I just returned from seeing Miles Kurosky, former leader of Beulah, at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia. It was a pretty good show, and Kurosky was a friendly, funny guy. Following his opening song, however, he began to spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over what he called his “albatross” of a catalog of beloved (by those who love the band, at least, like myself) Beulah songs. The first time he brought up the subject, it was a little awkward but understandable. A few songs later he explained that his new album only contained 10 songs, so the band “had to learn some covers.” Then they “covered” a Beulah song, the title of which I’m forgetting at the moment – and it’s too late to pull out the CD and find the name. Take my word for it, it was a spirited cover that psyched up an already friendly, if small, crowd. Following that song Kurosky started talking about how his previous night’s show in Washington, DC was interrupted by nonstop shout-outs for Beulah songs that his current band was not steeped in playing and that he was not as interested in playing, for various reasons. All understandable and articulated in Kurosky’s friendly, chatty manner, but then…
…but then Kurosky egged on the audience, asking us to get it out of our system with Beulah song requests. Someone would shout out “Gene Autry!” and he’d play a few measures, maybe with a band member or two following along. Then someone else would shout out “Silver Lining!” and we’d get another 20 seconds of a self-effacing walk-through. It was kind of cute at first, but a couple of half-baked Beulah song samples later I was getting pissed off. “He should be a professional,” I scoffed in my friend’s direction, “and figure out what he wants to do with his back catalog in advance!” It turns out this issue had been haunting him since his tour was announced; check out what he thought would be his solution, here.
Again, I had a good time at the show and liked his new songs and the man himself, in the few minutes I chatted with him and other fans after his set, but I found this routine and frequent between-song comments on the subject tiresome, patronizing, and a little self-aggrandizing. “It’s not like he’s Paul Weller!” I said to my friend at another time, recalling that Weller refused to play Jam songs in concert for years. Although I couldn’t stand Style Council, Weller took a radically new path with that band and then his solo work – and he managed to stay surprisingly popular in his home country with that crap! What’s it been, I thought to myself during a 5-minute span when I seriously considered leaving the show in protest, 6 or 7 years since Kurosky’s put out an album and now he can’t take responsibility for dealing with songs he wrote for Beulah that are not stylistically any different than his new songs? He’s got to dump this on us?
As some of you know, I can get a worked up pretty easily. Kurosky was obviously aware of the fine line he was treading, at one point saying to us, “These [ie, the Beulah songs] are your songs too.” I calmed and got back to enjoying the show, but I’m still wondering, What’s the best way for an established artist to deal with a back catalog of songs from a prior band? I can sympathize with the expectations long-running artists face to play their hits when they’re still in their original band, and from my own limited experiences with trying to change my musical identity over time I can empathize with Kurosky’s plight. Isn’t it time we help artists establish a protocol for working through these issues?
How have you seen artists in new directions deal with their past works? I keep thinking about the 1985 Alex Chilton show I attended and the surprisingly generous way he dealt with this issue. What approaches have worked for you, what approaches haven’t? Many of you are musicians of some stripe, so don’t be afraid to relate to the subject personally. Have you ever faced this issue with whatever audience you established with your previous band?