The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool. Lester Bangs said that. It was recreated for dramatic effect in Almost Famous and it rings true 40 years later. Musicians, by and large, grow up the uncool kids in a sea of jocks, climbers and brainiacs. There is some crossover to be certain. However, in a culture that demands and forces stereotypes, the youthful musicians are nearly universally cast aside. Forced to a life on the outside of adolescent cool. Woodshedding away in their bedrooms with cheap instruments and expensive dreams. The only true friends they have are six strings and a melody.
As their journey enters adulthood and the high school glory of their tormentors fades, these budding artists transition into a facet of cool previously unknown. On college campuses, dive bars and job sites nationwide, these future rock heroes embrace being the cool kid. Setting trends, making music and putting dream to reality. They are now the taste drivers and scene setters. Some make it to the highest reaches of music and acclaim. Eventually, they become the very thing they strove to not be. Judgementally cool.
The role reversal is interesting to watch and must be mind bending to undergo. I had one successful musician tell me that he’d grown up the chubby kid in his room playing guitar on Friday nights while everyone else he knew was at the game or a cool party. In college, he reinvented himself as a singer/songwriter and became overwhelmed at the influx of dorm room fame that soon became small town fame and so on. It took him a while to adjust and wrap his mind around the transformation. He was the same person. But, people valued his skill set much differently. In his podunk hometown it was about 40 times and touchdowns. He had discovered a world that cared much more about 3 chords and Pearl Jam covers.
As that transformation grows, it often lends itself to causing the artist to become disengaged with the work. When they transition from hobbyist to pro it is sometimes difficult for them to recreate the genuine emotion that fueled their early efforts and delivered hard wrought motivation.
When the uncool become cool things change. For better or worse. It’s the old adage of having your entire life to write your debut record and six months to do the follow-up. That’s essentially two different people writing songs. This disconnect can lead to a situation where the artist doesn’t truly believe in the music the way he or she once did. It becomes a machination to keep their train of cool rolling. It also helps if they’re already making good money.
Which brings me to this salient point. The music means much more to us as fans than it does to the gatekeepers of the industry and in some cases even the artists themselves. Once it becomes a product it runs the risk of losing what made it special. There are exceptions, but there are many more examples. It’s not selling out, it’s staying the course.
It’s a hard realization once you figure out that you care way more about the band and the songs than they do themselves. This was encapsulated so brilliantly, on a recent episode of Roadies. Roadies was the extremely uneven Luke Wilson vehicle created and produced by Cameron Crowe. The specific episode that detailed how passionately we attach ourselves to a specific band or artist was titled The All Night Bus Ride. In an inconsistently good series, Ron White (yes, of Tater Salad fame) delivers a tour de force as a grizzled road manager that got his start with Lynyrd Skynyrd. I won’t spoil anything, but suffice to say that White’s character Phil details a musical love story so vivid and encapsulating that you will be magnetically drawn to it. He was an uncool kid who hitched a ride to rock n’ roll and found salvation. He learned that he cared more about the music than just about anything or anyone else. He even loved the music more than the folks who were creating it. The uncool cooly undone.
As fans of this music, we don’t rely on charts or radio to dictate to us what is cool. Do they shape the conversation, absolutely. Yet, it is up to us to decide what is authentic and real. Within this community, we’ve been loving music for a long time. One of our mantras has always been, “support music you love”. When we love something, we push it and chase it as hard as Phil from Roadies did with Skynyrd. We make sure everyone knows about it. Coolness be damned.
-WestFest is a national treasure and I was able to attend all 3 days for the first time in a decade. On Sunday, when the beer pouring volunteer asked me if I was over 21, I replied “yes and feeling every minute of it.” But, it was a grand time worth redoing next year. Most fun I’ve ever seen Wade Bowen have onstage. And Viva la Brave Combo. #kolache
-It’s finally football season. And what an opening weekend of college football we had. ESPN kept advertising it as the best ever. And despite the reliance on hyperbole, it rang true. As bandied about on The Ticket (Cowboys fandom aside)…I’d be fine if we had that every weekend and bumped NFL to exclusively Monday/Tuesday nights. 7 nights of football…let’s do this.
-If it flies, it dies. So tired from WestFesting that we went dove hunting and didn’t shoot because we didn’t feel like retrieving. Living the dream.
-Ron White deserves an Emmy for the above mentioned role.
-Almost county fair season. You need a corndog, I can tell.
-A taco truck on every corner sounds like heaven. Or Austin. Or is it San Antonio?
-Looking forward to experiencing my first LJT Rhymes and Vines in a couple weeks.
–This month’s recommended album: Jumpback Jake. This one is credited to a Spotify discovery of a now, seemingly defunct band that has no web presence post 2011. But, you can still get the record. It’s funky, soulful and aptly titled with: Brooklyn Hustle/Memphis Muscle. Grooves, guitars, horns and soul. Think if Uncle Lucius was from Brooklyn instead of Austin.
-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” – Mark Twain