Musician, heal thyself

A Denton shrink plumbs the murky psyches of self-destructive rock artists and concludes they don't have to die young, drunk, and depressed

"All that emphasis on burning out and fading away," McCrea says, "is just fucking luxury, a cartoon-style version of human suffering and victory. It's dressing us up like clowns, and it's dorky, passe, and not even practical."

"How much pain do we owe the audience?" asks Brave Combo woodwind guy Jeffrey Barnes.

Even though both performers and audience have an aversion to framing music in terms of product--and might dis Brave Combo for adopting the ways of "the Man"--the band's approach is a good deal more subversive than it at first appears. "We've always removed ourselves from the industry--tried to avoid it altogether--because they're only in it for the quick kill," Finch explains. "We go after niche marketing, and try to build on our fan base. We do everything ourselves--booking, managing--and for us to do that, the business side demands that everybody be communicating effectively. There's no way to avoid it, so you might as well be efficient and mature in your approach."

There's also no doubt in Finch's mind that the time the band spends with Hipple is well invested. "I don't want to say that without him there'd be no band," Finch says. "But I do know that he's taught us an awful lot about effectively being in a band. It's been easier."

"As much as he's helped us ease interpersonal friction, where he's really helped us is in getting organized as a business," Cripps adds. He points to the wall behind him, where a dry-erase board hangs. "He made us get that. We were doing everything ourselves, but from a musician's point of view. He told us how to have a meeting: Come in, write what you want to talk about on the board, set a time limit, and stay on the topic being discussed. Before, we'd get sidetracked and end up talking about old issues."

"Being in a band is like having four or five neurotic spouses," Barnes says. "It's a difficult thing to keep going."

"The band becomes so integrated with the rest of your life that issues with the band spill over into your family life," Cripps says, then adds with a laugh: "The medication he gives us is dynamite."

Although counselors are not psychiatrists and therefore can't prescribe drugs, Hipple has been helpful in that area, too. "After he met me, he thought I might have ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder]," says Barnes, who has so many colorful knick-knacks and tchotchkes hanging from his bandanna and woven into his hair that he looks a bit like a walking Christmas tree. "Sure enough, I did, and he gave the me the name of someone who got me on some medication that helps me stay on track."

Like any good therapist, Hipple's ultimate job is his own obsolescence. "He's got us trained," Cripps says. "We're getting better and better at doing this ourselves, and actually, we haven't been to see him in quite a while."

"The big thing we learned," Finch explains, "and the thing I think every person and every team or marriage should know, is that when something comes up, confront it. Go ahead and deal with it, because it won't ever get any easier or any better."

Despite his success with Brave Combo, Hipple allows that there's still a lot of work to be done. "Prevention is a hard sell," he says. "That's why business and industry have been putting so much money into it the last 20 years. Right now, as a counselor, when people come to me, they already know they have a problem." What he sees as the challenge of the future is the planting of "a little seed" that can grow into a new paradigm for musical or artistic heroes. While this generation still looks to the romance of the old burn-out-and-fade-away school (ironically enough, Neil Young, the man who brought that phrase into rock vernacular with Rust Never Sleeps, has done neither, remaining a vibrant and interesting artist), perhaps the next one will look to groups like Brave Combo and use them as models for a more functional and rewarding approach to their music.

"The next generation will know--just like they do now in industry--that one of the ways you can improve production is by making the workers happier," Hipple says. Although McCrea talked with the Dallas Observer before Hipple, the Cake singer's line of thought runs parallel to the psychologist's. "There's nothing wrong with musicians making a decent living," he said.

Hipple's goal is to help develop that next generation, and the derision of the likes of Turner Scott Van Blarcum is not going to dissuade him. "What I'd say to the doubters is, let me sit in on some of your gigs and rehearsals, and I bet there are some things I could help you with," Hipple says. "Because you're doing all of this--having meetings, setting goals, communicating--whether you know it or not and whether you're doing it right or wrong. You can't work up a song or decide on a set list without it."

"What I'd give anything to be able to do," Hipple continues, "is to go to different record companies and do day- or half-day-long training sessions with the A&R [Artist and Repertoire, field agents responsible for finding and developing new talent] people who are out there working with bands and watching them. If they had the ability to see these problems and could talk to the band about doing something about it--instead of just letting it go and then covering it up--it would be a lot better for the musicians. You have consultants for almost every other aspect of the music business--how to walk, talk, act, what to wear--except this."

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