"Returning to his village after many years, Mila discovers the decayed corpse of his mother, no more than a mound of dirt and rags in her fallen hut; shaken by grief and horror, he remembers the instruction of his guru, the Lama Marpu, to embrace all that he most fears or finds repugnant, the better to realize that everything in the Universe, being inseperably related, is therefore holy. And so he makes a headrest of the sad remains of the erstwhile White Garland of the Nyang and lies upon them for 7 days, in a deep, clear state of Samhadi. This Tantric discipline to overcome ideas of "horror," often performed while sitting on a corpse or in the graveyard in the dark of night, is known as CHOD. SInce trusting life must finally mean making peace with death, I perform some mild CHOD of my own, forcing myself to look over the precipice whenever I can manage it." Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard
Today M- and I ate lunch next to a couple of matrons with mannish blue haircuts. One was wearing a red sweater with the single initial G embroidered on the front of it; her handbag next to her mached the sweater and had, also embroidered in navy thread, Gaymerry Farms. Each of them was eating the same thing: a single clot of tunafish with cheddar cheese melted overtop. They were horse brokers and spoke during lunch of trading brown horses. Outside it was raining. M- got a hot dog, which was long and cut in half; I got an old school burger. We split a plate of fries. During lunch M- asked me to call him Santa Claus only. We were the youngest people in there by 25 years. I noted that the breadless tuna melt was a popular dish; all the older women there had the same haircut, head-shaped and rounded not unlike an afro but, of course, of the same sky-shade of blue. None of the older men walked without a limp; one man had a clump of white hair on his chin, a former beatnik I supposed. An hour later we were jumping in puddles in the parking lot and I said something to M-. He held up his hand and said, "I'm Santa Claus."
Is the band dead?
You know what I'm talking about: The "band" as you and I, sentimental nostalgists that we are, have known it since our transistor and plastic record player-youth.
No, no, no, you say. You're a drummer. Most drummers rue the day they ever picked up sticks. Hiding there at the back of the stage, spontaneously combusting and all that. Getting fat and driving cars into pools, you know. Drummers always quit bands first.
I pretend not to hear you. Isn't the maybe too old or too tired concept of "band as aura", I argue, that notion that a band is what it is *not* because of the songwriting or singer alone, but of the machine-beast created by a handfull of musicians pushing/pulling against one another, onstage and off, if not dead then dying?
Perhaps, you sigh. Then add: No doubt it will all bounce back the way it went: probably bands will be cool again sometime in the future. Look at the Strokes. And the, uhhh, those folk guys who dress up like rabbits and whatnot from theWicker Man. There are still some bands that have actually been playing with one another for more than 7 months, I'm sure there are, somewhere. Not everybody's got a rotating cast...Y'all for example. You and Ned and Willy and Aram and also Jason have played together for, what, almost a decade? And Ned and Aram for a few years before that? And Willy and Ned since middle school?
But for now, I spit back, we're mired in the ego-nauseum of the auteur, staring at us from promo shots with baleful dog eyes, back to the post-diluvian darkness of the arranger/visionary/god alone in his garrett with an array of computer magicks, hiring and firing sidemen like maids, striving not to rock but to be mentioned in the same breath as genius, from Bowie/Dylan/Young/Wilson to Banhart, McCombs, Stevens, White, Beam: the (in)dispensable sidemen long forgotten in these days of unilateral credit-taking for the group music making.
Maybe these young folking troubadours jollying about gallivantishly, or, else-wise, morose and drunk on gloom ("I've suffered for my art," said Neil Innes on ME this a.m., "now it's your turn.") are more bottom line-oriented than they might otherwise let on. Perhaps they know that, from an economic standpoint, getting "the band" up and running is hard on their collective hemp purses. Perhaps they'd nod and wink and tell us that change was demanded not by art or the muses but by the force(s) that have always shaped industry: money and ego. First, it's cheaper to take a couple of dudes or gals on the road with a mandoline and a hack full'o'carrot shakers and a goddam banjo, aint it? Not worryin about amps and drums and wires and the wheels to tote it all. Folk is cheap and hot. Easier to make money, sure, on your own, from that limited self-release: no royalties to pay out, no bassists to bitch about shrift or arranging fees: just record it "on your own" and release it "on your own" and kick back and watch the dollars roll in...It's easier for music writers and industry people to reduce the efforts and cooperations of a band into a single, easily marketable name, particularly if the "(single name) with a revolving cast of musicians" concept is popular, which, as any cursory read through your Pitchforks and Fluxblogs will prove, is true. Finally, it's easier not having to listen to drummers whinge about being 37 years old and not being able to feel their arms after sleeping on a floor that *looked* soft but ended up feeling like sleeping on a paper towel spread on the street. Look at Bruce! Look at Francis Albert!
Maybe the knell should not cause us pain or sadness. Maybe the idea of a band is inherently juvenile, perpetuallly stinking of acrid acne creams and kaolin-slick lp covers and run through with the wormy insecurities of homocentric teens. Probably we should all pay attention to Bruce and Frank.
The Band is dead! Long Live the Band!