Last year was a rough one for many of us, having lost so many heroes (David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell, Merle Haggard, Muhammad Ali…). No matter what your beliefs, we’ve all had our faith in reason and decency tested. Whether it was the bruising U.S. presidential campaign, Brexit — or the death of poor Harambe the gorilla, who was fatally shot in the Cincinnati zoo.
My song “Bad Year for Rock and Roll,” on my upcoming Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins, grew out of some or most of these threads and turned into a cathartic anthem — an anthem for anyone who’s ever had a bad year and battles late-night bouts of loss of faith. There’s enough longing, loss and empty feelings to go around these days. I hope we can find belief in a better tomorrow where a spark of romance rekindles the ties that bind.
We all live in a time of cultural exhaustion. A lot of things seem to be coming to an end. But I’m not exhausted. I try to re-enchant the world one gig at a time. I’m not sure if rock & roll can get people to vote or be nicer to each other, I’m just running battery cables into the audience, hoping to keep the circuit connected.
I just haven’t found anything that hits me the same way as music. No Instagram, no Snapchat can come near to conjuring up that feeling. That two-guitar, bass and drums feeling. Maybe musicians are a dying breed, along with the great movie houses around the country. On a side note, I like to sit in the dark and stare at a big screen. Probably the best way to send Prince off and honor him was to see Purple Rain at a movie theater. That was one of the more rock & roll things I did this year. The crowd was wild. In fact, the two girls sitting next to me got so emotional that when Prince, or “the Kid,” was fixing to bust into “Purple Rain,” they passed me tissues. And for good reason.
And as far as losing and finding faith goes, once again I find myself gearing up for a trip around the globe, taking my five-piece band out on the road. Somehow I’m excited about it. Excited to kick these new songs around on the bandstand. Getting in the Econoline and visiting towns all over. There are worse things than being curled up like a pretzel on the backbench listening to Chuck Berry on the iPod while reading Elmore Leonard.
But hitting the road in February can be dicey for us California kids. (Winter weather works differently than summer weather does, don’t you know.) Still, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather do it with. Stephanie Finch playing keyboards and singing. James DePrato playing as many guitars as we can pack into the overhead bins. Kevin T. White on bass and Vicente Rodriguez singing and back there on the drums turning it all into four-four time.
Some nights I do feel like the last one at the bar. But I’m into the shared experience. And I do have faith. I have faith that whether we’re playing in a sit-down club with tablecloths and table service, or one of the bars with a sticky black floor that we’ve returned to over the years, there’s still a place for what we do. Sure, it was a bad year, but we’re doing our damnedest to take our folky, greasy, psychedelic ballroom rock & roll with a little Byrds, a little Groovies — both heartfelt and snotty — to the people. If that’s your thing, we’ve got you covered.
One last thought. Flashing on so many memories out there on the road. Here’s one more: a couple of years ago we played with the late Sharon Jones and her band the Dap Kings in Rochester, New York. The gig was moved from outside to the armory on account of rain. The promoter had Sharon and me up and around town visiting radio stations to get the word out. One of the greatest days of my life. We were palling around all day talking shop. She was smoking weed constantly, but was all business. The show at the armory that night was a revelation. She destroyed that place. Also, it wa redemption for me because for some dumb-ass reason I couldn’t get it together years earlier to see her and the Dap Kings at the Elbo Room in San Francisco when my old friend Teenage Rob was there with sixty people and said, “You have to get down here. Now!”
Sharon talked that day about being a correctional officer. And having the baddest R&B wedding circuit cover band in the five boroughs. She loved other songwriters and could really sell a song. At the end of the night, she collapsed on stage. Next thing I know, she was chasing our van out of the parking lot yelling, “Chuck! Chuck!!!” She wanted to exchange CDs! And so we did. Major crush for me.