In Natural Born Killers, where I tend to seek nearly all of my advice on life, Woody Harrelson’s character Mickey Knox opines that, “[i]n this day and age a man has to have choices, a man has to have a little bit of variety.”
In the scene, Mickey explains (to his girlfriend, no less) his desire to sleep with more women, but the idea of variety rings true for Tuscaloosa’s arts and music scene.
Not even five years ago, a person could make a choice on which band or artist that he or she wanted to go and to see in Tuscaloosa on any given Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night. Usually the option would be between two, sometimes three, quality concerts or performances. It wasn’t just that solid bands were playing many nights in a row; it was the fact that many great bands would be playing in the same night. All were seemingly local. There were that many.
It wasn’t uncalled for to see an acquaintance at one show only to see said person an hour later catching the end of another performance due to the idea that so many of the shows were ones you didn’t want to miss. So, you didn’t miss them.
If it was an upstart band, you had to go. Maybe you knew a member of the act or you had some friends that heard that their practices were going well. Maybe some guy or gal had been in a previous band but was making a new racket. Other times it was a somewhat established act coming off a run of successful shows around the Southeast or elsewhere. (And you knew all the words to their songs, and you knew they’d play your favorites at the very end, so you’d save that for the last stop of the night.)
The Mushroom had a the line up the stairs that was starting to stretch near the street. Little Willie’s would have a killer pairing of opener and closer. You’d have the last drunken swing through Egan’s.
Granted, the bands weren’t always great. Hell, sometimes they were downright shit. But two things: there were people there, and a person had choices.
What’s happened? In part it is the perpetually transient state of the town. People leave, and they should. But, people also come. In fact, according to the statistics that I’m way too lazy to look up, more are coming in every year. Where are the new bands? They’ve got to be out there, right? I only know of a few, though, and it isn’t enough to have three quality shows per night, Thursday through Saturday, without seeing the same band two times in the same month.
This isn’t quite a nostalgia trip in full. It’s a call for action. No matter how silly, shitty, scared you are, get a band together and play. Get booked. (There are at least two venues currently taking original acts: Green Bar and Egan’s. Let’s force there to be one more at minimum by having way too many bands.) If you know someone who plays drums, snatch her up. If you only can play keyboards, get with someone. Make some noise. Tell us what you’re thinking by putting that shit to a melody. You’ve got something to say. Everyone does. Don’t worry if it’s horrid; you let us know about it, we’ll still come. (Though after the first few times, it’s up to you to get that shit together. But let’s just worry about you getting out there for now. Right now, it’s quantity, not quality.)
And if you are playing originals, stop being so secretive. Let us know. Spread the word. Bang the drum and play the fife.
And if you’ve been playing with a band, but refuse to hit a bar scene, stop being all hipster (does that word even have meaning at this point?). We all want a taste of your band, of something else.
A scene starts to grow with a diversity of art. Take the classic, nearby example of Athens, Georgia: R.E.M. really didn’t sound a lot like the B-52’s. And so on.
And from an earlier point, the quality will come. And, quite frankly, if you were to ask me, Tuscaloosa music, arts, and writing is as good as its been at any point. You’ll live up to it if you try.
What’s missing are all the choices on one night. Healthy competition, if you will.
Goddammit, folks, this town needs you.
One quick exercise before I end: name all the amazing Tuscaloosa bands — the ones that only play original music — and have actively played in the last eight months or so. Okay, now name the ones that are as equally active but you don’t consider quite as good. Finally, go ahead list the ones that you consider absolutely horrible, but you know them nonetheless. When finished, did you even get up to eleven with your list? Fifteen? Twenty?
This town is worthy of having you lose count in the thirties.
Go start a band.
Play some punk. Play some country. Play some garage rock. Play some death metal. Play some hip hop. Just play, okay?
You’ve played in the bedroom long enough. People much worse than you have done it and been pretty fucking good at it.
Or as Mickey said, “You’re gonna make it, Mal. Get mad.”