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The integrity of an artist...where is it going?

I just saw a notification that Tony Sly of No Use For A Name has passed away.

I love NUFAN. I have been a fan since my early 20's when a friend loaned me their album More Betterness...which I think I still have somewhere (don't loan me CD's you think I might like...). It was in the CD player of my Volkswagen for an easy three months before I took it out. I think that was only to bring it in the house, where I played it again. Developing my voice as well as my mind in those years, I used to BELT out Life Size Mirror, Let It Slide, and Chasing Rainbows the most. The songs were amazing. They had lyrics I related to in my post teen angst, pre-find myself mid 20's when I didn't know who the hell I was or where the fuck I was going any day of the week. I still love them. Still sing at high volume when the songs come up in my iPod shuffle in traffic.

The more the news of Tony's passing gets around, the more stories I am hearing about who he was as a person, off the stage, out of the studio. The one common sentiment that rises to the top of the chatter was what a down to earth, fan connected guy he was. My friend Brett recounted a story of a Warped Tour where he was sitting around in the grass (as we all did at the Warped Tour in our much younger days) and Tony walked by. Instead of meandering on to whatever band obligation he had, he sat down with the group and joined the conversation. Just hung out.

Not long after, Brett caught a NUFAN show in New York. Crowd surfing about (ah, youth...I remember you fondly) at the show, he found himself at the stage, and climbed up. Instead of being kicked off, Tony came at him with open arms for a hug and a "HEY DUDE!" like he remembered him. Who knows if he did. It doesn't matter. He didn't treat the kids who bought his records and came to his shows like one a mindless ramble who didn't "REALLY get" what he was all about. He treated them like they were new friends he met at a picnic.

The more I meet musicians who are somewhat established (if not entirely) in their craft, the more I realize how much integrity seems to be falling by the wayside. Being a groomed writer, I consider myself a bit of an artist myself. I count many musicians as both friends and family, and I understand the creative mind better than some may think. It makes you think differently than your more practical friends, sure. Your mind colors outside the lines, so to speak. However...it doesn't give you an excuse to be cheeky. It doesn't give you an excuse to be aloof. It doesn't give you an excuse to be rude. It certainly doesn't make any of these qualities sexy or intriguing. What these qualities make you is a dick.

Like it or not, those annoying people who surround you at shows, who want your opinion on their music or world issues (whether or not you like the music or agree with the world issue). Who want to take your picture or shake your hand. Who want you to meet their girlfriend that they met at your show. Who want to interview you for small zines and blogs. Those people are the very reason you have an audience at all. Otherwise, you might still just be sitting on your bed at some girlfriend's house playing guitar. Not headlining a tour, playing a world famous stage, or cutting an album.

I am a fan. Sometimes, it's frustrating to be a fan.

For some artists, I am a minor fan. For some, I am a massive fan. I am always afraid to meet artists I actually admire because I am always terrified that they will be a dick to me and crack that creative pedestal I put them on. I won't hear that love song and think "Yeah, I know just how that feels!" any more. I will hear that love song and think, "Yeah well, she probably did that to you because you're a dick." Is that fair? No. Probably not. But I never met a listener of my radio show or a reader of my work and didn't think it was amazing that anyone listens to me or reads what I write. Not that I have massive amounts of either, but I can at least in some small capacity understand someone being into what you do.

Not long ago, I got to see The Slackers on a booze cruise. Wasn't the first time I saw them, but it was the first time I was going to be on a small boat in the East River where it was likely I would bump into them, if not actually get to say hello and ask for an interview for this silly blog of mine. I was terrified to meet them. Do you know ridiculous that sounds to me in my head as I write this? But I was. Because I listen to them at least once every day of my life. I love them. My kid loves them. They write music that had been an active part of my personal soundtrack through good times and bad times.

Thankfully, the guys I did get to meet were very sweet and most accommodating to my giddy requests.

And now when I listen to them, I feel something extra in the music. For someone like me who is so fiercely emotional, music is a gateway. It's a key. It opens something into the soul with words and melodies and feeling that is only and can only be conveyed in music. Once someone touches you with their music, it's as if a connection has been born. It's a very personal thing. Music is very personal. While I may not understand what drove you to write that lyric or that melody, I know how my own life is reflected in it. Like a smudged mirror. And it becomes personal to me. Dear to me. As does the artists.

I know I am not alone in this.

So these intense connections can be and often are created with the audience. This is what makes it so much more monumentally devastating when you are a dick to a fan. Aside from the fact that we spend money to hear your music, own your music, and see your shows live...we love what you do. Unless you are a reincarnated G.G Allin, we really don't go to your shows expecting to be shit on. The one thing I can say as a frequent show goer and avid observer is that this integrity...this love and appreciation for those people who put you where you are...is failing.

In the ska and punk rock scenes, it seems to still be fairly prevalent, and that is one of a thousand reasons that I have always felt a little more at home among it's sweaty bodies and fellow misfits. At the Slackers booze cruise show, the crowd on the dance floor was constantly losing it's footing due to the thunderstorms outside. I loved that we would just grab onto one another and smile and laugh to hold ourselves and one another up. When people would need to get out of the crowd, it was not a push and a shove to get through. It was a hand on your back or your shoulder and a polite "sorry!" with a smile.

Even some of the rougher punk and oi shows I have been to, the pushiest and most violent pits still had guys who after shoving one another as hard as they could would throw an arm around one another and sing along with the vocals. The camaraderie of the music comes in all forms down in the crowd. But it doesn't always translate between that crowd and the stage.

The moment you start criticizing your fans, you alienate them. The moment you are rude to a fan, you have lost them. It doesn't make you cool to act like you don't care, or that you are above them. Never tell them or treat them like they don't understand you. Worse, never assume one kind of person is any more a fan of you than another kind. We helped you get where you are. You touch people. Sometimes, they just want to tell you about it because that is the best way they know of to thank you for putting those sprinkles of awesome on their lives. For giving them something so much better to dance to. For writing a song they could feel somewhere down beneath what most people see of them.

NUFAN was that band for a lot of people, and the amazing thing to hear...even in the sadness of his passing...is that Tony genuinely understood that concept. He was so incredibly good to his fans. He has passed on from our world and left behind heartbroken fans, but there is light in the darkness. People right now are talking about what an amazing guy he was. That he wrote incredible songs, yes. But he was also a tremendous soul.

People always remember a tremendous soul.

Farewell, Tony. Thank you for getting us.


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