It seemed like a clever idea at the time. As many of my songs are written with the intent to express “pointed social commentary”, I chose “the rubber bullets” as a band name under the tongue-in-cheeky premise that “though my lyrics are not intended to draw blood, they might sting a bit for those in the cross-hairs”. And then I subsequently read about the real-life effects and consequences of the use of actual rubber bullets. Though promoted as a “non-lethal” weapon, “research increasingly shows they can seriously injure and disable people – and sometimes even kill”; “injuries from them can run from mild bruising to bone fractures and damage to important blood vessels or nerves”*. This is not an image/reality with which I wanted myself, my music or my band to be associated. The selection of an alternate moniker was imperative.
But what to rename this rambling, on-again-off-again (more “off” than “on”), decades-long endeavor, to which I have recently returned after lengthy hiatus? I feared that the sheer volume of water passing under that bridge had eroded the youthful enthusiasm of its inception, that recapturing the passion which had fired its creation might be problematic-verging-on-improbable, perhaps impossible. Indeed, my decision to resume participation has been based as much on the sheer determination to finally see this project through as it has been on the knowledge that, though long dormant, the pursuit of my avocation and purest expression of “self” is an essential aspect of my core being. To give up on this lifelong quest would be tantamount to the amputation of a limb – or perhaps, one might say, my soul. A rather dramatic assessment, but there it is – to call it quits and turn away from my music would be a devastating loss and the time has come to reconnect. I will not, as was so eloquently stated by Dylan Thomas, go gentle into that good night!
Another major motivating factor in my desire to “reboot” is the uncanny relevance many of the songs bear to the current social and political climate, both in this country and the world at large. Most of these lyrics were written during the Bush (both George H.W. and W.) and Clinton administrations, but seem hauntingly prescient in light of current affairs. They were created as expressions of dismay and frustration regarding particularly disturbing, dangerous and destructive aspects of human behavior which, in truth, have been endemic to the basest inclinations of mankind for…well, as long as mankind has existed. The theme of “A Salt and Battery”, the first (and only) album recorded as “the rubber bullets”, was “man’s inhumanity to man”, and addressed violence (“Aliens”, “Full Gutters”, “Shot In The Back”‡), cynical manipulation and hypocrisy (“Ordinary Mind”, “Crow”, “Shadows In A Darkened Room”, “Playing The Game”, “Annihilation Island”), mental and physical abuse (“Burning Papa’s House Down”†, “Broken Bird”†, “Unforgiving Innocence”†, “Gonna Love You”‡), reactionary intolerance and deflection manifesting as testosterone-fueled hubris (“Tough”) and the unconscionable absurdities of racism and bigotry (“One Race, One Color”). It is some consolation that, though the band name was poorly conceived it was, indeed, highly relevant to that concept. I do not know if there is any difference to be made through these songs (though that would be a desired result) but, at the very least, I feel an urgency to re-present them to the world at this juncture due to said enhanced relevance.
Lastly, my efforts are, in part, intended to honor the legacy of my late friend and partner in music, Scott Rundles. Scott was the most talented individual with whom I have ever had the pleasure to make music (he was exceptionally gifted on both drums and keyboards) and as good a friend as one could hope to have. Our relationship spanned 38 years, from the time of our first meeting when he was 16 years old to his untimely passing at the age of 54. In the interim, we spent many hours, days, months and years together, in the studio and on stage. Scott had an incredible musical intuitiveness and we shared an invaluable bond – he had the uncanny ability of knowing how to interpret my musical ideas in exactly the fashion desired, thus elevating the resulting whole, as well. Our oft-referenced, humorous description of the process ran, “Scott, give me something more ethereal/powerful/dramatic here” – he would instinctively know just what was needed from the most minimal/vague description or direction. Ours was, truly, a transcendent relationship and he is dearly missed, both as friend and musical partner.
So, in summary, we have the long delayed return to the pursuit of my avocation; the relaunch of somewhat-dusty material due to a sadly-fresh applicability; the dedication to the legacy of a long-time friend and partner; the impetus to choose a project name to replace “the rubber bullets” that would be evocative of “what a long, strange trip it’s been” down this “long and winding road”; oh, well…better late than never.
† Written in partnership with one of my earliest collaborators – lyrics by Stephen Macpherson, music by Robert Shaffer
‡ Lyrics by Stephen Macpherson and Robert Shaffer, music by Robert Shaffer
I would also like to acknowledge the contributions and friendship of William and Joseph Fowler, with whom this ball got rolling all the way back in my Senior year of High School, continued intermittently through my college years and into my mid-thirties, as well as those of Craig Cannaday, a great friend and talented musician with whom Scott and I enjoyed playing for many years in the cover band “Pinot Evil”.