Why I Stopped Drinking at Shows

When does the alcohol become more important than the music?EXPAND
When does the alcohol become more important than the music?
Flickr user Matt

There weren’t that many instances in my career as a drunk in which I was asked to leave an establishment, but the last time I was 86’d from a bar was definitely the most embarrassing. It was also the most memorable, partly because I wasn’t quite blacked out.

Back when Sputnik and the hi-dive were owned by the same people, I was asked to leave Sputnik on a Sunday afternoon after, well, acting like a drunken asshole in public. Later that day, I had to beg the owner to let me into the hi-dive so I could play a show. I wasn’t just a drunk; I was a drunk in a band.

My first band was great, initially. But once alcohol became more of a driving force for us to come together than the music itself, it got bad. We didn’t always play drunk, but after a while, pre-show drinking became a ritual. Even now, I’ve mentally dismissed most of the experience of being in that band; my drunken memories are a mix of hazy forgetting and intentional blotting out due to intense regret. But I do recall at least one show, when I was the only bandmember sober-ish enough to make sure we got paid at the end of the night.

Near the end of the band’s existence, we made sure to have a few drinks before we went on stage, and then we’d get smashed immediately after. I can’t imagine this made for a pleasant experience for the audience or the employees at the venues we played. And when you’re playing in a bar, there’s always the chance that the rest of the room is operating on the same level.

Band practice was actually worse than shows; I got to the point where I couldn’t even start playing music without having two or three High Lifes in me. We had a “no cell phones” policy at practice to keep us “focused,” yet we’d manage to run through a thirty-rack of PBR in one night. I guess beer wasn’t considered a distraction.

I don’t remember the end of this era well, mostly because I was really drunk. My drinking problem was masking a lot of internal trauma, and it materialized as a cancer in my social life. I was a walking, bass-playing drinking problem. But I was also a drunk in a drunken band. We broke up as drunks; it took us a couple of years after it all ended to talk to each other again.

After I got sober, it took a while for me to figure out how to play music with other people. I eventually found a patient music-making partner, and when we started to write songs, it was a completely different experience. We had an ethos; we were making music for a reason other than to hang out and get fucked up. I was also a better player, a better bandmate and a better performer. I transformed the stage fright I used to cover up with drinking into fuel for actual engagement with the audience. All of a sudden, I gave a shit about what I was doing instead of focusing on the race to get wasted.

Distanced from alcohol, I saw something else in making music that I couldn’t see before: the intertwined worlds of art and booze commerce. Once I stepped outside and looked in, I noticed the lack of opportunities for people under the age of 21 to experience art, because so much of it happened in places where they weren’t allowed to be. Discriminating against someone based on his or her age and inability to buy beer — and connecting that to an experience with a musician’s art — seemed so backward to me. From my newfound position, I took every opportunity I could to talk about why all-ages venues and spaces are important. Having a band of my own was a great vehicle for this message. Sure, we still played in bars, but we also always made an effort to play shows where everyone was invited.

It’s been nearly ten years since I was a drunk in a band, terrorizing the social circles I smashed through on my way to the stage. Sometimes I miss being able to have a beer. But I won’t ever miss subjecting people who chose to see me perform to my drunken wrath.


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