Before I start this post, I’ve realized that I’ve been using a bunch of other peoples’ images and photos in this blog. I’m not going to do that anymore so there will be fewer pics now. On to the new entry:
Last fall, I saw the Melvins 30th anniversary tour in Austin. I have to say that they were really tremendous with Jeff Pinkus on bass.
30 years is a long time to keep a band going. When I looked at the audience, I realized that the band itself is older than at least half of the people there.
I’ve said before that I can remember a time when the Melvins were getting booed off stages as the opening act for bigger artists in the early 90s like Soundgarden and Tool. They just kept going and never stopped. In the 90s, I wouldn’t have guessed it’d be the Melvins that’d outlast most of their contemporaries.
There’s a lot of value in lasting. Any band that’s been around for 10+ years has at least experienced some degree of recognition by virtue of the fact that their name has been passed around for a decade!
Time has this magical way of making stuff seem better.
You should’ve been here in the 70s Armadillo Cosmic Cowboy/Bongo Fury days. That was Austin’s golden age.
No way, man! It was the 80s before Austin was discovered and all our best bands started moving to Chicago.
Nuh uh – it was the 90s when it WAS discovered and Daniel Johnston and Trance Syndicate Records put us on the map.
Wrong! The 00s were the time when Austin boomed. You should’ve been here then when we were all driving BMWs.
In 20 years when we’re all out of water, it’s 100 degrees even in January and the Texan economy finally busts like the rest of the nation, the 10s will be the time everyone will wish they’d been here – or wish they had back. Yeah, man, you should’ve been here before the robots took over. Those were the days.
Ok, ok – my point is that AGED things seem cooler because – they are cooler? No. They were better? Maybe. The only factor ALL aged stuff has that new stuff doesn’t is more time to be accepted by more people.
After ripping into the Mormon faith in his book Under The Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer says this:
“Those who would assail The Book of Mormon should bear in mind that its veracity is no more dubious than the veracity of the Bible, say, or the Qur’an, or the sacred texts of most other religions. The latter texts simply enjoy the considerable advantage of having made their public debut in the shadowy recesses of the ancient past, and are thus much harder to refute.”
That bit near the end of the book surprised me. Krakauer summed up almost exactly my own conclusion. Having been raised in the Mormon Church, my experience as a youngster was hardly any different than that of any other American kid. When people would say that I was a member of a cult or must’ve had a weird upbringing, I thought that it couldn’t possibly have been any weirder than sitting in a room and being told that we’re all going to hell. Or the idea that telling some guy in a closet all my sins and then eating a cookie would make up for bad behavior. Or that never cutting my hair was holy. Or blowing myself up on a bus to get to a XXX-rated heaven should be my life’s goal. Or the idea that dancing and music are satanic. Or talking snakes. All religions are weird, man.
Old, weird religious practices have had time to be accepted even though they’re just as outlandish as anything new. So have the ideas and works of entertainers, artists, politicians, fashion designers, marketers, etc. that preceded all of us.
Speaking of religion and the Melvins, I also saw the Melvins Lite in October 2012 with Trevor Dunn on string bass. While waiting in line, I encountered a door guy wearing an Iron Maiden “Number of the Beast” t-shirt. I commented on the shirt and he told me that it was “old school”. (Side note – it wasn’t old school unless by old school he meant within the last 5-7 years. The shirt had an oversize print that was way, way bigger than anyone was doing in the 80s). I decided to be bold and tell him about the Invincible Czars’ tribute called “Gospel of the Beast”. He laughed and then there was a break and I mentioned, “Some people really hate it.” He chuckled and said, “Sounds like I might hate it.” I said, “You probably would!” and we both laughed.
As I walked away and into the audience, I had some time to sit there and think on that conversation. When Number of the Beast was released in the early 80s, Christians in the US deemed it to be satanic – blasphemous! The irony that was so funny to me at the moment was how angry fans of Iron Maiden get about our tainting of their sacred hymns. Number of the Beast has had 30 years to become one of the most important metal albums ever and now there are people so entrenched in the heavy metal lifestyle (faith) that they are just as easily offend-able as the very people their culture once offended.
Hilarious. It’s just another religion that lasted long enough to be accepted as normal.
Even I’m not immune from stuff that lasts.
When I was in junior high in the late 80s, you either liked Guns ‘n’ Roses OR Metallica. Not both. I was definitely in the Metallica camp. Axl Rose irritated the hell out of me when I was 12. For better or worse, though, Guns ‘n’ Roses’ music was so beloved by other humans that I couldn’t help but hear it over and over.
Fast forward 25 years – “Sweet Child O’ Mine” came up on a Pandora shuffle. I instinctively prepared to skip the track but decided to finally listen actively to the whole song. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my days riding the bus to/from school, summers at the swimming pool, watching MTV with my friends. I realized my dislike of the song and the band were just junior high BS. So I learned all the solos in the song finally listened to all of Appetite for Destruction. Most of the non-hit songs were brand new to me in 2011 and I think I need another 25 years to pass before I can listen “It’s So Easy” without rolling my eyes. Even that much time probably won’t help.
But that’s thing about time – you can’t tell until you get there.
That’s when lasting can be a double-edged sword – especially when you’re a big artist that peaks early in your career. Sometimes, it’s good to quit when you’re ahead. GNR’s music has definitely lasted and the opening riff to “Sweet Child…” is now as well-known as any rock anthem that preceded it. Interestingly, the band itself has technically lasted.. but not really. Axl Rose tried to keep it going with various other musicians but most GNR fans didn’t care – it was hardly the same band without Slash, Izzy and Duff. When you look at the 30-ish year history of GNR, it’s kind of sobering to think that the band (as an entity) peaked so early in its career and then spent approximately 5/6 of its existence (arguably) as a washed up shell of its former self.
In spite of stories like that, I personally believe that lasting is good and there are plenty of larger acts that have done it successfully – Tom Waits, David Byrne, etc. I’d much rather have longer career like that of the Melvins’ or Brave Combo’s slow but somewhat steady growth. They always had something to look forward to! My favorite quote from Melvins drummer Dale Crover comes from this list where he says, “As long as you never have a hit, you can’t be considered has-beens. We consider ourselves never-had-beens.”
Even the has-beens have it pretty good. How much money do you think Slash, Izzy, Duff and Axl make each year on royalties from “Sweet Child O’ Mine”? Now add all their other hits to that estimate. Who cares if the glory days of the band came and went quickly – as a BUSINESS, Guns ‘n’ Roses is an institution!
On the smaller-time level, lasting seems to have caught on because of bands like The Melvins. Churchwood guitarist Bill Anderson was telling me about his days in Poison 13. Back then, Austin bands only lasted a (few) year(s) but they had the same level of output and activity of today’s 10+ year-old bands.
Current day bands aren’t lazy, though. We take our time. We must save our energy because there’re a billion bands out there for everyone to filter through, now! If we don’t last at least 3 years, we won’t even be noticed in our own local music scenes.
How to last? Just don’t quit. Here’re my suggestions for how to keep from quitting.
Ultimately, lasting comes down to commitment. Are you committed enough to what you’re doing to make big sacrifices for your art like your comfort, time, money, ego, privacy… even relationships? We all must determine when enough’s enough but I think that we can all gain some perspective from a band like the Melvins who remained true to what they did, remained patient and simply outlasted just about everyone else.