It’s Not Your Fault, Honey

When bands break up, it’s the little ones who suffer most

By Josh Hume

Divorce is a terrible thing, and it can have a terrible effect on the whole family. Often, one spouse is compelled to leave, ostracized from all members, most likely at the behest of the other spouse. In other cases, the family is abandoned by a single member who takes with them the successes and potential that that family had. This might usually be applied to traditional families based on marriages, children, homes and pets, but it is equally shattering when it happens to another kind of family-the rock band.

Musical groups require a delicate balance of relationships in order to succeed. They are built on firmly established roles, ingrained in our cultural imaginations just as the notion of a traditional family is burned into the minds of conservative politicians across North America.

When bands travel, they eat together at places like Kelsey’s, and have to stop at the occasional gas station for someone to go to the washroom. When they fight, they have no choice but to make up because they will have to see each other the next day and many of the following days until they can no longer stand it. In their formative years, they might have even lived together, sharing household responsibilities like any old family would. And when one of them fucks up with booze, drugs or succuban distractions, it bears on everybody. Though not every band can go into therapy like Metallica did.

In an ideal world, the band is bound together through thick and thin: personalities tied together through a common cause. But, suffice it to say, things do not always work out this way.

Numerous bands, over the years, have consisted of family, both literally and figuratively. Oasis has the Gallagher brothers, The Kinks had Ray and Dave Davies, CCR had John and Tom Fogerty, and then there’s the Jackson 5. These have all been tenuous relationships, and where the brothers Oasis trudge along admirably given the notorious fraternal feuding, the other cases have resulted in brothers parting ways. What unites these cases is that one sibling is, invariably, more talented than the others. (Mom always liked one of them better.)

Going solo is the musical equivalent of leaving the nest. You are finally confident that you can go it alone in the world, and that you no longer require the support of your family. This may cause initial dismay among your followers-you are abandoning those in the band who are less able to support themselves! and besides, they contributed to your identity and your sound! Or did they? Did it really matter what the bass player or second guitarist did, or what his creative contributions were, or they just playing root notes anyways? Perhaps you never really listened to them or took their contributions seriously.

We always feel for the little ones the most-as they are the ones caught in the middle of a dispute that is bigger than them and beyond their control. If your band has achieved even moderate success on the basis of one or two individuals, how will the others fare when they are thrown to the back of the line? Like sons living in the shadow of their fathers, their lives will forever be associated with these relationships in the eyes of those around them. Like an obscure member of the Kennedy family, perhaps their only recourse will be a tell-all biography.

Sometimes it’s difficult to see one’s favourite band as a series of individuals as opposed to a single, indivisible and incorruptible unit. Just as families on the verge of collapse can seem very resilient and put on a brave face in public, some of our beloved bands-ones that had a beautiful musical chemistry-reveal, only upon their demise, that certain members couldn’t even stand to be in the same room together. It’s like finding out that beautiful couple whose wedding you attended two summers ago haven’t had sex in six months.

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