Song #59: Friends, Romans, Countrymen – “The Day Footstone Died”

October 23, 2020
Song #59: Friends, Romans, Countrymen – “The Day Footstone Died”

As the 90s drew to a close, so had my involvement with music. We had, a few years before, come to the conclusion that we couldn’t make money making records. It would never be my job, at least with the record business constructed the way it was. We swam upstream – ferociously – for four or five years, but ultimately it just wasn’t working. I can be really loud, but I just couldn’t be loud enough to be heard above this particular din.

Almost accidentally, my business career had taken off, and I found myself in a series of higher-level positions in an exploding industry, doing work that was far beyond my level of experience, and I was good at it. For a while, I tried to leverage the knowledge and experience I was gaining to put together a business that married punk with the internet, providing free music downloads to punk fans in an ad-driven model that, for a brief period, would’ve been successful had we actually launched it. Ultimately, though, the late 90s and early 2000s was marked by a series of deaths that would, at least temporarily, put nails in the coffin of this idea we had, this cool little record label we hatched out of the kitchen of an apartment in Lodi, New Jersey.

First, my enthusiasm for it died.

Then, the label itself died.

Then, the bands started to die.

For a long time, I associated the death of Dromedary with the death of my best friend Rich, who was an integral part of getting the label running. But the reality was that it died because I took too many punches over a short period of time, while my career was taking off. I thought, finally, it was either one thing or the other, and the practical thing to do was to move forward with my career and family, and put the record fantasy away.

In 2016, my son and I went to see the Get Up Kids play in Jersey City. The Get Up Kids were one of these bands that I listened to during the “dark period” where I wasn’t actively seeking out new music, a decent enough emo band that was in the car CD player a lot when my oldest son was little. By extension, he knew a lot of their music. When they put together a tour in 2016, my son – then 21 years old – suggested we go.

At the show, I was struck by the number of people in their 30s who were there, dancing and singing along. They were, like, the happiest people in the world, seeing this band that hadn’t played in a while, who meant so much to them just ten or fifteen years earlier.

It was at that Get Up Kids show that I sort of realized that in more heavily populated areas, music communities sort of come and go. My experience with Dromedary dying in the late 90s wasn’t really much different than other labels and bands that came before Dromedary, or after. I could name a bunch, but it would be insulting. Also, I won’t name them, because I want them all to do what I did.

I want them all to realize that having a goal of being a rockstar is a goal that has nothing at all to do with art, or with fun, or with community. Having a goal of being a rockstar is really not that different than having a goal of being a movie star, or a CEO, or President. Hiring a manager or signing a major label deal is a career choice, like going to law school or hiring an executive coach. Most of us work our way up the corporate ladder to a point, but we live our lives even if we don’t become CEO. When we realize we’ll never get past middle management, or Customer Service, or Vice President or whatever, we don’t hang up our stapler and quit – we just reframe our expectations and keep going to work. We keep taking our vacations, saving for retirement, falling in love, spending time with friends.

For some reason, though, with music, when people realize they’re not going to be rich and famous, they put the guitar away. They stop playing. They shut down their record label, or their fanzine, or their blog. They look back fondly on that part of their life, maybe a little upset because it didn’t work out for them. And a lot of times, they think “If only.”

Fuck “If only.” Double-fuck “If only.” It was fun. It was worth doing. People enjoyed it. And you should not stop doing it.

Reframe your expectations, the same way you did when you came to the conclusion that you were never going to sit behind the executive desk. And then you keep playing tiny shows, booking studio time, and hanging out with your band. Or, if you run a label, keep putting out little records nobody gives a shit about, and hanging out with your friends in bands.

It is better than skiing, or watching football, or collecting bottlecaps, or a myriad of things that people do to pass time until they die. It’s better because they’re leaving something beautiful behind. It’s better because after that Get Up Kids show, a lot of those youngsters, now working in middle management jobs in the finance business, went home with a smile, remembering how much fun it used to be when they were young, and hoping to be able to do it again sometime, maybe when Hot Rod Circuit plays a reunion, or Knapsack, or Midtown or whoever.

But you go home and actually still do it.

Those ageist kids I wrote about the other day? None of them are rock stars yet, so none of them likely will be. Some of them will age like the kids at the Get Up Kids show. A few of them will keep doing this into their 40s and 50s and 60s, and they will wake up every morning and say “Jesus, this is still so much fun.”

This wistful song by Friends, Romans, Countrymen was written about when Footstone broke up. It’s written about them in a “good old days” sort of way. Yet so many of the guys who played on it, and who it’s written about, are still involved, making music, playing in bands, being creative. It’s not a thing that has to end. These can still be the good old days.

~ by Al on October 23, 2020.

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