Aaaargh . . . and stuff
By J.W. Manning 08/08/2013
Fourteen years ago, I heard Miss Guy of the Toilet Boys sing:
“Our pirate ship’s got no ocean
Get on our pirate ship, your dreams come true
Load up the cannons gonna blow up this town”
That struck a nerve. I saw them live and knew their transvestite frontman wasn’t fuckin’ around. They lived that metaphor with true dirty NYC pride. You could see it in how they moved. At the time, I was 19 and freshly getting used to pavement under my feet in Atlanta, Ga. I knew I had to apply this wisdom to my own band, The Getting’ Headstones. We needed to blow up our town. We needed to sink a cutlass into the soft belly or ribs of all the squares we ever met or hated from afar. We were a veritable rock ’n’ roll Tortuga with black leather jackets and pawn shop guitars instead of tricorn hats and flintlock pistols. And since there was no how-to book for young dumbers like myself, I applied the pirate crew metaphor to myself and others in those days.
I began to see the dominant and founding band members as captains who drove their mates on further, wrote most material, booked the shows, etc. Each was different. Some ineffectual. Some pompous. Some fucked you. Some helped you out. The chessboard of personalities ran the gamut. Being newly relocated, small and unknown, we as a band were effectually a sloop or fishing vessel in a serious rough ’n’ tumble world. There were also the brigantine crews, local heroes who always packed the venues around town. And then there were the trade galleons. The heavy-hitting, money-making, touring bands that swung through to help us get into trouble by sneaking into bars and clubs under-age, and taking all our money, which we were stoked to fork over. It was a beautiful place and time. Small labels were overflowing with product. Everything under the sun was being reissued. The shelves were lined with good rockin’ shit, even in the resale joints. We did our part to fight heartily and with proper form for the motherland. For our queen and country, so to speak. For rock and roll.
But inevitably, golden days tend to slough off, rotted by such boring catalysts as economy, responsibility or the dreaded parenthood. Many crews and ships are blown apart by the fine and fickle waves of the deep blue political warscape of showbiz. Some men and fine lads drift back to shore in pursuit of reality and normalcy. Conversely, some captains never give up the ghost and continue to write, recruiting new deckhands to further that once great and noble cause of championing the record deal and becoming hometown or global darlings. But there are fewer small labels and less local support everywhere.
My current hometown waters of Ventura County be ever so shallow. With more than 10 years of width and 2,000 miles between then and now, that symbiotic relationship between bands and the fleet of local goodwill and support feels a bit dodgy. Although some dives do pay — which is more than can be said for L.A. — quality control seems a bit lax. I do see a handful of venues catering to touring and original acts. And infrequently, the well-placed, cohesive punk or metal show, all-ages event or local festival here and there. But more often than not, I behold a clunky overabundance of cover bands, bland and tedious café songwriter acts, and the oxymoron of daytime, family-oriented festivals that, above all others, I believe truly damage the will of the creative fellow and consequently all nightclub economy in general.
I see years-old, neglected stages at taverns with no PA system in sight and a stage built for anything but live performance. I see scarce and unaffordable rehearsal rooms and lockouts. I see captains and crews of musical vessels that prod patrons to cast off at the band’s first note of the set, leaving the drunken ugly or the simpleton burnout (usually a Sublime fan) to suffice as audience. And worst of all, I see captains who drift spectrally year after year with nothing recorded, shared or prized. Seaworn captains who, through crippling, disaffected ego, have lost the ability to look beyond their own sea of grandeur or failure, past and present, real or imagined, and hoist sail toward some unheard sonic plunder to bring to the open, yet smirking lips of hungry local interest.
We’re all waiting for this scallywag-a-go-go to cut loose for Ventura, but it only works when everyone’s onboard. The success of discipline works from the bottom up and back again. That means every member, every crewman, has to make a bleedin’ effort. From the bookers to owners to singers. Even that musicians’ barnacle, the awful DJ, can be a boon (somehow?). So stand to, ya lazy slags, and support your local pirates.
J.W. Manning is a ne’er-do-well amateur swordsman and unemployed miscreant musician. He resides deep in the valleys of Ventura County. He probably hates your band.
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