Eschewing The Dangerous Rock & Roll Myth

There’s a great interview out today in Rolling Stone, with Steve Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, and it could not have come at a better time.

Rewind: Over the nearly three years that I’ve been writing Fish & Bicycles, I’ve mentioned my musical pursuits and aspirations a number of times, usually when something related to my longstanding dream of being in a performing Rock & Roll band was thought-provoking (e.g. Regrets Over Not Pursuing It When I Was Younger, Wrestling With The Idea Of Giving Up The Dream) or momentous (e.g. Finally In A Working Band!).

Fast Forward: In that last post, I wrote of a marathon week my current band was having — 4 gigs, 4 venues, 4 towns, in 4 days.

Sounds like a dream come true, huh?

Well, this past weekend we had two more gigs, and in order to get closer to the point of this post, let’s describe these gigs:

  • Friday night’s was an hour’s drive away, we left for the bar at 6pm, started playing at 8-ish, and I didn’t get home until 3am.
  • Saturday night’s was a half-hour’s drive away, We left for the gig at 7:30pm, started playing at 9-ish, and got home sometime after 2am.

Now, it’s no secret, in fact it’s legendary: Rock & Roll history is littered with bodies, bodies that have been beaten up, diseased, and destroyed by alcohol and drug excess.

And, I can already attest, just from this short span of time playing in a bar band, that while there have been some wonderful moments — e.g. there are very few things as fun as being on stage, making music, with a throng of people out there dancing, and the feeling is incredible when the band is really at the top of our game, when we’re all listening to each other well and hitting our cues and nailing the endings — there have also been some not so great aspects to the experience, and it’s hard, painful even, when you find that this thing you’ve dreamed of doing for so many years isn’t all fun and games.

There are the exhausting hours, and then…

…there’s the booze.

You see it’s like an atmospheric condition, it surrounds you, envelopes you, and it seems like you can’t escape it. The bar owners don’t just hire us because they like music. They hire us because good live music brings more customers, more customers means more money from the sale of booze, and bands that play music that people can dance to, like us, are particularly effective at this, since a lot of people only dance once they’ve loosened up with alcohol, and as they dance and sweat and work up a thirst they drink even more.

And so, with each new gig, as I pay closer attention to what’s really going on out there on that dance floor, even that great feeling I mentioned above, of making music that people enjoy so much that they get up and dance, feels tainted. It starts to feel less about how good our band is and more that we just manage to keep a good beat and keep it going, something any good DJ can do.

Meanwhile, though I never have more than a couple beers before or during a gig, because I can’t play well if I drink more than that, if I’m even just a little bit buzzed, I look out at the drunken world around me and I start thinking that we’re all one big mess and really lost to all the excess.

Finally, getting back to Steve Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen, it was an incredibly inspiring treat to read this quote from the interview I mentioned:

A lot of people are surprised at [Springsteen’s] physical shape. You hear people joking and whispering at shows, “He’s gotta be on HGH or something! How else can he be doing this at 62?”
There’s nobody at 22! What are you talking about? [Laughs] No … he’s the opposite of a drug-created monster. [Laughs] He’s in good shape by not doing drugs. It’s something he doesn’t have to preach about. He’s a living example of what happens when you never do drugs your whole life. [Laughs]

I mean, I’m sure he’s taken a drink or two a few times in his life, but he was never a drinker either. And he eats right and he’s in the gym. Well, that’s what happens. [Laughs] Don’t do drugs. Don’t drink, eat right, go to the gym and you can rock & roll at 62, too. [Laughs] It isn’t rocket science. This is real old fashioned common sense. [Laughs]

TRULY an amazing accomplishment, living and thriving in the rock and roll world for 40 years and never falling for that stupid, self-destructive, it’s not rock and roll without drugs and alcohol, trap, while providing air-tight proof that you don’t have to be a drunk or an addict to be a great artist.

As it happens, for the last two rehearsals, all I’ve had with me is a water bottle, and I’ve already noticed that it’s making a HUGE difference in the quality of my experience.

With that water bottle by my side, I get this quiet pleasure from making a healthier choice, I stay hydrated, which makes me ultimately more comfortable, gives me more stamina, and keeps my fingers loose and dextrous. And, most importantly, I’m better able to concentrate solely on the music, to play the very best I can, to listen closely to my bandmates and make sure that I hit my cues and remember the arrangements and remember all the lyrics.

And I suspect that, at my next gig, when I look out at the folks in the crowd in their varying stages of drunkenness, I might not be as turned off by it somehow, I just won’t allow myself to get judgmental, which I think I had been doing, because, subconsciously, I was worried that I was part of the problem.

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