Column 298: Still Ungrateful
…after all these years.
by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
With this issue’s deadline pressing heavily on my shoulders a full week before the paper will hit the stands (thanks to a lousy print schedule), I was left pondering a topic for this week. That’s when I stumbled upon something I wrote five years ago, in 2005. It was a time just after the Omaha music scene had hit its peak and was beginning the slide down the other side of the mountain. We were all still cocky back then. Omaha wasn’t going to be a flash in the pan like Seattle and Athens and Chapel Hill. We were going to reinvent how the music industry was going to operate. We would always be at the center of the indie music world.
And here we are now.
Anyway, back then I wrote the following column that the staff hated, probably because (well, definitely because) it made fun of the newspaper’s annual holiday cover story. Five years later, and The Reader is still doing that same cover story. So, here’s a look back at a column that continues to fit this issue’s theme, and is as relevant today as it was back then. The only things missing from the list are good cell phone reception and Wi-Fi at the apartment you’re crashing at for the night. Touring will never change.
And no matter what anyone says or thinks, Omaha still is at the heart of the indie music world. To me, anyway…
Column 52: Be Thankful for Nothing
Omaha’s music scene has no one to thank but itself.
Nov. 23, 2005
About two weeks ago, the editorial staff at The Reader approached me and the other writers to lend a hand on this issue’s cover story based on the question: “What are you thankful for?” I was given a list of local musicians and important figures from the music scene, which I was assigned to call or e-mail asking them what they’re thankful for during this holiday season.
My reaction: This has got to be the lamest idea I’ve ever heard. Look, I’m not going to pick up the phone and call Simon Joyner or Marc Leibowitz or Tim Kasher and waste their time by first, asking what they’re thankful for and second, explaining why The Reader thinks their comments are relevant to anyone outside of their immediate family, close friends or whatever deity they worship.
Beyond the basics — their health, and the health of their friends and family — what could they possibly say that would be interesting? What curveball could they throw that would be “good reading” to the guy or gal sitting at O’Leaver’s or The Blue Line or your local convenient store or any other place where The Reader is stacked? “Dude, I’m thankful for my sweet, sweet Electro-lux Flying V with duo pick-ups and flaming starburst finish.” Right on.
Look, I’m sure the story, which is tucked somewhere inside these pages, is absolutely riveting. And upon reflection, the local music scene and its participants do have a lot to be thankful for. But once you get past thanking the obvious — the venues, the labels, the promoters, the recent national attention, and, of course, their natural talent — there’s not much left to be thankful for.
Our music scene was built on hard work. Not luck, not fortune, not the good will of some omnipotent rock god. The bands that have made a name for themselves did it by busting their asses in the studio, in the clubs, on the road. Beyond that, I can only imagine what they could be thankful for:
A good van
A better mechanic.
Free booze at gigs.
A quiet place to throw up after all that free booze.
Getting away with it.
Getting caught by the right people.
The decision to not press charges.
Staying together, because it makes sense.
Breaking up, because it makes sense.
Just getting rid of the fly in the ointment.
Thinking through every possible consequence before saying no to a groupie.
Those times when you said yes.
Catching the flu on off nights.
Being able to fake it when it catches you on a show night.
Staying away from the wrong drugs.
Surviving those time(s) when you weren’t smart enough to avoid them.
Making that one last phone call.
Sending that one last e-mail.
Making and sending one more after that.
Listening to the right people.
Ignoring the wrong ones.
Not giving a shit either way.
Being clever enough to come up with the right riffs,
The right fills,
The right lyrics
At the right times.
And most importantly, doing things the right way when tempted time and time and time again to do it the easy way.
This is getting preachy. And trite. And it’s just the kind of thing I wanted to avoid by not participating in that article in the first place. What do the fans and musicians and everyone involved in the Omaha music scene have to be thankful for? That there is an Omaha music scene at all. And who can they thank? Themselves.
* * *
Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.