Sunday, November 9, 2014
I recently returned from a great tour with my band. It was equal parts challenging, revealing and triumphant on many levels. In a very short time, my new band quickly transformed from sounding like four unfamiliar islands into one tight and unified musical continent. Each show was a progressive step towards the realization of what I now consider a dream ensemble - one that answers to the call of risk and responds with inventive fury. I was both inspired and impressed every night. However, on what was supposed to be a relaxing and much needed day off, a longtime friend of mine read over the phone to me a review of one of our concerts. The writer commented that the band sounded somewhat uninspired and misdirected, or something to that effect. Without making any excuses by defending the band nor reacting in opposition to the writer’s impression of the show (he was partially correct, by the way) I always ask myself, “How are statements like this useful and to whom do they serve – especially AFTER the fact?” We drove almost 8 hours to arrive directly to the venue that evening without so much as a decent meal, shower, change of clothes or any worthwhile rest. Traveling in an SUV van through the curvaceous and treacherous northern California roads was no less than absolutely brutal, and we did it all on very little sleep from each previous night. (Correction: I did it (the driving) all on practically no sleep and I was the only driver for the entire tour.) There was rarely ever any room for recovery, as this was practically our daily pace for a couple of weeks. As most road musicians will quickly admit, it is quite common for traveling musicians to perform in a semi-delirious state resulting from lack of decent rest and nourishment. Deprivation of sleep and lack of quality food or any of the niceties and comforts that "normal" persons require and often take for granted is a fact of the lifestyle. Again, no apologies or excuses – these are simply the facts and unavoidable realities of the touring life for those of us who have chosen to dedicate ourselves to taking the music directly to the people.
With this in mind, I’ve always figured that wouldn’t it be great if, in order to be a "certified" music journalist or reviewer, a writer would have to earn his or her bones by actually traveling with a band on tour for several weeks or longer- just to experience firsthand what life on the road really entails? How else would anyone know what “the life” really demands of us? Most laypersons have absolutely no conception of the many and difficult steps taken to actually get the music to the bandstand. It’s not all fun and games by a long shot and for those of us who don’t have adequate representation, financing or a solid business and support mechanism, it’s a lot of work, is certainly no pleasure cruise, and there’s little to almost no time for leisure (or rest) during our daily hectic schedules. Every day off has to be paid for by the leader, so in order to reduce expenses, it is common for groups to travel and work every single day, which takes it’s toll both physically as well as musically.
Imagine, if you will, the tremendous demand on one’s personal energy reserves that it takes to command your body and mental focus in order to function properly during a tour without adequate sleep and nutrition for days or even weeks at a time. Traveling to exotic countries and experiencing foreign cultures may sound glamorous and exciting… well, it is normally, but most of the time when on the road we’re required to visit a different country or city every day or two in order to meet the tour overhead. Travel to most destinations usually requires a lengthy train or bus (van/auto) ride or a flight with another connecting flight. These flights must be taken very early in the morning, in the event that if there's a cancellation or other aviation issue, there will be the possibility or rerouting or finding an alternative means of travel. So after the concerts there is usually a (very) late dinner, a hang of some sort and then an attempt to grab a couple hours of sleep - only to be required to depart the hotel for the airport, usually before daybreak. This is an everyday occurrence due to the demands of scheduling and routing of tours (especially in Europe.) Each day off drains the budget, so a touring band must keep moving. I’d love to have a journalist on board just so they could accurately chronicle the day-to-day schlep that we must endure in order to make it to each destination. It’s not always fun, but it’s very definitely a fact of the business.
Experiencing this kind of torturous pace, as we do regularly, would be the best indicator of what our daily trials demand, and how we must rise above them in order to deliver our best performances regardless of our physical or mental state. Musicians are always told that in order for their art to be considered authentic, they must deal with certain realities that the art form imposes on them (AKA, paying dues). If this is indeed the case, then the same set of standards and criteria should be engaged for anyone who considers themselves enough of an authority to comment intellectually on our craft. We’re not always perfect and are expected to occasionally deliver under extreme and extraordinary circumstances. It would be ideal if some of these factors would be considered before a reckless dismissal of our work occurs because unfortunately, once it’s been documented, it can’t be undone.
None of this is, by any means, a personal tirade against music writers. As I stated above, I somewhat agreed with some of the writer's less than supportive observations. The show was one of the first in the tour and the band was still finding their way and learning how to negotiate with one another, all the while experiencing the normal and expected ensemble growing pains. I can accept that. But for the life of me, I fail to understand how it is acceptable for people to write AUTHORITATIVELY about practices, disciplines and lifestyles that they have never participated in and only have a layperson's knowledge of.
I can't recall ever having read very often that "the band sounded tired or exhausted" Remember, that on any given night, this may be a distinct possibility for any touring band.