Sunday, September 18, 2016

Road to 300: For those about to rock

AC/DC is not my band. That's not to say that I don't enjoy AC/DC's music. They're just not my band. I've been thinking a lot about this concept since the third from last episode (is there a term for that?) of Showtime's Roadies. The episode, "The All Night Bus Ride," was probably my favorite episode of the season followed closely by the last episode. You might think that means I didn't enjoy Roadies but the exact opposite is true. I enjoyed this show more than I thought I would and more than it might deserve. And yes, I know Showtime agreed and the show will not be back for another season. Their decision doesn't lessen my Roadies love; I totally understand why the show is not coming back. I might even agree with some of the reasons. But at the end of the day, Roadies hit me hard so I have to at least talk a little bit about it.

In the episode "The All Night Bus Ride," the crew is on the bus to the next gig, a long overnight drive perfect for storytelling and music. I have zero idea of what happens on tour buses; I suspect this is part of the charm of this show for me. I'm in the middle of finishing my novel. Part of the plot revolves around my protagonist, a travel writer who writes about music, joining a famous rock band on the road for the last part of their tour. Band tour buses fascinate me and this episode of the show is the only one where we really spend time on the bus. Phil, the band's road manager, settles in to tell the group the story about how he became "King of the Road." He wasn't always in music but a chance encounter with Ronnie Van Zant from Lynyrd Skynryd changed his whole life. As Cameron Crowe, the show's creator, tells it Phil soon becomes the road manager for the band. He sees them through tough times, getting clean, and opening for The Rolling Stones. The story is based on the actual band (Crowe covered them when he worked for Rolling Stone). Throughout the story, Phil is able to humanize a rock band in a way that makes you wish for a different ending for Ronnie Van Zant (he die in a plane crash in 1977) but you know it's not going to happen.

Phil describes Skynyrd as "his band." The way he talks about them is not the way that a casual fan or even a very involved fan talks about a band. It's the way a religious person talks about their beliefs or their deity. The story leads up to two events: the band opening for The Rolling Stones and Phil's last stand with the band on tour in Japan. In describing the band opening for The Rolling Stones (which is one of the hardest jobs in music), Phil describes a band who was so passionate about what they were doing and the music they were singing that they went for it. They were better than the headliner.
As Phil puts it, "On any one day, any band can be the greatest band in the world."

There's a lot of other stuff happening as Phil tells his tale. I won't go into any of these things since it's worth it to watch the season and let this episode unfold where it does. The episode includes an acoustic version of the Skynyrd song "Simple Man" by the road crew. I don't know that Phil convinces us that The Stanton House Band (the show's band we barely see) is anyone's Lynyrd Skynyrd but I'm fine with that.

I've listened to the original version of this song on repeat pretty heavily since the episode. Lynyrd Skynyrd is also not my band, by the way, but I'm digging this song right now. I think a lot about music and I like to talk about music even if no one wants to listen. So who is my band? How does one figure out who their band is? Phil doesn't give us a list of things that have to occur in order to determine if a band is your band. I sort of wish he had as I love a list. But that's not particularly rock and roll. Maybe it's because the experience is different for everyone. Not all of us meet famous rock stars by chance and end up as their road manager. This isn't the 1970s when things like this actually did happen (at least according to Cameron Crowe and he knows). What makes a band yours?

I could think of it in terms of physical things: seen them in concert (multiple times), own their entire catalog, own and/or read a biography about them, follow them on social media but these things all seem like the things any fan could do. Do you have to be a Band-Aid like Penny Lane in Almost Famous or a groupie like Natalie on Roadies? I don't think so. Is it that you can't imagine a day going by where you wouldn't listen to their music? Maybe you don't listen to them everyday but the idea that you could and that you would is there or that the music just sort of goes around with you at all times. As Phil describes it on Roadies, it just happens so he's totally unhelpful in my quest to figure this out. 

Maybe it has to do with the way in which a person discovers a band. In Phil's case, he meets Ronnie Van Zant and the rest of the band at a time in his life where he thought he knew what he was going to do (work for his dad, stay in his small town, raise a family). It's not just the lifestyle of the band but he gets the message behind their music and sees how hard they work to produce their albums. The band starts to feel like family to him; you can see it even more when he talks about walking away from the band and the eventual death of Van Zant and others on that plane. This was my favorite hour of television in a very long time (not counting my experience with Stranger Things this summer). If finding your band is about actually finding them, I guess I'd have to say Big Star or The Smiths would by my band. They're two bands that I "discovered" entirely on my own rather than liking them because my older brother or someone else (usually my aunt or one of my uncles) said, "hey you might like this."  Of the two, I'd say Big Star is the one. Not because it's cool to be a Big Star fan but I truly love them. I rarely go a day without listening to at least one Big Star song (at least in the last five years) and I get excited when I hear one of their songs out in public or referenced somewhere unexpected. I was super excited when my tweet of Pumpkin and a recent release of a live album was retweeted by their account (run by their studio and the sole living member of the band, Jody Stephens). 

As Paul Westerberg sings in "Alex Chilton", "I never travel far without a little Big Star" which is 100% true in my case. I think that's really what Phil is talking about with finding your band; you carry the band around with you no matter where you are. They're just a part of the person you are. That's true for Phil and Lynyrd Skynryd and it's true for me and Big Star.

While I'm sad Roadies won't be back for another season, I'm glad I had this summer with them. The whole season felt like a summer concert; breezy, slightly dizzying like you've been out in the sun too long and maybe had one two many concert beers, and a little maudlin when you realize all good things, including summer tv and concerts, must come to an end. 

PS: I thoroughly enjoyed the AC/DC concert this weekend. While Axl Rose wouldn't have been my first choice to fill in on vocals, he didn't suck AND created one of the weirdest onstage dynamics I've ever seen. I don't know if he and Angus Young don't get along or if their personalities are just too big to be on the same level of the stage at the same time but something was up with them. Axl did his famous shimmy and also spent time dancing like Claire and Allison in The Breakfast Club; it was odd. It was also very exciting to see Dave Grohl in the audience, air drumming away as God or whichever higher power you ascribe to intended. So AC/DC may not be my band but they put on a good show (which includes cannons) and I'm pretty certain more than half of the people in attendance would tell you that AC/DC is their band.

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