Perspective—it’s the singular view by which we observe the world; the looking glass that bends light so that we may see it properly. All we see is what we know. But what if just for a moment, you could strip all that away and enter another view? What if you could step into another consciousness and feel the innermost desires that live there; would you do it?
Bryan McPherson – A Close-Up Look At Life Behind The Microphone
Viewpoint is a strange thing. We often accept common perceptions, as opposed to looking for ourselves. Take music, for example. Rock stars like Mick Jagger and Robert Plant will forever serve as the archetype for preconceptions about what musicians are like. Thus, most associate being an artist with images of luxurious tour buses and playing shows drunk or high like some God of rock and roll, all followed by a night of glamorous after-parties and destroying hotel rooms.
The reality is, the glitz and glam of the music industry died years ago. It’s buried in a landmass somewhere with heaps of CDs and the spirit of Sam Goody. In 2013, an emerging artist resembles a traveling gypsy more than a rock star; it’s a job that requires hard work, blind unrelenting desire, and maddening sacrifice. With “From The Stage,” we aim to shatter those false conceptions of life as a musician, and expose what things are really like after the curtains fall.
To do so, I’ve chosen to enter the perspective of up-and-coming musician Bryan McPherson. Though his roots are in Massachusetts, McPherson is now “living on the fringe” while he continues touring. He plays folk music, following the lead of ‘60s era protest songs, back when music served as a rallying cry for the counter-culture and not simply a way to pass the time.
There’s a sincerity behind his piss and vinegar passion, as he shouts into the mic and strums a guitar until his knuckles bleed. Maybe it’s his undying desire to invoke change, or the inspiration from traveling the back-roads of America and living out of a tour van. Whatever it is that keeps him going, he’s given us a chance to peer into his skull and find out.
Now, close your eyes for a moment and take a few deep breaths. When you open them, you’ll be somewhere else.
Taking The Stage
The air is thick backstage. The lingering smell of stale beer sits just under the nostrils. Muffled music from an opening band flows in from the other room, but Bryan would never know it. He drowns it out with a pair of frayed iPod headphones placed firmly in each ear, and closes his eyes with focused intensity. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” leaks out faintly amid the noise, as he delves deeper and deeper into his subconscious. It’s all part of the ritual.
Passing images of the unfamiliar faces he sees on the road flow into one; the worried thoughts of where he’s going to sleep tonight muddle into a blur of Wal-Mart parking lots and camping grounds. He’s alone.
A voice calls his name in the distance, instantly bringing him back to reality. The crowd awaits. In one hand he takes his acoustic guitar and straps it on, while the other steadies the harmonica around his neck. With measured footsteps sticking to the warped linoleum wood floors, he steps up to a platform. “Check,” he says repeatedly into the microphone, tightening the strings on his guitar slightly. An American flag hangs behind him as he waits a few moments for the din of the bar to fade, and then slowly, he looks up from the stage.
The Grand Victory
I walked by the venue a few times, staring down at my cell phone’s GPS on a side-street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn before finally locating The Grand Victory—a brown awning proclaims its name in faded white letters. The gruff bartender wipes down a long wooden bar with a rag, and shrugs when I asked him what time Bryan McPherson goes on. Candles line the tables and slowly flicker to the rhythm of a Queen song.
Through the dim lighting, I can just barely make out someone setting up a merch stand. A man unfolds T-shirts and stands on a bar stool to hang up a sign declaring prices. The same question begins to stumble out of my mouth, before I stop myself. Bryan looks back at me, waiting.
Living on the Fringe
Bryan leans into the bar and drains the last few drops from a Red Bull can, then crushes it in one hand. He’s still trying to gain his bearings after a long day on the road. As he wipes the sweat from his brow, I see there’s a tattoo on his wrist that reads O.F.D. (originally from Dorchester), and I ask him where he’s living. “I have no base,” he replies. “I packed all my things into a storage unit, so we’ll see where things take me.” For now, the open road is his home.
Behind The Curtain
A man hastily walks in, asking to borrow a few bottles of Jameson because he’s expecting a big crowd at his bar tonight. Questlove is performing. Bryan and I take this as a cue to step outside.
The streets are mostly deserted in Brooklyn on a Tuesday night, as the late-summer air cools at sunset. Brooklyn (Williamsburg, in particular) is often viewed as a center of counter-culture, but on this night at least, it was eerily quiet.
Bryan, a powerful voice in the Occupy Oakland movement on the other side of the U.S., looks pensively down the empty block. His music is about unifying against an unjust establishment; it comes from a place of rebellion that lives deep in his gut, but what is a loud voice in an empty room? It echoes against the walls, and then it’s gone. It doesn’t find a home.
“I wouldn’t describe myself as extremely political. I just call it as I see it. Americans have ‘just enough’ not to care about what’s going on; it’s certainly not the ‘60’s. As the constitution erodes, people seem so distracted by technology and what’s going on in their personal lives. They’re too busy to care,” said Bryan.
I jot notes feverishly onto a pad as a young couple speed passed me into a nearby coffee shop.
“We live in a time where the counter-culture has become an image. It’s manufactured. Even Justin Bieber has tattoos. You can’t tell who’s who. The Occupy movement was great because people took to the streets and they tried to say something, but nothing changed.”
“There is some real potential there, though, in the youth movement. I mean, I’m on tour, so that’s always a good sign that people are responding to my stuff. Even then, it’s my third U.S. tour by myself this year, and it’s lonely out there. Sure, I get to travel and see new places. I meet new people… but I’m always leaving.”
“One thing I’ve noticed on the road is that Americans are always ‘Us vs. Them.’ In Phoenix they say ‘oh, we hate Tucson,’ and in Tucson, everyone says ‘the people out in Phoenix suck.’ People need to travel; they need to see that we’re all the same and take on another perspective. We’re all in this together.”
I nod in agreement. He looks over at his touring van and gets lost in a thought.
“Sometimes I’ll play a show and say ‘why the fuck am I doing this?’ Other times I completely connect with the audience. It’s the little things that make it all worth it. I hardly sleep, but every night I’ll hit the stage and be full of energy. I just know I have to keep going; I owe it to the people who listen. It’s my responsibility.”
I See A Flag
Bryan gazes out over the crowd from the stage once more, before diving headfirst into his set. He strums his guitar furiously and shouts into the mic. Beads of sweat drip down his face from the sheer passion he puts into his performance. In the dim lighting, the house lights reflect off the stars and stripes behind him, casting his shadow upon them.
In between songs, he talks of the Oscar Grant case that inspired him, in which an innocent African-American man was shot and killed by police. A girl at the bar talked over his explanation, oblivious to it all. “I see a flag blowing in the wind / I see a flag burning in the wind” he sings to her, but she never looked up to notice.
Bryan’s music is a rallying cry, a call to action for a generation that’s too busy to listen. Luckily, he won’t stop until his voice is raw.
“I’m leaving Brooklyn. Loaded up my van and I’m headed somewhere. It’s too hot here. I need to drive somewhere cool so I can sleep in the van before heading to Canada.”
Bryan drinks honey to soothe his strained vocal chords, while he recuperates from the show. For now, the open road lies ahead, and who knows what it’ll bring. It all depends on what perspective you view it from.
Check Rukkus to see when Bryan McPherson is performing a show near you!
-Check Out Bryan McPherson‘s website here.-
Article by Nicolas White