Almost Famous

Buffalo Tom in 1990 / Photograph by Michael Lavine from his book, Grunge

Buffalo Tom in 1990 / Photograph by Michael Lavine from his book, <em>Grunge</em>” width=”539″ height=”359″ /></a>[/caption]<p>I just got home late Saturday night from the last of the <strong><a href=Buffalo Tom touring for 2011. (Because, really, why would a rock band want to play on a Saturday night and come home instead on a Sunday?) It had been an especially intense little run of five West Coast shows in four cities, three states, and four days — flying each leg from Boston to San Fran, to LA, to Portland, then driving overnight to Seattle for a daytime lunch performance, which was broadcasted live on the excellent KEXP, and then a late-night club performance the same night. Flying home the next day, you would excuse me for sleeping the whole flight.

Back at Logan, I rounded up my guitars (always the last bit of luggage to arrive at baggage claim), and bid adieu to the band and two-man crew until the next time. I loaded up the cart and went up to meet my taxi driver, an enormous individual who did not leave his seat as I loaded the stuff into the trunk.

Making small talk, in between labored breaths, he proceeded to list all the classic rock knowledge he had accumulated, with a particular slant towards local rock history, such as the warehouse in Waltham where Aerosmith once rehearsed and recorded. Sadly, limits of his expertise betrayed him before he could come up with the name of the lead singer for the J. Geils Band.

“Peter Wolf,” I volunteered.

“What’s dat? Oh yeah, Petah Wolf. Right,” he affirmed. “So, are you famous?”

“Well,” I wearily started to explain, “Not really. We had our day in the 1990s, but never hit it really big like all of those guys.”

He paused in pensive silence for half a minute. “I can tell you’re not famous because you’re carrying your own equipment.”

You noticed that, eh, I thought. While you were sitting there watching me load my guitars into your cab, for which I will nevertheless tip you 20 percent for some stupid reason?

And that’s about how it goes. No respect for trying to keep a dream alive in one’s 40s. We must suffer the indignities of a cab driver pointing out that he can tell we’re not famous.

The night before, we had been walking to the venue on our way back from dinner at a nice place on Capitol Hill in Seattle when we passed a bar. Someone from our party, the erstwhile manager of Seattle’s 1990s faves, the Posies, knew the doorman and stopped to say hello, telling him she was on her way to go see Buffalo Tom.

“Going to relive the 1990s of your youth?” he asked her.

“We do it every night” was more or less the response from a bunch of us.

I went up ahead to relay this funny nugget to Chris, my bandmate, who had not heard the guy. Just then, one of the friends we had been walking with rejoined us and said the doorman had clutched her as we all left him and, embarrassed, begged her, “Please tell me those weren’t the guys in Buffalo Tom.”

The truth hurts. And the truth is, a few months away from our 25th anniversary as a band, we still manage to get out there and tour every once in a while, playing to a peak of 1500 in Brussels, or to a low of maybe 75 people in Portland the other night. But like the indie bands outlined in Michael Azerrad’s book Our Band Could Be Your Life — bands that, in the mid- to late-1980s, paved the way and formed a foundation for groups like us — we still have a devoted, if modest audience. We, in turn, have influenced many bands. And all of that that encourages us to keep trying to balance the cottage industry we have in music business with grown-up responsibilities like families and jobs. But it is increasingly difficult, financially, physically, and mentally, to tour or play to diminishing crowds. Of course we understand. Most of our audience is also in their 40s, and have kids and demanding careers. They live out in the suburbs, most likely. And we have to play weeknights as well as whatever weekend nights we can book. And who wants to go stand around in the rock clubs of their youth on a Monday or Tuesday night?

Of course, if we had made it as big as some of the bands that once opened up for us — Pearl Jam, Goo Goo Dolls, Hole, to name a few — then we would probably not have to worry about jobs and could mitigate time away from our families with lots of money. But it was not meant to be; we were a working-class band who made a nice living while it lasted, but once we got burned out on the road, the money dried up fast. Hence the day jobs starting around 2001.

I don’t mind. No one hands you a living in the music business, and especially not a long-term career. It was great while it lasted. But it could also be a mighty drag trying to keep a career afloat doing something you love. It is better to just do what you love without having to worry about having to constantly monetize it. I really enjoy marketing real estate in the Lexington area, especially all the cool midcentury modern houses that I have become known for. And especially working with all these grown-up Buffalo Tom fans.

But maybe like Tim Wakefield (for whom I wrote this “Ballad of Tim Wakefield” after a particularly stellar pitching performance two seasons ago), it is hard to hang up the glove or guitar when you know you still can bring it and give inspiration for middle-agers everywhere (by the way, see this great site from Joan Anderman for “Middle Mojo”). And Buffalo Tom still brings it. I just don’t think we can bring it to the road much more.

Instead, maybe we should open our own Branson-like theater and have everyone come to us. I may not still want to ride on the Bon Jovi-an “steel horse,” but I am, after all, still a cowboy. And wanted. Dead or Alive.

Now come buy a house with me.

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