A Tip Canary and a Kittybox Man
Well, I’m a tip canary, he’s a kittybox man.
I have this fantasy. I retell it to Scott about once every five weeks, delivering it unto him as an oracle: And there the world of technology will stop, iPhones crumbling, Netflix imploding– and while confused and horrified, the people in the little houses and the big houses will stir for the sound– the sound— that is drifting through their windows like baked bread. They will murmur at their earbuds in disbelief. “How is it,” they will wonder aloud, “that there is this sound when these things are not to our ears?” And they will hear their murmur in unison with the many others, and leave their front doors to follow the sound. The streets feel unfamiliar to them without their usual distraction of screens and handpicked personal soundtracks, but still, the sound carries them, until they arrive at once to a single door. Slowly they trickle in, mid chorus, to find a teeny tiny traveling folk band at an elevated platform at the end of a long room. They know this room, somehow, like they’ve been here before. They even vaguely recognize the thing that is happening on the elevated platform– stage!— the word comes to them as from a former life. They find themselves shoulder to shoulder with another human being and stare curiously. They realize they are thirsty, but don’t want to leave, for this is the only sound they know without the electronics in their ears. Mercifully, a person is standing behind a long counter who is passing out things to quench thirsts and satisfy hunger, so that everyone may stay together in this room, humans with humans, basic needs met, and a glorious new phase born: live music. It’s alive.
But I’m a tip canary, he’s a kittybox man.
But it is not yet the technology apocalypse, and there aren’t big labels with fancy suits that are working hard on the behalf of new artists who may just have that something. These days, in some sort of nine-to-five way, we are finding ourselves in a new office every night, and the people who determine our paycheck– our bosses– are, well… you. Our audience. This week, we’ve had all kinds. The distracted-iPhone boss who looks up only when called out. The talks-over-you-even-in-the-middle-of-your-big-presentation boss. The yells-explicit-things-in-a-way-that-makes-you-wish-you-were-invisible boss. The overly-sympathetic-pats-your-head-you’ll-do-better-next-time boss. We are as disposable as the X in the top right corner of the screen.
I am a tip canary, he’s a kittybox man.
But then we remember Steve and Annie in Kingston, Tennessee. And Corey and Stacy in Las Vegas. And Johnny and Pattie in Salt Lake City. Jordan and Jessica in Topeka. Frank Orthel in Greensboro, North Carolina (who just sent us a kind message this morning– just in time, Frank). The Sprinkle family in Rochester, New York. If we had the time, we would name every single one of you. These are the folks who host music and listen to music and love music and musicians and see the value in those music makers making music. And they keep us going. We keep a scrawling of names in our hearts that surface always when we feel like quitting. If you’re reading this, you are likely also in that Rolodex.
I’m just a tip canary, he’s a kittybox man.
Some nights, we work alone. Occasionally, we have co-workers. Most of the time, bands help bands. We are all in this together, after all. And when the boss is breathing down your neck or, worse, paying you no mind at all, it’s your co-workers who are there to commiserate or bail you out or just be the generous last ears in the room who are willing to listen. But we’ve had all sorts of co-workers this week, too. The kindly-smile-you’ve-got-this co-workers. The let’s-exchange-notes-to-make-this-easier-for-both-of-us co-workers. But then, we also had the steps-on-heads co-workers. We hold our bosses to a standard. Maybe it’s naive, but we have hope in that fantasy coming true someday. But most shattering is when your peers, your support, your swap-funny-stories-to-keep-from-crying co-workers are out to get theirs, and there is nothing to do but ask them not to as they run your work forward to the boss and bail before you can sing your sorry songs. In almost five years of touring and seven months full time on the road, we had one of our most malicious co-workers from the smiling-est of the faces. It’s tough to swallow. It made us question what we were doing out here. It made me cry. It made Scott have his angry face.
That pulls back the curtain a smidge. We realize we are just lucky to be here. We know we have opportunities some people only dream of. But we also have to keep our spirits up if we want to maintain this dream– and if the fantasy will ever come true. And those who are literally pounding the pavement with us, if there is no kindness and generosity, the dream fails.
But then we remember Megan Jean and the KFB. And The Moon and You. And Rod and Annie Capps. Wooden Sleepers. Wolves Don’t Bark. Rye Baby. Nikki Talley and Jason Sharpe. Zach Vinson. The Jellyrox. Sam Lewis. The list is endless. These are just a few of the bands who we rubbed shoulders with, and now watch from afar, who are quick to help and to encourage and to love what they do and the others who are doing it. And that keeps us going, too.
I’m a tip canary, he’s a kittybox man.
Our bosses determine whether we’re eating celery or kale. Our co-workers determine whether we feel alone or united. But we are determining to keep going. It’s little things– small slights, small kindnesses. In the meantime, we are just going to keep following the sound– that sound— and occasionally look to you, dear bosses and co-workers, dear audience and friends, and hope that you, too, are following that sound.