My life with the Marching Band

I’m convinced I’d be better off dead than famous. Let me explain.

I love music. My penchant for horn players is obvious; if not by my continuous line of posts for the past several years involving Hornboy and other brass boys (and smoochable brass girls, and flag team members), then at the very least by my 3+ year relationship with the Extra Action Marching Band. But it’s my love for music and what I think music is about that attracts me the most to this alcohol-soaked, underdressed, oversexed and music-obsessed train wreck on crack. It is their inherent understanding that music and experience are beautifully and painfully intertwined; like their gypsy brass forefathers, whose music was exclusively for weddings and funerals, they’ve always reminded listeners that music is life and revelry, even when the band itself feels like it’s imploding. Or it just implodes in the unpretty, unprofessional ways that fragile human relationships do; these are things that can never be confined by Sony.

I went to the US version of the Download Festival this weekend; let me tell you that it sucked some major ass (and not in the way I like). I tried my honest best to get a media pass for the event; I knew my friends Extra Action were going to play, and I was totally thrilled that they were playing with my favorite band Modest Mouse. I was really prepared to do anything to see the show, but seeing as that I have valid press credentials, I figured the thing to do was to attend as press. I scoured the Download site, the Bill Graham Presents site, and the Clear Channel site; suspiciously, there were no ways for press to register for the event. I hit up a few media friends and got the phone number of the BGP press contact, Aaron Siuda and gave him a call. He told me to email him with my press info and he’d take care of it; of course, he emailed me back and lied to me, saying the press list was final. The modern icon known as the Corporate Douche. You see, my friend gave me a copy of the press list; only media representing corporate press interests were on the list, in addition to people from sponsors like AIM, Dentyne, MySpace and some cronie hippie called (among others like Spin and Rolling Stone). It was pretty clear that like the other Bill Graham Presents events I’d been to, only corporate media and cronies were allowed, who would no doubt always churn out favorable formula spin on the event, and would look for trim (easy pussy to our UK readers), free food and free booze along the way. Yay music media.

I cruised the ticket situation and quickly realized that this was *not* the way for anyone to see their favorite band. Overpriced tickets to a stadium where you’d get searched and can’t even bring in your own water, then no area at the main stage for anyone who hadn’t purchased $100+ seating for the first (practically) quarter mile from the stage. This was corporate music, baby — musicians and fans are not part of the plan.

rokykiss.jpgI gave up thinking I’d see the comingling of my two favorite things: Extra Action pissing on a corporate music event, and finally seeing Modest Mouse. What I didn’t expect was for Extra Action to practically kidnap me off the streets of San Francisco and take me to the event in their biodiesel powered bus (complete with keg ‘o beer). They did; and if the ride up wasn’t enough to get me in the mood to have fun no matter what the rules were, joking about the sequence of events for the corporate stage (drink; throw up; play; shit pants onstage; cry onstage), then I knew I was in for a ride when I was given a “talent” pass and became the “flag hag” for the event, hauling around pom-poms and taking photos every chance I got. I quickly realized that the talent pass had a lot more going on for it than the media pass, and it showed me what a total joke ANY media passes are — in fact I got to see just how controlled even the corporate media whores are at music events. Let me tell you firsthand, everything you read about your favorite bands is contrived, as all are the photos *and* the music you hear. For instance, media wasn’t allowed in even the b-level areas where the talent ate shitty steam table chow; in fact, in the front area of the stage, the media were herded in and allowed to take photos (with flash) for the first three songs *only*; then herded out like so much cattle. Meanwhile, I took photos anywhere I wanted; too bad everywhere the Marching Band *wasn’t* was totally boring.

I hauled pom-poms. I helped the flag team black out their mouths. It’s way better if, when their tits and asses are being ogled by creepy nearly-hostile dudes, that their eyes are seeping blood or their mouths look like disgusting chasms of rot; trust me. They played their first set, entering the crowd — and the crowd had no fucking idea what to do with them, in mostly a good way. Lots of smiles, spontaneous dancing, much humping of audience and band… The media filming and taking photos were shocked, thrilled. One photographer remarked to me with wide eyes, “This is INCREDIBLE!” I thought, wow, this is kind of a slow day around here. As the band played through the crowd and flag boys randomly grabbed audience members for grope and hump fests (I watched one of the boys violently shoved by a couple very homophobic men at least once), then a side trip to the women’s restroom. They played back out the front of Shoreline, more insanity ensued, then back to the bus. The women (us women) were ogled and hit on incessantly by second stage performers but it was hilarious — GameTap DJ’s aksing me if I was in the flag team, I lied yes and they said, “That is so hottt.” … I wordlessly walked away. A trumpet player pointed them out to me a minute later and said “Zey are tryink to steel our wimmen!” I laughed so hard I snorted. My horn-playing best pal Margaret came out of the backstage bathrooms to be greeted by girls who were like, “Who are you here to see?” She was disgusted; “I’m talent.” Music is still a man’s world, and I was to see more of this later.

extratrumpet.jpgBut first, the Marching Band had to implode. We all went off to the backstage food zone to eat the awful food, and I realized that I had no idea if I was seeing anyone famous (or not) around me. I kind of didn’t care anymore, it was all so unimpressive. And while I love their music I have no idea what Modest Mouse looks like or what their names are; I figured I’d learn that if I was actually mistaken for media, and I had all kinds of questions ready for them like “Can I take a picture of you pretending to choke-fuck your bandmates?”

It was obvious that by the time the nearly 30 of us in our state of undress and insanity sat down to eat that all the performers (whoever they were) wanted to watch us, yet also stay far away from the boys in blonde wigs and girls with blacked-out teeth (thanks, Sharpie). I saw my eternal crush (and friend) Roky Roulette sitting with a few friends and sat down with him — he excitedly turned to me and said, “Oh Violet! I want you to meet my friends from Modest Mouse.” I could see them recoil upon mention of the name. I told them they were my favorite band, and watched them recoil further. I felt palpable resentment, dread and resignation seep from the drummer. I resolved to leave them alone — except the horn player was so nice, he said, hey we love you guys (thinking I was in the Marching Band) and we’d love it if you want to collaborate with us on our last song. At that point my friend Margaret was next to me (she’s actually in the band) and I turned to her. We both turned back to Modest Mouse boy who said, yes, the horn parts on “The Good Times (Are Killing Me)” are simple. He explained how to play it to Margaret, and I kind of freaked out that the one song I listen to while thinking of the Marching Band was going to be one they might play together. Then someone in EA wanted to take a picture of me with the MM guys and I didn’t want to because that’s not what I wanted to be (know what I mean?). But I did ask them if I could take the choke-fucking picture and they sounded excited, but other EA members descended on the table and whipped cream came out… And I think anyone with a “no venue damage” and “guilt by association” stipulation in thier contract fled. Including us. But by the time we got back to the bus, a fight had broken out between a drummer (who’d been looking for a fight all day) and the cymbal player; the implosion had occured.

I tried not to be the last one left behind as the fight dragged on, but I almost was; I was nabbed by another drummer and taken away from the scary scene (security was called, punches thrown) to the backstage area.

EA went onstage and finished Arcade Fire’s set with them; it was obvious that Shoreline staff had distaste for all performers universally, and especially the Marching Band, as they began breaking down the Arcade Fire set while the band played, shoving players and dancers out of the way to move gear around. I stood behind a curtain watching the rudeness unfold; hell, EA was invited by AF to play. But then the little guy in charge of the backstage area jumped up in my face; though not in anyone’s way, he told me, smiling, “You better get out of the way, little girl. You might get hurt.” I instantly knew what kind of prick he was. I looked down at him and smiled, “Gosh, THANK YOU.” I’ve operated heavier equipment than he’s ever seen; it was no surprise to me later that when the Marching Band was out in the poor-people’s ticket section (the lawn) having the best performance of the day and I was backstage watching pom-poms, I overheard the guy saying things to his staff about “Go get yourself a half-naked Marching Band chick.” *I* heard him; *I* knew what he was saying about them. I fended off his staff hitting on me for the next 20 minutes while I fumed, trying to stay incognito so I could see my favorite band, dammit.

modest.jpgExtra Action eventually came back. I was chatting with a few EA members about, I dunno, stuff, and some girl was hanging out with us, listening — I realized I’d seen her around all day. And I looked down, and noticed a digital recorder in her hand, and that she seemed annoyed that I was actually talking to the person she was recording (my best friend, Margaret). I looked at her tag — it said “talent”. I interrupted, “Who are you with? You’re talent?” “Oh, this…” she demurred. I said, “You’re media aren’t you? Did you have a media pass?” She was doing a bad job of playing me off, and I noticed she shut off the recorder. “I traded up,” she laughed. I repeated, “Who are you with?” She said, “I’m freelance.” I countered, “Oh. Who are you freelancing for?” She said, “Oh, I’m pitching a piece for Spin.” Yeah right, you get Spin credentials for a pitch… little liar, I thought. “Oh yeah,” I said, “I had to deal with one of your writers once when we did the Austin SRL show.” She laughed, but then asked, “Who was it?” Me: “I don’t remember.” She: “What was his name?” Me: “Um, I’m bad with names, but he was pretty useless.” She asked, “What did he look like?” I thought I should say something like, wow, you Spin freelancers sure are tight, especially considering that SRL show was in 1999, but I felt like I’d made her MO out well enough. Maybe she’d write a good piece on the band, maybe not, but I learned that she was an example of the press having shitty access to bands, and that honesty is always the best policy of you want a good story — don’t lie to your subjects, and don’t ever think anyone doesn’t matter enough to be one of your subjects for fuck’s sake (especially if they’re scantily clad in an effort to hide their enormous brains) — they might just write about you later.

Modest Mouse took the stage. I hid behind a curtain and for the first song felt the glee of a girl seeing her favorite band for the first time but from behind the stage! I’m special, I thought. But reality, no matter how much beer and vicodin you throw at it, has a way of seeping in. I could barely hear the band; I was standing behind the sound guy and had a great view, but was struggling to make out the songs — songs I know every word to. The sound guy was on his white iBook, compulsively checking his mail throughout the entire set (Outlook Express, pah!). I found a few familiar lyrics in the air and hung on to them, dancing by myself at the tiny opening in the black curtain, floating for a minute and watching the lead singer… and I looked out at the audience. The area in front of the stage was all press and cameras, standing stiff as boards. Beyond that, the audience was seated, or standing on chairs. Then the press was ushered out and there was this wide blank space between the band and people in their seats.

I felt very, very sad. This one gig the Marching Band played once, at a local bar called 12 Galaxies; the band was on top of all available surfaces, the audience was dancing until they had to peel their clothes off in heat and sweat; people were totally fucking freaking out at how loud and fun and alive the music made them feel, you could tell they *had* to dance because tomorrow they might just die, and the band felt it, too. That is my favorite band; that is my favorite musical experience. Uncontrolled, sexy, happy, alive, breathing, and yes, dangerous because it’s just music and listeners and there’s no control, the car’s speeding and the brakes are out, just like when you fall in love or just have to fuck someone’s brains out right then and there.

My moment of epiphany was like when you realize that porn sets are all business. That the business of music is the most unerotic thing, the most unsexy, the most unartistic, the most dead, un-music like thing in the world. And the musicians know it; they don’t seem to want to be there. I wondered, what in the hell was all the life, the love, the heart-breaking, nose-punching, fan-licking passion and humanity of the Marching Band doing there? We all crowded together on the side of the stage and watched Modest Mouse play. EA waited for their cue; I wondered if they were wondering if I’d tell them when the song started, as they all knew how thrilled I was to see them, and was the only one familiar with their music. But they didn’t know how sad I was feeling for music and art, and in how much more love with EA and the unpretty beauty of life I felt at the moment. I thought, being famous really looks like it sucks. I never, ever want to be that. When sex is a job, when music is a job, you should get as far away as you can, as fast as you can, like your life depends on it. Because it does. That is my new philosophy.

flagboys.jpgThen, the staff came through and told us all to (literally) get the hell out of the way: Modest Mouse was done and us riff-raff had to get out of the way so they didn’t have to see/touch us as they left the stage. I walked away fast, not wanting to see it all happen. I fled alone back to the pom-poms; the boy from Modest Mouse came over for an awkward minute to say “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry. They cut us off.” “That’s okay,” I said, thinking that I felt like one hell of an impostor, too. The staff was already moving stuff off the stage for the “real” stars, and to cement the gravity of this fake (and no doubt momentary) oncoming stardom, they kicked everyone out, forcibly, as in grab that horn on your way out because it belongs to someone, and BGP doesn’t want their stars sullied by the sight of other musicians. At least that’s what it felt like.

We all piled up on the bus, curled up like kittens and dozed all the way home. Here are my photos.

I still love Modest Mouse. It’s music to listen to when your boyfriend or girlfriend is inside at the party kissing someone else and you’re on the lawn laying on your back looking at the stars feeling like a skin-covered sack full of air and water holes, or when you were so gloriously fucked last night you never want to go to work again. Watch their videos.

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