An African-American fellow asks the Lord a number of questions related to his color, hair and physical characteristics, and is essentially told by a booming, disembodied voice that these things would help him survive in an equatorial clime. The man offers one last query: “What the hell am I doing in Cleveland?” Elsewhere, a musician is staring back at his meager belongings and a trail of broken relations, wondering, “What would life be like without Ramen?”
And these are not rhetorical questions. They’re universal, really, as we all struggle to appreciate our circumstances. It comes down to intent. If we want to believe in a single, discrete personality, how come we have such a hard time treating everyone equally? For that reason, is it any wonder we’re of two minds about local music?
Sure, there’s a lot of pride and talk about how vibrant the community is, and it’s not idle chatter. But when it comes to putting money where the mouth is, well, that’s another matter. As rich, talented and eclectic as the Triangle is, you can go to nearly any venue in town, any weekend night, and have a better-than-even chance of hearing (and seeing) something good. It’s something that’s taken for granted.
Given their vested interest in the scene, some musicians and music writers can, unfortunately, be as guilty as anyone of this. It’s sad commentary to note how few musicians in town venture outside their clique to see local music (your absence has been noted), but they aren’t alone. We are all guilty. Now a Cleveland resident, I wonder why I never found the time to spend a weekend in Asheville or Wilmington. Or make it to a hockey game. I always figured there’d be more time. What’s close by is devalued by its proximity and, in turn, its availability.
We wrap bands in terms connoting ownership with pride and possession. “Our Chicas,” some of us have said. But how do we show our allegiance? How many times have you seen them? Certainly, watching them perform at SXSW two weeks ago–now knowing I will only see Caitlin, Lynn and Tonya perform once a year–their music seems more poignant. So dulcet and sweet, they’ve moved beyond the country pigeonhole with their latest and into the realm of sophisticated pop that is perfect for the NPR set. If Norah Jones made it, why not them? And if you can’t go crazy for your local supergroup, who will?
What about Hotel Lights? Not to intrude on page 53’s darling, but Darren Jesse’s tender pop melts in your mouth like milk chocolate. His debut was without doubt one of the most overlooked pop gems of 2004, and now with a upper-tier independent label’s backing, could this be the next College Music Journal darling?
And how about The Nein? One Austin scribe picked them as a best bet on Saturday in a time slot that included Wanda Jackson, Richard Swift, Rainer Maria, The Wrens’ Charlie Bissell and Austin’s own Rhett Miller.
That’s without considering the scads of local acts on either Merge or Yep Roc, which can stand toe-to-toe with their East or West Coast brethren at Matador, Sub Pop and Epitaph. Simply irresistible live acts such as The Rosebuds, The Moaners or Valient Thorr all live in your Triangle. Meanwhile, a “big” city, such as my Cleveland, pines for the halcyon days of the James Gang and The Raspberries, Rocket from the Tomb and the Dead Boys, glories long since past.
Could you imagine living in Manhattan for years and never attending a show or going to the Museum of Modern Art? Or working in the shadow of Lansdowne Street and never going to Fenway Park? It’s absurd how many great acts there are in the Triangle–from sturdy classics such as Chris Stamey, Dexter Romweber, Superchunk and Southern Culture on the Skids to the relatively new jacks Aimee Argote, Bellafea, Birds of Avalon, Kingsbury Manx, the whole Justus League collective, Cities and Shannon O’Connor. Individually, in another town, they could rule the roost, like the Black Keys do in Akron. In North Cackalackie, they’re just another face on an impressive résumé of artists. If you don’t take advantage of it while you’re here, you should move to Key West and never see the sunset. Because, of course, there’s always tomorrow.