“I'll be what I am, A solitary man” ~ Neil Diamond
An entry by Andrew Lion
“Yo, DJ Isaac, you’re up,” I called out to the backbench of the van.
“Um, yeah man. You got the bag,” replied Isaac.
Ruthie Dineen, co-leader of the group, sitting in the passenger seat, reached down for the crinkly yellow and red Amoeba Records bag that held a variety of treasures from the ninety-nine cent CD aisle procured by Isaac Schwartz, NPP’s drummer and comic philosopher, prior to departing for the Pacific Northwest.
* * *
With the Cascades off in the distance, staying put, while we sped along HWY 97 next to Upper Klamath Lake, the expansive and breathtakingly beautiful scenery was punctuated by Ruthie’s choice of listening. ‘I’m a Believer’ by Neil Diamond blossomed from out of the well-worn stereo speakers in the rented van. As we closed in on Klamath Falls, a necessary stop along the route towards Redding, CA from Bend, OR so that Ruthie and I could make an on-air radio interview with California’s Central Coast Station KEBF while we still had cell service, ‘Solitary Man’ came up in rotation. It brought back a host of sense memories as well as reflections that I had just absorbed within the prior several days.
My relationship to music has mostly been from the standpoint of a support role. I am a bass player in the way that many performers on the instrument largely are. We are there to accompany the featured instrumentalist or vocalist. Some of my earliest experiences were to support a singer and guitar player with expert knowledge of Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, The Beatles, and other acoustic oriented pop songs. That is where I first accompanied on ‘Solitary Man’.
When one hits the road to tour, it can feel like a solitary exercise just as much as one may have their tribe, their band, and their community around them. It became even more evident to me on this trip in the role of Band Leader (Co-Leader really), Tour Manager, Driver, Caterer, and Housekeeper, that all of those distinctions could be occupied by a person each- but instead, I compartmentalized and internalized them all. You see? I am a Bass Player. It was important to me that each member of the band had their space to be with each other, deepen relationships on and off the bandstand, and experience the cities we visited.
At times I could let a slight loneliness creep into my heart in the days that I took on the nearly sole responsibility to promote the performances and support my band mates, while getting us from one place to the next in time (incidentally, a schedule that I imposed on the group and myself- and to be fair others were good about sharing our upcoming performances through social media platforms).
It has happened before, even while I was on the road as a side person with someone else occupying the chief ‘make stuff happen’ position. As long as I am away from home (the place I shed/practice, create, compose, prepare, and most importantly have interaction and connection with my best friend (my wife)), it is easy for me to allow some melancholy through the in-between moments. It can feel sometimes like I am alone.
I do not share this to solicit pity or praise, but it is the more literal reality that I have personally experienced on the road. What is the antidote?
The dichotomy is that we each have individual, maybe even solitary, experiences when we are away from the places we call home, but, as an artist, musician, and performer, the place we can feel at home, until the next time, is on a stage together collectively experiencing the music and sounds we are producing in the moment; even better in front of an audience where we have the opportunity to include them in the experience.
So, that is to say that separateness is really an illusion. When one is away, relationships remain. The result of a performance where there is trust amongst the musicians to take worn material in new directions deepens appreciation, respect, and relationships on and off the bandstand. The objective reality of taking to the road is that there is poetry, comedy, friction, beauty, and connection almost approximate to our closest relationships. While I thought that I was witnessing that interdependent expression amongst the band from afar, I was really right at the epicenter of it all.
I am a self-imposed solitary man, but I am also a bass player, and it is through that role that I get to express love for my friends, my band mates, my family, and all those that climb into a van to take to the road together.
* * *
“Oh, you gotta check this out,” Ivan Arteaga, our visiting Alto Saxophonist from Seattle, WA on this leg of the tour exclaimed.
The music programming in the van shifted to the Afro-Columbian singer Toto la Momposina and all the Afro-Latin layers of simple and compound rhythm that one can’t help but move to.
The mood shifted to a party.