Rainbows of Sound
I mostly view my role at Daily Fuel as that of an entertainer and humorist. Once in a while I dispense some shallow, fairly obvious professional wisdom, but that’s about it. However, sometimes I have to use my pen as a sword and stand up for what’s right. I have to defend something upon which the rest of society has soured, even if it hurts my popularity, because I know it’s the right thing to do. This is one of those times.
I was obsessively planning my career over the weekend, and it occurred to me how many professional lessons I’ve learned from my love of jam bands.
As all of my friends are constantly eager to tell me, jam bands are universally regarded as the worst genre of music (which is amazing, considering that EDM exists). But for some reason, bands like The Grateful Dead and Phish, Umphrey’s McGee and Moe, consistently occupy the bottom wrung of the cultural totem pole. These bands are known for prioritizing live performance over recordings (any fan will tell you that you can only understand them by hearing live albums), frequently shift between genres, and play a completely different setlist every night. They also jam a lot, but I figured that was kind of self-explanatory.
Much of the hate that they get is probably due to some excruciatingly uncool fans. A friend that I took to a concert recently described it as “a convention for undatable men.” However, I think that the music at these concerts more than makes up for that, and it has influenced my writing in a number of areas. Paramount is the way that these bands seamlessly shift between genres. There’s a reason why they’re only defined by their jamming. It’s not uncommon for a band like The Grateful Dead to play blues, reggae, country, psychedelic rock, and more within a single show. They don’t limit themselves, and they go where the music takes them. As I work towards a career in television writing, I’m often encouraged to pick a niche in comedy or drama. This is solid advice, to a degree, and I do primarily focus on comedy. However, the creativity that these jam bands display within a setlist is easily applicable to a season of television. The best showrunners are not afraid to add serious moments to comedy, or levity to the darkest dramas. The more you view your work as a flexible tapestry, rather than a rigid entry into a genre, the better off you’ll be.
I also admire the way these bands live for the moment, and constantly reinvent their songs. There’s a reason why no two Phish fans can agree on the best performance of “Tweezer,” because no two are ever alike. The songs are merely vehicles for musical improvisation, and the beginning of each performance holds endless possibilities. While other musicians can perfect a song and play it the same way every night for 20 years, a great jam band never leans on the past. They keep tinkering and exploring in a way that we would all benefit from emulating.
So I beg of you, look past the annoying hippies and go see a jam show. The professional benefits are more plentiful than one might think.