We live in a world where rock and roll is largely seen as the product of a bygone era. At least it seems to me like that, while the underground seems to be hinting at a comeback. As someone who’s identified as a rock and roll kind of guy for most of his life I’ve grown concerned of this largely because I fear that there is some very real wisdom that rock and roll brought us that we are missing out on. Here are five of the most important tings that my years running around gigs and partying with everyone from Aerosmith and KISS to Cannibal Corpse has taught me.
1. Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff
The roadie is puking in the bathroom after accidentally taking a bunch of meth that he thought was cocaine (A surprisingly common mistake!), the bass player just hooked up with a chick who probably has chlamydia (Or at least local punk Crusty Pete says so) and the rest of the band is sitting at the bar laughing at the rhythm guitarists antics (Hey man, Johnny is hilarious when he’s drunk!). What the hell? Do these people have no grasp on reality? Where do they get off? In fact – these guys have an incredibly firm understanding of what’s going on – rock and rollers are fully aware of how hard this whole thing is. They are the ones trying to make a living off of it after all. So why are they so chilled out all the time? Shouldn’t they be freaking out?
Not really. See – these men of the road are in a stressful environment day in and day out, and sometimes are on the road for up to ten months of the year. They’ve been through it all and the vast majority of them have come to realize that eventually the natural order of the universe will come into place. If the gods don’t want them to play their next show because the bass player has to deal with his latest STD, so be it – there is nothing that can be helped by worrying. You’re always going to have to face struggles, new challenges and bleak futures – that’s just how it goes, especially in rock and roll. Once you come to terms with that, it’s a whole lot easier to chill out, take life by the horns and embrace a brand new day.
2. Do It For The Cause
The most maligned group of people in rock and roll are the infamous ‘posers’. People who are there simply because they think it makes them look cool and not because they are trying to actually contribute to the scene. Thee are the people who have no real interest in the music – and that makes everyone have a worse time. If you’re killing the vibe and showing up somewhere for the wrong reasons then nobody is going to like you – that’s just how life works, there’s nothing that you can do about it.
So anytime you find yourself in a new situation – and one that you think you might end up deeply invested in – take a minute to step back and evaluate why you’re there. Are you doing it for the right reasons? Or are you just trying to profit? People can spot a phony from a mile off, so you have to be careful when figuring out what you want from a new opportunity. If you’re not their for the cause, ideologically, morally or whatever, then you might want to move away from it because if your heart isn’t it, what’s the point anyway?
3. Keep Your Expectations Low
I’ve seen David Bowie’s longtime trumpet player Mac Gollehon play in front of 20 people in a tiny bar on a Wednesday night. I’ve seen Billy Milano – a platinum selling artist – play a tiny basement show. Hell! I’ve even seen a band on tour from Europe – in their prime at that – play a show in a crust punks basement in a shitty South Philly neighborhood. That’s just how this whole thing works: many of us are bitter, worn down and tired and there’s nothing protecting us from that. The simple fact of the matter is that even by having expectations, you are simply setting yourself up to be disappointed.
Nothing is handed to you in this world and as long as you can keep on going, you should be happy. In a world of entitlement it’s the rock and rollers who possibly understand this best. They are used to playing packed crowds one night and then empty clubs the next – the audience is fickle and keeping one step ahead of the rat race is always a challenge. So ultimately, why even bother? When you can simply chill out and enjoy life as it comes with no real expectations it’s much easier to come to terms with the existential suffering that can to often come to define our lives.
4. Everyone Can Help You Out
What the most successful touring bands have come to realize is that anyone and everyone is a potential ally. As New York City blues legend Tomàs Doncker is fond of saying “We are under siege” and when in a siege you need to take help wherever you can get it. Here’s the thing: everyone feels better when they can help someone out, and while not everyone is looking to actively help you (and in fact some folks want quite the opposite) in my experience people are generally out to do good. Everyone is a potential connection, and our nations rockers get it.
Being in a touring band often requires you to trust strangers, trust that they won’t harvest your organs when they sleep on their floor, trust that they will be paid at the end of the night, hell, they even have to trust in small things like that their food has been made properly and they aren’t facing a twelve hour drive whilst suffering food poisoning. Being in a touring band is a larger metaphor for life – everything is incredibly precarious and chaotic, and while some people have a lot of help you still have to keep your head up and make sure you don’t screw up, because after some mistakes there really is no coming back.
5. Life Is A Party
This is perhaps what rock and roll is best known for – the parties. No matter what the circumstances a lot of these bands are made up of fun loving dudes who are excited to be out and on the road and stoked to see their buddies, buddies who they might only cross paths with once or twice a year. Being in a band on the road is an adventure in and of itself – that’s why there is so much romance based around it. And that’s why amidst all the chaos and confusion that can define your typical tour experience there is a certain zen to chilling out, lighting one up and drinking a beer with your friends.
Remember that no matter what, if you’re doing what you love then you’re partying. Even as I write this hunched over in a crappy train station waiting to go to my parents house for a few hours before going onto the next great adventure, I’m smiling and feeling good because life is a party. Sure sometimes there aren’t pretty girls, lots of drugs and money being thrown around – but there is a sublime party to be found even in solitude. Coming to terms with that and coming to terms with the eternal joy that every day life can bring you is essential, if you want to be able to carry on through the fire and the flames of our daily toil.
Featured photo credit: Digboston via flickr.com