Musicians come and go from our fair city all the time. I usually find out after they’ve moved back that they’ve been living in Chicago for the past year or just recently returned from a summer in LA or whatever. It’s almost become a non-event, but it wasn’t always that way…
Column 122: The Defectors
Tim Kasher’s move to LA is met not with a bang or a whimper.Let me take you back, back, back in time. Back to the summer of 1998. Before 9/11 paranoia, before midtown expressways, before MySpace and YouTube.One of the biggest music stories of the year was a cover feature written by yours truly about local band Grasshopper Takeover and their announcement that they would soon be leaving their hometown to test the waters in El Lay, to “make it big” in the music business.“Omaha is too easy,” said GTO frontman Curt Grubb in the article. The occasion was marked with a jam-packed going-away concert at Sokol Auditorium, where more than 1,200 fans tearfully waved goodbye to Grubb and Co. “Don’t forget us,” they said. “Don’t forget where you came from.”Their defection to the West Coast left a bitter taste in the mouths of other bands that didn’t have the chutzpah (or the cash) to make a similar leap. GTO was following the footsteps of 311, who had turned their backs on Omaha five or six years earlier, and who — to this day — are still considered turncoats by the few who insist that 311 isn’t from Omaha, when in fact, they are. They just don’t live here anymore. You see, no matter where you end up, you can’t outrun your roots.The situation was repeated again just a few years ago, albeit with much less fanfare, when Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes fame became known as a New Yorker after signing a lease for an apartment near Tompkins Square Park in 2003. A couple years later, Oberst made the “NYC Hot 25” list in Time Out New York, where he appeared on the cover as one of the “New Yorkers who will make their mark in ’05.” Some gnashing of teeth could be heard over Oberst’s departure. He was, after all, the cornerstone for both Saddle Creek Records and the nationally recognized “Omaha music scene.” How would his move be viewed by outsiders?And wasn’t Saddle Creek supposed to stop all these defections? Bands on the label had said over and over in magazines and newspapers around the country and the world — you don’t need to move away from Omaha to make a living making music. Not anymore. Yet, there was Oberst flying the coop.Then last Monday morning, an item appeared in Pitchfork — the bible of online indie music news and criticism — reporting that Tim Kasher had moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a script writer while remaining an active member of bands Cursive and The Good Life. This just a few weeks after a major feature about “Omaha’s Culture Club” ran in The New York Times Magazine by Kurt Andersen — yet another Omaha defector. Andersen ended his piece with a quote from Sarah Wilson, Kasher’s girlfriend, stating that the couple had considered moving to New York, but decided to stay put because “the charms of Omaha are starting to wrestle me down to the frosty ground.”Well, there’s no question that the ground along Sunset Blvd. is much warmer than the frozen tundra along Happy Hollow.In the past, someone as important to the scene as Kasher moving away would have been met with much fist-shaking and cries of “Ingrate! Turncoat!” This time there was matter-of-fact acceptance. It’s actually old news around town. After the Pitchfork item appeared, someone asked why I hadn’t written about it before. I guess the idea hadn’t occurred to me. Cursive drummer Clint Schnase leaving the band seemed much more significant. Kasher, after all, wasn’t leaving Cursive. Just a month earlier, Cursive bassist Matt Maginn quit his job at Saddle Creek Records because he and his wife also plan on leaving the city. The response to that news by fans and friends was the same response voiced about Kasher’s departure: Godspeed and good luck.Sure, it sucks that we won’t see them drinking Old Styles down at Sokol Underground or The Waiting Room on any given weekend, but with their constant touring schedule, they’re not around much anyway. Starting in May, Cursive will be on the road for a month with Mastodon, winding up the tour with a date at The Waiting Room. It’ll be like they’ve never been gone. The difference is that afterward, Kasher will be flying back to Hollywood, while Maginn will be driving back to wherever his wife will be attending grad school.People grow up; people move on. And though they may live in California or New York or Lawrence, the artists who created Omaha’s music scene will always be identified with the city where they got their start. They may move away, but they won’t forget Omaha. And Omaha won’t forget them.And chances are they’ll be drawn right back, anyway. This city has a way of doing that. Just ask Curt Grubb and Conor Oberst. (And as for 311, well, good riddance).
Two interesting shows worth checking out this evening. Over at The Waiting Room it’s Landing on the Moon with The Hero Factor and Baby Walrus. $7, 9 p.m. While down at The Saddle Creek Bar is a four bands, each sporting a female lead singer: Minneapolis band The Winter Blanket, Hot Sick (featuring Sarah Xiong), Omaha’s Paper Owls and Midwest Dilemma. $5, 9 p.m.
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