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Sunday, April 12, 2020


Most musicians describe touring as 2 hours of performing, 22 hours of waiting. Many band members compare playing in a band to having a second marriage or family. Given this comparison, touring musicians should adapt well to quarantine and social distancing in the year 2020.  Years from now we may be describing our time at home to friends at social gatherings, but will all members of one house recall quarantine the same? There is no better musical example of time spent together than on tour in a van. Here are just three examples of bands that had some “van years” and were forever changed.


The band with the ultimate reputation for hard tours in close quarters is unquestionably Black Flag. Lead singer Henry Rollins chronicled his time in the band with the release of “Get In The Van: On The Road With Black Flag.” The book is known for tales of hard core punk rock exploits balanced with long hours of travelling in close quarters. Endless hours of time spent in the back of a Ryder van listening to lead guitarist Gregg Ginn practice scales could drive anyone insane.

Black Flag would also tour with “labelmates.” Many record labels would send their bands out on tour together, using the same equipment to save money. Using the same equipment usually meant using the same transportation. Rollins chronicles a tour with the Minutemen, a power trio who happened to include bass legend Mike Watt. Rollins talked about wanting to punch Watt for talking too much and taking control of the tape deck.

Of course, reading Rollins’ tour diaries only gives you one side of the story. Watt has talked in interviews about how much Rollins was teased on tour. Rollins was the fourth singer for the band, and one does not simply walk into an established band without a fair share of harassment and hazing.

Years later, Rollins was interviewed for "The Watt From Pedro Show" podcast, they discuss how the van years forged their work ethic. (Skip to the two minute mark.)


Some band members get on each other’s nerves over significant others, some over their political views, the Ramones had both. Johnny and Joey Ramone were unhappily boxed into a small van for just over 20 years. The Ramones were never a “separate buses” moneymaking machine that one would assume. Joey and Johnny were the last original members left and had very little communication after the band said their farewell. Years later, Johnny didn’t want to make the drive to Joey’s funeral. "End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones" chronicles the bands history, the trailer below says it all.


The Police are an interesting case in terms of getting more than one side of the story. Any fan of The Police can read a memoir from each member of the band. (Rather than bookmarking, I’ll just provide some links below if you are looking to read up yourself. Each book is interesting and entertaining.) Guitarist Andrew Summers got into photography (also shown in the documentary “Can’t Stand Losing You”) while drummer Stewart Copeland bought a Super 8 camera (this footage went into the documentary “Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out).

Sting categorized their ‘van years’ as playing every “fleapit club” they could book in North America. They hauled their own equipment and played to large and barely existing crowds over thousands of miles with hardly any sleep.  In the film footage mentioned earlier, Sting’s plans on leaving the group seem evident.

An interesting case is Andy Summers on this tour. Summers was 36 years old touring with two band mates ten years younger, pushing a Ford Econoline van to gigs for nobody. In the documentary “Can’t Stand Losing You” Summers attests to the zig-zagging tour schedule and the physical demands on the body.

Stewart Copeland told of these days as the three musicians in the van with his childhood best friend at the wheel.  No roadies were involved. As one may expect, Copeland gets pretty sick of lugging his drumkit in and out of every club on the continent.


Sometimes traveling with others takes it’s toll in different ways. Chuck Berry had enough trouble with his band's antics on the road.  Eventually, when booked into a city, the promoter had to find the backing band. Usually the opening band for Chuck Berry became the backup band for Chuck Berry.  On one occasion, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band backed Berry. This also kept Berry from having to pay a backing band from his performance fee.

Chances are, you may remember the time of social distancing differently than those you are living with. This could be the van years of your relationship. Hours of killing time with no show to perform. Are you the Greg Ginn practicing hours on end with someone else forced to listen? Do they have good headphones? Can you be drowned out?

Hopefully everyone will come out of this inspired and ready to “get the band back together!”

Jonathan Nolan wrote this in between practice sessions of endless scales.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020


During these days of social distancing, one wonders how the year 2020 will be looked upon in the history books. For musicians, it’s an unpredictable time as to when live music will be enjoyed, and what changes will come to the live music setting. History shows that music has flourished through pandemics and isolation can lead to inspiration.


With the onset of the Spanish Flu, a pandemic that killed 27% of the world’s population, New York City kept theaters open. Nationwide radio programming was still two years away and with no television to hear the latest discoveries, the theater was looked at as a means to spread healthy information. Regulations were enforced meticulously in schools and theaters; even anti-spitting regulations were in effect and could be punished as misdemeanors.

With all this in place, music was able to prosper. The careers of Al Jolsen (not our best example) and George Greshwin were on an upward trajectory, and E.F. Goldman formed his wind ensemble, which served the NYC area for 87 years.

If history repeats itself, as it often does, music will blossom again.. What music will be made during this time of social distancing? We can’t tell the future; we can only look at history to see what has happened before.


Beethoven would constantly seek isolation to rest his ears and to deal with his increasing loss of hearing. From October 6-10 1802, Beethoven wrote a letter to his brothers now referred to as the “Heiligenstadt Testament.“ Without transcribing the whole document here (the writing is widely available online and Beethoven fans should not hesitate to find a translation), the writing gives insight to Beethoven's mental state at the time. Those of us who feel journaling is therapeutic should listen to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 to hear the fruits of this isolation. Beethoven started composing Symphony No. 3 at the time of the Heiligenstadt testament and eventually premiered his work in 1805. The example below is the third movement. This "Scherzo"(translated loosely as "joke") is fast and fun. Although not as popular as the first movement, this was a significant change in the symphonic form replacing the minuet that would normally occur at this time.

Igor Stravinsky worked on his opera “The Nightingale” while battling typhoid. Shortly afterward his wife gave birth and contracted tuberculosis. This was during the same time as the Spanish Flu.

In 1964, Glenn Gould gave his last public performance. This was not the end of Gould’s career and he began his “love affair with the microphone.” This isolation from the stage led him to control every aspect of his late recordings. Before his death in 1982, Gould re-recorded Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.” The original recording made him an international star at 22, the later recording strips away the flash of youth and shows how interpretations of Bach’s music changes as a musician ages with their instrument. Below is the original recording, those who wish to dive deeper should compare his later version. (Fun fact: In "The Silence of the Lambs," Hannibal Lecter listens to this recording while in captivity. Given the popularity of Gould and Lecter being a psychiatrist.)

In 1966, Bob Dylan left the public eye after a motorcycle accident. Although Dylan and The Band's “The Basement Tapes" are a stellar example of recording collaboration. Many of the songs were composed on Dylan's hiatus.  Dive into the The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete and you will find cover tunes and traditional songs, but one could argue that Dylan’s isolation led him to what became the beginning of the alt-country sound.

After much research (Google-ing at home in isolation), I can still find no modern master of musical isolation than John Frusciante. Frusciante left the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1992 in the middle of a grueling tour to support the mega-platinum Blood Sugar Sex Magik album. His first hiatus saw Frusciante descend into drug addiction and release two solo records. He rejoined the band in 1998 to release Californicaion to the masses.

Frusciante recorded many solo records in between tours, but ultimately left the band again in 2009. Frusciante’s second isolation's focus has been primarily on electronic music. In late 2019, an announcement that Frusciante is back with his bandmates has fans in high anticipation of his next moves. 

Claude Monet stated, “My work is always better when I am alone and follow my own impressions.” Though it is not always necessary to isolate, isolaton can lead to artistic breakthroughs. Here’s hoping that these breakthroughs will make their way to the live stage in the near future. 

Jonathan Nolan wrote this while trying to come up with original music during social isolation.