Hell is Other Musicians

logo Garcin: So this is hell. I'd never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the "burning marl." Old wive's tales! There's no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS - OTHER PEOPLE!

Like the aforementioned quote from existentialist philosopher John Paul Sartre's play "No Exit" implies, there seems to exist a profound separation between individual humans that cannot be overcome - at least not for very long anyway. This is especially true of Americans whose rugged individualism throws up walls at every junction as Frost portrays in his "Mending Wall" where "Good fences make good neighbors," but certainly the new barriers being thrown up in West Bank are an extreme example of how culture plays a role in generating this conflict. Leaving the universal perspective for a moment, let us look at this phenomenon from a musical perspective.

John & Yoko Classical orchestras were and are dictatorships, and your typical pop singer is a mere puppet. The late Frank Zappa felt that music had to be directed by one person in charge or it would result in chaos, and this is often the case. However, an exception to the rule, rock bands, at their best, are able to overcome the innate frictions when the egos are checked and true collaboration ensues. Rare as these occasions are, they generally produce the best music. Unfortunately, these shining moments are generally short-lived and often end in tears, fisticuffs and/or lawsuits.

Take for example the standard case of the Beatles, where (as has been often pointed out) Lennon's hard-edged rock feel was balanced by McCartney's pop sense, augmented by Harrison and Starr's peculiarly individual contributions. The end result was probably the most successful pop/rock band ever. However, within the extremely close confines of working together in a studio, the combination combusted, with Lennon accusing his boyhood pal of spending days of studio time working on drivel like (ugh) "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," while blowing off and sabotaging John's songs. Of course, Lennon bringing Yoko in to sing/howl along certainly had to up the stress quotient. But if the greatest of all bands couldn't hold it together, what hope is there for other bands, (or indeed humanity as a whole)?

Other bands like the Rolling Stones, the Who, Rush, REM, have stayed (mostly) together through the decades, but they also seem to be more the exception than the rule. For the most part, we see that the intense and sometimes poisonous atmosphere of band life and musical collaboration destroys the relationships within the band. Some fairly recent examples include The Black Crowes, Dead Can Dance, Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against the Machine, (the reformed) Jane's Addiction, Hole, and Phish. Some of the reasons include erratic members (see Guns and Roses), asshole, domineering, egotistical leaders (Perry?), musical differences, or just plain burnout. Of off and on bands like Oasis, the Crowes and the Kinks - we can only imagine the stress of having a brother to deal with adding to the mix.

At times religion is the culprit (as is often the case in so many areas). For example, Creed recently broke up, reportedly partly due to the lead singers increasingly fervent devotion to Christianity. Former Three Dog Nighter, Chuck Negron, having pawned all of his gold records for drugs, homeless, and reduced to sleeping on the streets, has now found religion, and as such is suing his former band mates.

What amazes me is that the intensity of the hatred between personalities - which often is the very dynamic that led to their success in the first place, causes bands to crash and burn just when they've achieved the level they always dreamed of. My own personal sob story involves Mott the Hoople, who having released the wonderful "The Hoople" album, having announced that former David Bowie guitarist extraordinaire Mick Ronson was joining the band, having been anointed the greatest rock band in the world by Cream Magazine, suddenly implodes and crumbles into ash and dust on the news that singer/songwriter Ian Hunter has decided to split due to his dissatisfaction with the rock and roll lifestyle. Okay, I know hotel rooms and traveling and missing your family, and all that crap is not a load of fun, but jeez - couldn't he have held out a bit longer for the fans?

Not that the splitting of atoms only occurs in the greater universe, either; it's probably safe to say that a band you've probably never heard of breaks up every 30 seconds or so somewhere around the world. Somewhere, a guitarist and a singer are having a heated argument over a chord change that means approximately nothing in the course of their career - yet they stake their turf, their band breaks up - the singer starts selling vinyl siding, while the guitarist moves to Nashville to produce jingles, and thus the world is denied the pleasure of another Beatles or Nirvana because two hot headed and stubborn musicians refuse to compromise.

Many years ago I played with two guitarists who were exact opposites. One was fastidious and insisted on working out every single note for fear of being exposed as a fraud, the other was sloppy, refused to tune up, but had an undeniable energy and charisma that couldn't be denied. They balanced each other perfectly and made the band stronger by allowing their particular talents to shine. Unfortunately, we could not make it through a practice without them beating each other about the head and face for what they believed to be slights against their persons. Now they both, (like me), are musical washouts - all because they couldn't take the heat here in a hell filled with lots of other people - even other musicians. Thanks a lot guys.

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