The Unwritten Rule (Or Why You Should Act Right At Shows)
From Little Dickman Records and the resurgence of the punk scene to people like Chris Rockwell and Matt Burns who started with nothing and are now at the top of their game, to more back-stabbing and elbow-rubbing than one could ever stomach, the Asbury Park music scene is one of the most beautiful, fun, talented, and heartbreaking scenes around these days.
While spending the past three years playing guitar for a band out of Asbury, I’ve gotten to know a lot of its people and politics. I think of it kind of like a chess board. There are the kings and queens—more of a flavor-of-the-week type—and there are the pawns. The people and pieces are all interchangeable, depending on who thinks who is hot at the moment. There are the helpful and supportive pieces, and there are the. . .well, assholes.
“What?! Local musicians can be assholes?! NOOOO.”
Yes. Oh yes. Me included . . .sometimes.
There is an unwritten rulebook of proper etiquette in the local scene. One of these rules is to watch the other bands and pretend that you like them. That was my life for three years. I can’t tell you how many times I have pretended to enjoy someone’s set while at the same time I talked about how terrible they were. And at the end of their set, I’d tell them how great they were. I’m sure that’s also been done to me countless times. We all do it, and if you say that you don’t do that, you’re full of shit.
One of these rules is to watch the other bands and pretend that you like them. That was my life for three years.
I’ve played with forty-year-old men in face paint, fifteen-year-old boys who thought they were Green Day, and bands whose guitars sounded like your third grade teacher dragging her nails over a rusty chalkboard. I hated them. I hated having to sit through all of their sets. But if I ran into one of them on my way to the bathroom, I would still say, “Hey, man! Great set! I really liked… the.. your… Dude where’d you get that sweet amp?! Cool pedal board!” Did I mean the bit about their gear? Probably. I really, really like gear. The bit about them being anywhere near enjoyable? That was a lie.
Why lie? Plenty of reasons! It’s part of the rulebook for being in the scene. Everyone likes a pat on the back. Sometimes, people really need a pat on the back. It can be genuine; for instance, I really enjoy the band Mad Feather Group. Not only are they incredibly nice guys, they are also very talented and entertaining musicians and songwriters.
On the other hand, watching someone’s dad sing 80s metal for 45 minutes is, to me, cruel and unusual punishment. But what if I one day become that forty-year-old in face paint? What if I spend my entire life trying to make it and end up married to someone I hate, with kids I hate, and working a job I hate? Do I need some little shits who think they are in the best band ever to tell me I suck? No, I don’t. And neither do those forty-year-old face painters.
Why lie? Plenty of reasons! It’s part of the rulebook for being in the scene. Everyone likes a pat on the back. In the same sense, why should anyone in their right minds discourage some fifteen-year-olds from writing songs? What if by the time they turned twenty-five they were writing the best music the world would ever hear, and some dumbass discouraged them from ever showing it to anyone? Or worse, what if they decide to go the pop route out of fear and desperation and get a team of songwriters so they can become the next Biebs? Justin Bieber is someone’s fault. Don’t let Justin Bieber be your fault.
Now, there is a dark side to this rule. I’ll call it scene cloggery. By telling everyone how great they are, anyone with a hundred bucks can go buy a Fender Squire Strat and think they sound like Jimi Hendrix. Lez be honest: none of us are Jimi Hendrix, especially the grown-ass men who can drop $400 on a haircut and eyeliner but can’t spend $40 on a used tuner pedal. Let’s call that guy and his band Red and Black 4EVA. If you have Red and Black 4EVA on a bill and pay them fourteen cents, you can be sure of two things: they are going to play to an empty room after they scare everyone away, and promoters and venues will think it’s okay to pay bands in peanuts because Red and Black 4EVA don’t care—they’re just happy to be offered a gig.
Honestly, there are so many Red and Black 4EVAs that really good bands sometimes don’t get noticed. Everyone assumes the local band you are in probably sucks because they’ve seen a thousand Red and Black 4EVAs in their lifetime, and they’d rather spend their ten dollars on Lil Wayne’s new iPhone app. (. . .Is Lil Wayne still a thing?)
Ultimately, there should be more good bands than bad bands. Fewer bad bands = less cloggery = happy little local musicians.
So I’m putting it in writing: Scene Rule Number One is don’t be a dick. Despite the negatives, it’s important to remember that the pros outweigh the cons here. Don’t make a Belieber out of an honest kid, and don’t accidentally convince a 40-year-old to go home and stick his head in the oven, no matter how tempting it may be. Regardless of why you don’t like a band you see or play with, just don’t be a dick.