After being holed up in Connecticut most of my life, I have become institutionalized, and may never find a place outside its dull, granite walls. The notion that this could ever happen to me was really terrifying a decade or two ago, but it finally happened. I find everything outside of Connecticut more terrifying than the notion of its confines. OK, North Carolina isn’t very terrifying. Akron, Ohio isn’t either… fine, fine. I’m talking about the wild blue yonder which has become a feral, completely nuts world.
Let the middle-aged rant begin!
*cracks open a beer*
One of my jobs is accompanying the Connecticut cover band Driven with synthesizer noises. Driven is just one of many hard-working bands trying to find its way through an isolated scene. Taking a page out of the books of the best of our comrade bands, Driven consciously challenges itself to at least attempt to stay relevant with its newer material. Many of the managers of staple nightclubs in central CT want their paying customers dancing (dancing = drinking!), and with a resounding facepalm, we realized that maybe – just maybe – we should edit out a couple songs by Loverboy, Whitesnake, and all their mulleted ilk from the set list, and replace them with… hmm… Lady Gaga? Usher? Who’s teenage kid can we ask about this? Nobody in Driven is getting any younger (most of us are in our early 40s), and if we want to keep performing around here anywhere, we’ve got to stay in touch with whatever 95.7 happens to be currently barfing out.
Unsurprisingly, we lament this situation as we would lament our own age! We wish we could blame the “Connecticut Music Scene” for being so close-minded that we can’t just go out there and play prog metal, or nosepick speedcore, or eyeball razor rock, or whatever other milieu for which we wistfully and selfishly yearn. It is such a bummer that people are so narrow-thinking around these parts that they’d fail to share an interest in the iPod selections of 40-year-old paycheck pirates. But after we squirm around bemoaning our antiquity in a few emails, we end up rolling up our sleeves and going to work.
We troll YouTube, iTunes, XM & local pop stations (when we can manage it), and anywhere else we can figure this stuff out for ourselves. I have personally been so desperate as to do a Google Search for “new music.” We’ve stopped short of driving by any high schools in person; it just wouldn’t do.
When we were all in high school ourselves, it was obviously a lot easier since every single friend we had was constantly barraging us with awesome new material. ”Check this song out, Dave, it’s by a band called Europe and dude the synthesizer is the most awesome synthesizer, because it is awesome, dude.” But now these friends have all grown up, have spawned little dudes and dudettes of their own, and don’t have any new musical insights to share. Now my quatrogenarian bandmates and I have to go out and look for it if there’s ever to be a hope of sharing something relevant with people as young as half our age. Damn punk dodecagenarians. It’s a challenge, and perhaps an impossible one, but we are trying our best. And in an economy with so many clubs having a harder and harder time affording good bands, we are apparently doing well because we are one of the few bands surviving (and perhaps even growing).
So if during our 2 am surfing we happen upon a danceable song with fifty squillion views, and there’s a structure we can latch onto, we’ll try it out at a Driven show. Sometimes we’ll mutate it just enough to give our guitar player something to do, since there’s apparently a resurgence of awesome (and not so awesome) synthesizers in today’s frenzied fashion show of pop / dance dreck. If people are dancing and singing this song along with us at the club, then super-keen, we’ll keep the song around for a while. If the crowd is looking at us like we are all wearing pants made out of dead badgers, we’ll quickly phase out the anti-diddy and chalk it up to our continued education. It really is flat-out guess-work sometimes, but usually we can tell if we have bottled magic up to the standards of our fellow Connecticut citizens.
That’s great for a cover band. How about original music? Don’t get too much of that around here (cue the spittoon “ptui!”); it’s pretty hard to get a local gig without being a true, budding superstar. The only thing I’m budding are body hairs that don’t belong where they’ve started growing lately. But with a couple CDs under my belt, and a strong desire to keep making more original (and hopefully relevant) music on the side, what’s my own plan?
First of all, “on the side” is the industry’s #1 recipe for failure, so by using that phrase I’ve already failed at a music career. Traditionally you’ve got to be willing to gnaw gristle off chicken bones for three years while living in a cardboard palace in order to pay enough dues to garner a following. But I don’t need a music career (I’d love one, but whatever). I just want to create something other people might enjoy… that’s it. I’ve been lucky enough to sell a few CDs to kids in Malaysia, and got a few million views for some animations I coughed up over a rainy weekend (OK, over a hundred rainy weekends). Turns out people have enjoyed watching me play a glow-in-the-dark keytar online, and they’ve enjoyed watching my little hamster drawings bouncing around vomiting on each other. So I have figured it all out for myself, because I’m fine keeping it all a hobby.
Most artists might prefer more, perhaps. Maybe you’re an artist reading this, and you’d prefer a career; you’d prefer to be relevant somehow. But since the Information Age gave birth to the Individuality Age, the concept of relevance is itself losing relevance! How exactly does one stick out like a sore thumb when the whole world has already become a big ball of seven billion leprous, oozing, infected thumbs?
Fifteen minutes of fame is a lucid pipe dream for anyone wanting a piece of something brand new. You’d be lucky to acquire fifteen good seconds now. Everyone who can do a funny dance or fart “O Canada” has would-be relevance online. It’s a train wreck out there. On a rare day when I can actually tap my feet to something completely alien and unique, I consider it a really good day. But it is just positively frightening out there. The projects that are truly sore, rancid thumbs sticking out, complete with ingrown nails and exploding knuckle-pustules filled with scorpion salsa? OK, check out Die Antwoord. They’ve already been around a couple years, but you’ll never find anyone covering them at Bob’s Country Bunker in Bumwood, CT. You’re not going to hear the Lowrey organ version of “I Fink You Freaky” tumbling delicately along with you on some air-conditioned Aetna elevator ride. How about the band Mindless Self Indulgence? They’ve been around long enough to be millionaires, but you’ll be hard pressed to stumble across their vitriolic mewling on the dial until the oldies station carries them sometime around 2040.
So as I hang around my cobweb-curried studio nowadays, I sit and wonder where a privileged, caucasian suburbanite can fit into all of this. Guess what? Connecticut, that’s where.
The “Connecticut Band Scene” is neither banal nor restrictive. I say the world far outside of it is restrictive, because in the allowance of everything, it has left us with nothing to latch onto. The Information Age has matured, and within it, hopefully soon this new Individuality Age to make way for a Filtration Age, a Wisdom Age… an Age of Context. I presume this Age will be predicated with some kind of everyday technology similar to the Pandora application, which intelligently suggests new material content (whether entertaining, informative, or both) based on previous preference.
In the meantime, I have grown tired and weak from blaming this presumably boring little rectangle full of Bud-toting townies on anything involving limitation. ”Maaaan, if we lived somewhere like Asheville… maaaan… we could play any Rage Against the Machine song that we wanted.” That might be true, but their trees all look the same, and their Budweiser is just as heavy to tote back to the truck. But dear God, we should be thankful we don’t have to live somewhere like South Africa where silver-grilled meth kids wearing pajamas are onstage with 9mm guns pointed at their screaming fans. I’d be dead of a jejunum infection within three days of living there.
I still have days when I wish I could perform with my awesome synthesizers (check out Parallax if you have my exact same personality!) outside this tranquil little tree-lined, pastoral penitentiary. But lately I’ve just been wanting to buy a pillow in the shape of Connecticut, so I can hug it every night and thank it for allowing me the liberty to play Usher and Rihanna songs and not get my graying little noggin caved in with a bottle of Jamaican ginger beer hucked from the back of some sweltery, 90-degree domino bar, or blown out in the back alley afterwards. There are so many angrier, deadlier, weirder places to live in the world. In the wildest dreams of nerdy, middle-class artists with even a slight amount of tepidity in our personalities, would any of us dream to “make it” in the world outside of our happy little home, utilizing any current trend of music and pseudo-music, now and possibly forever.
Meanwhile, you jazz musicians have it so easy. Curse you and your timeless genre.