Some things you can only see in the rearview mirror. And as is often the case, the objects do seem larger than they appeared.
When we co-opted the name Grimm from said Brothers, it was not a mistake. There was always an element of fairytale about what we attempted to do. And quite like the actual stories from the Brothers Grimm, much of it was terrifying.
I had a dream. And I had someone to dream with, which is this story.The dream was always the same: World Domination. Or at least validation. Being recognized for what you did versus who you were. Fueled by a teenhood full up on rock magazines (Creem, Hit Parader), classic FM radio and that Monday after the big concert when everyone in class wore the same t-shirt.
Currently, that seems quaint. And it is. The Music Business was always a business. If the greatest musician you ever heard never left their bedroom, they would not be the greatest musician you ever heard. They would be your cousins’ friend, your coworker, your Ex.
We started The Grimm Generation with a simple concept: Children of the 70’s at 40. And what I do not believe I have ever considered was how Rock music culture of that era affected us. Infected us.
Before the Internet, records were passed around between friends, hand to hand, and the receiver would offer something back.
And the World grew larger.
We dealt in myth. And we were our best customers. When you try to do impossible things, you need to think in impossible ways. I could not do it alone. And I did not have too.
The tale of The Grimm Generation is the story about a house. A domicile that gave us the space and time to create, the raw desire to reach out further. Every element of what we would become was co scripted with a collection of walls and windows.
This is a story about a band that did not make it. A story with real magic, real tears, love and intrigue, creation and re-creation of ourselves. There is not a moral to the story. Morals are for fairy tales and despite our personal preferences, this takes place in the very real time of the late 2000’s.
The Internet was born and we were reborn with it.
It starts with ‘The Story’. ‘The Story’ that started a whole unknown Universe of Grimm…a story that was shared by CC and Me on every form of radio, tv, print press interview available.
And it goes a little something like this….(hit it!)
‘Carmen and JpK met on Match.Com. They went on a date that went well but it was not a love match. Both retreated to their separate worlds until a note went from Carmen to JpK asking ‘Do you like Sparklehorse?’
That simple question bloomed into more notes, more sharing, more details of the damages done to us by a life of suburban excess. Marriages, divorces, kids, cars. And New Wave, Glam Rock, the effect of Led Zeppelin on our growing years.
It never stopped. For years. They realized that despite the romantic missing, they had some type of undefinable chemistry. Notes lead to cups of coffee. Stories transformed into larger lessons the more they wrung them out. Carmen would send poetry and JpK would send demos.
These reflections became the basis of a book ‘Dispatches from The Grimm Generation’ a collection of vignettes birthed by choosing a single subject and the two writer’s impressions of it. What was discovered was this errant chemistry was a true partnership as lovers came and went. And usually left a tale or two in their wake.
The Grimm Generation was coined based on the ideas of kids of the 70’s turning 40 and how our generation was sold fairytales as a future. We were given the American Dream but the anxiety kept us awake.
This constant communication, text, emails, (never a call) led to JpK moving right into Carmen’s refinished basement, henceforth known as The House of Grimm. And the pair set out to learn about how to promote a book.
JpK was songwriter mainly, good in a short sprint, ran out of breath on a marathon, with a genuine love of good Pop songs. He had some success, but much more debt. While beating his head against the cinder block cellar one Sunday, he heard Carmen and her kids playing ‘Rock Band’.
When he heard Carmen sing an AC/DC song, he thought ‘I could work with this’. And invited her down to sing a few of his songs…’
This is ‘The Story’. And this became what we did for the next 5 years. And what The Grimm Generation defined became our banner. We were already too old to start a Rock Band, but we were cagey promoters and had the benefit of a young Internet culture that suited us. We were both born posers and would take a position at the first click of a camera. This was when Facebook was still based on living people versus dying industry.
We were ready for our close up.
I have known Carmen for over a decade now, with a level of sharing that brought us closer to kin than friends.
That does not mean I know her, truly.
Carmen keeps it close to the vest, always. She is not what you would call effusive. Unless she is drinking. Then she was a red headed charm bracelet that sang out loud.
She was born in Hartford, CT and was the first American baby from a family with deep French-Canadian roots. When her extended family came round to visit, it was all Crown Royal and crazy Canadian food stuffs. And a deep, bracing whiff of redneck.
We grew up similarly as she had a few brothers and sisters, went to school, flirted with college, married young and had a few kids.
Then as was in vogue in the Nineties, divorced. As we all did that decade.
I was from Fairfield, CT about one hour south. I had a good childhood as I recall, though in telling some stories of my misguided youth, I have noticed eyebrows climbing ever higher.
As a kid, I had a deep love of language and what can be done with it. Being very fat kept me inside with my books, comic books, pads and pens. I wrote my first song at age 9 proclaiming my love for Kara. She never heard the song.
Many Kara’s followed. I was a World Champ’een Unrequited Lover. And it fueled my writing.
In time I discovered Pot and my worlds turned stranger and my sense of being a responsible person slipped away. I started writing more songs.
I started with bands when I was a kid. We did what bands did back in the Actual 80’s: we started at Teen Center shows, graduated to shitty club gigs with covers, write and record original music and break up. Over and over again. Some victories, a lot of laughing, some crying.
I held a job, married, had a child …. divorced…. married again, gained a step child…. divorced…
I tried to push back the creative need and limousine dreams to try my hand at being a decent Husband and worthwhile Father. I did not want to tell anyone I ever even wrote music as I tried to settle.
It was fruitless. It was what I was good at. I acted like a bon vivant living on lottery winnings. Immaturity was my brand. I operated with a dangerous combination of ego and absolute anonymity.
This dogged me as I came up, moved away from home (by only an hour, but in Connecticut that matters), needed new pot connections and consequently made new friends. Of course, they were musicians.
I have always had an odd and maybe strained relationship with musicians. I think because I was The Songwriter my end goals were always different than the dudes I played with. Everyone wants to have a good time, jam, pack the clubs, make a little cash and do it again next weekend. That was never my goal.
I had my musical heroes but they were also my competition. And my artistic vision went beyond what I could explain to even the most open minded and dedicated players. I was scattered, I was over blown, and absolutely pretentious. I would talk about crescendo where the musician would talk about where the solo was.
I was fated to be a solo artist as very few could deal with me for that long.
This created a situation where I was ever earnest about my work, my Art, always attempting to write a legitimate hit, mainly alone in my bedroom. I took to the recording bedroom style as the equipment became affordable.
I had a simple enough schematic for what I wanted to produce: a good chorus, short, words that were a bit darker and more detailed than will fit in a Pop song. Aiming for hooks, melodies. The fruit of what captures the ear and makes you turn to face the radio.
Songs were a means to an end. Originally it was therapy for me. If I never sang a note these songs would still exist moldering in some low drawer. I used my frustration to create. This also led me to involving myself in personally dangerous circumstances and rationalizing I was doing it for my art.
I read the 70’s / 80’s Rock magazine like they were Greek myths. At that time, they practically were. Consider the images of the wild flowing hair, lit from behind like a perfect capture in oils. Coliseums shake as the masses gather and call their name. In unison. Loud. And lighters fill the night. In tribute to these Gods who walk with men.
Who wouldn’t want that?
In those days it was the alternative papers that featured the local music sections. Anytime I was involved in something, I would send constant Press Releases to keep a generally uninterested World on where my mighty muse may lead me.
In 2009 I had an all-acoustic group named The Citizen Spy in the era just before Indie Folk had a genre. We were chosen as the Best Folk Group in Hartford by the Hartford Advocate. It was work to get it, to network, to suggest, cajole, beg for people to vote for me for, a band that very few had heard.
I collected the members though the tried-and-true musicians want ads.
The Musician Want Ads were always sketchy at best. First those same alternative weeklies had their ‘Musicians Seeking …’ section and then CraigsList. These were like dating sites where no one got lucky, even by accident.
You could find someone and review their work and express interest. And never hear from them again. Maybe they died. Maybe they were arrested for ‘rocking too hard’. Maybe they were still a little drunk from last night’s gig.
You become immune to this quickly (much like Internet dating) when you recognize it’s a numbers game. Reach out to more and you will get more. The ‘more’ you get is often unworkable, unstable stuff but it makes you feel like you’re actually participating in a type of Music Business.
On the Musician Want Ads, a Bass Player or Drummer would be considered the ‘pretty girls at the dance’ as everyone wanted them. They string you along (‘play original music for little cash? Sign Me Up!’) until their ship comes in (‘play covers and make a lot more cash? Sign Me Up!’) and then disappear.
The term that offended me when relating this to other musicians was that the people you find on the Musician Want Ads are ‘hobbyists. That made me angry. Despite being absolutely true.
I dedicated myself to finding players who could help me build something larger, grander in scope. I believed that if a group of people, even absolute strangers, can come together with a common cause, a sound that matters to those involved, they can produce something lasting, something beautiful. Something that can transcend social relations and slip into a higher airstream for all to see, all to experience. A labor of true love.
Which brings us back to the Best Folk Group in Hartford. I worked hard to get that award. I figured it would be a stepping stone to get my name a bit more public. I campaigned for it.
And won. It was a shock.
When it came time to play the gig, The Citizen Spy had already broken up. Because they were hobbyists. I had conceived and achieved and succeeded, and found myself alone again, not a step further ahead than I was
I was heartbroken. Until that Sunday night about a week later when I heard CC playing Guitar Hero.
2007…. or so
I was renting a room from a bandmate at this time and decided I needed to go. Carmen and I had already been in a constant conversation on every conceivable method of communication. It was a natural step.
It was the emails that bonded us. Texts are quicker, Instagram can show fine details, but sending emails was a perfect form of communication for us. It was like writing letters and throwing them into a virtual Sea. There was a weight and breadth to them, despite being composed of circuits and electric ink.
We started with Sparklehorse and coalesced into something deep, then deeper still. It was all about feelings that neither of us shared with other friends or family. We allowed ourselves to let go and share with someone who would not judge, even as we clicked through a series of actions we were less proud of.
This is where the talk of the Grimm Generation really started, as a code for ‘Children of the 70s at 40.’ We felt that what we were taught growing up was a very soft glow version of what life would really be like.
We missed the Drug Era but of course, drugs were appropriate for every Era. We missed the movements of a real Culture that we were too young for. These lessons never set in with us as a generation, and we fail spectacularly. We marry because it is what we believe we are supposed to do. We have kids because we are married, whether we wanted kids or not. We bought houses that we lost when the market crashed.
In retrospect, was this a series of excuses for not having our shit properly together? You’re damned right it was.
The true political intent was just a false flag. We had someone to talk too after being on Match.com too long where every communication was either someone selling you something you do not really need or you selling yourself.
The unceasing communication we struck was about the book that we were co-authoring. Neither of us had any type of experience in marketing a book, my scant experience in marketing a record was good but ultimately not useful.
With my living situation deteriorating, when Carmen mentioned that she was refinishing her basement, I jumped on it. I have always had a lovely relationship with basements and the House Of Grimm basement was perfect. And would allow us to really focus our attention toward the book.
All of this was happening in the background of my personal Waterloo, the Hartford Advocate Poll debacle.
It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Even by this point, less and less people read print media. These proud giants of alternative thinking were rotting in their boxes.
Where once the Grand Band Slam was a multiple night affair, everyone was involved and partying, playing a variety of clubs, outdoor gigs. Just a real general hullabaloo. it was shrinking in significance almost daily. The print media. The Scene itself.
I was offered an outdoor gig that was cancelled. I set up my own celebration gig on the day after New Year’s. Even the band did not show. No one came except for Carmen and her beau du jour. I was crushed.
And wallowed in it. Constant angry pacing in my 15-foot square underground sanctuary. Carmen was upstairs with the kids (approximate ages: Boy – 10, Girl – 6) playing Rock Band. And then Carmen took the mike and sang an AC/DC song. And I heard something there. Something undefinable. Something I needed.
Carmen had no background in music aside from a grammar school chorus and years of listening. There was something in her voice that was dusky and true. Not a traditional sound, but something that called out from late nights, broken hearts, too much liquor, on a loop.
It was a sound my more traditional voice could not convey. It wasn’t ability, it was atmosphere. And as I listened, I considered what if I took my decidedly pop songs and put them through that voice. I had no idea what would happen, but it kept me from thinking about the great expanse of what was not happening for me.
Since we lived together and had working projects, there were a lot of shared cigarettes on the screened in porch overlooking Park Ave in Windsor. This time was always about what happened next for the book marketing.
The book was The Thing. The book was our shared vision, our lopsided child. We went back and forth, story for story, until we selected the best subject and best writings that we produced. One of us would pick a subject (‘Lust’, ‘Butterflies’, etc) and we both would write our take on it. Some of the stories were long. Some were 3-line poems. It was an individual choice as to how to best capture the subject.
We felt like we were doing something so far unknown to the Market. The ‘Story’ and the stories we shared would leap out from the page and engage people our age. That was our market, clearly, as we wrote this about turning 40 in the high 2000s. We presumed that people would hear about it and reach out with their own tales of Grimm Generation excess and a community would be built.
We sent out the book to a hand-picked focus group who read it and provided insight, accolades and grammar hints.
Just like real authors do.
We then adjusted the tales through the insight provided group and built the book as suggested by the several thousand websites that offered encouragement and advice.
Just like real authors do.
We started shopping the book. When we received the first rejection (like real authors do), we laughed at the lack of imagination of the Big Book Business. By the third and fourth rejection letter, we were laughing a bit less. Seven and Eight hurt like Hell.
This process, unsuccessful as it was, really forged the Grimm dynamic that would become our trademark. We were hucksters, shameless. Specifically, together. We brought out the carnival barker in each other.
Individually we were still both a bit shy, closer to unknowable. United, we were glamorous grifters. We were good at it. Marketing that was funny, a bit salacious, but never uncomely. It entertained us greatly.
I expected to go into the book using this same level of grating glory, but I could not have anticipated the addition of Carmen. We fed off of each other, each idea discussed among smokes and bigger cups of coffee till we tore down every idea and rebuilt it to hold up to the GG standard.
We were in a single clear conversation for about 8 full years. The circumstances changed, the band members came and went and we were always looking at what is next to advance the Grimm agenda.
I have worked with people before, but it was nothing compared to what CC and I had.
We believed we could sell ice in the Antarctic. And because we believed it, we could do it. I always thought that if we tried hard enough, the two of us could will the house leave the ground and lift off into Space. Simply because it never dawned on us that we couldn’t.
We were not invincible. The rejection letters cut us in the places still exposed: lack of confidence, a genuine shared and fought against pessimism, old childhood ghosts of limits to what we can expect and what we could accomplish.
This January Sunday night, when a text was received and I slipped upstairs for a smoke, a new conversation began.
‘So…by now you do recognize I am quite mad. Right?’ I started with.
CC looked wary…trying to assume what angle this conversation was going. ‘I am aware.’
‘I heard you singing on Rock Band. And I have to say…. I could do something with that voice.’
‘Something … like what?’
‘A band!’ I exclaimed while she looked at me with an almost sympathetic nod noting I was indeed quite mad.
‘What am I going to do in this band? Sing??’
‘Yep. You’re the Singer, I’m the genius behind the scenes that plays guitar and broods.’
‘W.E. I think we can do something…. something bigger than the book, using the same philosophy. Children of the 70’s at 40. We may not know what people are reading, but we know what they are listening to. Their Facebooks are lousy with the stuff.’
‘So, I have the songs and you have the voice. It is something I am far more familiar with than book marketing. Why not?’
‘Because I can’t sing.’
‘You can. And really…who cares? Need I produce the list of non-traditional singers who have populated the pop charts? Dylan anyone?’
‘C’mon! You are high.’ (Note: I was.)
‘Yes…. but that doesn’t mean I am wrong. Let’s do this. For the next book meeting, I am bringing my guitar and you bring extra wine. If I am wrong, it will not take a lot for time to discover that.’
To Be Continued ….