“We ain’t ever gonna make it, like I thought we would
So why can’t we just pack it up and say we did the best we could?
I used to be a decent man, then life just took its toll
Now I’m just a casualty of rock ’n’ roll.”
American Aquarium haven’t ‘made it’ in the tradional sense of the term. They might never make it. And that’s a shame. But it’s not all that surprising and it’s not the end of the world. There are so many bands working their asses off out there — sacrificing everything to the road in pursuit of ‘making it’. Few even come close. Countless musicians spend a good majority of their lives sharing air with other musicians in the cramped quarters of a run-down van. They eat like crap, sleep like shit and if they are lucky, that van will make it until the end of the tour. It’s hard to feel sorry for these people. Afterall, they chose this lifestyle. But I find it hard to watch talented artists struggle while plastic pop stars get all the fortune and fame. The Band Perry are being handed awards while the guys in American Aquarium are eating burritos and keeping an eye out for assholes who want to steal their equipment. No one said this world was fair, but sometimes it’s so unfair it’s worth commenting on. A talentless fraud born to famous parents can strive for fortune, fame and a carefree life (winning a Grammy would be a good indication of ‘making it’), while an extremely talented songwriter with country-rock leanings might strive to make a living with his music (quitting his day job would be a good indication of ‘making it)’.
I wonder what B.J. Barham’s definition of ‘making it’ was when he wrote those lyrics?. Did he dream of American Aquarium topping the Billboard charts? Hosting SNL? Duets with Toby Keith and appearances on American Idol? I don’t think so. Having seen Barham perform with his friends in American Aquarium, I think he’s striving for more of a Lucero/Drive-By Truckers sort of success. Quitting those part-time jobs to focus on those full-time addictions would be a good start. An upgrade in their means of transportation, more headlining gigs and bigger crowds would be good as well. Graduating from BBQ joints to full fledged music venues wouldn’t be frowned upon either. If Barham lives in the real-world, and has realistic dreams, I believe he can achieve success for himself and his band. If these guys from North Carolina continue to release albums like Burn. Flicker. Die, they will no longer be casualties of shitty New Mexico bars where ignorant women “payed [sic] good money for some real country music”.
Bands like American Aquarium need to have self-doubt though. They need to experience loss. They need to perform in front of hostile, unappreciative crowds in Cheyenne. The road is where the inspiration comes from. We need these guys to experience a bearable amount of pain, because that’s where the music comes from. The words pouring out of Barham’s mouth…Whit Wright working things out on the pedal steel…Bill Corbin’s heartbreaking basslines — these are the sounds of suffering. The sorrowful sounds of the road. And without those sounds, where would they be?
American Aquarium have played Denver three times in the past few months. They recorded a couple new songs up in Steamboat and they are enjoying our newly legalized edibles. No matter where they have been before, coming back to Colorado has to be a good feeling. I wouldn’t call their Mile High following enormous, but we are dedicated. Everyone in the crowd knows every song. The back-and-forth banter is all in good fun. We buy their merch and we buy them drinks…
And then there’s Stripper Jake. Jake doesn’t only buy shots for the whole band, he also throws various pieces of his own clothing on stage during each song. If he gets real excited, he might even throw his wallet and cell phone. I assure you, it’s quite the thing to see.
So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe American Aquarium have made it. Their album was produced by Jason Isbell. They get to tour the country and play the music they love. And they have their own personal male stripper. I mean really, what more could a band ask for?
Cape Fear River
The Man I’m Supposed to Be
Ain’t Going to the Bar Tonight