By T. Perry Bowers (From 2016)
I don’t know exactly what happened last night, but it sure was something. I went to the most fantastic show!
A few months ago one of my favorite bands in the world reunited. A marketing firm here in Minneapolis was celebrating their 20th anniversary and they hired “Walt Mink” to play at their party. As soon as I saw their advertisement on Facebook, I bought a ticket. I also told my friend in LA about the show and he bought a ticket to the show and a plane ticket to Minneapolis faster that you can say “blazing guitar leads and intense drum patterns and fills!”
They rock so hard. John Kimbrough is a fantastic guitarist/singer/songwriter and his band is incredibly tight.
There is a saying in the music business, “if your music is good, it will be heard.” However this is not always so, and with this band, at least not on a big scale.
I’m not sure why, but Walt Mink never caught on at a national level. They have rabid fans in Minneapolis and pockets of fans around the world, but they never really made it big. Yet they have everything a band needs to be successful. They have short little power songs with fantastic hooks. They have blazing guitar leads, intricate, intense drum patterns and fills and rolling blues bass lines that would make Entwistle and Redding step up their game.
So Why? Why didn’t they make it big?
I was totally blown away when I first played one of their cassettes. I remember it like it was yesterday, although it was the early 90s. It wasn’t the quality of their production; it was their songs, their energy, and most importantly their unadulterated passion for putting out a message. You could tell they practiced those licks and fills to put down the best performance they could. They didn’t make excuses for their gear or their ability to record. But they understood this was their time and they had something to give. In fact Walt Mink were one of my biggest inspirations to become a musician in the first place and my friends and I went to as many of their shows as we could. It was awesome to see them get signed and feel the local excitement. But it was heartbreaking that they never got over the hump. It will always be a mystery to me.
Soon after their recent show in Minneapolis they decided to reunite again – this time in Los Angeles. Of course I bought a plane ticket and here I am now basking in the glory of their rock and roll mastery last night. But here’s what really got my head spinning. There were three people of note in attendance at their show last night. For a start – Jack Black and Kyle Glass from Tenacious D were there. Apparently, John Kimbrough produced some music for them recently and Jack and Kyle have been big fans of Walt Mink ever since they started. That made me stop and wonder. Tenacious D is here? If you have seen the original HBO short films Tenacious D made in the nineties, maybe you can see why I’m pondering this fact. Tenacious D encapsulated the absurdity and beauty of rock and roll in those films. They highlighted the passion and the drive for creating something out of nothing.
For me, the Tenacious D short films put things into perspective. On one level, the rock and roll dream is silly. But on another level it is everything. Without the will to express, there is nothing. Without the drive to create something, there is no reason to live. We all have the yearning to create, the yearning to know ourselves. This is the message of Walt Mink and Tenacious D. I believe this is also the message of “Shudder to Think”.
Shudder to Think is another band who were on MTV in the nineties. They had a major label record deal and toured with the Smashing Pumpkins. They were probably one of the best “art rock” bands of all time. And, of course, they never made much money. They got dropped from their label. Why?
I believe it’s because these bands are too sophisticated. They’re pushing the envelope right over most people’s heads. They’re breaking the ice out in front of all of the other bands behind them and trying to go further. It’s what I love about them. But these frontrunners won’t get the respect they deserve and will likely die penniless. Why do I bring up Shudder to Think? Because last night I was introduced to their drummer at the Walt Mink concert. He is a colleague of my friend here in LA.
So that’s what really happened last night – a series of synchronicities that got me thinking. What is going on with music right now?
I’m reading a book called, “Inside the Hit Factory.” It’s about the Swedish songwriting team who have written almost all of the hits you’ve heard in the top 40 since the early nineties. They are based in Stockholm and record companies hire them to create hits. They have a robotic-like manufacturing process that works. They insert hooks every thirty seconds. They guard the gates of pop music and they keep it simple. They don’t want us to think too hard. They give us candy and we turn it up so we can dance.
Of course there is nothing really wrong with this. But it begs a question: If it doesn’t come from the stillness or “inspirado” as Tenacious D calls it, is it real? If the person singing it doesn’t really feel it, why do we prop it up as something to be respected? Is it because of the money it makes? It’s how we gauge most things I suppose. It’s what we are feeding our children. A huge portion of music consumers are teenagers. Do we have a responsibility to give them something a little more real? If we feed them poison, we know what happens. Isn’t music a little bit the same? They take it into their body; they “ingest” it on an emotional and spiritual level. What does this “fake music” do to their souls? Could it have long term effects that we really can’t quantify?
What if our youngsters were listening to Walt Mink and Shudder to Think instead? Would you have more hope for our future? I know I would. After last night, I can imagine the next generation of kids growing up knowing real music, real “inspirado”. Let’s call it Organic Music. It’s music that comes from the soul. It’s played and sung by people who yearn to create something from nothing and it needs to be played, not for the money, but for love. And our kids need to hear it.