Are you a musician? Is your band having issues? Our new advice columnist, who we’re going to call Fan Landers (a.k.a. Jessica Hopper), is ready to give you Real Talk about any problems your musical outfit might be having—whether professional, practical, or sartorial. Confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
I’m in fairly successful band that gigs regularly around the city/region. The issue is stage attire. My attire is typically a vintage button-down shirt, dress slacks, and casual-but-not-gym shoes or jeans, a button-down Western shirt, and maybe a pair of non-filthy Chuck Taylors depending on where we are playing. I’m going for comfy but appropriate. Our bassist: cargo shorts, faded Hawaiian shirts, sandals. I feel his attire is nowhere near appropriate for the style of music we play, and the venues that we play it in. He looks like he should be playing bass in a Jimmy Buffett cover band. He is very hard to approach on this subject, as he is really sensitive, and takes any criticism personally.
I’ve managed to point out that he could snazz it up a bit, and he has tried, but now the issue is size. For some reason he thinks that he is an extra-large, so all his shirts, although now dressier, are way too big, with drooping shoulders and too-long sleeves. He has switched from cargo shorts to cargo pants. (I think he buys them at Costco.) He still insists on the sandals, though. So now, instead of Buffett bass player, he kind of looks like a hippie Sling Blade. Any advice for me to approach the subject from a different angle? (I’ve tried conjuring the ideas of professionalism, and respect for the audience, and creating an image for the band, all to no avail. I’ve also been a snarky, sarcastic dick about it a few times.)
P.S. I’ve attached a recent photo from a show. I won’t even tell you which one he is. You’ll know.
Whoa. You weren’t even exaggerating. You, sir, are in a band with a dude who is simultaneously violating every rule about stagewear. He is a disaster. He looks like he picked that outfit up off the dorm floor. You should be pissed! I think there are a few rules that should be observed as far as stagewear, and they are as follows:
• No cargo shorts, no cargo pants. This is a show, not a hiking trip.
• Shorts are only ok for non-standing drummers; jean cut offs and non-athletic type shorts are ok for women.
• No baseball caps unless you are rapping. No wacky hats unless you are like, Insane Clown Posse and no cowboy hats unless you are Willie Nelson or similar.
• No sandals, no “mandals”. Flip flops might be ok if you are in a reggae band and playing on a beach. If yr on stage, the audience is closer to your uncovered toes than your face—it’s really a basic courtesy to keep your feet covered.
• Hawaiin shirts acceptable for luau gigs, The Beach Boys and older rockabilly dudes only.
• Tank tops on dudes in rock bands are just a non-starter. Watch the Pearl Jam 20 Years documentary and cringe in agreement. MCs get a pass.
• Tearaway track pants, oversized busted looking t-shirts, puffy white sneakers, jerseys and anything that makes it look like you are going to the gym is verboten.
Your bandmate doesn’t need critcism—he needs specific direction. He is an older guy and he probably thinks putting any effort into his stage attire will make him look and feel goofy. He may not really know how to buy clothes for himself; he may not want to put any money towards it (hence the Costco issue). Can you take him thrifting? Is there a way to incentivize it without being manipulative? Are you friends with a sharper-dressed band or musician who could perhaps share his or her positive experiences about what looking good does for them#&0151;does it attract attention from ladies/dudes/press/booking agents? The advice may be easier for him to hear if it’s not more unwanted input coming from you. Try easing into the conversation by pointing out some fairly normal stage outfit on someone else and daring him to dress like that for your next show. Playful and light, not sarcastic.
Another tactic is just to be gentle and tell him It’s not that he needs to dress up; he just needs to stop dressing down. This is his job, not his day off, and he needs to dress the part at least a little bit. I get the sense that he feels like he can’t pull off any sort of rock n’ roll swag, so he’s rebelling and dressing like a schlub. You grow up with these iconic pictures of Keith Richards looking lithe in an unbuttoned muslin poet-sleeve blouse and so you kind of forget about the classic Bill Wyman template of a turtleneck sweater and slacks. (Maybe you should invite him over to watch Sympathy for the Devil for a refresher on the cool frumpwear of Watts/Wyman. Lee Renaldo is also a cool frump if you need a contemporary icon.). Perhaps he feels daunted by his expectations of what men wear on stage; manhood is complex like that. You need to drop your resentment and guide him gently away from dressing like he’s crewing a sailboat and finding something that says “I am a grown man in a band, and proud.”
Should I bring my dog on tour? Here is the deal: it would be a van-tour, six weeks (U.S. only), there are three people in my band. My dog enjoys road trips, but I’m worried about things like leaving him in the van while we play shows, sleeping at random people’s houses with him, and so on. Plus maybe there’s other stuff I should be worried about but am not thinking of. What say you?
—Troubled Over Unhappy Rover
My immediate thought is no unless you are so famous and popular you are on a bus. Selena Gomez, Britney and various country stars tour with their dogs so it can be done. Van tour is endless hassle and unknowns and it’s disorienting for people, let alone an animal. That said, if you really want to do it, there are a lot of things to consider, so I called on a uniquely qualified expert: Kiki Yablon. Kiki toured the US with The Dishes and Red Eyed Legends and is now a certified dog trainer in Chicago.
“If you decide to go for it, please talk to your vet and/or a qualified local behavior professional for an evaluation of your dog’s suitability for travel. Here are a few things should rule out taking a dog on tour from the get-go:
• Hot or even warm weather, unless you can find a way not to leave your dog in the vehicle. Dogs cook quickly; the temperature in a parked car can get lethal in 30 minutes when the outside temperature is only 75, even with the windows cracked. And will you want to leave the windows cracked in, say, Detroit or New York? Keep in mind too that band vans are a nice target for thieves, and a dog is not necessarily a deterrent. If your van is broken into, your dog could be stolen, harmed, or allowed to escape.
• Freezing weather.
• Any history of aggression.
• The slightest hint of fear of people, other animals, being left alone, or novelty.
Even in perfect weather with the best socialized, most happy-go-lucky dog, you’re looking at adding extra responsibility to an endeavor that often lends itself to the complete opposite. If you’re going to take a dog on any trip, you should be prepared to put the dog’s needs ahead of your own. You need to make sure your bandmates are down, too.”
Yablon also suggests you consider how you will get your dog enough exercise, how you will deal with accommodations that are not pet-friendly, and how your bandmates would feel missing a show if your dog gets sick or ingests something suspect and has to see a vet. Which is a lot to ask of your bandmates and your doggie. Sure tour can be fun and vacation-like, but the reason bands do it is to spread their reputations, promote their records and make connections. Touring with a dog means that for the sake of everyone’s well-being you have to be putting it first at all times, and the tour becomes about the dog not the band, which defeats the point. Leave Rover at home.