A few days ago, I posted a little story about Vain Edmund and his band of minstrels, the Singing Heds. It was a silly little story, rife with sarcasm. A couple of people commented that they didn't know what the hell it was about, which is fine. A lot of readers did know the back story, though, and I've gotten several comments about it. With one exception, the commenters have been in agreement with me.
However, one reader said, "I didn't like the blog post about the Princess and Vain Edmund, and not because I am blindly loyal to Ed K., but because I found the mean-spiritedness of the piece to be in direct contradiction to the expectation of "muchness and light," I was led to believe I might find here. I felt diminished myself after having read it."
In all fairness, she left me that comment publicly on yesterday's post, in which I requested that readers de-lurk for a day and tell me who you are. (Please! Feel free to do that any time. Really.) I'm not at all upset by the feedback. It's her opinion, and she's definitely entitled to it. But she did inspire me to step from behind the guise of the blog and explain the story and why I wrote it.
I have mentioned many times that I have been a die-hard Live fan since I first saw the video for "I Alone", roughly 1994. I know I was working at the indie record store, and we had received promotional material for Throwing Copper. I did a huge wall display, including a poster of the Screaming Ed Head. I loved that poster so much (Why don't you marry it?) that I kept one back for myself. It was never stapled or taped or tacked up to a wall. It sat in a tube in a closet for about fifteen years, until July 2009. (More about that it a bit.)
My first Live show was a general admission show at Vanderbilt, again around 1994. DH and I went to see them in Nashville. Sponge and Love Spit Love opened. I was fucking blown away by the live Live experience, and that show is one of the reasons why "t.b.d." and "I Alone" constantly waffle between numbers 1 and 2 in my list of favorite songs of all time. ("The Soft Parade" by the Doors, and "Silly Thing" and "Labor of Love" by the Gracious Few round out the top five, not necessarily in that order.)
We tried to see them a few weeks later in Knoxville. Pete Droge opened and was just fantastic. I remember all these girls thinking Matt Gracey was Ed Kowalczyk, when he was running around on stage before the show. Unfortunately, it turned into a nasty crowd, and DH had to drag my ass out before I got into a serious fist fight. It was bad.
Over the next fifteen years, I would see Live dozens of times, in large venues and small. Several times I was front row. I remember buying my first front row tickets over the phone from Ticketlink, for a show in Birmingham, AL. It was the morning of Princess Diana's funeral, and I'd been up all night watching the procession. I can still hear how surprised the guy on the phone was when he pulled the front row.
I was able to sit in on two separate private acoustic sets Live did for radio station winners. At one of them, I was very pregnant, and it was the first time I felt the baby move to music. (It was "Dance With You", which will still make me cry. I used to sing it to the boys when they were babies.) I couldn't listen to "Lightning Crashes" at all during either of my pregnancies, because I would cry for hours afterward.
My last Live show was at Chastain in Atlanta. It was August 17, 2008. I had no idea it would be my last, or I would have better pictures, not taken from on my phone. They played with Collective Soul. It was a good show, certainly, but not one of my favorites.
Then July 8, 2009, I went to see Ed Kowalczyk do a solo acoustic set at Eddie's Attic in Atlanta. It's a really small venue, and everybody has played there. It was a fantastic show, really, and I finally had the chance to have him sign my poster from 1994.
At the time, the official break-up hadn't quite happened, though there had been rumblings for a while. He had launched his EddieKLive.com site and was referring to himself as Eddie K, because that was what his friends called him, or so he said. I remember commenting to DH that it smacked of Prince when he tried to break out of his contract with Warner Bros. Ed signed my freaking LIVE poster as "EK Live '09". Asshat.
So the "hiatus" is announced. Chad Taylor publicly vents about the break-up, though we'd seen tweets from both Chads for weeks and months prior to this. The Gracious Few is born. Both Ed and the Gracious Few release their debut CD's in September 2010. Both of them sat on my desk for weeks until I was finally able to listen.
I fell instantly in love with The Gracious Few. Really, I was blown the fuck away, and rightly so. I've discussed my groupie love of them many, many times and will probably continue to do so for a while.
Not so much with Ed's CD's, Alive. The title's mildly (and irritatingly) ironic, but the music was everything I didn't like about the last couple of Live albums. I've listened to it twice and have no intention of hearing it ever again.
I've read and heard a lot of interviews with both Chad Taylor (the most vocal of the Live/TGF members) and Ed Kowalczyk about the break-up. Chad and DH and I had a lengthy conversation about it at the Masquerade in Atlanta in October, after my first Gracious Few show. Let me be clear: I have never once heard Chad Taylor, Chad Gracey, or Patrick Dahlheimer make a malicious or disparaging remark about Ed Kowalczyk as a person. They have always been very, very careful when talking to me to never, ever attack him--as I have experienced those multiple conversations.
There were serious allegations made by Chad, Chad, and Pat about Ed having screwed them financially and professionally. I had no reason not to believe their story, but I didn't really have a reason to blindly buy into it, either. So I went online and pulled the public court documents. They're lengthy and detailed and filled with legalese, as I expected. There were no substantial surprises in the complaint--I'd already been told all of the accusations against Ed.
Ed's response, albeit through his attorney, though, was awful. It smacked of ingratitude and self-aggrandizement. Based on how I interpreted it, he basically said his friends and former band mates could passably be called musicians, and that he had carried them for years, that their contributions to Live were minimal at best. He plainly believed that he was the driving force behind the band and that it would not have succeeded were it not for him.
Again, Ed Kowalczyk was my groupie love crush for fifteen years. I'm also well aware that sometimes legal posturings are just that. But this was just ugly. It made me ashamed to have ever been so enamored of him. I gave it a couple of days and let it sit. Then I removed myself from his fan club, mailing list, and Facebook page.
A few days ago, someone posted a link to a recent interview with Ed, who is currently on tour again in support of his record. There were two specific quotes that irritated the shit out of me:
"I was responsible for all the lyrics and music for Live, so the writing process didn’t change much at all for me."
Um, no. No, you weren't. There's always been some inkling of doubt as to whether or not Ed really wrote some of Live's biggest hits, at least by himself. Regardless of anecdotal information, there are numerous of tracks that were credited to more than just Ed, even on something as basic as the album liner notes. Lyrically, perhaps it is all Ed. But to completely dismiss twenty years of contributions by your friends and band mates makes you a megalomaniac.
"I love to rock; that’s where my passion lies and my album is heavy."
If Alive is heavy, I'm a short, skinny little thing. Oh, wait....
So was I perhaps a bit mean-spirited in my Vain Edmund story? Okay, maybe. But that interview was incensing, as were so many of his comments over the last year-and-a-half. I had something to say, and I stopped short of calling him a lying, back-stabbing asshole. That would just be mean.
When I took Ed out of the equation, and I gave the Gracious Few a fighting chance, I realized how much my love for Live had nothing to do with Ed Kowalczyk, especially on the last couple of albums. The driving force of the music that I love rests squarely on the shoulders of Chad Taylor, Chad Gracey, and Patrick Dahlheimer. No one was more surprised to learn this than I was.
And the truth is, it still makes me sad. I found a box recently that contains all of my Live memorabilia. There are dozens of signed CD's and t-shirts and passes and ticket stubs. The Frisbee I got for doing some street team stuff. I drank my coffee this morning out of my Live mug, but I was too sad to hang my Live ornament on my Christmas tree this past year. It still feels like a bad break-up, and I can't listen to their music right now without drinking a little bit. It's bittersweet to sing along to "Heaven Wore a Shirt" and "Iris" and "Feel the Quiet River Rage".
So I've moved on, yes, to the Gracious Few, but not because they're Live and Candlebox. Even with the three remaining members of Live, the addition of Kevin Martin and Sean Hennesy created an entirely new beast. There are hints of each of the parent bands, of course, but they've really created something new and astonishingly good. And I love the new guys as much as I love the old (!) ones.
Live and their music is intimately tied to my own history--including the beginnings of my marriage, the births of my children, and the salvation from a couple of nervous breakdowns. "t.b.d." was the first song I ever played in my car when I got a car with a built-in CD player. "Beauty of Gray" is still the best song for me to test how warmed up my vocal chords are, because I can hit the actual notes or take them up an octave to try my upper register.
If I'm critical of Ed Kowalczyk and how I perceive all of this to have played out, that's my right as a long-time, financially-supportive fan. And to express my disdain about anything is one of the things I do best. The truth is, if I didn't care so much, it wouldn't still be bothersome.
Chad Taylor was right when he said they all got what they wanted--Ed got a solo career, and the rest of them got a rock band. I just hope Ed realizes exactly the debt he owes to the rock band.