A musician has a plenty of time to ponder things--both big and small--when they're on the road. You have to hope for a good sense of shared humor when traveling and living together in cramped confines, something I call the tour bubble. If you can't make light of some of the asanine situations you meet on the road, you are gonna be toast.
Duff McKagan is the founding bassist of Guns N' Roses and the leader of Seattle's Loaded. His column runs every Thursday on Reverb.
Case in point:We spent part of our last tour opening for Alice Cooper in large venues throughout the U.K. Being on a tour like this will expose a band like ours to a larger mass of people than you would get headlining your own shows. But do you rock them all? No. Of course you don't. Many of those people are there for the headliner, and begrudgingly stand cross-armed while you play. Sure, you win over some new fans--which is sort of the whole point of a tour like this--but do you rock them all? No.
Back on the tour bus one night a question started to arise about Bon Jovi. In the song "Wanted Dead Or Alive," the claim is made that "I've seen a million faces, and I've rocked them all". All? Let's ponder.
I have no doubt that Bon Jovi had played to a million people by the time "Dead or Alive" was released on Slippery When Wet in 1986. But did they rock them all? Couldn't it be that some dudes brought their girlfriends to the show and weren't neccesarily into the music of Bon Jovi? What about some parents? Or, maybe some people just didn't get rocked? Hey, it's happened to me. I've gone to gigs properly prepared to get rocked and it just didn't happen for me.
I carried this conversation forward to one of Seattle's illustrious and beloved indie-rock frontmen. He said his band had actually had this very same Bon Jovi discussion. This Seattle indie band has even wondered if they had maybe played to "a million faces." There was one thing they were sure about: they hadn't rocked them all.
But how could they even be sure? They had played a bunch of festivals, and you KNOW that not everyone there was attending to come see their band. They had probably converted some of these people into new fans, but rocking them all would be a huge overstatement. They even doubted that Bon Jovi had played to a million people by the time "Dead or Alive" was written.
And what about me? I mean, in my whole career, I have certainly played to a ton of faces (I'll let you do the math), but, HELL, I was hammered for a couple of those years, and probably wasn't concentrating on faces at all. Besides, how can you see all of the faces that you play to, hammered or not?! Lights are in your eyes! It's dark! You have shades on!
When you headline a smaller venue, with say 850 people, you can actually see all of the faces. But even if all of those people are there to see your band, and have spent their hard-earned money to come and spend the evening with you, isn't it possible a few of those people were disappointed? I guess "I've seen 48,000 faces, and I rocked close to 41,000 of them" (a good damn percentage, by the way), is not so poetic.
Yep. These are the kinds of magnetic conversations bands have on the road. The rest of you may think we're nuts. It is a tough thing for a wife or manager to suddenly come out on the road for a visit and see five grown men having a faux-intellectual conversation about something like this.
I bet it even happens to the fellas in Bon Jovi!