I get asked a lot - mostly by people with straight jobs, houses, spouses, and kids - why I got into music.
It isn't an easy question to answer.
What initially began as a very communal endeavor; wanting to be part of a group and to be adored everywhere I went eventually turned into long stretches of determined solitude and self-confinement as I honed my fucking craft interrupted all too infrequently by moments of transcendent connection.
Those "moments of transcendent connection", whether it be with a single person or an entire sold-out room of freaks, are why people become addicted to heroin. Nothing else comes even close to that electrical charge you get from being onstage. Sure, you make more than I do, but do people applaud you wildly and buy your t-shirts after you update your Excel spreadsheet?
On one hand, I look at the people in the audience most nights and I see a bunch of awesome fuckers who, by and large, have their acts together who also have the time and energy to seek out their own favorite bands because, believe me, that's no easy task. I say this because no band I was ever been in has ever been on the radar, not even for a second, so those who found us are precisely the kind of folks you'd want with you in the trenches.
I can't tell you how many times I've been singing to a packed room, wondering "What are you doing here??"
It's not the bad "What are you doing here" where you walk into the kitchen to find the neighbor kid scarfing down your Fig Newtons, but the good kind, where amazing people you never in a million years would've have met in any sort of meaningful way (especially those from "da burbs") come to see YOU.
After all, that is the most amazing part of the equation: the multitude of journeys that led this room of disparate strangers to become "united in rock" (come on, hipsters, embrace the devil horns)!
To be the reason they're all here tonight when they coulkd be a million other places, or home in the sweet loving embrace of their Netflix account, that's a fucking miracle, no matter how you slice it.
Especially in Chicago, where December could mean 60 degrees and rainy or 10 degrees and people are using lawn chairs to mark their parking spots. I remember when I first moved to L.A. and was talking to a local club booking agent who told me that attendance is severely hampered when it rains.
Even when they've bought tickets in advance?
"Yep," he said, "We had Sparks for two nights, their first headlining shows in their hometown in a decade. We sold 2000 tickets in advance, 1680 came through the door. That means 330 who paid $25 a ticket (totaling $8250) decided to stay home because of a little rain."
I didn't have to tell him about the time we played a sold out show at Beat Kitchen in the middle of a white-out and how five people I hadn't known at the start of the night would spend the night at my place (at my insistence, of course, two were absolutely ravishing) rather than drive all the fucking way back to the suburbs through the snow and ice that accumulated during the show.
That's why when I moved back to Chicago in 2008 and returned to the Midwest stage, seeing fans work just as hard as the bands getting out to shows and think nothing of it is always a sight to see.
Especially when you consider that every last one of those folks has their own job, their own commitments to take care of before any fun can be had, not to mention their own troubles that crop up from time to time, but doesn't keep them from making the show.
Such was the time a member of a well-known local band that rehearses at Superior St. on a regular basis (that's all the hint you're getting) showed up backstage drinking one of our dressing room beers. We man-hugged and he apologized profusely for being late to see us, he'd just escaped rehab.
What I'm saying here, ladies and gentlemen, is that Chicago live music fans are the absolute best fans in the country. I know, I've played shows in every major city in the land, not to mention more two-horse towns than any sane person would visit and there is just something about Chicago live music fans that you don't see anywhere else.
To any band who decides to call Chicago home, I say "You have made the right decision." If you can see past all the poseurs and smug, self-appointed gatekeepers, you will find fans unlike any you will find anywhere else in the world. Many will want to help you carry your stuff, which is great, but be careful. This is Chicago, after all.
Chicago rock fans are a discerning bunch, though. They do tend to make you work to win their loyalty, but once you have it, it's yours for life. Find your audience here and you will be able to find an audience anywhere, but you will always look forward to coming home, trust me.
This time of year, I am reminded of the ads in the Illinois Entertainer back in the late 80s advertising the victorious homecoming show by some hair metal band that had blown town to find their fame and fortune in Hollywood. The Dirty Nellie's (or was it The Thirsty Whale?) ad would read "Back From L.A. For The Holidaze! The Triumphant Return of Stiff Roxx!!" or whatever the band's name was.
Back then, it seemed kinda glamorous, but, in truth, those guys were probably sharing a studio apartment in some skuzzy part of Hollywood and eating cat food and Ramen. That "triumphant homecoming gig" is the first real money, and people, they've played for since, well, last year's Christmas homecoming shows.
To those who make it out to the shows, who pay the cover changes, buy the t-shirts, and the vinyl, every band in this town is lucky to have you. That's why bands from all over the world can't wait to play this town: They've heard about how great the fans in Chicago are and, sure, there might be thirty other shows on that band's tour, but you know that every member who has played Chicago before can't wait to come back, baby.