JAIMIE VERNON – DEAR MUSIC AUDIENCES…I’M BREAKING UP WITH YOU

As that plastic surgery-inflicted old country crooner likes to sing: “You gotta know when to hold ‘em…know when to fold ‘em”.

This week I was invited back to play the International Pop Overthrow Festival in Toronto. It’s the sixth annual event thrown by the inimitable David Bash. Back when David decided to expand the traveling festival to make it truly ‘international’, I stepped up to help him co-ordinate and facilitate talent and musical equipment for Toronto. It’s an amazing showcase of pop music talent that invades Toronto every year for four days in November. For five years it had a home at The Rivoli on Queen Street but this year it will be held at C’est What? on Front Street from November 21 thru November 24.

The IPO offers something you do not get from either CMW or NXNE – a chance to see and hear music for four days straight without having to run to different venues or miss any act you really want to see. If you hit C’est What? on the 21st at 7PM and leave the bar Saturday the 24th when it closes you will have seen at least 40 pop acts ply their trade in little bite-sized morsels. It’s exhilarating and it’s truly exhausting – in a good way. David even offers a CD that you can purchase with just as many acts distilled from the 17 cities where the Festival train stops every year.

With heavy heart and mixed emotions I turned David down. This would have been my 10th year playing the perpetual festivities. I’ve performed at the Toronto festival five times – one year I was even in FOUR different bands – a feat only rivaled by two other IPO alumni: Jeremy Morris of Jam! Records and the man-for-all-disciplines Robbie Rist who, I believe, once drummed or played guitar in 20 bands during IPO Los Angeles one year. I’ve played IPO Los Angeles once, IPO New York once including an earlier trip as road manager for some of my former record label acts. I’ve played IPO Chicago three times (also with an earlier trip as road manager), and IPO Liverpool once which is, to date, the greatest musical adventure I’ve ever been on. I wish I could have played all the cities on the annual schedule – with more being added each year. But I just don’t have it in me anymore.

The last five years have been personally devastating. I’ve suffered great loss not the least of which was the selling off of the tools of my musical trade – my guitars. It’s hard getting on stage with a foreign object in your hands…especially one you’ve had to borrow from another musician. It was like having my personality altered. But that’s just the tip of an iceberg that has been ripping away at the ship I’ve decided to finally abandon.

On some sub-atomic level there was always hope and promise that what I did on stage would both entertain an audience and satisfy some character flaw that’s caused me to stand in front of crowds and stroke an ego since doing so for the very first time in September 1980. It was a promise unfulfilled. And it took nearly 1,000 performances across 30 years with a dozen bands for me to realize that I was no longer satisfied with ego stroking and that the audiences weren’t satisfied watching some follicly, and dentally, challenged geezer try and remember the lyrics to his own songs – or those of other people’s songs; to date I’ve only seen one person ever correctly recite the lyrics to The Beatles “Come Together” in their entirety…and in the right order! I’ve never been stupid enough to even attempt it.

I once opined that I loved to visit new places but hated traveling to get there. Similarly, I love MAKING music but I hate PLAYING it. Maybe the problem, at its core, is that I should never have been a performer. I once had the Rock and Roll Hair and the wardrobe to do it, but just because I could didn’t mean I should have. In all modesty, I believe I’m a better songwriter than I am a musician. The craft was what drove me to be in music. But at the same time I erroneously believed that being a rock star was part of the whole package – ‘cos it worked out okay for those Four Lads from Liverpool, didn’t it?

Having given up hockey to play guitar, stage time was the closest physical work out I was ever going to get short of getting a real job as a labourer. The nervous energy of adrenalin and sweaty rock music kept me thin and sexy [stop laughing…it was true…once….many, many eons ago]. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, as exhilarating as standing in front of 7,000 people and hearing the brief pregnant pause at the end of a song before the atomic explosion freight train of applause comes smashing against your chest and washes over you like the afterglow from a ‘700 Club’ flagellation sermon. It’s not hard to be an applause junkie in this business. When the pay is bad, the room is bad, and the PA system sounds like the throw-away non-sequitor camp announcements on MASH, applause is sometimes the only reward for a job well done.

And I count myself lucky. Some musicians spend their whole careers looking for that elusive approval rating; People that will stop and listen and voice their joy with hand claps, wolf-whistles and the occasional free alcoholic beverage. The really lucky musicians would also be handed cocaine, blow jobs and record deals. I was part of the first scenario. And because I didn’t do drugs, had a supportive wife and voiced great disdain for record companies, I formed my own label and released my music independently. It turned into a full-time job and by 1998 I was so wrapped up in launching the careers of others – and the birth of my second kid – I put my bass guitar back in its case and walked away from live performing….for four years.

I could have stopped playing long before that based on any number of miserable incidents along the way: a drunk woman dropping fire-works down my pants in Maynooth, running out of gas in a massive blizzard on the way to a gig in 1994, a biker chick attempting to make me her cabana boy, whiny asshole owners/bartenders/waitresses, a ‘fan’ attempting to light my lead singer on fire with a BBQ lighter, flat tires, padlocked venues, failure to get paid, frost-bite, rain outs, empty rooms, a microphone stand to the face (not once, but twice…knocking a tooth out on one occasion), laryngitis, pneumonia, and a horrific bar fight in Barrie that led to the death of a fellow musician.

But by 2002 I missed every minute of it. I had become a suit -the complete misanthropic opposite of who I once was. I decided to remedy that and go it alone. I released a solo album and stepped back on stage – first with local shows at my friend Donny Blais’ Rancho Relaxo and then at the IPO’s. I figured if I was going to reach more people, I needed to leave Canada and seek out new worlds, new civilizations and came back with some great road stories where no non-musician had ever gone before.

By the time I released the second solo album in 2006, the business of music was eating me alive. I was starting to suffer unhealthy disdain for what I was doing, the people who were interfering in its success and even the music that informed it. The live music business and the adult world of personal responsibility and of maintaining an audience in an ironically disconnected, cyber-world was driving me away from the activity I’ve loved since I was 14.

I tried getting the mojo back, I really did. I pursued gigs for no other reason than to resuscitate the feeling I once got from being in the limelight. But the growing chasm of obstacles between the booking of a show and living out that 20, 60 or 90 minute buzz while performing was no longer worth it. Club owners and bookers that never returned calls, getting to the venue on time for soundcheck and having the soundman perpetually late (and often incompetent), parking issues, gas money, babysitters, late nights, bad sound, idiot staff, idiot opening acts (or opening acts invited last minute by the club without warning), and the most disappointing change of them all – indifferent audiences. I can handle a small but appreciative crowd. As much as I like the stadium groundswell vibe, I also love an intimate performance where you can see the look on people’s faces and interact with many of them individually from the stage. But to have a room full of disengaged texters and talkers is not only distracting but completely disrespectful. As I see it: I’ve decided to throw a music party. I’ve invited you all here. And what do you do when you show up? You ignore the host and the REASON there is even a party at all. Why did you bother showing up? Go to a fucking coffee shop and spend hours sending LOL’s to your buddies over $12 moca double grande latte hipster drinks instead. Otherwise you’re obstructing my view from the stage of the people who do enjoy being there.

Like that busker you see everyday in your travels, I gave my time freely. And you chose to ignore me. You chose to ignore EVERYONE. The music scene is dying because audiences are now disengaged and believe that investing in anything more than Angry Birds is giving too much of their valuable time. A great show, a great performance and a great music event takes two ingredients – the performer and the listener. I’ve done my part and for years the audience did theirs. The symbiosis between the two parties night after night in venues all around North America has kept the industry thriving for the better part of 60 years – even through several recessions.

But the distraction of other interests, other entertainment, wrapped in a state of perpetual A.D.D. has caused audiences to break that unspoken contract with musicians. I realize no one owes me anything as a performer, but to have hot and nasty Biblical relations with audiences for three decades and then get dumped at the side of the cyber-highway for some younger, faster piece of entertainment ass is the worst kind of jilting. My interest in this abusive relationship is officially over. I’ve cooked you dinner, cleaned your house and done the striptease for you. The least you can do is turn the porn off and feign interest. Pack your things and get out.

I would be willing to come back if I could re-assemble my dream band full-time and book our own shows in places that want us – and believe me we HAVE been getting requests to do so. I am fortunate in that we will be reuniting one last time to help raise money at the CIBC Run for the Cure rally in Oshawa this fall. They are an audience worth playing for. It will be satisfying to do my last gig with my fave musicians in front of a great crowd. Just like it’s supposed to be.

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com

9 Responses to “JAIMIE VERNON – DEAR MUSIC AUDIENCES…I’M BREAKING UP WITH YOU”

  1. Max Brand Says:

    Hey Jaimie it’s very unfortunate the audiences are not that interested in watching shows anymore which as you mentioned they’re disengaged in other things thats not evolving around the music. It’s a very sad shame we live in this day and age where many folks need to keep checking up on their friends non stop while the band is up there on stage giving their all to perform. I sincerely hope they’ll come a time (If there is one) that folks need to quit their own social attivities and very much engaged themselves of what they were commited to do in the first place is to see a band they obligated from day one. It’s not just bands that are going through the social disturbing media it’s happening at karaoke bars & dance clubs where people are in the middle of the dance floor with drinks in hand texting and dancing at the same time. Whoever invented these gismos has certainly stole the enjoyment of entertainment that at one time was a very well respected social activity has become to obsessively social with people texting & phoning wanting to know hows the party going.

  2. In the 1989 Kevin Bacon film, “The Big Picture” Kevin’s character tries to get a job as a waiter but tell his prospective boss he’s really a “director.” The boss smiles a condescending smile and says, “You’re a director? Pepe the busboy is a director.”

    The same applies to the current music scene. Pepe the busboy is now also a musician. Everyone is a musician, everyone is a filmmaker, everyone wants to be famous. They think it’s their god-given right, and actually they’re right. It IS their god-given right, however by flooding the market, the mystery, the magic from these professions have been taken away and audiences know it.

    That could be my nephew up there. Oh, wait. It is.

    It’s no surprise that audiences don’t respond like they once used to.

  3. It’s generational and technological change coming together to render a verdict that those of our vintage can’t process: music has become worthless. Not worth paying for, not worth collecting, not worth following, not worth savouring, not worth gathering together to share the magic of live performance in which real players using real instruments transform a space from nothing but room tone one minute to something incredible the next.

    Sure, that’s not US – but it is THEM, and they are setting the parameters now.

    WE will always continue … but we must also recognize that the whole pond is getting much, much smaller – and it’s never gonna be the way it was.

    Cheery talk for a Saturday morning, innit?

  4. Here’s the deal to all you people who don’t care anymore. You need your collective asses kicked. Turn off the TV. Turn off the radio. Send back your subscription to Rollingstone. It’s poisoning your mind so you can’t think anymore, or appreciate real beauty.
    You can’t even tell the diference between truth and fiction anymore.
    You sit in front of your TVs night after night and think reality TV is real. Time to get clean again.

  5. I winced a number of times while reading this essay, Jaimie, once at the loss of your guitars, and then again at the thought of the disengaged audience. Take heart, (or not) we’re not musicians by choice, it’s just who we are – and we’re going to keep making music, and finding like minded people to play/hang with until we can’t get out of bed, anymore. One of your take-aways from this whole thing is you are a brilliant writer. Tell them to stuff THAT in their little cell phones and lol on home back to mama.

  6. Richard Leeson Says:

    Aaah, Jaimie…so much truth and wisdom in your writing. Take heart in the fact that, although the pond is smaller, the folks who do take time for a swim are appreciative of the opportunity to do so, and they will continue to pay attention and support live music in their likited fashion…we witnessed it in action last night in Port Credit!

  7. Jamie: by the end of this article the tears were streaming down my face. Your words made me so sad. Music will miss you on that stage and so will I.

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