Television in San Francisco was just background noise. Comedy Central in the evenings while I was doing something in the other room. Not consciously, but I assume to make the place feel less lonely. Didn’t Palahniuk have something clever about that in Lullaby, about how we’re all scared of silence?
I thought that my lack of attention to television in those years while everyone else was fawning over “Lost” and “Orange Is The New Black” made me a better person. I was a musician. A creative. I didn’t have time for such pedestrian pursuits. But without a drive to keep going, I succumbed, and these days, television is the new band practice.
Oddly, it started in Hawaii. You can only spend so much time at the beach. And without much else to do there, I got turned onto Netflix, Amazon Prime, and later Hulu. And like all of you, I’ve now got lengthy queues in each that I’ll never get through. Shows have gotten better, but not enough that the ol’ boob tube doesn’t still feel like a pathetic recreation. I can’t shake the feeling I should be reading more and creating more. People used to say they had too many books to read or things to do or friends to catch up with. Now it’s they have too much in their queue and aren’t currently accepting any more recommendations.
And now Disney, NBC, CBS, and others are fleeing the big three and trying to start their own thing? Who wants the cost of more separate services and the hassle of maintaining more logins? I predict the upstart services will ultimately still get aggregated under a larger umbrella service for exactly that reason, which essentially amounts to the à la carte cable pricing people have wanted forever. Didn’t they used to say that model leaves less-popular content producers (e.g. educational programming) out in the cold?
I’m now reminded of something else from Lullaby, about how our constant attention to distracting screens withers our imagination. Johnny Marr said something similar on his book tour a couple years ago, about how he’s glad smart phones weren’t around when he was young. All that idle time waiting for a bus left his mind free to try to entertain itself, to create, to come up with the ideas that would become the music of The Smiths. That’s worth considering.
Anyway, on to the other kind of “show.” Live music, that is. I attended a couple of them recently that got me thinking. Giuda has a huge following and must be among the best on the planet at what they do. Jail Weddings is incredible live — as good as any band I’ve seen in a club setting. But here’s the thing… both were killer shows, but they were also relative ghost towns. Maybe I’ve been out of it too long. I’m trying to remember that things happen. Poor promotion, competing shows, bad luck. Could have just been flukes that I caught these shows back-to-back. But it left me uneasy with a harsh reality: being in a band these days ain’t gonna be like it was.
Maybe people have gotten more “virtual” even in just these last few years. I’ve heard my promoter friends complain that no one comes out anymore. They’d rather stay home and watch Netflix in their jammies (a pastime I’ve grown accustomed to myself, if I’m being honest). It’s just harder to get people out of their houses and away from their screens, I guess. I feel it, too.
And then consider that This Charming Band had a built-in tribute/80s/Moz audience. The Rumble Strippers had the built-in rockabilly scene. Not to at all minimize the hustling we did in both cases to get good shows and big crowds, but we had some clear advantages. People had reasons to attend beyond just us. So with all that in mind, not having a leg up like that but instead just forging your own path and doing your own thing? Well, good luck. I’d want my next music project to be more like that and free from the trappings of catty scenes, but that seems like assurance that it’ll be playing empty rooms on weeknights. That might be OK, but it’s not what I’m used to and certainly not something to look forward to. I’m not sure I have the same energy for it anymore, though I suppose my motivations are different now. Back then, I think I was more interested in impressing people. As I mentioned a while back, I feel like these days I have less to say and less interest in who hears it. Maybe that means I should get into the recording side of things rather than hustling to fill venues? More rumination needed.
On a side note, I failed to follow my own recent advice about watching openers, and I missed the chance to see Hammered Satin with Giuda. Next time, for sure! At least I got out of the house and showed up for these bands, though. It was good for them and good for me. But more of a feat than it used to be.
“What did we do before we made facial expressions with punctuation? Oh yeah, we played in the sun.”— Unknown