Greasing The Wheels



We all know them, the super-uber talented musician who can’t seem to put a band together, hold a band together or score a gig.  When this musician plays, the music seems to flow into him and through him as though he is channeling it from the great beyond.  His notes seem effortless, precise and full of raw, pure energy. Bearing witness to this awesomeness is beyond description. We’re moved. We’re touched. We are taken.

When we consider this musician’s career –or lack thereof – we are exasperated by the travesty before us.  How such precious gifts can remain hidden from the masses that would undoubtedly be touched by the awesome talent housed within said musician.  It is tragic, sad and senseless. We ruminate the situation for hours, months, years… hoping that a simple solution will materialize as reward for our self torment…it rarely does.

On the flip side, we all know a mediocre musician whose “talent” is less of a gift, and more a result of years of practice, unrelenting drive and persistence.  Yet, this seemingly average musician, plays in a working band, rehearses, gigs, and can sometimes even live off the avails of his music.

Is this a cruel irony or could there be more to it?  What separates the average player who is making a living playing live, from the player who just bleeds talent but is starving?

I so badly wish that I had the answer.  I don’t. I do, however, have a few observations that I’d like to share; based on some things I’ve seen, heard about or read.

In the old days, all a musician had to do was show up and play. The record company “took care” of everything else.  In those days, in a successful band, if you wanted a new car, a house, any toys…whatever…you “ordered” it – like a pizza -by picking up the phone and calling the label…but the bands didn’t have access to large sums of cash. It wasn’t an ideal situation and many of the bands we know today were robbed by their labels and/or management teams.

Today, in order to achieve some success, a musician must also be a charming salesman, an accountant, a licensing agent, a marketing genius, a lawyer, a technology guru, a social networking wizard, a businessman, a couples therapist, an articulate, effective communicator, he has to be able to play, and run a successful “marriage” with at least 3 other people.

Yeeesh. Suddenly Med-school doesn’t appear as daunting….

The driven musician, who had to practice for hours to hone his craft may be more accustomed to working HARD to get what he wants, and may be more inclined to do whatever it takes to make things work, finding compromises, improvising, adapting, constantly learning and working toward his objective.  The driven musician may be more practiced at negotiating; navigating through difficult situations based on past experience.  The driven musician may be more apt to settle for a less convenient rehearsal schedule, or be more accepting of the short-comings of his band mates.  The driven musician will strive his utmost to honestly monitor his own ego, and restrain it when necessary.

I’m not saying that all of the exceptionally talented players that are not making a living playing/writing/producing music are getting in their own way. Not at all.  Life is not fair, and sometimes, through no fault of their own, these masters remain unknown.

However, sometimes, there is something holding these talents back that can be corrected, worked on, changed…IF someone in that person’s life is brave enough to risk the wrath of bruising the ego of a prodigy, and IF his ears and heart are open to receive the message with the wholesome intent propelling it.

To make a marriage with each band-member work, respect is paramount.  That’s pretty obvious, right? Yet, there are certain behaviors that imply haughtiness, or even blatant DISrespect toward the other band members.  Whether or not there is malice behind the behavior is irrelevant…nobody wants to feel disrespected.  Most won’t tolerate it. Sometimes the ensuing tension surfaces, other times, it festers, slowly poisoning the relationships, and contaminating the project’s energy.

So what are some of the nasty penchants and dispositions that take these talents down?  There are a bevy of them. (I’m not even going to discuss the whole substance abuse thing because, well, that’s just so obvious.)

  1. 1)I’m a better musician than you are. Therefore my ideas are more important, in fact when I’m listening to your ideas, they contaminate my brilliance and waste mySo don’t even bother tabling your ideas, because they’re stupid…and mine rock.
  2. 2)Yes, I may appear aloof. Don’t be offended. It’s just because my thoughts are so profoundly abstruse I’d rather contemplate my own thoughts than converse with you.
  3. 3)Everyone else isNobody will ever even understand this song. They’ll just know that I’m amazing.
  4. 4)My time is more valuable than yours. Therefore you will wait.
  5. 5)I’m a better musician than you are. Therefore even though we rehearse the same hours, drive together to the same gig, and do the same amount of work, when we “make it” I deserve to get paid A LOT more than you do.
  6. 6)What makes me resonate is the RIGHT music. Everything else sucks. I don’t want to hear it or play it. I like what I know, and I know what I like. Don’t propose ideas that are outside of the lines that I draw, they’ll suck.
  7. 7)It’s all soooo easy for me, and soooo boring. (Yawn) Give me some money, then I’ll spew out a record.
  8. 8)I’m so great; everything ought to be done forAll I should have to do is play. I shouldn’t have to restring my own guitar, lug my own gear into the club or do any promotion whatsoever.
  9. 9)I wrote this song/riff/beat so it’s mine. I will NOT try to play it in a different tempo. I will NOT try to move in different directions with it. It’s mine, so it will go MY way.
  10. 10)I’m the leader of this band. It’s my way or the highway.

Like any other business, musicians talk to each other.  Players develop their working reputations.  There are some amazing talents that nobody wants to work with, and reputations are tough to correct.

Finally, while we’re on this subject, I’d like to table this one last thing….

Keep in mind, that I truly like musicians.  They have a certain energy about them that separates them from the masses.  I’ve always had a quiet appreciation for non-conformists, the long-haired, tattooed perpetual teenagers. They march to the beat of their own drum, refusing to be corralled into tiny, neatly stacked boxes.

I enjoy their sense of style, or unabashed lack thereof. 

A true artist can totally pull off the “I just rolled out of bed” look without looking like a lazy slob.

I don’t, however, believe that to achieve this look, one should forego bathing.  I mean, it’s one thing to be rockin’ the grimy musician look…it is totally something else to be reeking it.


For the love of God, please have a shower.  We want to hear your music. We want to feel it.  We DON’T want to smell it.

Remember Pigpen from Charlie Brown?  Yeah, the character with all the dust clouds and Halls mentholyptus stench vapors coming off him?  That’s what I see when I see you skulking toward me in your stained t-shirt and shiny jeans patting down your greasy, matted hair. Bleeeech.

And don’t THINK for a moment that spraying a little Axe counts as bathing.  At best, you’ll smell like all the bacteria festering on your body is on its way to that club downtown that lets in all the underage kids….ewwwwwwwwwwww.

Ah, a wee bit of humor to temper the content of this month’s column.  The bottom line is, if you’re getting in your own way, move over…let the music come through you.

There are few people who are portals through which music streams, and hundreds of thousands who want to celebrate that gift with you.

I’m just one of them.




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