So says Mr Bruce Springsteen, CEO and principal shareholder of The E Street Band, in his new book. He goes on:
“If I was going to assume the workload and responsibility, I might as well assume the power. I’ve always believed the E Street Band’s continued existence is partially due to the fact that there was little to no role confusion among its members. My bandmates were not always happy with the decisions I made and may have been angered by some of them, but nobody debated my right to make them.”
It’s a theme elaborated on at length in the recent Tom Petty documentary, Running Down A Dream. The great keyboard player Benmont Tench tells of being summoned to the studio, told what to play, and dismissed. Petty shrugs his shoulders at this treatment of his friend of 40 years. Maybe that’s what you get when your band’s called X and the Ys.
For a band to succeed they need a talented one and an ambitious one. Often they’re the same person. Then they need Curly, Larry and Moe who do what they’re told. Bruce’s benign dictatorship was probably the only way that operation could prosper. A band may style themselves as a band of brothers, but one of them has to be big brother.
Imagine being Bill Wyman. Never close to being an equal partner, he put up with decades of minor humiliations for the honour of being a Rolling Stone. Or Brian, Mick T and Ron, all contributors to the songs and the sound of the Stones, but never properly recognised. Art Garfunkel, openly taunted (So long, Artie!) by his ‘partner’. Some bands, like The Who, never come to terms with the necessary inequality. Their solution was to knock lumps out of each other, and on A Quick One, give everyone an equal shot at writing the songs. That went well. Look at the complex writing credits on Pink Floyd or Deep Purple songs. A song for Roger and Deaky on every Queen album. Moby Dick, for god’s sake.
The sainted U2 got around the problem early on by giving Curly and Larry an equal split of the take and telling them to piss off until tour time. But for every delighted Adam Clayton there’s a frustrated George Harrison, playing whatever you want me to play, or not playing at all if that’s what you want. Equality doesn’t really work in a rock band, and I suppose there might be some irony in comparing the political stance of many bands, and the inclusive tone of their lyrics, with their own internal structures.
I’m trying to think of a band that’s managed to function over any length of time as a true collective. Any suggestions?