One thing I have noticed about bands that break up is that it usually has nothing to do with musical differences, though that is the oft-cited reason why a band has met its demise. The truth of the matter reveals itself when you read interviews with former band members who are asked about possible reunions.
A band is something that has a unique creative chemistry. When it’s “on song” (excuse the cliché), the sum is greater than the parts. Band mates each contribute their best creative outpourings and the resulting melange is a spectacularly popular and successful concoction. Fans know it and long for it, when it ends. When a band breaks up, the fans wish that the members could be brought back together, to make those wonderful creative collaborations, just one more time. Unfortunately, that frequently becomes impossible to achieve and that’s because there is too much bad blood and water under the bridge, too many emotional scars, to permit the former band mates to put all that aside and get down to pouring out their best creative ideas again.
In a typical successful band, the members are riding high. They can begin to think they each walk on water and have unique talents that are indispensible. The trouble is they fail to understand that every member of the band has unique talents that are indispensible, too, and that the magic comes from combining those talents, not isolating them in solo projects. As a consequence of inflated egos and the removal of any inhibitions, constraints or prohibitions to downright rotten behaviour, band members frequently begin to behave like utter arseholes. They do and say things that no grounded person, with a modicum of humility, would ever contemplate.
In the process, they can and do inflict terrible psychological wounds on their band mates. Band members either come to loathe the behaviour and lack of ethics or morals of each other, or else they directly steal from each other, whether monetarily or in personal relationships. The most egregious abuse comes when one member thinks they own the creative output of the band and denigrate, ignore, belittle or minimise the contributions made by the others. In effect, what happens is that the creative collaboration comes a distant second to pampering their own egos and inflicting terrible injuries and injustices on one another. Band members become obsessed with themselves and what they are getting out of the deal and unhesitatingly and callously walk all over everybody else, including their former best friends and creative collaborators. In short, they stop being kind to each other. They kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, in the process.
Consequently, when the dust has settled, time has passed and each band member has gone on to usually less successful creative projects (or even if they enjoy more success), nostalgia for the old magical combination of talents rears its head. People begin to hunger for the band as it was, in the original line-up. Perhaps the band members themselves feel a longing for the good old days, or else feel financial pressures to get back together to attempt to recreate the magic. They may all still have their creative talents (perhaps better than ever), it may be possible to combine those creative contributions into a magical collaboration, at least on paper, but it will never happen in practice. Why not? Because the love is gone.
Love is an important ingredient in creative collaborations. If each band member has no love for the others, then it is virtually impossible to bring their best creative outpourings to the project and place them for combination with everybody else’s parts. Great collaborations are always an act of love. It’s both a love for the beauty of the resultant creation, but also for each other. If, due to the bad behaviour or addictions of band members in days gone by, the love is lost, it’s almost impossible to rekindle. A love lost is usually a love lost forever.
What I urge members of a band to remain mindful of, particularly if they are becoming successful, is that the collaboration is precious and that their band mates are precious too. This unique chemistry may never exist with any other people, ever again. Being a part of a great band is a special thing that, if you’re lucky, may happen to you just once in your lifetime. If the collaboration is producing creations that are undoubtedly things of unique beauty, then that whole collaborative process and symbiotic relationship is valuable and very much worth protecting and preserving. The best way to keep it alive is to be kind to each other and to eschew the excessive bad behaviour which so frequently accompanies being in a successful band.
Just say no. Say no, because it nurtures and protects the musical collaboration and helps it to thrive. That’s the valuable part of the band. Each member might think they individually walk on water, but it’s the collaboration that has the wings and can fly. Always remember that. The amazing, magical thing is not the possession of a single band member. It belongs to all of them and can only continue to exist while fraternal love remains.
They say that being in a band is like being in a marriage. Well, there are good marriages and bad marriages and the best marriages don’t just happen, they survive because those in the marriage work at them and fight to keep them good and alive. Bands need to be good marriages too. Each member can and should make it their number one priority to make the band marriage a good marriage.
The irony is that if the love can be maintained, then the band never finds a need to break up and they can have a long and successful career together, delighting their fans and audiences over generations. The question of getting back together never arises, because there is never a need to break up. Meanwhile, the collaborative creations just get better and better. This is a pretty big payoff for simply refraining from being an arsehole to each other.
Is it really too much to ask?