RULES OF THE GAME There is no way to explain the feeling of that harnessed gig when it’s sailing the stormy seas of perfection. I’ve read thousands of books about rock and roll and rarely if ever is the writer able to nail the feeling of an artist when he or she is hitting the zone. I’m certainly aware of how lucky I am that I cherish my occupation and find such joy in it. It’s so much more than just the 90 minutes spent on stage. The writing of the material brings me a euphoric sense of well being. The rehearsal is incredibly satisfying and challenging. The studying of other artist’s output, particularly the ones I respect is time well spent. I find solace in the recording studio. I’m crazy about the ritual prior to the show, designing the minimal props on stage, the choosing of the clothes, going over the lighting cues, deciding on the recorded intro music as the audience enters the venue, the departure music, the changing of the strings, pondering the pacing, the making of the set list: I love it all. The same song can be played in an infinite number of ways. Songs written years ago can take on new and more mature meanings when played under new (read: older) life circumstances. Angry songs become funny songs. Love songs become songs of resignation. Topical songs are rendered obsolete or nostalgic. Songs that seemed to be filler somehow become profound. They’re all my children taking on lives of their own. They often surprise me in their manifestations. Rarely do I take a lengthy period of time between gigs. Often I’m playing 5 or 6 times a week. But sometimes there’s two or three weeks between gigs and it only takes that first chord, plugged into an amp and played at maximum volume to remind me of how much fulfillment I get from this because this is what I was born to do. The only person in the audience I care about is me. But isn’t that the ultimate respect for the audience? In other words, as a chef I wouldn’t serve you anything I wouldn’t eat myself, and yet would try to dazzle the shit out of my palette as I was eating it. Here is the gauge: If Ed Hamell was in the audience what would he need to hear? I’m a tough critic man. I saw The Who and Jimi Hendrix when I was 14 and this set the bar so astronomically high that you really have to explode in every way to impress me. Or have a boatload of heart. So what do I need to see and hear?
First: Transport me. Take me out of my present state; bring me somewhere where I forget where I am for 90 minutes. Do it in such a way that I’m excited, I want a roller-coaster ride, a thrill ride that runs the emotional gamut from laughter to tears.
Second: Don’t insult my fucking intelligence. Don’t dummy down. Don’t try to appeal to the “largest demographic possible”. The very phrase makes me want to fucking puke.
Third: I want to leave the show thinking, “Wow, I got real insight into to this guy. He bravely confessed things to me I never would have anticipated and he did it in such a way that were both silly and profound and everywhere in between.”
Fourth: How about a little style? Distinctive style. Something you’ve painstakingly developed over a period of time and you wear the scars of that development on your sleeve. (Or head, in my case)Yeah, I can detect your influences but not so overtly that I feel you’re downright copying somebody. (Read: I HATE Lenny Kravitz. It’s such hideous arrogant bullshit that he should be exiled to the Island of Bad, just plain fucking BAD. Please don’t write me any emails defending him; if you like him you have shitty taste. You’re not a music fan, you’re an idiot. Cancel your subscription to my blog, I couldn’t care less. I’m not looking to have the most friends on my Facebook page. Dane Cook has the most friends on his Facebook page and he’s another idiot.)
Fifth: Play every gig like it’s your last. Give 100% every night, whether there are 1,000 people or 6. Never take for granted how lucky you are to be able to do it. The best case scenario is you wring out your shirt after the gig. I find this particularly admirable if you’re a woman and we share a dressing room. (I wonder if Joan Jett needs an opening act. Hmm….) I was NOT inherently gifted. There were many other players as I was growing up that could play Eric Clapton licks note for note when they were 15. They could sing like John Lennon. They looked like Robert Plant on stage. I envied their ease of rock and roll operation. I was not one of those guys. Every move, every note, every stage banter and gesture has been painstakingly fought for through very hard work and years of practice. But a lot of those guys are sitting on a bar stool somewhere or if they’re lucky, considering the economic status of Upstate New York these days, they still have their job in a factory. I, on the other hand, have the tenacity of a cockroach. It was all I ever wanted to do, make my life music. By hook or by crook I was going to do it.
Six: Choose your influences well. There’s no need to be hyper critical of them. There are certain artists, Lou Reed, Warren Zevon, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave, Alan Vega, Shawn Ryder, Mark E. Smith, Leonard Cohen, Jack White, Iggy Pop, that when a record comes out it’s like a letter from a friend. I don’t scrutinize letters from friends and say, “Oh, the one he wrote in 2003 was much better.” Fuck that. I just like getting the letter. What’s he up to these days? Just a little spiritual gas station to fill my inspirational tank and get me from point A to point B.
Seven: Assume you’re going to do it for your entire life or don’t do it at all. It’s a marathon not a sprint. There’s going to be hard humiliating times along with moments of sheer ecstasy. (I’m not talking about the drug here but that comes into play too.) It’s about the music and the art and not the big “cash pay off.” Here’s the deal: At the end of the road, laying in your deathbed you’re going to look back and think, “What did I did with my life? What did I leave behind? Was I Rob Thomas or was I John Lennon?” You figure it out, because life’s short man.And if you’re just dabbling, get out of my fucking way, I got enough problems these days.