As you read this I am driving an unreasonable distance to see 90s grunge rock has-beens Candlebox play an embarrassing venue in an embarrassing location. I am doing this purely for lolz, as the kids probably no longer say, as I didn't even like this band when they were "popular" in 1994. It started out as a joke, then one of my friends I don't see often enough offered to come, and now it's happening. I suppose I've spent $20 on dumber things.

Living in Central Illinois has provided more opportunities to say "Holy shit, I can't believe they're still touring" than my first three decades on the planet combined. We've been visited by Dokken. Ratt. Survivor. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Molly Hatchet. Every butt-rock hair band from the 80s that had one hit and that you haven't thought about in 20 years. For The Youths, we also get all the late 90s-early 00s nu metal hacks. Papa Roach came. Sevendust. Uncle Kracker. Staind. Kid Rock. All that stuff. Basically, Peoria and Springfield are the next step down on the waterslide from major stadiums to concert halls to clubs in big cities to clubs in smaller cities to…well, the bottom of the touring barrel. County Fairs. Hillbilly bars. VFW halls. Bowling alleys. It's not hard to look at a band playing the Dew Drop Inn in Dothan, Alabama and wondering if they're on stage thinking about that time they played the Meadowlands or Wembley. It must be depressing. And it's certainly easy to mock for us ironic hipster types.

Whenever this comes up in conversation – "OMG can you believe Everclear is still touring and they're in Peoria?? God give it up already losers!" – my first reaction is to laugh, then to feel sorry for them, and finally to think, "Well it beats working in an office or at Burger King." If you can get paid to do something that for 99% of the population would be a hobby or recreational activity, why wouldn't you do it? I'm sure the folks in Candlebox or Foreigner know that some people are laughing at them, but so what? They probably no longer earn huge paydays, but they have to be making as much or more than the average stiff in the labor market. Doing forty per week in a cubicle or at Jiffy Lube feels bleak a lot of the time, so if similar or better money is to be made by standing on a stage for an hour playing songs while drunks scream the words…hell, I'd take that option ten times out of ten.

At some point I stopped looking at it as hanging on to faded dreams of stardom (although certainly that might be the mindset of some people who can't let it go) and began to see it for what it is: a way to make a living. And comparatively speaking, a fun way. I knew a guy who played minor league baseball for about fifteen years. People often snickered that he was delusional about making the major leagues and couldn't walk away. His perspective was totally different. He knew he wasn't going anywhere; he also knew he got paid about $30,000 to play a kids' game outside during the summer for six months per year. The other six months he worked odd jobs for additional cash. Annually I'm quite certain he made more when all was said and done than a lot of the manual labor and office bodies that thought he was crazy.

Yes, it's easy to laugh, and today I will probably laugh a few times. But you know what? Good for you, Candlebox. Millions of people have to wake up on this Friday and go to a lousy job. You get a check for a couple thousand bucks to play songs you wrote 25 years ago for an hour. I don't think there's any doubt about who wins this day. I'd get on stage and sing "Far Behind" too if anyone would pay to see me do it.

62 thoughts on “NPF: HANGING ON”

  • It's probably difficult for the under-30's to understand the post-Nirvana wave of guitar bands that were so obviously aping Kurt Cobain (Candlebox, Puddle of Mudd, The Vines, etc.).

    Also, Candlebox was signed to Madonna's label. Again, everyone was trying to cash in on grunge. So blame her!

  • Wow Ed, finally a REAL insight on how the world works. Is this early onset of Disraeli's, "A man who is not a Liberal at sixteen has no heart; a man who is not a Conservative at sixty has no head"?

  • Ah, the faded celebrities. Of course the one hit wonders all had one more hit than the rest of us!

  • HoosierPoli says:

    It might take a band five years to earn enough fans to be able to charge 20 bucks for a ticket. Once people are willing to pay that much, you ride that train until it derails.

  • Back in 1965 or so, my dad's local lodge had Arthur Tracy, The Street Singer do a program at one of their meetings and Al Kelly, the doubletalk comedian did a program at another. These were big stars at one time.

    Ed Wynn and Bert Lahr did some commercials for Lay's Potato Chips about the same time. I guess they still needed the money.

  • About 10 years ago, I went to a press conference (no, really) with Chad and Jeremy, who were doing a club show somewhere and prefacing it with a show at an elementary school in the afternoon. Some reporter asked them an only slightly more polite version of "OMG aren't you guys embarrassed?" And their answer, only slightly paraphrased, was "But we LIKE playing! Why shouldn't we play? Isn't it more embarrassing when a band stops playing just because there aren't any more drugs or girls or stadium shows?"

    So in conclusion, LOL Candlebox, but only because I felt that way in 1994 too.

  • This was probably ten years ago at least, but I can remember Eddie Money playing at the Columbus Ohio Auto Show.

    If there's such a thing as "Rock Star Hell" I suspect that's it.

    I felt bad for him right up until he started making some rather abusive comments with a fair bit of profanity thrown in. I don't know if somebody heckled him but it was definitely not what you'd want to hear in a venue where people had their young children.

  • I catch Clutch every time they come to town. They've been touring since the early '90s and never had a "hit song" or a "breakout album". They just toured their asses off and realized at some point that their hard work had created a big enough following that they could make a long-term living playing live rock & roll.

  • Every two years I go to a huge medical conference in Orlando to fulfill my continuing ed requirement, see some new equipment/devices and catch up with old friends who might show up there. And every year, they have a concert on Monday night that is generally a C&W act that I would never go see or a retread group from the 80's (a couple of years ago it was REO Speedwagon). This year the Monday night concert was Sheryl Crow. A bunch of us had dinner and ambled over to catch her 90 minute set. It was fantastic. She plays well, still has a great voice and looks terrific for a 50-ish woman who has spent a good part of her adult life on the road.

    And yeah, playing in front of an audience of several hundred–or in this case thousand–fans who cheer enthusiastically has gotta be better than sitting in a cubicle or managing a Sonic Burger.

  • What your baseball-playing friend and Dave Dell both indicate. Yeah.

    ('cept I'd unironically see Everclear.)

  • Wow, Ed, that was surprisingly positive, thanks! We saw Everclear at a local Fourth Of July celebration about ten years ago. They were obviously on the downslope of their career, but seemed reasonably enthusiastic and happily signed my kid's skateboard afterward. (Her mother's idea, I assure you!) I think they were still having a good time.

    @wetcasements: Silverchair! Bush! Seven Mary Three!!

  • Rosie's Dad, that's a good point. Sometimes those dinosaur/where-are-they-now bands turn out to be REALLY FUCKING GOOD at playing music. They've been touring and honing their chops for 25 years, doing nothing but mastering their little corner of the American songbook and learning how to entertain crowds. Watching skilled professionals practice their craft is always enjoyable, doubly so if you can dance to it.

    And sometimes one-hit-wonder musicians have unexpected later careers. One of my favorite minor performers from my teenybopper days was a British singer named Cathy Dennis. She had a couple of small club hits in the early 1990s, probably peaking for American audiences with a guest appearance on Beverly Hills 90210, and for some dumb reason I looked her up on Wikipedia recently, wondering what ever happened to her. I figured she left the biz and was a mom somewhere, maybe a music teacher in a British high school. Nope. After her performer career wound down, she got into songwriting, and penned several hit tunes for Kylie Minogue ("Can't Get You Out Of My Head", "Come Into My World"), S Club Seven, Katy Perry ("I Kissed A Girl"), Britney Spears ("Toxic"), Kelly Clarkson ("Before Your Love"), and oh yeah the Spice Girls (the B-side to "Wannabe").

    I think her current hobby is collecting castles.

  • The nice thing about seeing one of these acts in their later years is that they're probably playing a small venue and you can get a lot closer.

    Beats sitting in the nosebleed section of a huge stadium going "I think that third ant on the left is the lead singer".

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Think "Spinal Tap."

    I still laugh my ass off whenever I watch it!
    And that's a lot of ass!!!

  • Mac the Knife says:

    We'll look back and it will be obvious that the period between (roughly) the mid 60's to the mid 00's will be an anomaly – the only time in history that wealth and fame were available to musicians. Everyone else had/has to slog it out.

    None of the old folk or blues players had any conception of the fame and money that rock stars would later have. A few of them were lucky enough to have young white people take interest in what they were doing and ended up with some scraps. But, they got into it to do their thing, and I'm sure they were glad for every cent that came their way and rarely thought to be embarrassed by it or hang it up.

    The notion that seeing a band doing their thing is ironic only exists because of how warped the perspective of people who learned to consume music during this period is.

    None of this is to say that Candlebox is comparable to Muddy Waters in their artistry. But, they are dudes who made up and played some tunes that people like and probably care about how hip the people willing to pay to see them play them 20 years later are a lot less than we think.

  • Everclear, Soul Asylum, Eve 6 and Spacehog played the Wisconsin State Fair in 2014. I really wanted to go but I couldn't find anyone who would go with me. Not even ironically. Although my interest was because I really wanted to see Spacehog.

  • Professor Fate says:

    Saw of all people Johnny Cash many many many years ago – I think about 34 to be exact – for free at Great Adventure in New Jersey. It was a bad time in his career coming to the end of his time with Columbia but he did a wonderful show – for free. But I still remember feeling sad that here was an American Icon playing at an amusement park.
    And recently I was in Florida and visiting Epcot and saw that the Village People were playing at the American Pavilion doing 4 shows a day – which as noted still beats working in a cube farm.

  • Spacehog- When they appeared on the Tonite Show they all wore t-shirts that said "ONE HIT WONDER". Awesome.

  • Goddamn, Ed. You're growing up! I think if people knew how much bands like Foreigner were getting for a performance they'd probably snicker less. What's interesting to me as someone who's been a professional musician way more years of my life than not, is that people essentially start to write you off at the age of about 30. It may be true that the majority of great songs are written by people in their 20's (a topic for another time), but I think most musicians don't really hit their stride until they're in their late 30's and through their 40's. I recently saw Nuno Bettencourt, Steve Vai, and Yngwie Malmsteen, all of whom are essentially in their 50's, and all of them were at the top of their game in terms of playing. Plus I was 2nd row, which never would have happened back in their respective heydays.

  • Earth Without Art Is Still Earth says:

    I honestly never understood consuming media "ironically." I had a GF once who (in her 30s) made me watch "The My Little Pony Movie," ironically (I guess?), and I just sat there, thankfully high as fuck yet horrified and questioning my life choices. Why? Why waste that time watching something so you can brag about how much you hated the experience? Oh right. I got laid afterward.

  • When I was a kid in the 80s and my family had no money, the state fair was my mom's annual chance to see live music. Which is why the first concert I attended was Three Dog Night; it's also why I've seen TDN *more than once.* I challenge you to find anyone else under the age of 40 who can claim that.

    It's easy to mock the bands touring past their prime and doing these lame circuits, but those shows on the free stage brought my mom a lot of joy during a time in her life that wasn't particularly easy. And sure, a lot of the people going to see these bands are going for the lolz or because it's convenient and cheap and they have nothing better to do. But I'm sure there will also be people in the audience who are legit fans.

    So if you've got a chance to tour, to keep on making music, to see people in the audience who enjoy what you do, to make money from it, then yeah – that's a lot better than a lot of jobs.

  • @jeneria/ Ttedo re Spacehog, they may have been one hit wonders, but it was a damn good one if I can still remember it today having not heard it in at least 15 years. And I missed seeing Blondie/ Cheap Trick a couple years ago because nobody wanted to go with– wish I'd just gone by myself.

    The washed up and over the hill Slayer and Anthrax are going to be here in a couple weeks. I'm sure they're perfectly capable of unironically ripping my face off over thirty years on.

  • Katydid – She also had "Just Another Dream" from that era, and before that it was "C'mon And Get My Love" with D-Mob. That was during that brief 1990-91 period when dance and house music broke through on the US charts (things like Enigma's "Sadeness", that remix of Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner", Black Box's "Right On Time", Marky Mark's "Good Vibrations", etc.) before Nevermind came out and rebooted the music industry.

  • Cheap Trick is playing at my county fair this summer and I am so going to see them. I don't know what brings them to a really rural county in Oregon but I'm still going and glad for the chance.

  • @ slimlove: My parents liked Three Dog Night. But their mention always brings me right back to the Chuck Negron interview with Howard Stern where he discusses how being a junkie makes you sell substantial assets for the price of a fix, and how his penis exploded from excessive drug use.

    Totally agree with the article. But I want to present the case of Rick Springfield. Rick had a job as an actor on a daytime soap opera in the early 1980s. My sister watched it. This was after he had a hit with 'Jessie's Girl'. These acting jobs were unusual in that the shows ran for decades and the actors could literally grow old and die in the role, making what I assume is not bad money. Every few years I hear Rick is scheduled to play at the Gila River Indian casino, and I think, 'the path not taken?'.

  • Enigma and Suzanne Vega got a lot of play in the USA. I didn't recognize the other Cathy Dennis hits–maybe they didn't hit so big on this side of the pond? Or, maybe they were hits when I was living in England but working a rotating shift so it's all rather a blur.

  • I don't know what brings them to a really rural county in Oregon

    A gig that pays money, that's what. I often wonder if those bands rather enjoy playing the smaller venues in out-of-the-way places more than they ever enjoyed playing stadiums. I know musicians and I know they do like to connect with their audience–which has to be tough at a stadium.

    And…groupies mostly faded away with the advent of AIDS. I worked as a stagehand in the 80's and some into the 80's and I noticed a sharp decline in the quantity of groupies roaming around backstage/trying to get in the stage door probably around, oh, 1987 or so. Maybe a bit later than that, even, but I did quit seeing them so much.

  • This was an enjoyable read. Alas, it reminded me of two stories that ended otherwise.

    This is from memory, so the details may be shaky. In the early '90s, Yakov Smirnov realized that the expiration date for his one joke had arrived. He bought a club in Branson Missouri, reworked his routine, and has apparently been knockin' em dead (or at least satisfied) ever since. Not a bad ending, but Branson?!

    Then there's Gallagher*. He's still flogging the same schtick that he was doing thirty years ago, to ever-diminishing returns and increasing levels of bitterness on his part. He'd probably make about as much being a Wal-Mart greeter – but give up show business?

    As for me, I once flew from California to NYC to see Terence Trent D'Arby play at BB King's Blues Lounge. He hasn't performed in the USA since.

    *How dare you ask 'Gallagher who?'

  • @drouse: Sweet! Roseburg's not that far for me, and Cheap Trick is one of the only bands I really want to see but haven't. Now I just gotta find somebody else who thinks Live at Budokan is genius.

  • Then, there are truly gifted peeps who simply are not Hot anymore, like George Clinton, who played dinky bar in Toledo several years ago. Still had it, but was not a 70s biggie. Also, dealt away much of his intellectual property years ago via bad business deals while doping. But when it comes to music, no shame to his game.

  • Also: Sandy Posey, whose biggie was "Born a Woman" in the early 60s? She married an Elvis tribute artist, and I saw them both at a county fair in Ohio a few years ago.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    I saw Country Joe McDonald (of Country Joe and the Fish fame) at a music venue in Poughkeepsie, back in the late 70's – about 10 years after his late 60's prime.

    He was stoned as shit!
    But the dude could still play guitar and sing.
    "Who Am I," is still one of my favorite songs of all time.
    As is "The Fish Cheer."
    And who can forget his great his great "Vietnam Song?"
    "Well, come on all of you, big strong men,
    Uncle Sam needs your help again.
    He's got himself in a terrible jam
    Way down yonder in Vietnam
    So put down your books and pick up a gun,
    We're gonna have a whole lotta fun.
    And it's one, two, three,
    What are we fighting for ?
    Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
    Next stop is Vietnam;
    And it's five, six, seven,
    Open up the pearly gates,
    Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
    Whoopee! we're all gonna die.
    Come on Wall Street, don't be slow,
    Why man, this is war au-go-go
    There's plenty good money to be made
    By supplying the Army with the tools of its trade,
    But just hope and pray that if they drop the bomb,
    They drop it on the Viet Cong.
    And it's one, two, three,
    What are we fighting for ?
    Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
    Next stop is Vietnam.
    And it's five, six, seven,
    Open up the pearly gates,
    Well there ain't no time to wonder why
    Whoopee! we're all gonna die.
    Well, come on generals, let's move fast;
    Your big chance has come at last.
    Now you can go out and get those reds
    'Cause the only good commie is the one that's dead
    And you know that peace can only be won
    When we've blown 'em all to kingdom come.
    And it's one, two, three,
    What are we fighting for ?
    Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
    Next stop is Vietnam;
    And it's five, six, seven,
    Open up the pearly gates,
    Well there ain't no time to wonder why
    Whoopee! we're all gonna die.
    Come on mothers throughout the land,
    Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
    Come on fathers, and don't hesitate
    To send your sons off before it's too late.
    And you can be the first ones in your block
    To have your boy come home in a box.
    And it's one, two, three
    What are we fighting for ?
    Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
    Next stop is Vietnam.
    And it's five, six, seven,
    Open up the pearly gates,
    Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
    Whoopee! we're all gonna die."

    Yes, children, people protested stupid and meaningless wars before W & Dick decided to go into Iraq!

  • Sheryl Crow ( mentioned above ) will be @ Naperville Ribfest on 7/2 and the Ides of March on 7/3. Saw REO Speedwagon and Huey Lewis in different years a few years ago. It was fun for the audience, and they certainly seemed to enjoy it more than working in an office. Rock On.

  • schmitt trigger says:

    I think that the lamest and corniest venues are the so-called "Rock and Roll Cruises".

    At least if you get completely wasted you are not going anywhere…unless you fall into the sea.

  • Eric Morris says:

    I can't speak for Staind and Uncle Kracker, but you'd be surprised how popular Papa Roach and Kid Rock still are. Papa Roach in particular. They've had some decent success recently. They just nestled into a comfy bro-rock segment of the population that (I'm assuming) a lot us don't pay attention to.

  • Amateur Socialist says:

    I was thrilled enough to find out Luna reunited last year to talk the husband into altering vacation plans to catch them in Toronto and Chicago House of Blues. Took at least a decade off my life to hear them again, they still sounded great.

    Surprised to see them still touring this year and weasled myself into an invitation to visit a friend in Cambridge to see them in Boston in Sept.

  • I've photographeed a couple of hundred bands/acts (full disclosure, sometime 30 "bands" will have had the same drummer or guitarist or fronter or whatever) and it's been my experience that the better the band/singer songwriter the less assholeish they are.

    When I was in the USAF back in 1970 or so, in Wiesbaden, Germany we got Sam&Dave, Smokin' Joe Frazier and friends, The Searchers, The Crickets, The Cowsills and some other OTH bands at both the Nimbus and Rocker NCO clubs. They always worked their asses off and gave us a great show–for free (except for the having to be in the military part) .

    I can honestly say that I've only had a couple of really dickish people to deal with over the years. Kansas was one (their road manager) and the other was a guy, Harvey Reid, who asked me to come take pictures of him and then decided he didn't want to be bothered with having to not be an asshole and said, "I don't want you to take any pictures"; this after I had driven a distance to get there. I like his wife, she's a great fiddler, Joyce Anderson. In fairness, Reid is a great musician but he's sort of even will Al DiMeola on the assholeishness scale.

  • CLUTCH!!! I've seen them lots of times "back home" (9:30 club) and most recently (still a long while ago) at the "Taste of Madison" on a radio-sponsored stage. That was a disappointing show (for me) because they only played for like 45 minutes or so. But there were a decent number of people hanging around enjoying it and for festivals like that they prob. only want shorter sets so people keep walking around to buy stuff.
    Definitely yes, hats off to those pro-rockers and all the others like them.
    I can't wait to sing "Rock and Roll Outlaw" with my son, he'll love it :-D

  • I saw George Clinton playing a free show on a random weeknight last year and it was a top 3 show for me lifetime. I saw Ministry burn down Great Woods. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.

    I've seen things.

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  • marduk– that Great Woods show is one of my top memories of the 90s live music blur. Such a tremendous experience, and probably worth the Lolla exile to Quonset for the next few years.

  • If you're a CLUTCH* fan monica check this out. Turn it up and tip the sound engineer on your way out. So sick when it drops.

    *I also hear their name in caps.

  • Such a tremendous experience, and probably worth the Lolla exile to Quonset for the next few years.As I remember it Cypress Hill played on the main stage before Ministry with a ludicrous giant bong full of dry ice, and it was good. Ministry destroyed the universe and remade it in their image. Red Hot Chili Peppers were there and tried to play at the end but nobody cared.

  • I'm an amateur musician, never gonna get to tour anywhere. But I can tell you, for many (most) of us, playing out is as much a need as a desire. Go to any local jam and you'll see lots of often great musicians come out to play their couple of songs with strangers. Some are in bands, most are not ,but they all share that common need. So when non musicians scoff at aging rockers, I think "If you could do that, why the hell wouldn’t you?"

  • Thanks for sharing this with us, Ed.
    As others may have pointed out already, trying to become a rock star or whatever may not be such a safe or guaranteed bet for success in life, but at least some people get to be happy with what they've got while doing what they love. Actually, it kind of reminds me of this article here, from this one blog which I follow:
    I don't think I've ever listened to it before myself, but is anyone here a fan of that group Phish?

  • I'm not THAT old, but I never heard of half the old acts being mentioned.
    That being said, the only time I saw one of my all time favorite bands (Spirit) they were on an OTH tour (maybe 1982). Small venue, they seemed to enjoy it and they came out to sign stuff at the merch table. I had a nice conversation with the drummer. Glad I saw them. (BTW, some of us recognized "Taurus" when "Stairway to Heaven" came out)

    What I pretty much was thinking was, you can probably find some damn good music where ever you are for a $10 cover. We have excellent musicians around here who all work well together, just love music without ups-manship. Someday you may be saying "I used to see…(the equivalent of Phish) every friday night and toke with them between sets"

  • @S M McBean; I agree with you. My area isn't known for super-fantastic music, but I've had many a great time at little local hole-in-the-wall places with no cover (or minimal $5 / $10 cover) listening to some talented musicians.

  • Any working band worth a shit was playing those clubs before they hit the mad stadium tours — if they ever did at all. And any that didn't are manufactured pop crap that still need to pay their dues. There's nothing embarrassing about it. If someone wants to pay $20 to hear you play your songs for them once, that's pretty fucking awesome.

  • Jesse: "Any working band worth a shit was playing those clubs before they hit the mad stadium tours"

    This. It might be temperament, nostalgia, economics, intimacy with the audience, or all of the above, but for many who've experienced both, playing smaller venues in your own familiar corner of the world while working for yourself is more attractive than the jet-lagged what-city-is-this high-pressure concert/publicity circus these guys had to perform to pay back the record companies that were screwing them over.

    And in many ways, it's a better experience for the fan.

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