That was the thing about playing with a band,” Peter thought. There was always someone else to rescue you when it seemed certain you might fall behind. Only the solo acts left themselves open to those kinds of disasters. Jennifer E. Smith, You Are Here
The Beatles. The Beach Boys. Led Zeppelin. The Who. The Rolling
Stones. The Doors. Queen. Pink Floyd. The E Street Band. The Clash.
The Ramones. The Sex Pistols. The Police. The Eagles. The Talking
Heads. The Cure. The Smiths. U2. Public Enemy. Run DMC. REM.
Nirvana. Pearl Jam. Oasis. The Dave Matthews Band. Coldplay. Mumford and Sons.
If you think about the most iconic movements in music history, most innovations — a new music, a new language — have been created by bands. Any time a new sound has burst into any type of mainstream recognition, it has exploded out of community. Whether it’s the British Invasion of the 60s, the synth-pop or hair metal bands in the 80s, or the grunge and hip-hop of the 90s, at the core of the music you’ll find bands — communities laboring to make a sound out of nothing.
It’s interesting to me that all of these bands — and hundreds more we could all probably list — have mostly been of men.
I don’t intend this observation to be macho arrogance or posturing; I simply find it interesting that men seem to need a band to create something enduring. Particularly given that men frequently have a reputation for going it alone, for being ruggedly individualistic.
Even the most successful male solo artists — Elvis, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash — had backing bands in the early going. (Even Jimi Hendrix had the Jimi Hendrix Experience.) Some, like Elvis and Cash, kept their bands with them. Springsteen famously walked away from the E Street Band, but soon returned. Sting may be one of the few male solo artists to maintain a certain degree of creative longevity, but he’s had the same touring band behind him for 20 years — and his career came full circle when he and the Police re-grouped for their 2007-2008 farewell tour.
There are always seeming outliers, I suppose — Justin Timberlake has done pretty well as a solo artist — but even JT got his start in a (boy) band, and has a tightly-knit group of collaborators even now. Lou Reed got his start with the Velvets, with whom he created some of his most long-lasting material, and both Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins got their start with Genesis. Clapton got his start in bands like The Yardbirds and Cream. Michael Jackson, inarguably the greatest pop star in the world, was never as good as he was in the early 80s, when he was still a part of the Jackson 5, and when he was teamed with Quincy Jones. The truly great innovators who explode out of nowhere, fully-formed and on their own, like David Bowieor Stevie Wonder, are rare indeed.
Men, it makes me wonder if we need bands.
When people form a band, they’re forming what an anthropologist would call a clan – a group of people who may not be genetically related but who share interests of some kind, and who have pledged loyalty to each other. Brian Eno
Bono, lead singer of U2, once met with Dylan, at the height of U2’s first wave of success in the 80s, and Dylan asked how Bono was handling it. Bono said he was grateful to have his three bandmates to keep his head straight — the money was coming in fast, their fame was exploding, it was hard to keep a level head. “Yeah,” Dylan replied. “Imagine going through this all alone.”
Five years later, U2 learned the dangers of going it alone when their bass player, Adam Clayton, was unable to perform at one of the band’s most high-profile gigs, due to his alcoholism. The group rallied and forced him to get help. Clayton could have turned into a rock and roll cliché, but the band that had created iconic music together turned its power on itself. Twenty years later, Clayton is sober and the band is still together — one of the few bands to endure for almost 40 years without a lineup change.
It’s no good to have one member not well. The others don’t say ‘hard luck, mate,’ and carry on. They say, ‘we’ve got to get that person happy again, we’ve got to draw them back into the circle’. Eno
Why Every Good Guy Needs A Band
A band is a place of absolute transparency. The Police’s album Synchronicity was birthed in an environment of crisis and trauma, as the band member’s relationships imploded. U2’s Achtung Baby was crafted as their guitarist’s marriage was splintering, a divorce that inspired “One.” Jagger and Richards have trashed each other in the press, while Steven Tyler and Joe Perry have taken turns throwing each other out of Aerosmith. Oasis’ famously fractious Gallagher brothers have repeatedly quit the band over the years. Band life is hard, because there’s nowhere to hide. Nowhere to run. Bill Flanagan of Musician magazine has written about the challenges of living and working in bands, especially the longer you stay together. It’s a pain in the ass to have your clothes, your personality, your creative choices held up for constant question, analysis or ridicule.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. … Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable. CS Lewis, The Four Loves
It’s easier to be alone.
It’s harder to be together.
But together is where we find our best selves. Where we’re forced to be
Where we create our best work.
And there is no work more important that our character.
Men, we need bands.
Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. Prov 27:6
We need men who can challenge us. Push us. Hold our feet to the fire. It’s a pain in the ass to be questioned and challenged. We don’t always get it right, either. The judgments we can be subjected to are not always accurate. We have to resolve conflicts. Work out our shit. Get hardened in the process. Become sharpened iron. Maybe it’s easier to walk away — but I don’t know anybody who prefers Wings to the Beatles..
I think men in particular have an instinct for banding together and being in a group together. Most of the identity of that group is formed by its separateness from everybody else. Eno
It’s critical for us to choose our bands carefully. Too many of us wind up in relationships based in proximity rather than in actual commonality. Tim Keller says in The Meaning of Marriage that the most important part of a marriage is shared values — that attraction to each other, while important, is less crucial to long-term marriage success than attraction to the same things. Musicians frequently liken life in a band to life in a marriage. Thus, the power of shared things is as crucial for our bands as they are for our marriages.
Or, as CS Lewis says in The Four Loves, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'”
So men: who is your band?
I have found this a hard question to answer over the years. LA is a traditionally transient city. The men in my life now are not the ones who were here five, six, seven years ago. We have to keep re-making our bands over the years, as we shift into different seasons, as friends leave. It’s hard to keep re-making my band. But I know I need one.
So I want to encourage us: find the men who care about the same things you do. Get to know them. Press into relationship with them. Pray for them. Invite them to ask you the hard questions. Ask them the hard questions. Get it wrong. Apologize. Form a band. Never take it for granted.
Band life is hard – no question. As Bono describes life in U2, “It’s a very unromantic love, a very tough, hard-bitten, fuck-off love.”
But it’s love.
And love can make all things new.
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. Ecc. 4:9