the curse of having a hit song

when chris cornell died a few weeks ago, i watched some live soundgarden performances and was surprised to see how bland their setlist was. soundgarden was always one of those bands that i felt did their own thing and didn’t have many casual fans, so i imagined them being like the cure and playing all kinds of obscure deep cuts from their catalogue at live shows. but nope, there was all the expected big hits. i like soundgarden but have never liked spoonman, it’s so boring and straightforward (save for one syncopated drum section in the breakdown) compared to a lot of their other shit so i was disappointed to see it was still a staple of their live show. i can’t imagine playing that song at every show for about 20 years. that would suck.

then a few days ago, i was looking up some primus stuff. i was aware of primus back in the 90s but never followed them so watching wynona’s big brown beaver in the year 2017 was a pleasant surprise. i hadn’t heard the song since high school so i thought, “wow, what a hidden gem from that long lost era. i bet it’s rare anyone even thinks about this song anymore.” but then i looked up live performances of the tune, and guess what — primus is still active, and still trudge through that fucking song with absolutely zero passion at every show. but you can’t blame them. we’d all be sick of playing the same song hundreds of times per year for 20 years, but that’s what the majority of fans seem to get pumped to hear so you’d probably keep playing it too.

these two examples just reminded me of how shitty it must be to be a popular musician that had a hit song at one time in their career, because no matter how often you have had to roll your eyes and go through the motions of that tired old track, the audience will still want more of it. most of them don’t want to hear your new shit or some obscure old stuff that you think is actually really cool, and that sucks for the artist. the artist ends up being a fucking monkey on a leash, doing expected tricks for children who clap and cheer. it’s a sad fate.

no, better to quit while you’re ahead and avoid a ‘greatest hits’ setlist, or say “fuck you” to your fans and just do whatever you want and end up with a tiny fanbase, or toil in obscurity for your entire career so no one ever has any expectations of you. those are clearly the superior options to making boatloads of cash while being annoyed on stage for an hour or two every other night.

the advice of a pessimist.

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