Addicted To Rejection: A Salute To Every Musician Still Out There Playing For The Love Of The Game


Why the fuck are we musicians?  What fatal flaw in our character led us here?

At the core, let's face it, we want attention.  Whether we're the singer for the Goo Goo Dolls or the drummer for an Icelandic folk metal band that only performs underwater, we all crave adoration on some level.  Deep down, each of us dreams of the day when a stranger approaches us in public and asks for our autograph.  We want beautiful, otherwise unattainable women (or men, I guess) to pursue us.  I don't care who you are, that one's universal.  Some are just better at hiding it than others.

Of course, some musicians actually manage to touch the proverbial brass ring.  Despite getting signed, maybe having some success, they soon run headlong into the concrete reality informing them that there is only so high they can go and that they'll never get that high again with this or any other band. 

Others will work hard, deliver a few ambitious albums that flop and then unleash a half-assed, but consistent rash of albums that are, by and large, only heard by rock critics.  They'll resign themselves to this life.  After all, in what other line of work can you fail so badly and still get your name up in lights every night?

Take an artist like John Hiatt, whose idiosyncratic talents have yielded a five-decade career.  Yet, for all of his critical acclaim, when was the last time anybody went "Woo hoo, a new John Hiatt album!"?  As great as some might think he is, even John Hiatt would find that funny.  He gets the last laugh, though, as he continues to make a decent living from music.  I can't help wonder what dreams Hiatt may have had when he began, though, and how close he got to achieving them.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are forced to dial down our hopes and aspirations, finding a more realistic happiness in the lower hanging fruit within our reach.  

We bang away at that guitar for years in hopes of standing up in front of a roomful of people and demand that they listen only to us.  Hell, in some cases, we charge them for the privilege.  That's pretty ballsy, no matter how you slice it.  Kind of amazing that we get paid for such a thing at all.

Oh wait, that's right.  For many of us, the "getting paid" aspect of making music is one we reluctantly have to put on the back burner.  And still we continue to willfully sink endless hundreds, nay, thousands of dollars into rehearsal space, recording time, instruments, stage clothes, posters, domain names and websites, t-shirts, gasoline and van repairs.

Most costly of all, we spend our time.  Hours and hours and hours, too many to count.  We put our jobs, relationships, friendships and everything else on-hold in order to keep making deposits of our time and resources to make music.

If we're lucky, we get to leave town for a couple weeks at a time, trading our studio apartment for the comforts of stinky, broken-down van and the opportunity to make just enough money to get to the next gig. Rent? We'll worry about that when we can.  And each time that we arrive home, it seems that everyone we know has gotten that much better at living without us.  

That, of course, is a stone-cold shame when you consider the money, the time, and the sheer fuckload-of-effort that goes into being in even the shittiest band.  Of course, Chicago is no stranger to shitty bands and, as luck would have it, many seem to stick around forever.

At one point, it got so bad that we could barely open up the music section of The Reader without seeing the same list of usual suspects week in and week out.  Thing is, I used to hate those bands, but now I can at least appreciate such bands for their commitment to such a lost cause. 

Of course, even a good band can seem stuck in quicksand.  One can literally leave the country for, say, ten years, move back, and catch The Handcuffs (whom I adore) playing The Abbey to the same 50 people as when they left. The band's drummer (and my longtime hero) is none other than Brad Elvis.  If you've heard of him, then you probably also recall that he was the drummer for the Elvis Brothers, who made two records in the early '80s for Epic/Portrait before becoming a fixture on the Chicago club scene through the '90s.  During his five-decade career, he has opened for the likes of Van Halen, Billy Idol, and The Clash.  His pal Clem Burke even got him his current gig as drummer for The Romantics.  

We should all be Brad Elvis, as his commitment to vaudevillian antics and jaw-dropping rock chops have made him a legend among drummers and non-drummers alike.  Everything about him humbly, slyly, playfully craves your attention.  Thing is, he deserves every second of it.

He's the musical equivalent of a baseball player entering the twilight years of a career that may never be acknowledged by the Hall of Fame, yet still more than capable of showing the younger kids how its done, if for no other reason than out of love for the game.

Like Brad Elvis, may we all be fortunate to write, rehearse, record, slug our equipment around town, and play our hearts out for the fine people of this great city.  Jobs, relationships, friendships and everything else may take a backseat from time to time, but that's only because this is where our heart of hearts truly lies.  Those who choose to be with us must understand that this is non-negotiable because being a musician is who we are

Strip us of that and suddenly the dead-end job we merely tolerate as a necessary evil begins to tighten its grubby hands around our throats and the walls begin to close in.  We lose all hope and then, a moment later, turn completely invisible.  What's to prove that we were ever here?  Oh right, the songs, the gigs, the boxes of unsold CD's, the fucking memories and good times we have had and will continue to have until they pry the drumsticks from our cold, dead hands.  

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

2 comments:

  1. John Hiatt. Seriously, when was the last time anybody went "Woo! New John Hiatt album!"?

    Actually me you idiot. I saw him in Door County two years ago, and I had not been following him since 95 or 96 and then after that show - POP, I rediscovered what I liked and bough the missing catalog. Your view is written about vain people, not true "people/artists". A true "whatever profession" really doesn't care what others think or say or feel, they do what they do so their creation can get out of their brain and have a life of it's own. And that life may only be for a brief amount of time and sometimes a private triumph, and others global. Only the vain people in the world are what you wrote about. Almost a good article, except you jumped on the stereotype train and forgot that not everybody rides trains.

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  2. With all due respect, it was a generalization. Such articles use generalizations to make a point to the general public. The idea that somehow every such generalization should somehow apply directly to you is much more vain than anything you describe.

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