Brian Henneman has been listening to Marshall Crenshaw since “back in the ‘80s when MTV sucked so hard, he was the only thing I liked.” This past Saturday, he performed with him at the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival.
Henneman is the frontman, songwriter, lead singer and guitarist of the Bottle Rockets, a longtime alt-country fixture of the St. Louis music scene. After a few of its own songs, the Bottle Rockets welcomed Crenshaw, the man of the 1982 Top-40 hit “Someday, Someway” to the stage.
The Bottle Rockets, originally established in 1992, came to fame throughout the Midwest with similar bands Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and Sun Volt. All had a similar alt-country rock sound and led the start of a new movement defined essentially by songs about the working-class, small-town man of the Midwest.
The Bottle Rockets describe themselves in their online bio as “too punk for country audiences, too genuine for the smug irony of the hipster scene, and too smart for the outdoor one-hitter rock festival crowd.”
Henneman said what keeps them going at this point is the fact that there’s nothing else to do.
“Too late to do anything different,” he said.
A bittersweet statement, maybe, because as Henneman went on, “You’ve gotta do what you can to stay in the music business these days.”
There was a time, he said, when you could make a living as a musician off record sales. The Bottle Rockets took a mid-career hit with the proliferation of music streaming websites such as Spotify, Soundcloud and Pandora.
“When we started out you could buy this stuff, but somewhere around mid-flight all of a sudden the stuff that people used to buy, they didn’t have to buy anymore and just got it for free,” Henneman said.
He said he has some side gigs now to make it work. He works in a guitar shop and has a country cover band in St. Louis.
“Give it up, kids, you have no future!” Henneman said when asked for any stories or words of wisdom about finding success as college students.
The Bottle Rockets has described itself as “reporters of the Midwest,” hailing from Festus, Missouri.
However, the band is likely talented enough to have made it outside the Midwest. Guitarist John Horton was awarded “Best Electric Guitarist” in the Best of St. Louis feature of the Riverfront Times in 1998 and “Best Guitarist” in 2013.
But the band stayed and told the stories of the common man. “Indianapolis,” its most popular song, begins, “Got a tow from a guy named Joe / Cost sixty dollars hope I don't run out of dough / Told me ‘bout a sex offense put him three days in jail / Stuck in Indianapolis, hope I live to tell the tale.” These lyrics could only really make sense in the context of the Midwest and all of its oddities.
One of the first songs the Bottle Rockets played Saturday was “Dog.” Coming from its most recent album, South Broadway Athletic Club, the song is quite simple.
“I love my dog,” Henneman sings. “He’s my dog / If you don’t love my dog / That’s okay / I don’t want you to.”
Henneman said there’s no deeper metaphorical meaning to the song.
“I was just seemingly thinking I was having a bad day, and then I saw him sitting there, you know, squeaking his little toy, and I just realized ‘Shit, this ain’t bad. I mean, look at that little guy,’” Henneman said. “So I just pretty much wrote it about my dog and just the refrain of ‘Sometimes life is just this simple. It’s a bad day, so what?’”
Sometimes it’s just that simple.
Edited by Claire Colby | firstname.lastname@example.org