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.
Dear Fan Landers,
I work with a talented band that has slowly gained popularity over the last five years. Unfortunately, there have been some internal problems as of late, to the point where two of the members want to call it quits.
One of the musicians recently married, and when we all sat down to hash things out, he admitted he was angry that some of the band had not attended his wedding. In fact, they had not even sent back the RSVP card! These are guys who travel by bus together, break bread together and play shows together full-time. I was getting ready to chalk it up to clueless male pack mentality when I learned the crux of the issue. Privately, the leader of the band explained he was invited to the wedding but his longtime girlfriend was not. Apparently, the bride doesn’t like her.
So we’ve got a wedding etiquette problem, exacerbated by band politics! Should the bride have “taken one for the team” and invited someone she doesn’t get along with, just for the sake of keeping the band together? It was essentially “the boss’s wife” she snubbed, not some girl by the backstage door who will be forgotten and replaced the minute the band hits the next town. And it’s not like these guys share an office with a cubicle between them and can ignore each other.
What’s your take, Fan? No use crying over spilled beer, what’s done is done. But how can we get these guys back to being a band of brothers? It would be a shame to watch a promising band splinter apart.
Peacekeeper indeed. There is really no excuse for the bandleader’s wife not being invited unless this was one of those microsized destination weddings, where there was only room for four on the canoe. The irony of not inviting someone’s spouse to a wedding—once you’re married, you’re a package deal. The problem here can be chalked up, likely, to the bride being told for her entire life that her wedding day would be her one perfect day in her life to have everything exactly to her liking, which is B.S., and the husband maybe not knowing better but likely just wanting to go along to get along. It’s a real power move on her part, because while she is his new family, this band—given that they’ve been together and on the road for decades now—is his other family.
I think a few things need to happen to try and resolve this. Management (or whomever is the band’s most trusted compatriot/business boss that he respects) needs to sit down with this newly betrothed guy and tell him he has made a mess. He’s got to suck up his hurt feelings over people not RSVP-ing; sometimes even grown men do not know about this sort of etiquette stuff, and he needs to be the bigger boy. He should have prompted them, or told them he was looking forward to having them there—it’s in the past now, and he may not even get more than a tacit apology over it. Too bad, so sad. And then remind him, in no uncertain terms that while this band is family, it is the full-time livelihood of a half-dozen people and that he can either get over it and apologize to the singer in a heartfelt way or get out. You need to cut this problem at the root—there is no reason the band needs to poop out of a multi-decade career over a bridezilla fiasco. Whenever you are considering breaking something up, bands or otherwise, I think it’s good to try and imagine explaining your reasons to someone (kids, fans) ten years later. Does it sound petty? Would you be embarrassed recounting it? Then it’s probably a dumb reason to break up.
If he acts like a baby about it, freely remind him that he is living the dream as a full-time member of a genuinely successful band and it’s unlikely he can trade up. It may be a matter of him no longer thinking of it as a family, and just looking at it like a job. It’s still a really good job.
The other thing I would suggest is that you need to do something to rally them together. It needs to be a situation that pulls them together and reminds them why they like playing together. I’m thinking of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic Monthly article about being a professional and a parent, and how she moved her family to Asia so they would be in a situation where the family was their stabilizing center, and they would be forced to cling together. I am not suggesting you take the band off the festival circuit and move them to Ko Phi Phi, but think about situations where they thrive. Maybe, for them, it’s a tour someplace they haven’t been in a while, or somewhere they’ve always wanted to play. Going into the studio can be weird and political and divisive for some bands—which could put strain on these fractured relationships—though, if that is where they excel, that could be part of the solution. I think the key thing is to get them busy. Get them into a new situation or task that is exciting and challenging so that they hew together and are reminded that what they have together is special.
I would also subtly stock the bus with DVDs about bands that have been together a long time through some heavy ups and downs: Pearl Jam 20 (so cheesy, I don’t even like them and I cried, ok?), Mötley Crüe’s Behind The Music, The Dead Moon doc Unknown Passage, Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage, and the Wilco movie all might be particularly salient. I also like the weird Behind the Making of Steely Dan’s Aja doc for seeing Fagen and Becker like an old married couple, and also because it has Donald Fagen rapping Lord Tariq’s “Déjà Vu.” Anyhow, best of luck in brokering some peace!