making it. There may be a few that have stopped some average ones and for that we should be grateful. No street poster advertising a gig that no one wanted to go to, featuring a band that no one had ever heard of, has ever helped a band's career. I know purple hands quietly freezing in a bucket of coagulated glue on a mid-winter's night poster run. I also know that those posters were inevitably covered over by the next team of frostbitten desperadoes passing by half an hour later. Who cares if councils outlaw street posters? Surely the fundamental plank of the classic rock dream is that you make it in spite of the obstacles, not via legal redress or regular attendance at Monday night council meetings, assiduously lobbying the civic fathers. If Rock has anything at all to teach us it's that sometimes we must work outside the constrictions of mainstream society.

Radio won't play Australian music? That's because so many of us don't like it. Most people don't care for any music that much. It patters on unobtrusively in the background at the office, or in the car on the way home, competently serving it's purpose as a bland soundtrack to the quotidian monotony of our lives. Why do we kid ourselves that humans need elevated standards of entertainment? The average person gets all the daily stimulation they need in the first hot prickles of the morning shower on the back of their neck. We've overrated ourselves as a species. It's easy to come home, turn on the electric lights, heat a meal in the microwave, watch a little television and delude ourselves into pride at humanity's achievements. But these achievements are the result of the genius of a staggeringly small proportion of all humanity, stretching back down the millennia to when our ancestors walked out of Africa. I for one have never invented a wheel, formulated a Special Theory of Relativity or launched an unmanned satellite. Most of us enjoy eating, drinking, sleeping and sex. We are cows who walk upright.

In these uncertain times we are retreating further into the home. When we do go out we tend to prefer the comforting tinkle of the pokie machine over the affronting clang of the 20 inch ride cymbal. It has become both more instructive and entertaining to sit at home watching Margaret turn a shrink-wrapped pile of bloodied calf flesh into a nutritious meal for 4 in under 20 minutes than venturing out to live gigs. Via lifestyle shows we wrest back control of our lives, while Dave shows us how to clean our concrete driveways with a high-powered gurney gun using mains water supply. Our society would benefit hugely if many of today's struggling bands quit music and took up positions in the hardware industry. And when Bunnings start running weekend rock shows in the Garden supplies section we can all get a gig as a roadie.

Previous My Say entries

October 9th 2002
September 4th 2002