Peak live music, or no more surprises

What do you do when you stop caring about something you used to love?

I moved to Salem, MA and basically stopped actively seeking live music. I still see live music – say, when my girlfriend and I go out to brunch and a jazz band happens to be performing there, or when a once-in-a-lifetime performance in the city happens – but for years I would spend hundreds of dollars almost every month trying to see as many bands as possible. There were so many possibilities, even in “our music scene is dying” Boston – I would frequent Great Scott and Harper’s Ferry/Brighton Music Hall and The Middle East and (begrudgingly) TT the Bear’s (just kidding, RIP).

I don’t think it’s because I’m getting older. I don’t think it’s even because bands aren’t impressing me anymore. I still listen to recorded music constantly and find new bands via blogs and Apple Music and friends’ posts.

I do think saturation has something to do with it. Software is eating the world and the Internet is eating media, and both of these things are eating our ability to be surprised. The barrier to entry for anyone to become a musician is virtually gone, and it’s really easy for anyone with a slight ego to fight for your attention. The barrier to entry to start a blog or generate commentary on said music is also gone, so with every million bands that form, there are 100 million people ready to comment on said bands.

So you have tons of musicians out there, striving to outdo each other with better performances and more inventive production in order to satisfy the even more so-called critics. The caliber of the average musician is so much higher as a result – and every musician is looking to surprise you, the listener-critic, constantly. Every night holds hundreds of amazing shows competing for your time & attention – secret exclusive shows, bizarre live rigs, intense theatrics, warm acoustic sets – all of which are constantly trying to compete for your interest. It’s all amazing…until it’s all the same to you.

And so I’ve become desensitized to the ability to be surprised by live music.

I’ve been meaning to write about being a musician on the North Shore of MA and how live performance here is different than, say, Brooklyn or Cambridge or other major cities with credible music scenes. I wanted to write about the fact that there is a small but lively group of musicians hopping up and down the shore, playing long & extremely entertaining sets in front of small, passionate North Shore crowds at quaint restaurants and bars. I wanted to write about the scene being smaller, thus allowing me to have a shot of regularly performing with a tight-knit group of collaborators.

None of that has actually happened, and that’s on me. But when you struggle to be surprised by anyone else performing, how can you expect to be inspired to surprise others with your own performance?

Goal: by April, have a live acoustic/looper set prepared and book a show. Try it out.

NYC, then back (for good)

I maintain a theory that the happiest people in New York City are bartenders. They are decently paid, have flexible hours, can usually find work right near home, and pride themselves on being a friendly savior to those who so desperately need their service at the end of another punishing day. Those people, pretty much every other resident of NYC, is either miserable, tired or both. Even the rich ones.

NYC is great if you can embrace chaos, the kind of chaos where as soon as you leave your house you’re wondering how long it’ll take before you get hit in the face by something or someone, metaphorically or physically. It’s terrifyingly unpredictable and we found it difficult (at best) to enjoy much of anything, let alone exercising any free will or creativity. We went to dance parties because peer pressure. We went to dinner because we needed to get out of our (admittedly well-decorated) railroad car of an apartment. I performed in NYC…playing bass behind a house DJ (my friend Rich, he’s actually a really good house producer) shoved into a corner because the club needed to make room for more people to dance — far from my ideal gig.

Sometime in April Alicia was really worked up about some job prospect and I told her:

“You know, you don’t NEED to look for jobs in New York, in case something cool comes up somewhere else.”

The joy on her face when she looked up was something I hadn’t seen in months. We started rattling off companies, positions, cities…suddenly MA was back in the cards.

She started tearing up. For me, being close to family was nice but not a priority; for her, it was the reassurance that everything could turn out OK. If we found a place just north of Boston, we could work in and outside the city and be 30 minutes or less from parents, siblings, best friends. A work opportunity came up. Then 2 friends got engaged, another pregnant — Alicia suddenly had photography gigs. Only 1 of those, as a glorified intern shooter, actually panned out.

In June I got a job offer through some weird circumstances, with the caveat that I’d have to work on-site in Boston. The timing worked, and we were out by July. We looked around for a place for a bit; with very little effort we found a HUGE duplex right near Salem Common. 2 minutes to walk to a huge park; walk 2 minutes in the other direction and you’re at a cute little beach. It’s not even far from the city compared to how far away everything is from Ridgewood, Queens.

So we came here, and we’re both happy again.

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So what’s Salem like for a bunch of young creative professionals?

I never thought it would affect me that much, but the prevalence of nature has really started to inspire both of us. We both love going outside again — I’ve got my Zoom H4 unpacked and for the first time in almost 2 years I’m excited to record the sounds around me. Alicia’s started to take pictures just for the sake of taking pictures. We’re eating healthy. (We can afford to again, thanks Market Basket.) We have space in our apartment to fully realize our creative ideas without stepping all over each other.

How is it in town? You know how everyone says that Bostonians are mean, sort of like New Yorkers but with a harsher accent and a perverse love of their sports team? Salem residents couldn’t be further from that stereotype — everyone is amazingly nice, humble, inviting. I really think that part of the inspiration of all Brooklyn musicians is their interactions with the city’s chaotic meanness (which coincidentally is what’s causing the homogenization of Brooklyn music, since the chaos is becoming so materialistic and almost predictable); in Salem, we’re being inspired by the town’s whimsy and warmth.

So instead of starting a blog and not touching it for months, I’ll write more.