Sunset Stripped

I feel like I've been suffering from an adverse reaction to the “music industry” - one from which I don’t believe that I've been able to fully recover.  I can still remember where I was and when it happened – my aversion to the industry began last summer.  I was invited to a festival and just feeling burnt out.  There I was talking to the guys in The Devil Wears Prada and As I Lay Dying and feeling like they were impostors.  This wasn't entirely their fault.  Press tents have a way of stealing the spontaneity from a conversation.  How can it not?  Half the time the music from other bands that have already taken the stage at festivals is already pulsating from the stages and creating this white noise from hell.   It’s not a place for spontaneous conversation being in the trenches.  It’s not a place conducive to learning about what makes a band tick.  It's like a foxhole and it’s not a safe place at all.  In the end it’s just dirty and sweaty and full of pompous assholes peddling their wares. Of course they would get angry if they knew I knew this.  They would wonder if I understood their music.  They would wonder all kinds of things that took the spotlight off of them and placed it on me - the critic.  But that’s the thing isn't it?  People hate critics because most critics know the truth and the truth is that sometimes music is just a clever trick and nothing more.  It the vehicle that draws us in and, best case scenario, makes us think about things like poetry, philosophy and humanity.  The worst case scenario it’s a vehicle to sell tickets, CD’s and merchandise.  It’s a line we walk pretending not to notice the merchandise while understanding that we’re not there without the sponsors.  I don’t belong here.  I want to know what makes people tick.  Even when I'm not a rock journalist, I want to know.  But what makes me tick is rock culture and history - not t-shirts.  I don’t want to believe that it’s just about the money though I understand money is what makes it all happen. The irony is that the dreamers and the poets seldom understand the breadth and depth of their art or even how it represents them.  In the music industry it can be the opposite.  In the music industry people can forget that the music is a reflection and instead begin to reflect the music if they can’t step away from it.  But that’s the subtle moment when people stop being themselves and become what they see in the mirror instead.  They become characters and stop being representatives or ambassadors if you will.  It’s this shift that I was witnessing last year that was killing me.  It went something like this: “What do you love about this?  What do you live for?” I asked one of the members of The Devil Wears Prada. “I look for that guy in the audience who isn't having a good time and I try to reach that guy.” Really?  How Almost Famous of you. I think. I can see they're missing my point and maybe it's their youth and inexperience that is keeping them from seeing this the way that I do.  Maybe someone else can show me something different.  “Please don’t make me look like a dumb ass.” A member of As I Lay Dying says as we conclude our interview. And that was it.  I was done.  I was going to walk away and never come back.  I went home.  I received a couple of emails to do a few more interviews and knew I had I had hit rock bottom when one of my emails read, “Do you want to interview a former porn star turned musician?” No.  Not especially.  No. It’s strange that I can be so hard on them, but that’s how I feel these they (people in bands) should own and understand their art.  What I got from my experience were scared kids who didn’t want to look stupid.  So they gravitated towards safe answers and that made me, ultimately, retreat too.  I retreated to a kind of darkness that was unfamiliar to even me.  It made me question everything including what is going on in the music industry in general.  Was it nefarious or was it simply reality?  Did the handlers take over the events or did the bands really start to look too much like puppets?  Did it matter?  I was over it.  I was over energy drink sponsored festivals.  Maybe I didn't want to know that corporations owned us all until we had outlived our usefulness.  Maybe it was, after all was said and done, just time to leave. A year later I was on the Sunset Strip again, this time just to be a spectator, to support a friend who was playing bass in Michael Grant’s new band Michael Grant and the Assassins (Michael is formerly of Endeverafter and currently in L.A. Guns) at the Viper Room.  I pointed to a bookstore next to the Viper Room where I conducted one of my last interviews with Clown from Slipknot.  I spent an hour with him talking about art.  It was inspiring.  I tell my friend Ryan this as I laugh about how strange it is to be here again and not be a part of the scene at the same time. “Is it weird that you used to talk to guys that were so L.A.?  I mean you are so NOT L.A. Paul.” Ryan says. I know what he means.  I’m not a rocker.  I’m kind of a cultural historian when I’m at my most honest.  When I’m not smiling and pretending to be interested in what these kids have to say (as if its going to change the world).  As I wandered around Hollywood and part of the Sunset Strip my memories are somewhat different from most.  This is where I grew up.  But my conversation with my friend Ryan about rockstars reminded me about how I was somehow a part of the scene and not a part of it at all.  I had spent so many years going to the small clubs to see obscure bands on their way up or on their way out - for the love of music and not the love of the music idol. It was strange to see glimpses of what I loved about it at all after after all this time.  It’s strange that the prize for many of these bands is to one day find themselves in the trenches from which I walked away.  It seemed foreign and familiar all at the same time.  As I waited outside of the Viper Room for Michael Grant’s band to play, I was grateful for the opportunity to be on a guest list at all.  I’m at the bottom (again) and searching for rock and roll’s lost “soul” which has undoubtedly been sold to Satan long ago.    And yet part of me still believes I can find remnants - pieces of history - that gives us insight into the human condition. “Where did River (Phoenix) die?” I ask my friend Randy, who is one of Michael Grant’s Assassins.  He points to the sidewalk outside the Viper Room.  “I was told he died right there.”  Randy points to the pavement.  “I also know the the guy who threw the party that River was at the night that he died.” Randy says this as a matter of fact.  It’s the way that most of the people who live in Los Angeles can be after being there a while.  Randy is also the bass player in Corey Feldman’s band.  Randy is L.A. in a way that I could never be and seems quite at home. “Randy, get me an interview with Michael.” I say under my breath.  Randy nods that he will see what he can do. Did I just do that?  I think.  I must still need to know.  I must still want to know what makes people tick.  What gets them off?  What makes them want to play music whether it’s front of fifty on Sunset or five thousand at a festival?  Mostly I still want to know if music still matters. After the concert, I chat briefly with Michael Grant who is gracious and down to earth.  For some reason he seems much more real here than whatever it was that I encountered a year ago talking to kids in other bands.  We agree to set something up for later.  Frankly I was caught off guard and not expecting a face to face.  Michael wanted to jump right in and talk, but I had way too much to drink to be taken seriously.  It was then that I realized that my year away wasn't a permanent vacation, but just a hiatus.  It was a necessary one.  It was a year that I needed to get away and wash off this corporate nonsense from my skin and get back to what makes music resonate within me after all these years.  I want to know.  I want to strip it down.  I want to see it naked and unpolished.  Maybe I want to know if others feel the same way and if they too are chasing dragons - trying to steal back the spirit of rock and roll.  I can only hope. By

Paul Stamat