Musician, heal thyself

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Interestingly, the very same two names that Van Blarcum mentioned pop up again, invoked by Carl Finch in a discussion of artists and expectations. "Rock stars have always been there to define the limits," Finch declares. "Jim Morrison showed us how far you could go without having to spend a lot of time in jail, and G.G. Allin defined the limits [of self-destructive behavior], and if you're not going that far, it's not even news."

"Besides," adds Combo percussionist Joe Cripps, "once you've had somebody you care about go through those kinds of things, it's not as attractive. We can't afford that attitude, anyway. We do this for a living. A lot of those people don't--it's extracurricular for them. They have a day job, and they can get off work, practice, drink hard, and fight, and it's OK. That's cool for a while, but as you get older it's less image and more whatever it takes to make it work."

Cripps says he's discussed Hipple's work with many musicians "and every one of them has said, 'That sounds like a good idea.' Music is a way of life for me, and I don't want to have a tortured life, especially if it's to live up to some 14-year-old kid's idea of what's it's all about."

"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."

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Matt Weitz