I Can Take It Or Leave It Each Time

I talk a lot about bands that are either:  defunct, inactive, or on their second, third (or fourth, fifth, etc.) go-round.  This poses the question:  is being in a band a calling, a job, or a hobby?  Let’s frame this in a ‘real world’ perspective.  You go to school, you make some friends.  You don’t carry all of those friends around with you for the rest of your life.  Interests change, situations change, yada yada.  Likewise with jobs.  I worked delivering papers in the town I lived in while I was attending high school.  This was many years ago.  I’ve had a variety of jobs since then, all of which I’ve left of my own volition (layoffs not included).  Now then, at no point have I ever turned around and said “hey, you know, maybe I should go back to that other job.  The one I had (X) years ago.  That’s because a job has to satisfy certain needs at certain times:  money, culture, satisfaction..there are lots of others as well.  Usually people move on to new jobs for better opportunities.

Bands seem to be different.  How many bands do you know of that break up, go inactive for a period of time, and then ultimately ‘reunite’, with said reunions rarely achieving the same artistic or commercial goals as happened the first time around.  The only real exception to this rule would be Aerosmith, who achieved much more commercial acclaim, and had a longer run, the second time around.  The fact that they suck is inconsequential to this argument.  No, most bands that reunite do it for one simple reason:  the money.  If you’re reuniting for money, was that the end goal to starting and/or joining band (X) in the first place?  You’re not reuniting for ‘artistic’ purposes, whatever you might say or whatever high-minded goals you had when you first started/joined band (X).  If you’re reuniting for cash, doesn’t that make a band…a job?  What would it take for me to go back to an old job, even if the culture wasn’t a good fit for me?  It would have to be…boatloads of cash.  Because certainly, if I moved on, the job satisfaction wasn’t there, despite what comrades I might have made during my working tenure.

The only real parallel to reunited bands are the actors that come together for movie sequels or reboots; but again, those are contractual obligations not necessarily mandated by the whims of pop appeal, although pop appeal certainly helps an actor renegotiate a salary fee in contract talks.  Most bands rarely start out with the expectation of becoming millionaires.  There was a brief period, mid-70’s to mid-90’s, when record companies had vast control over their artists, that this was more possible than it is today.  With streaming, pirating, and sales of all mediums (save vinyl) being down across the board, most bands aren’t going to get rich…although most bands didn’t get rich within the system I just described, either.  Many bands survive now through Kickstarters, Pledge Music, in-home live appearances, and merchandise sales.

A good example of this is Electric Six.  They’re one of my favorite bands, with a real new wave-punk-dance aesthetic that is as varied as it is catchy.  They put out albums almost every year, like clockwork – something most bands don’t do anymore (the album-tour-album cycle was most common in the 70’s, which is why all your favorite 70’s bands have a huge back catalog).  However, most E6 albums don’t bother the charts.  They have a core fanbase of 20K or so loyal buyers.  So why do it?  Well, they tour almost all year round.  I’m guessing between album sales and touring, each member might clear 35-70K a year.  They’re not gonna become stinking rich, but they’re making enough to survive – which is all most of us can ask for.  E6 may have found the right balance between artistic calling and job.  Obviously this needs to be a bigger discussion, but for now, how many ‘reunited’ bands can say they’re doing it for the love of music, and not because they’ve been unable to find work outside of music?

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