I must give an huge, vast thank you to my very good friends of The Polyphonic Spree for playing our most humble, little rock club here in Birmingham. I've been watching a few of the of the videos from the show and just can't believe the irony of being out of town recording in Chicago at the same time the band came through my hometown and having to miss the show. All reports have been that their performance was awe-inspiring, life reaffirming and soul expanding, but that’s no surprise to me by any means, mostly because I was there myself for so many of these such experiences. Obviously, there are many, if not mostly, new faces in the band from when I was there from 2004—2007, but luckily not much has changed especially with the onstage espirit des corps of the band. I had to stop and think for a moment about how in the hell could a band change so many members over the years and yet have the same overpowering passion almost every single show.
And then, the revelatory, “duh” hit me. The one element that has never changed is the band’s truly fearless leader, one Mr. Tim Delaughter. Tim’s spirit is one that is absolutely abounding on a cosmic-size scale and the man, simply put, just has no quit inside of him. How could I accurately even try to convey what sums up Tim’s demeanor and greater perspective on the universe? I suppose he’s the sort of guy who if he had been a famous novelist and lost his arms in a horrible accident, he would learn to write with his feet and then write the best novel of his life. And thus, while Tim has always had a self-drive to accomplish his own dreams, he’s always felt impelled, propelled rather, to share whatever was in his heart and mind with others. If Tim was a character in late 70s/ early 80s “Going back to ‘Nam” movie à la ‘Uncommon Valor’ he’d be the insane, dauntless Sgt. who would lead his men into a seemingly insurmountable jungle battle rife with a shit storm of machine gun and mortar fire, but would damn sure make sure no one was left behind.
When I first heard of the Polyphonic Spree. I thought it was bullshit. I didn’t know if it was some strange new age choir cult or just a simple gimmick to see how many people the former lead singer of Tripping Daisy could get on stage with him in white robes. Then I just happened to be over with another band playing festivals in England in 2003 and I saw them play at Leeds on one side of the stage at the encouragement of my great friend Seth Loeser who was a former Man or Astro-Man? crew member and who was now working with their band. Needless to say, I was blown away in every clichéd sense of the term. It was a change of heart as well as a punch in the gut from the sheer overwhelming power and volume of the band. I had never seen so many people “come together” and go off so hard to bring joy to other people. It was transcendent. I was sold hook, line, and choir robe.
It wasn’t that long after that there was a spot open in the band for a new percussionist/drummer and Seth had recommended me to a truly awesome fellow named Chris Penn who was the band’s go-to everything sort of guy and who was a sort of cross between a punk rock Col. Tom Parker and a down home Texas-style version of Ian Faith, that band manager with the cricket club in Spinal Tap (Note: I once lost a cymbal diving into a lake at the end of a festival in Sweden and Chris made me go swimming around for it after the show). The next thing was that I met the band on a tour in Atlanta and by Jove, the next thing after that was that I was indeed wearing a robe, and then the very next you know was that I was travelling the world with the same aforementioned new age choir cult I had been exposed to a few years prior by the British music press. Very quickly, I felt most inexplicitly at home with the people in the band, which frankly surprised the hell out of me.
You see, here’s the thing about the Polyphonic Spree—and this is something I got asked constantly when I was in the band, “How are you guys always that happy all the time?” Well, I’ll tell you the secret, “We’re weren’t that fucking happy all the time.” I can assure you firsthand, me being included among them, that there were, and as I’m sure there are now as well, some rather dark souls with all sorts of troubled pasts, presents, and futures in the band. Yet that’s exactly when I figured it all out, even if I didn’t express it in explicit terms at the time: These people do this almost wholly because it feels really damn good and it makes other people feel really damn good.
It’s mass group therapy in and of itself, it’s the light coming through the long tunnel of sludge and shit that life can so often be, and a reminder that no one is ever truly alone if they take a moment to look at the world around them. It was like, “Okay, yeah, we’re here and fuck it, we’re all alive at this moment together, and it’s okay, really, it’s going to all be okay.” And if you were willing to join in and throw your socialized, jaded-ass cynicism aside for 90 minutes, you could truly realize what an artlessly beautiful and powerful thing it was, and likewise you might just have that 90 minutes might be something that would stay with you the rest of your life. I can’t even begin to relay the soul touching and earnest sincerity of people who would come up to me after a show, and say things like, I was at my wit’s end and in such a grim, sad place, and was going to kill myself, and then a friend brought me to see you guys play, and I realized, yeah, it’s going to be okay, it’s all going to be okay.
Over the years with the Spree I played for huge festival crowds from The Netherlands to New Zealand, I got to appear on countless TV shows, I played the Beatles induction to the British Music Hall of fame only a few away from Brian May of Queen and Bono told me that it was a good set, I got to hang out backstage with David Bowie, I shared the stage with Brian Wilson at the Hollywood Bowl, I (accidentally) nearly knocked David Byrne over with my marching cymbals playing at the Fillmore in San Francisco, I hung out with Tom Cruise when we played the Nobel Peace Prize awards in Norway, I most famously played an oversized Hallmark card in the band’s Christmas play for a few thousand people in Dallas, I most infamously made the F.B.I.s most wanted list as a terrorism suspect while travelling with my choir robe and a pipe-bomb looking microphone that our bass player Mark had made, and I met one of my best all-time buddies in the world, an eight-year old name Oscar. But yet, I did it all, with Tim Delaughter and a revolving cast of twenty-something other nuts in a van, bus, boat, plane and even, yes, at times, on foot.
Not to say that he isn’t greatly appreciated, respected and loved by so many now, but Tim will one day surely get all the credit coming to him, and he will surely one day be heralded for all his absolutely brilliant songs and all the moments of the utterly over-filled, super-charged, histrionic happiness he has brought to so many people. The fact that The Polyphonic Spree is still playing in 2012 makes me so genuinely thankful. It’s a struggle now I’m sure of that, and I’m sure of that because it was always a struggle. From being an amazing father to his kids and others, to making a seemingly impossible rock ‘n’ roll dream come alive, Tim doesn’t take on easy things. It is a behemoth understatement that keeping 30 people on the road with a punk rock ethos and using a map drawn from nothing more than pure inspiration is not something for the faint of heart, but Tim Delaughter is one of the great day-dreamers of our time, and his day-dreams, as you well know, can be rather large, and very often his gazes out the window of his mind come smack into an ever-possible reality and thus eventually even come to fruition. As Julie, his lovely wife and proverbial right hand would always say, “It can only come true if you put it out there to the universe.”
One of the fondest moments of my time with the band was going out to Dallas to be in the 5-piece core rehearsal band when Tim was writing ‘The Fragile Army’ record. One night after practice, Tim and I were jamming together, just the two of us, on piano and drums, and afterwards we were talking about all the trials and tribulations of the band, and Tim said in his unfathomably charming Texas drawl, “Yeah…you know, somehow we will keep it alive.” And I would never take credit for anything with the Spree to any degree, but I mentioned it with some small, trivial suggestion that Tim should just say that very sentiment in the song he was working on. That song is now known as 'The Championship.'
Yes indeed, The Polyphonic Spree--these are times I’ll never forget. Thousands of feet stomping, marching, dancing to the uncontrollable, impulsive and irresistible urge to collide and meld atoms together in whatever way we can for however long we can. We all truly live in unforgettable times simply by activating ourselves with others in this immense unknown universe. There are many things, given the chance, I would change in my life, playing in The Polyphonic Spree is not one of them.
I tried to find a video that reminded me of what the Spree was like to me on stage, and nothing I could find could even vaguely relay what it was really like. And then I recalled what I remembered most was not about myself, but instead the other band members and everyone in the crowd. Tim and Julie, possibly to their occasionally regret, were always really encouraging of my often insane, as someone once wrote “Iggy Pop with a marching band drum” antics. I would often have the seemingly out-of-body experience of being offstage out in the crowd, or hanging from scaffolding, or climbing up a balcony during, ‘When the Fool Becomes the King,’ and very often I would take a moment to look back at the band I was in, and I would think to myself, “Holy shit, I’m in that band!”
These YouTube clips (and I’ll warn you the cell phone-type audio is horrible but that besides the point) are from London in 2006. The first is the ‘Together We’re Heavy’ opening track, ‘We Sound Amazed’ which was always a big payoff of finally getting to play after waiting around backstage at a club for eight hours, but the moment that takes me back as if I was still playing at 5:57 during “King Pt. 2” (the next video) when a person who has become one of my best friends over the years, Toby Halbrooks, has a Theremin space odyssey-type solo while the profusely talented Evan Jacobs does an uncanny version of Rachmaninoff by way of Bugs Bunny on the piano. I remember always at this moment waiting in the dark like a crystal meth fueled human Jack-in-the-Box to jump out into the crowd. Ironically, I’m barely in this video (as it should be). I believe I was indeed running around in the balcony and just as aforementioned looking back at the astounding fucking thing I was partaking in not only as a band member but a human was who was simply there with all the other humans present at that very moment.
And the words Tim would sing that I would wait on to launch myself out into the joyous sea of onlookers? “…And you the time is right, when you reach for the Sun.” And I can assuredly tell you this that now more than ever in these times that we live in that truer words have never been spoken and no such lucid words have ever been equaled or resonated with me quite in the same way. Long live the Sun. And, by all means, long live The Polyphonic Spree.