We sold guitars, jewelry [and] instruments of all sorts to finance our album. We sell shirts, CDs, etc. to pay for the next album or tour. We meet people who feed us. I’d still rather be treated like a crook, yelled at, have things stolen, be fucked over by loved ones and hungry than living anything less than true to myself.
story by Don Bartlett
When I first met Claire Bowman, things were a little heavy: Nearly all of her gear and the rest of the equipment for her band Lowry had been stolen from their tour van while it was parked near their home in Brooklyn. Two days later, still reeling from the first indignity, the van itself was stolen in broad daylight from the same parking spot.
Having read the news, I dropped the band a line of condolence and included a copy of last year’s Chicago Innerview “Top Shows of 2004″ article, in which I included their Chicago debut at Subterranean. I got a nice note back from Claire, which began a long series of correspondence that has evolved into one of those uniquely modern friendships where you’ve never actually spoken to the person. In exchange for entertaining her with odd diatribes about one perceived injustice or another, I received an education in what it means for an artist to proceed gracefully, without bitterness or resentment, toward an end that by its very nature may be unattainable.
My affinity for the Williamsburg popsters is probably far past the point of annoyance to anyone who spends any significant time in my orbit. In addition to the “Best Shows” mention, they also made my more recent “Best Albums of 2005″ list, and I continue to foist them upon anyone with a working set of ears. Irritating? Perhaps, but I have a hard time mustering up the energy to apologize when an album is as patently enjoyable as the band’s debut Awful Joy. Full of melodious hooks and emotional movement, the record is a testament to how overtly enjoyable pop music can be when it is stripped of self-consciousness and pretension.
But holy hell do these people have some bad luck.
With Awful Joy ready for wide release and a 6-week national tour beginning on January 3, the band didn’t have a van to tour in. A week before the tour began, with their credit maxed-out and the band barely eating, the group was still trying in vain to sell or swap singer Alex Lowry’s pickup truck for an Econoline. A sampling of quotes taken from Claire’s e-mails should shed some light onto the situation:
12/21: “I’m averaging a nervous breakdown a day trying to get this [Bowmans] album [her solo project with sister Sarah] wrapped up AND finalize the [Lowry] tour, plus NO good news on the tour van front. Right now we’re trying to get someone to loan us money in exchange for the title of the truck.”
12/27: The tour van prospects got even worse when said truck was “dragged down the street and yanked around by a semi truck.” Later the same day, they learned that their drummer wouldn’t be able to do the first five shows of the tour. But alas…
12/28: “We did find a van. It was such a huge ordeal. People made us feel like crooks. They wouldn’t give Alex his cash because they said he didn’t look like his ID picture. The whole thing took so long we couldn’t get insurance for it….and now we have an uninsured van parked in the #1 vehicle theft area in the country with no tags.”
On the eve of the tour, I shot Claire an encouraging quote from my idol Hunter S. Thompson: “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”
Her thoughtful and insightful reply caught me off guard: “I’ve been thinking a lot about how the musical community is the strongest I’ve known. It certainly defies capitalism, at least our variety. We stay with people we don’t know who we meet online because they sympathize. Who gets sympathy these days? And they believe in us, like musicians have a cause, and I believe we do. We are extremely attached to our work and we meet people who have this underground understanding of the way this shit works. I mean, we’re practically bartering and trading. We got the van in exchange for a loan against the title of Alex’s truck. We sold guitars, jewelry [and] instruments of all sorts to finance our album. We sell shirts, CDs, etc. to pay for the next album or tour. We meet people who feed us. I’d still rather be treated like a crook, yelled at, have things stolen, be fucked over by loved ones and hungry than living anything less than true to myself.”
And so it goes for Claire Bowman, for Lowry, and for thousands of other bands across the world. Their reward for their toil is often nothing more than living with five other people in a van as they drive across the country playing to half-empty venues. Yet they’re still out there, driving the highways and sleeping on floors with an optimism that I can’t possibly explain.
So I’ll allow Claire to: “I told Alex today that when my parents divorced, my sense of home dissolved. But not completely. I feel a sense of home whenever I light a candle. It’s small enough to carry with me, and I can buy a new one whenever I need to.”
Lowry :: with Sharks & Seals and The Bowmans :: Schubas :: February 8.