If you've been following the local music scene during the past few years, you've probably heard about the alt-country band the Great Depression. You may not have seen them play, but you more than likely happened upon one of the band's flyers posted on some telephone pole in Midtown. They even put out a couple of CDs. But you haven't seen that name around in a year or so. Turns out they went the way of so many semisuccessful local bands -- the Great Depression broke up.
It happens all the time. Bands form. They play a few good shows, put out a CD or two, gain a following, and then -- bam! It's over. But do you ever wonder just what was going on between the band members that caused them to abandon their musical dreams? In The Great Depression: The Rise and Fall of a Mediocre Rock Band (Struck Out Looking Press), ex-Depression guitarist/pianist/occasional bassist Aaron Brame provides a behind-the-scenes look into the death of a once-promising foursome.
The 63-page magazine-size booklet takes the reader from the band's humble beginnings in the basement of the Map Room (when they were known as the Bicycle Thief) to their ultimate demise shortly before Brame's wedding in May 2003. At the heart of the book is a detailed account of the band's year-long stint in Baltimore, where they lived in a three-story row house/Vespa chop shop.
It's the typical story of a struggling musician -- waiting tables by day, playing shows at hipster clubs by night, all the while consuming loads of cheap beer. When the band loads up their VW van and experiences the thrill of the open road during their first (and only) regional tour, you can feel the excitement brewing. They really think they're going to make it. But as the story unfolds, something is missing, something you just can't put your finger on.
"It's a story that other musicians will be able to relate to, because it's not just hard work that equals success. It's hard work plus something, but what that variable is, I don't know," says Brame one recent afternoon at Republic Coffee. (Wearing a sports coat and a white button-down shirt, it's hard to imagine him with the mohawk he sported in his Depression days.)
The Great Depression never found that "something," although according to Brame's account, they came closer to finding it in Baltimore than they ever would have in Memphis. In the book, he describes the Memphis rock scene as "an impenetrable goliath," where only a few bands are actually cool. He writes, "You had to be in a hip band to become hip, yet you couldn't be in a hip band unless you were already hip."
So, having only gained a moderate following in Memphis, the foursome loaded up their gear and headed to Baltimore, a city none of them had even visited. Once there, they quickly became "those guys from Memphis" and enjoyed some success due to their "foreign" background. The crowds at their Baltimore shows reached up to 200 people.
"If we'd have stayed here in Memphis, we wouldn't have lasted very long, because we would have ended up just as apathetic and inactive as any other time," says Brame, who now teaches English and plays guitar and piano for the Halfacre Gunroom. "In Baltimore, we didn't know anybody, and all we had to do was work all day and practice all night."
But as time passed, the individual band members did find things to do in Baltimore, and they slowly began to go their separate ways. The lead singer got a girlfriend, who quickly became the band's Yoko Ono when he began spending all his time with her. Apathy washed over everyone, and Brame eventually quit the band and moved back home. The remaining members followed shortly after and tried to make a comeback in Memphis but ended up dismantling in the spring of last year.
Brame says he doesn't know if the guys from the band have read his book. He's not even sure if they're still in town. Last he heard, another band member was writing a fictionalized account of the band's better days. Brame guesses he beat him to it.
Ripe with drunken exploits, a roller coaster of ups and downs, and plenty of general weirdness, it's a damn good thing someone in the band made it public record. n
Aaron Brame will be signing The Great Depression: The Rise and Fall of a Mediocre Rock Band at the Deliberate Literate on Saturday, April 3rd, at noon.