Ideas about touring Music

July 30, 2009

posted and written by Caroline Picard


In December a friend’s father gave me a copy of Collette. She describes a the life of a performer working in the music halls of Paris in the 1800’s. She refers to her lover as a “wet noodle,” she talks about how she practices acrobatics to stay fit, and even describes the angles she performs from, such that her figure is most compelling to an audience. She ultimately chooses between the lover, a man who promises to take care of her, and a life on the road with a trunk full of costumes–which, while a little dramatic in description affords little to no money.

Similarly, I think the touring band has signed on to a thankless occupation. Interesting only in as much as everyone seems infatuated with it. For instance, one would imagine the father of an un-known band telling stories of life on the road, stories that would then be absorbed by sons and daughters, who despite the parents’ small success would think to mirror the parents’ life in one fashion or another.

I thought of her because only a week ago I found myself at a bar having a drink with another fellow ‘On The Road.’ He had been traveling seven months with his band. He had been playing music with the same people since the 4th grade. They came out with a record a few months ago and were waiting to see if it would take off, (i.e. give them a follow-up record deal). He said again and again how much he liked his life style. The smoking of  pot in alley ways. The road side diners, late nights. The applause. He said it was hard to go home at the end of a tour and have no money. That he lived with relatives. That he never saw his girlfriend. He said he loved his lifestyle. He said he fought with his bandmates for a while, but he said it was better now that they weren’t writing music together. He said he wanted to move from Ney Ohio, only he didn’t have any money to move. He said if he had money to move he might not ask his bandmates whether or not to do so. He said he’d stopped worrying about the future because he’d already almost killed himself with worry. He said the only reason he was still in the same band was because at every decisive juncture he’d had nothing better to do. He said he hoped he’d get famous.

It seems to me that most people in the business of rock and roll are looking towards an idea of fame for validation. If a record achieves the status of a Built to Spill, for instance, then they could continue indefinitely.

There is so much to unpack there, particularly since I suspect that Built to Spill is making quite a humble sum, if that. And yet. They are known. Which seems most important of all. Similarly the allure of touring must have something to do with playing in front of an audience who applauds after a performance. And yet. Even then. The compensation is paltry.

Yet. Singing is an unconventional activity. People sing in their cars. Or they sing in their houses but no one sings in the street, and unless its karaoke no one sings to an audience. Unless you’re in a band. By comparison it is customary to curse in the street. Cursing in the street is comparatively fashionable. It is not fashionable to sing in the street. If it were, I suspect no one on earth would bother going on tour.

And then, I think, a) I am grateful to those who trudge across the country to sing for us. Our indy bards– and b) I think it might be worth singing in the street more often.

In Japan, it used to be that eating on the street was rude. Now there are street vendors, old men who sell teryake chicken out of strange and smoking shacks. There are small trucks that drive through the dead of night with smoking fires in the back of thier cabs selling sweet potatoes. People down town snack on sweet things as they walk between meetings. People still curse of course. We don’t have to give that up, but it might be worth taking some steps outside of convention and belting a little something. Pretend your life is a musical.


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