When I introduced Chris Barron at last month’s installation, I mentioned something about how, for me, New York City in the 90s belonged to The Spin Doctors. It was a funny time. I had just started teaching in Brooklyn. A distilled version of Hip Hop and vacuous Pop were starting to rear their shiny heads. I was in the second of several “urban” chapters in the book of my life and often found myself haunting East Village dives like Nightingale’s for signs of real life.
Occasionally, I’d see stickers I’d recognize on bathroom walls or spot old Spin Doctors posters or photos alongside images of John Popper from Blues Traveler, Renny from The Authority, or the guys in The Choosy Mothers. These bands were making people dance like bad music on the radio was making people dance (I guess it was a kinetic time), but they were doing it in an hyper-musical way with crazy grooves, positive vibes, and loads of good old-fashioned jamming.
At the center of all of this was Chris Barron and his quirky/sinewy/awesome voice and delivery. He and his band were a hodgepodge of different styles that came together like a great city might bring together different peoples and customs and cultures. Because I grew up on strange blend of U2, KISS, Armenian music, and Dvorak, I knew a thing or two about merging and instantly was mesmerized by Chris and The Spins and the swirls and the experimentation and all of the just plain fun. To boot, Chris was a champion of the underdog. He dug Jimmy Olsen. He quoted Shakespeare. He was literary and a rocker. Thus, he became a cool dude.
Fast forward 15-20 years, and Chris is still cool…and still rockin’. His demeanor has only grown more playful and sincere and his writing more mature. It’s interesting to observe how he changes from playing in front of 1,000+ people (at The Bowery Ballroom with The Spins, just a week before our show, as part of the 20 year reissue/rerelease of Pocket Full of Kryptonite tour) to playing in front of 50. Some stuff stays the same, and other stuff shifts slightly toward the intimate. He shares dreams and talks about his hit singles like they’re old friends whom all of us once knew a while back. He urges us to reconnect. And we do.
It was a real pleasure opening up the show for Chris Barron. We’ve played on the same stage before, but somehow this was more satisfying. Maybe we’re more awake than we were in the 90s. Who knows. All I know is that he’s a great guy – humble and modest – and a pretty amazing songwriter too. He understands what a gift it is to be able to play and make a living from music, especially for him (for more on this, see my article on Chris Barron published earlier this year). And while music is only part of the way I make a living in this world, I totally acknowledge the gift too and how, when in the presence of it being made well, I revel at its ability to keep on making old things new again. And again and again.
Just go ahead now, music. Don’t ever stop.