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You Know I Couldn’t Last

27 September 2012

On September 28th, 2012, I will play my 140th show with This Charming Band (not counting two radio appearances, an acoustic one-off with Orlando, and a Britpop set that 3/4 of TCB did under a different name).  That constitutes every performance TCB has given since its inception in 2005.  But this will be my last show with them.

You see, while I continue to love the music of The Smiths and Morrissey, the pressures of life and time management have made continuing simply impossible for me — at least at the level of quality this music deserves.  For some time now, I’ve found myself occasionally weighing the amount of time, effort, and dedication it takes to hold up my end of TCB against the joy I get from being a part of it.  For years and years, it was a no-brainer.  This Charming Band has been one of the best parts of my adult life, without question, and for a long time it was worth any amount of energy I could muster.  For dozens of reasons.  But it’s become clear to me that over time, the balance has tipped in the other direction to where the practices, the website, the flyers, the promotion, the Facebook, and even at times the weekends of shows… it’s like a second job.  It takes a ton of time and energy to keep that going.  And after seven years of doing it, I could feel myself starting to resent how much of my life it takes up.  Patience was wearing thin, and it was only a matter of time before something broke.  (That internecine moment finally came when we played a club ironically called “The Catalyst.”  Ha!)  I wanted some time back in my schedule and some relief from the commitment of giving my all to this project.  I love it, and I love the people I get to play with and for, but I know I’d never let myself phone it in for TCB.  So the only way out for me is to let it go completely.  And as it turns out, Paul and Michael are both leaving too, each for his own reasons.  Rather than watch as crowds dwindle over the years and we overstay our welcome, I feel like this exodus gives us a chance to burn out instead of fade away.  Disappear before we jump the proverbial shark.  End on top like The Smiths did.  I didn’t always think so, but I believe that TCB has grown into the best Smiths tribute that has yet existed.  And now we won’t be around long enough to lose our edge and let some up-and-comer pass us.  They’ll be chasing our ghost for years.  At least that’s how I imagine it.  :)

At this last show, Paul and I have planned out the set list, filling it with our own favorites.  Above all else, it’ll be a chance to say goodbye to all the great fans who’ve supported us over the years and made TCB what it is.  I’ll be absorbing as much of the night as I can, letting it cap seven long years of great experiences and rewards for what has been a lot of hard work.  Our friends For The Masses will be joining us, which I couldn’t be happier about.  They’ve always been my favorite band to share a bill with.  For those of you who are into mementos, I’ll bring whatever I have… I think I have a stack of postcards from the last few Slim’s shows, some picks, and maybe some other stuff.  It’ll be there for the taking if anyone wants a keepsake.  (I’m always embarrassed whenever people actually want and ask for set lists or picks, but hey it does happen occasionally, and so if you want them, they’ll be there.)

As I was weighing the decision to leave, I went back and watched old videos of our shows all the way back to 2005.  Many that we never posted for one reason or another.  Some were better than others, but even with their rough spots, seeing us do the obscure ones… Suffer Little Children, Pregnant For The Last Time, I Don’t Owe You Anything, etc.  We killed on those tunes!  I’m proud of that work.  Maybe part of that is just the novelty of hearing the songs I used to have memorized but haven’t played in years.  So many of the “hits” I have played now so often that when I hear the songs in my head, I hear TCB rather than The Smiths.  At the time of my leaving, This Charming Band will have performed all 72 Smiths songs and 35 Morrissey solo songs, for a total of 107 songs.  I have the list, but I figured it would take up too much room here.  Instead, I’ll share my favorite song nicknames we used behind closed doors (and I’m amazed how perverse many of them are now that I see them all together like this):  Accipitycept Yo’self, Axe, Back To The Out House, Barbie-ism / Babarism, The Boy With The Thorn In His Pants, Shirtlifters, Sweet And Sour Hooligan, This Chairman Mao, Unlubbable, (That’s) What She Said, Wonderful German, You Just Haven’t Urined Yet Baby, Boy Chaser, Certain Peepholes I Know, Jack The Tripper, November Spawned A Lobster, Now My Pants Are Full, Sling Your Wife, Mañana, and Fattycake.  There were many, many others, but just not as colorful, and I’m surely forgetting some too.

And while I’m at it, I’ll randomly dump some TCB ideas that were never used.  In the time TCB has been together, I’ve seen some of my favorite original ideas for tribute band names from way back in 2005 go on to be used by other new tributes, including my very favorite: “Unruly Boys.”  If tribute bands were judged only by cleverness without regard for recognizability and marketability, I would have added to the running: The Hated Salford Ensemble (which I still think is genius), Orchestrazia Ardwick, Duane Tremolo, The Paris Valentinos, White Dice, Freak Party, The Nosebleeds, The Tee Shirts, The Sulky Young, and Helen Wheels.  All have connections to The Smiths, honestly!  Go read up!

Suddenly, Last Summer
There were a lot of developments over the summer worth mentioning if only for the sake of having them be a part of my chronicling of TCB history.  We had the extreme honor of opening up for The Polecats, and Boz Boorer himself snuck out on stage to join us on “Jack The Ripper” and “Now My Heart Is Full.”  Afterwards, I got to talk shop and gossip with him a bit.  Truly a thrill.  (Later in the summer, I also caught up with his guitar tech Lloyd Tripp and talked more shop and gossip!  And it turns out a certain “quote of the week” was a memorable moment for all involved.)  And that same month, I spent an evening backstage with Andy Rourke at his Popscene DJ night.  In terms of music, we finally got to pull off some of the clever tricks we’d imagined in the past as well as some new ones.  We performed “Wonderful Woman” in its original “What Do You See In Him?” form.  We managed to seamlessly medley “These Things Take Time” with “Accept Yourself” and “You’ve Got Everything Now.”  We concocted a “Ballroom Blitz” intro for “The Loop.”  I finally got to do my recorded “you are sleeping” intro to “Asleep,” which includes a full minute of the original source recording of that sample (though technically, that happened last summer).  And we added “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get” to the end of “Now My Heart Is Full,” taking a page from Boz ‘n Alain’s book.  Our own Michael pushed it even further by instead adding the coda of “I Won’t Share You” into the mix.  Brilliant!

We got to hit some of my favorite places over the summer, making it an ideal last blast.  We made it out to SoCal, where even tribute guitarists get on-stage cheek kisses (from boys and girls).  In Riverside, I was reminded how much the Moz Krew magic can really make the show.  Getting home after dawn.  It was just like old times again.  Then we returned to Portland and Seattle for a memorable trip.  Great restaurants, a Lovecraft-themed bar, and a couple of packed shows with excellent bands that both rank among my favorite TCB nights of all time.  Even got to play a bit with For The Masses which is always a hoot.  Both of those nights were incredible all around.  The summer also included Slim’s and The Blank Club, two of my favorite venues to play.  And we’re wrapping it up at Du Nord.  TCB, this is your life!

A Crutch And A Cage
I’ve been honored to humbly attempt to share these songs and experiences with everyone who’d listen over the past seven years, and I will not soon forget the countless fond memories of playing shows and meeting all of you.  It’s a truly singular experience playing with TCB.  I hope my reverence for this music, first and foremost, is beyond question given my track record… but you’d have to be made of stone not to be exhilarated up there, pretending to be Johnny Marr, fans cheering and singing along to every word, anticipating every note.  But it’s a tether, too.  It’s both a crutch and a cage.  I was constrained by it in that the music, the arrangements, the expectations are all already laid out for me, with very few exceptions.  There’s a “right way” and a “wrong way” to do it.  It’s limiting.  But then I leaned on it as well.  It’s hard not to get addicted to the guarantee of a big crowd for TCB, which makes the prospect of slugging it out doing smaller shows with other musical projects less appealing.  I had intended my stint in TCB to be a stepping stone to an original project, and instead it kept me sedated when I should have stayed hungry.  I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s a strange relationship.  You depend on it, but you feel constricted by it.  And both too much.  In short, I knew it was time for me to move on.

And no sooner had I made that decision than something unexpected happened.   A weight was lifted off of me.  I could suddenly enjoy listening to Smiths songs again.  Of course I’ve never not enjoyed them, but after the relief of letting TCB go, it was like life as a civilian again.  I could listen to a Smiths CD and just enjoy the magic in those recordings, rather than analyze them into oblivion as I’ve been doing for the better part of a decade.  I could just be a fan again, because I knew that soon, it wouldn’t be my job anymore.  That small change of perspective made a huge and instant difference.  It moved me.  I had my Smiths back.

Things I’m Proud Of Accomplishing

  1. I’m proud to say this was my first band ever.  Not too shabby, eh?
     
  2. I’m proud to have gotten through all of The Smiths’ songs.  As much as I love The Smiths, to have really spent that kind of time unravelling the mysteries of each one I feel like was time well spent.  And with Moz solo, 107 songs is a mind-boggling number of tunes to have played, even over seven years.
     
  3. I’m proud of the reputation TCB has built up.  We made quality of performance priority #1, and I think it showed.  Pretending to be another band is a tricky business when you’re trying to maintain some dignity about it.  I think we all did a great job of being respectful of the legacy of The Smiths and doing them justice.  And then the connection that we’ve had with crowds, and making our shows a celebration shared with everyone… that’s something that TCB excelled at in contrast to the posturing of some of our competitors who took themselves far too seriously and suffered for it, reputationally speaking.  And with this reputation, we now hear from venues and bookers all over the world who are interested in booking us.  We heard from instrument manufacturers who want us to use their products on stage.  I can only dream of someday getting that kind of attention in future bands.
     
  4. I’m thrilled that we were able to help bring the music of The Smiths to a new audience.  We all know that Smiths fans are a small and dedicated bunch.  But we brought those people out of the woodwork and built up an audience that supported some big shows, even outside of our home base in the Bay Area.  It’s one thing to draw a crowd covering Led Zeppelin or The Beatles.  It’s quite another to succeed covering a little niche like The Smiths.  A lot of things had to fall into place for TCB to become what it has whereas many others have failed to thrive.  And we heard regularly from people who didn’t know or like The Smiths, but who were turned on to them by a TCB show.  The ultimate compliment!

Things I Wish We’d Done (“Regrets, I’ve had a few…”)

  1. We never got a chance to go head-to-head with our biggest rivals in the Smiths tribute scene.  There was never any competition with non-Smiths tributes because The Smiths are an unassailable choice of subject matter among most other musicians, and the fact that we did it well and had the success we did… we just couldn’t be judged by the same criteria as tributes to other bands.  We were in a class of our own.  But we had a nemesis or two among other Smiths tributes, and I maintain that in a face-to-face Pepsi Challenge, we would have objectively out-shined them.  Now I guess it’ll be left to the scholars to debate.
     
  2. We never played Tijuana.  We had an opportunity this year, but it wasn’t meant to be.  From what I hear from other tribute friends that have played shows down there, the fans are insane, and they love Americans.  Who knows what stories we might have brought back from a trip like that?
     
  3. We never toured Europe.  Granted, that would have been a colossal undertaking, with logistical nightmares that only a Virgo like Sus could have tackled.  And I’d probably have been too anxious and wound up to pull it off.  But can you imagine the fun that would have been?
     
  4. We never pulled off a reunion.  To explain, Orlando had the bizarre idea — but brilliant in its own way — to reunite Andy and Mike from The Smiths to play with us as a hybrid tribute band.  A show like that, those guys playing Smiths songs again, it could have been material for The Fillmore.  Sounds far-fetched and arrogant, I know.  The crazy thing is that he pursued it and got as far as discussing dollar amounts with both of their respective agents.  So crazy as it may have been, it had legs.  You gotta give Orlie credit.
     
  5. After my final show, we will have performed all 72 Smiths songs, which was my main goal.  Still, I wish we had gotten around to doing a few more of my favorite Morrissey solo numbers: Driving Your Girlfriend Home, I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me, The Operation, Spring-Heeled Jim, and maybe Late Night, Maudlin Street.
     
  6. We didn’t reach everyone.  It’s an impossible target to aim for, but I meet people all the time who love The Smiths, live in San Francisco, would love to see a TCB show… and have never heard of us.  I met such a person today as I write this.  We did an admirable job bringing people out to our shows.  Way better than anyone ever expected us to.  But it’s always disappointing to hear about potential fans that were out of the loop.  Where were you seven years ago, dude?

Things I Will Miss Most About Being In This Band

  1. Road trips.  All the travel and hotels, there are just too many memories to begin to describe.  But I think travelling together and sharing accommodations — while there’s good and bad there, and it can certainly be trying at times — does amazing things for bringing the band closer together.  I can’t think of many things to compare it to in adult life.  A band road trip is a special thing.  The camaraderie among bandmates in general is great, and a good road trip is the height of spending quality time, in my experience.
     
  2. I’ll miss late night eats with friends and bandmates.  There’s nothing better after a long show than a 3am dinner/breakfast at Sparky’s or Denny’s (or most recently Mini Gourmet and their bleu cheese buffalo jack sticks!).  And then of course getting to bed around sunrise.
     
  3. I so appreciated all of the fun people, new friends, and memorable characters I got to meet at our shows and just because of TCB in general.  It’s sad to think I won’t have an opportunity to see many of them again or meet the many more that are waiting out there somewhere.  There are the friends that come to many shows, and the friends whom we’d always see in certain towns.  And the people we all know and recognized time and again but had never actually met.  I’ll miss that zoo of nightclub dwellers and Smiths fans across the country.  Surely, I will see you again in far off places.
     
  4. I’ll miss the clockwork precision with which we were able to nail some of these songs in recent years.  Nick is an excellent drummer, and when the rest of us all weave our parts in… well, it’s an incredible feeling to be locked in with other great musicians who really know what they’re doing.  Of course credit is due to The Smiths for writing this stuff and having the textures be so rich to begin with, but participating in playing it and getting lost in it, even just at practice, it’s really satisfying.
     
  5. The weight TCB had in the world of tribute bands.  I watched as Nick did all the booking and built us up to bigger and better gigs.  He did it all himself, and that gave us a ton of autonomy so that TCB could go headline some big shows, pick whomever we wanted to be on the bill with us, pay what we thought was fair, and had to answer to virtually no one.  We built up a reputation with many venues and bookers to where we could count on cycling through each of them a couple times a year, year after year.  Calling shots like that and writing your own ticket doesn’t seem to be the norm, and I imagine I’ll come to miss that kind of power in my future bands.
     
  6. I will miss playing the first few seconds of “How Soon Is Now?” and hearing everyone cheer.  It’s hard to have that experience as an original band because not only do you need to draw a packed house of people, but they all need to know your songs really well.  And then you need to have written a song that is recognizable and iconic enough that the whole crowd knows it immediately and is absolutely thrilled to hear it.  So yeah, how many bands ever write a “How Soon Is Now?”  And really this points to getting to play to large crowds of superfans.  TCB shows were what they were not because we were there, but because there was a rabid crowd of maniacs hanging on every note of the songs that saved their lives.  It’s not gonna be easy to build that up again, or maybe ever have it again period.  I’ll be sorry to lose that.
     
  7. OK… the ego will show here a little.  If I’m being honest with myself, I guess I will miss the prestige, what little there is to be had.  I’m talking now specifically about the very narrow world of “playing Smiths songs on guitar.”  But being really good at something, and being regarded as somewhat of an expert in it.  Feeling important to that community.  That’s hard to walk away from.  Any amount of recognition for that stuff would be appreciated, but to be recognized and stopped in public at clubs and other bands’ shows to take pictures… or asked to sign a set list for someone… or for a total hack like me to be asked if I give lessons… I know it’s silly not to just brush that off, but I’m only human.  Or when people — musicians or no — would meet me for the first time, hear that I’m in a band, and then assume it’s some shitty little bar band like everyone else… and then getting to be like, “Actually we’re headlining Slim’s on Saturday.”  Oh, that feels good.  But in contrast, there were times back in the golden age of 2006 and 2007 when there were people who seemed to adore us and would come to see us regularly, or would clamor for us to return to this or that town.  I’ve watched over the years as those same people have settled down or disappeared.  They’ve moved on and forgotten us.  Of course, why wouldn’t they?  It’s definitely the sobering side of that same coin.  One moment you’re letting your ego get inflated, and the next you’re reminded that dude… nobody cares.  Ha ha!
     
  8. Along the same lines, I must also admit that I’ll miss the reaction I got from other musicians.  Typically, they’d know The Smiths and they’d know how complex the guitar work can be.  Being able to pull it off at the level I can now is a great way to show off some chops and — as Katt Williams would say —  show I ain’t bullshit.  Now I’ll have to rely on making an impression in other bands with other material (which is sure to be less impressive by virtue of the fact that it is something other than The Smiths).  I will no longer have the automatic cred.  And that confidence is worth something.  I’ll miss being able to walk into a new venue in a new town, and already have a following of curious locals who know us by reputation and/or love The Smiths, and then confidently exceeding their expectations.  I remember at our second show ever, I got totally psyched out when two guys stood right in front of me just before we started… they crossed their arms and said skeptically, “alright, let’s see it.”  Cut to: at a recent show, someone who hadn’t yet seen us came up to me and said, “I’m a guitarist.  I’ve heard good things about you, but you have some big shoes to fill.”  I smiled and said, “Wait and see.”  And after the show, unsolicited, he came up to me enthusiastically saying, “You were right!”  That’s another experience that will be hard to replicate anywhere else.

I think the current lineup of TCB is one of the strongest, if not the strongest we’ve ever had, and it’s not easy to leave something that’s so successful.   And so of course I’ll wonder if we could have taken it further.  I guess if Nick is successful in carrying on, we’ll get a glimpse of that.  Just as I’m burning out, I feel like TCB is getting renewed exposure in a variety of ways.  I wish it had come a year or two earlier, as I might have been along for the ride.  A lot of hard work went into learning these songs, promoting the band, building the name, etc.  It’d be a shame for any of that to go to waste.  I hope TCB’s reputation stands the test of time.  I also hope that some opportunity arises in the future to use my Johnny Marr knowledge again in some way.  Maybe some sort of reunion one day, if only for a birthday Slim’s show or an L.A. weekend.  Maybe filling in for another Smiths tribute somewhere.  Maybe some new one-off thing in the future.  Who knows?  I’m not bored of The Smiths, I’m just tired.  But I’m open.

Orlando once told me “bands get ugly.”  He was talking about the infamous Smiths court case, but that’s universal, and he had the personal experience to know.  Bands do get ugly.  Friends become enemies.  We may not all get along anymore, Orlie, Nick, myself, and some of the others… but we had an adventure in our time, didn’t we?

There’s probably more I could say about how honored I am to have carried the torch, and grateful for all the great people I’ve met, but I think I probably covered it more eloquently when I told the whole TCB story for our Five Year Anniversary.  It’s all still true, and that’s a good long read if you have the time.

Thank you to The Smiths and to Morrissey’s solo band for all of the great music we’ve celebrated and “borrowed” over the years.  It’s been amazing learning and playing the art you’ve created.  Thank you friends, fans, supporters, and especially bandmates past and present: Orlando, Wally, Nick, Peter, Isaac, Cameron, Dave, Paul, Virgil, and Michael.  It was a hell of a ride, and for a time, it meant everything to me.  I’ll be sad to go, truly.  TCB has been one of the most important things in my life for nearly a decade!  But you know I couldn’t last.

Hurtling towards the inevitable end,
With love and respect,
Benjamin

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3 Comments to “You Know I Couldn’t Last”

  1. Aww this was great to read. You have done good my friend and will continue to do so I have no doubt. :)

  2. It’s been more than a year, but I wanted to add that during my recent trip to Cuba, I spoke with a couple from Chicago. They clued me in that the Double Door, which TCB played in May 2010, has also hosted The Rolling Stones! Upon further review, looks like you can add The Smashing Pumpkins, Wilco, Cheap Trick, Cypress Hill, Kings Of Leon, and Kanye West to that list, among many others. I guess you could say something similar about a lot of the bigger venues we got to play, but The Rolling Stones seemed worth fussing about. :)

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