‘Oh, you play music! What kind do you play?’
This is the question almost every musician in the world dreads. Upon being posed, you are then more or less forced to define everything you essentially are as a person in a one or two word answer which the questioner will then emotionally turn into a hook upon which to hang you, forever more to be known as; ‘That guy who used to be a milkman but now plays Reggae.’
Having personally been asked this question countless times in my life, I used to provide a truthful but longwinded answer, which naturally bored the pants off the questioner and turned me into Billy-no-Mates. Further down the line, I attempted to distil the truth into a snappy sentence but along with the result mentioned in my opening paragraph, I realized that it also left me thinking ‘Jesus, is that all I’ve done with my life?’. Nowadays, I simply throw caution to the wind and reply in a salacious whisper ‘Porn soundtracks’.
Hey if it was good enough work for Frank Zappa in the early days, it’s good enough for me.
These kind of questions make me realize however just how much stuff takes place just beyond the perception of the music fan. They said that the art is to conceal the art but when I got down to thinking about it, I realized that they are absolutely right to be that way, because making music is mostly dull.
I don’t mean that in a creative sense. Writing and performing music is easily one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done, apart from that time with the policewoman, her Karate instructor and those balloon animals. Music is (at point of delivery) the artistic Olympic 100 meters sprint final, full of tension, explosive energy and the uncertainty of result, which makes life truly worth living.
Sadly the dullness lies in all the tedious technicalities. The choice of instrumentation, the studio gadgets and the endless hours of practice you have to put in to get to those last 100 meters. That is the unseen marathon every serious player or writer unwittingly signs up for.
Consider also that along with dull, there the potential and very real physical danger, which often comes with the job. I watched Big Elf’s singer/keyboard player Damon Fox, being hit with a sizable electric shock from a live microphone while on stage in Chicago and three members of the New Jersey outfit Thank You Scientist barely escaping with their lives when a carbon monoxide lead forced them to flee from their rehearsal space (tragically, two musicians in another band next door were not so lucky). Both of these examples occurred just in the last 14 weeks.
Music sucks in huge, hairy, spherical portions. Only somehow and incredibly, it doesn’t. If it did, your record collection and mine would be a tenth the size that it is today.
Despite falling record sales, the endless stories of venues both big and small closing to make way for yet another Starbucks, and the literal threat to life and limb, musicians here in America and indeed all over the world, gleefully grab their equipment and put in the hours. The reason why? It’s because making music still remains one of the best feeling you can ever have with your clothes on. Every musician is also a fan and fans have an amazing ability to believe in what they love so deeply, they can literally change the fortunes of both the bands and the very music industry itself.
If you don’t believe me, ask a member of Marillion about their career post EMI.
All this brings me back to that dreaded question I mentioned at the top of this article. Speaking personally, I believe it’s an incomplete query because more often than not, the musician you ask has probably had a life in music, more varied, stranger and colourful than an evening in a lesbian bar, drinking tequila slammers with William Shatner. Been there, done that.
Perhaps that question should be; ‘Oh, you play music! What kind will you play tonight?’ If you ask that, take a moment and watch the musician in front of you silently glow inside, happy in the knowledge that they are finally understood.
At least for that evening.