10 years gone

This Wednesday marks a special anniversary: On July 19th, 1996 I played my first show here in Madison. I was still living in Ames at the time but I came up for a week to celebrate my birthday (On the 16th a group of us travelled to Milwaukee to see The Reverend Horton Heat and The Butthole Surfers) but mostly I was in town to join The Ultramaroons. I arrived on Sunday and, apart from the day off for the Rock Show, we practiced like madmen. I learned 14 songs in 5 days which we then dutifully reproduced to a mostly empty room at The Chamber (which is now The King Club). We were the opening band and were followed by an all-chick band called Ellie. The headliners were our good buddies Junior High.

The show was pretty good even though nobody saw us. It was a drunken, sweaty, smoky, coming-of-age experience that left me thinking we were going to conquer the world. Two weeks later I drove all night back to Madison for a Saturday show (my first at O’Cayz) with headliners The Martini Gunmen. Sadly I do not have a flyer from that show, though I do have a battered one from my first. After I moved up here the ‘maroons played out regularly for a year and then sporadically over the next couple of years. When O’Cayz burned, it pretty much sealed the fate of what was now a part-time band for me. I had already put out my first “solo” album and now had another band to focus on. Despite all our shortcomings, the Ultramaroons were a pretty decent band. We had good songs and real chemistry and were much much more than the sum of our parts. I was frustrated that we never got any press and garnered little attention from other local bands. We never got our recordings finished and that didn’t help our fate much as every other chump band in town had something they could sell and we were just too drunk/lazy/clueless to get our shit together. My solo stuff got reviewed in the papers (thanks to Carl Johns) and while I never developed any sort of following or stable lineup–besides Eric Salisbury being my drummer through it all–I still felt like I had arrived on the scene. My second record got more press and we played a ton of shows and sold many discs but then Soren was born and I spent less and less time working on (and caring about) music. Eric split to Texas in the late summer of 2004 and it seemed like a good reason to shut down the bandwagon and go back to being a solo acoustic show. Things got pretty quiet and I liked it that way but I still played out in whatever capacity I could come up with. The most recent highlight was doing my regular Sunday night at Mickey’s Tavern. I had some grand ideas that I would create a nice following and open the door for others to do their thing but mostly it was me and whatever ghostly folks were out late on a Sunday night. I had a blast and I became a better and stronger musician for the experience–I was sad to see it go but I was grateful for the opportunity to show off everything I could think of to play.

Just tonight I picked up last week’s Isthmus and saw this article about the Country scene in Madison. Featured prominently were the Junkers and Pupy Costello and many others–even Carl Johns got a mention even though his new band is not country–and I was amused that I was not mentioned. Is it pompous to think I should be included? It has been 4 years since I put a record out and I don’t have a band anymore and though I did just play 6 months of a weekly gig it didn’t garner any attention outside the world of Mickey’s. I am not really a part of the scene anymore and I had a good laugh to think that in 10 years of playing in Madison I’ve gone from an unknown to a sort-of recognized artist and back to an unknown. I’ve always hoped that playing well and writing good songs was enough to elicit a response from the masses but there’s so much more to it than that. I know I’m blessed to be doing shows and having fun and I’m ready for another 10 years of getting better at whatever it is that happens.

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