From The Desk Of Rings

I don’t know why I am coming back to Ringo Starr; it’s not like I’m a huge fan or anything. In fact I haven’t even heard anything he’s written in the past, um, fifteen years? Perhaps I simply love it when we get real, unadulterated quotes from rock’n’roll personalities.

Ringo Starr has said that The Beatles’ musical ability wasn’t helped by screaming fans during their mid-sixties heyday. He says: “By 1965 we were turning into really bad musicians because we literally couldn’t hear ourselves over the screaming from the audience. I was going downhill as a musician, and so was everyone else in the band”.

He adds: “Then, we only did 25 minutes on stage. Now thanks to Led Zeppelin and The Who, everybody has to do two hours”. – from CMU Daily

So anyhow, I can understand this. Back then they didn’t really have monitors, or PAs (a rock concert was actually just a concert), but I mean, they still rehearsed, didn’t they? But maybe not if they were on tour all the time. But waitasecond: 25 minutes on stage? Playing short sets is super frustrating. Sometimes The Dears would get to a show, and the promoters would tell us: “you have 30 minutes.” Generally the band would grumble: by about 20 minutes into a set we’ve just gotten comfortable on stage and after that point all of us just start to let loose up there. It’s that point of no return, that “runaway train with no brakes” feeling.

On the other end of the spectrum, the two-hour set doesn’t always work either: it’s all a matter of calling it as it’s happening, of doing what’s appropriate for the situation. And being comfortable: I feel Ringo’s 1965 Beatlemania-induced pain. It sucks when you can’t hear anything – especially the drums – but the show must go on, and I don’t think any one of those thousands of screaming teenagers noticed for a second that the musicians couldn’t hear each other. People don’t go to shows to find out about the technical problems, even though it can ruin the show for a musician.

I remember back when we toured with this Yamaha A4000 sampler connected to three controller keyboards via a flimsy MIDI network. That system would crash half the time and we would have to scramble to keep the show going while I troubleshot the cabling and, in the extreme situation, re-loaded the sampler. Now that sucked. We’ve since switched over to these super reliable Roland FantomX keyboards, so no more mid-show meltdowns. Now I can focus on other things, like playing a good show, which is much more fun for everyone involved.

I Endorse Ringo Starr

This is kind of old news, but a few weeks back, ex-Beatle Ringo Starr was in the US doing some promo. When suddenly, his unexpected walk-out on a daytime talk show stirred the media. He was labelled a rockstar diva and people (who cared) started taking sides. The headline piqued my interest and I read further. The story is that the producers of the show asked him to cut two minutes out of the four-and-a-half minute song he was about the perform.

Who authorised the conceit of television? Why, suddenly, are the impulsive guidelines set by television shows made more important that artistry and craft? What’s the point of publicly performing a version of the song that was never meant to be? It’s maddening for a songwriter to have their creation belittled so thoughtlessly.

But it’s the undeniable role TV plays in defining our culture, the importance we put on it: publicists and managers will urge their artists to do anything to appease the powers that be. When we were asked to go on one US late night TV talk show, the producer told our publicist that we could only appear of we performed their favourite song. The show has a huge viewership and being invited to perform on it without selling a hundred thousand records was a real honour and opportunity for The Dears. But at what cost? They asked us to play a certain song in under two minutes. Now we have songs, including the singles, that would have fit easily into this slot. But they requested a five minute song that we had to re-rehearse, edit and basically butcher completely to get it under two minutes. I mean, I think we pulled it off but commodifying the parts of a song like that was an exhausting and soul-draining exercise.

So kudos to old Rings. If they had told us we had to cut our song right before we went on, there would have been some major, major freaking out. Performing on national TV is nerve-wracking enough. We don’t need the occasionally selfish and artless TV producer randomly adding to that. So a message to any band that writes a real, un-formulaic song over three minutes long: be warned. And Ringo Starr, you are my hero.