Those who know me are well aware of my affinity for the semi-famous "The Problem with Music" article (and its author). I find myself re-reading it periodically and never failing to get a hearty giggle out of it, and referring to someone as "100g's and three points" is one of my favorite (and undoubtedly most obscure) epithets. But the piece and its concepts have always served as an abstraction to me, never having had the experience of meeting "major label rock stars." In fact the more I got to know a few semi-major artists either personally or by repeated association, I began to question the article's merits – they didn't seem to fit its profile at all.
That changed on Monday. The skies parted and angels showed me the true meaning of The Problem with Music.
My band opened for The Sex Slaves. You may know them by name only, as the darlings of various low-brow music rags over the past few months. The latest Next Big Thing, the next Band that will Save Rock and Roll, the latest Keepin' it Real punk rockers, etcetera. If you have not yet been exposed to these individuals, let the following serve as a reference point:
Now pull up a seat as I chronicle how this band showed me the way.
Chapter I – Contact
It is not hard to talk Tremendous Fucking into playing a show, especially when the bill includes Indianapolis' incomparable You Will Die and new Bloomington rockers Violins. Oh, and this nationally-recognized act known as The Sex Slaves. Mind you, we know nothing about this band aside from their photos (which look like 3 men fired out of cannons into a Hot Topic) and weak-ass mp3s from the interweb. Oh, and we know they're from New York, the only place west of London that could spawn an unholy scenester fashion-rock nightmare this appalling.
Chapter II – Initial Exposure
Being the punctual fellow I am, I arrived at the venue at 10 PM as the booking fellow had requested. The Sex Slaves were already there, with their large touring bus (foreshadowing) unpacked and their 10-foot long merchandise table laden with t-shirts, stickers, bandanas, and the like occupying the space where bands store their equipment in this venue. I politely pointed out that 3 other bands needed to put 3 drumkits, a mess of cabinets, and assorted other musical equipment somewhere. They moved their giant merchandise table over about 6 inches. Thanks. They also have a lot of really, really sketchy looking women with them. Def Leppard t-shirts, pot bellies, tight pants, and makeup that appears to have been applied with a butterknife.
Chapter III – The Bar is Set
Violins proceed to surprise everyone in the place with just how good they are and You Will Die administer what can only be described as a precision audio colonic that leaves everyone feeling 10 pounds lighter.
Chapter IV – Their True Form Revealed
The Sex Slaves wheel out the most asinine stage setup I have ever seen short of an Iron Maiden concert. Their drummer sits behind a $6,000+ DW custom kit, wrapped in chrome to match his giant rack system (note to the musically ignorant: drum racks are the surest sign of impending suckage from a band). The monstrous guitar and bass cabinets feature chrome covers over each individual speaker – like the sort of covers you see on the speakers found lining the trunk of a bottomed-out Tercel with little tires and tinted windows. Yes, it was truly asinine. Several of my astute colleagues pointed out, "This band better kick a whole lot of ass to make up for all this shit…."
Chapter V – Le Piece de Resistance
The band unfurls a giant banner featuring their name, cartoon drawings of skulls, and a bold proclamation of their Sam Ash endorsement. I briefly consider going outside and unfurling an "ABANDON HOPE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE" banner but I decline.
Chapter VI – All Hope Obliterated
The band opens their set by melodically singing their name over and over ("We aaaaare the Seeeeeex Slaaaaaaves!"). This was a sign of things to come, as each song included their name at least twice – a level of self-referential lyricism not seen since the days of 1980s rappers. The rest of their songs cover such topics as enjoying whiskey ("Thank God for Jack Daniels!") and an affinity for partying. Their stage banter comes directly out of This is Spinal Tap. "Bloomington crowds are the greatest!" and so on. I can only describe it as Tenacious D or Spinal Tap if Tenacious D and Spinal Tap were not kidding. And believe me, this band was in nothing but bitter earnest. Their stage show, which they self-proclaimed as "infamous" consisted of nothing more than lots of swearing (note: declaring that "we don't write songs about making love, we write songs about fucking!" has little impact when one plays before a band called Tremendous Fucking) and every hackneyed hair band cliche on earth, from uncomfortably lurching around in their tight pants to holding out their guitars while fat girls pretended to play them with their tongues. Oh, and their shirts were off about 8 seconds into the first track – revealing some very new-looking tattoos. They were, as I said with no hint of irony and a full understanding of the statement's implications, a less entertaining version of Ratt.
Chapter VII – Rallying
Stunned, we took the stage after them and, with no false modesty, proceeded to blow them off the stage. Which wasn't hard, mind you.
Chapter VIII – Albini's Moral
The band received exactly $75 for their "performance" that night. The only reason they even received that much was that the local bands deferred their share of the door to the two out-of-town bands. So let's review this quickly. They drive around the country in a big touring vehicle, play in tiny clubs on $20,000+ worth of equipment and enough amplification to fill the Meadowlands, have more logoed merchandise than Larry the Cable Guy, and make about $100 a night. And we can only imagine how much they pissed away recording their album.
I wonder if they realize that the money they've been advanced by various concerns wasn't a gift. I wonder if they realize that it costs them more to drive their van around than they're making at their shows. I wonder if they realize that their equipment and stage schtick, best suited for the main stage on a Bon Jovi tour, are so well-worn that they're never going to get there.
To close in the words of "The Problem with Music": some of your friends are probably already this fucked. Well, that would be true if I had any friends this stupid.
POSTSCRIPT: The Sex Slaves were actually fairly nice guys on a personal level and it pains me to have to point out what a complete joke they are – a joke that neither they nor their Camaro-&-crimped-bangs fans seem to get. Their general decency (egos aside) just inspired pity, because it is highly unlikely that they have any idea how fucked they really are.