Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bun E. Carlos vs. Cheap Trick, Round One

And here it is: the beginning of the end.

Honestly, as a fan I’ve been fearing this would happen for a while.  I’m not really sure what Bun E. Carlos’ angle is: he’s “in” Cheap Trick, but hasn’t recorded, played live, nor allegedly spoken to any of the band members in the past two and a half years.  If that’s the case – if that’s all that’s really required to be in the band – then I’m proud to announce that I’ve been the drummer in Cheap Trick since early 2010.  Hell, I’ve probably spent more time with the band than Bun E. has since then.  Oh, sure, they were on stage and I was in the audience, but details schemtails.

Before we delve any further into this debacle, I want to make one thing clear: I have nothing but the utmost respect for what Bun E. Carlos has achieved in his career as a drummer.  At his peak, I believe that there were few better Big Beat drummers in hard rock of any stripe.  He has an immediately identifiable playing style, and that’s something that very few rock musicians can claim.  His peak lasted a good thirty years or so, too.  That’s no small potatoes.

Somewhere around 2006, things started to change.  The band released Rockford that year, by most appraisals their finest work in many a moon…and then proceeded to play less than half the record live.  This was a major change for the group; previously, they’d always enthusiastically spotlighted their new music in performances.  It was also around this time that a large amount of setlist fatigue started to settle in: essentially, the band had two setlists: Headlining show (75 minutes) and opening act (45 minutes), with only a song or two ever varying.  I don’t think there was a single big fan that didn’t get very sick of the “Hello There” into “Big Eyes” opening two-fer in this era.  Most whispers and rumors attributed all of this to Bun E., long known as the band’s resident setlist writer.

Is that just rumor?  To a certain extent, but the proof is in the performances: since Bun E.’s “hiatus”, the band’s performances have grown longer and more varied.  Also more enthusiastic: it has been a wonderful thing to watch Robin Zander become progressively less stoic over the past couple of years.  As a fan, sure, I missed the original lineup.  But Daxx Nielsen’s a fine drummer in his own right, and watching the band rediscover some of the dustier corners of its massive catalog is the sort of thing that makes one happy to be a fan.

I was wondering when the question of who’d be playing on the next album – and the potential legal ramifications of that – would come into play, and apparently the answer to that question is “now.”  First off, I think it’s bad form on Bun E.’s part to try to escalate this over a contribution to a charity album.  Whether he’s got a point or not, there’s no way that a potential lawsuit over a song for a Very Special Christmas album can paint anyone in a sympathetic light.

Secondly, there’s the elephant-in-the-room part:  if Bun E. Carlos hasn’t recorded, toured, or even spoken with the other three members of Cheap Trick in two and a half years, then it’s safe to say that he is not even remotely a “full member of Cheap Trick in all respects.”  I’ve mentioned before that I’ve thought he was a bit delusional about his status in the band, and this pretty well proves it.  He is a grown man, as are his bandmates: either figure out a way to work together, or let the lawyers start hashing out the severance package.  The current state of limbo is frankly ridiculous, and if it ends up effectively ending the band’s time as a recording act then everybody who’s got an interest in this loses.  The band suffers an ignoble end to a largely distinguished career, and the fans miss out on at least one more chapter in the group’s late-period creative renaissance.

The Latest was a fine LP.  Until today, I hadn’t even considered the possibility that it might also be The Last.  Dear everybody involved: stop this game.   Thank you.

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