It’s keeping us pure, passionate and focused—the lack of money, that is
By Eric Pearce, Leftist Marching Band
On a beautiful sunny afternoon in the summer of 2005, our Leftist Marching Band found itself honking (and squawking) some spirited patriotic and protest tunes at one of our semiregular “just for the heck of it” performances. We were in front of the North Church in the center of our home base of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, entertaining, possibly irritating, but hopefully at least giving pause for thought to a group of about 60 or more onlookers.
About a third of the way into our performance, one of our drummers decided to lay his skinless tambourine on the ground in front of him so he could continue playing his drum with both hands. A gentleman from the crowd approached with a dollar bill, looked into the bottomless tambourine with a quizzical expression, shrugged and dropped the note into the ring.
We began shooting our own quizzical expressions—some with a touch of panic—at each other. We were in the middle of playing a song, and the head-shaking and mental telepathy signals of “No, no, take it back, we don’t accept money” just weren’t registering with the kind giver.
In the next moment, a flood of generous and/or sympathetic audience members came forward with their contributions. By the time the song was over, the bottomless ring of chimes was overflowing with $54.61. Now what…?
Money tends to ruin everything: The Leftist Marching Band formed out of frustration and outright disdain for the Bush administration and its policies. Declaring itself “ a pep band for the Left,” it is a band run by consensus that plays for and supports what we deem “good causes” and is open to anyone interested in participating. The band is an outlet for expressing both political dissent and social support in a fun, exciting, active and interactive way.
One of the very few “rules” we established from the start was that we would not accept payment for playing, as it was declared that “money tends to ruin everything.” The gold we seek is the satisfaction and peace of mind that come with actively supporting what we believe in. The audience appreciation (and occasional antagonism) is the sugar on top.
Our reasoning is that we won’t have to deal with the time, emotion and occasional strife that go with money. As an open band with no money, we don’t worry about people joining to get a slice of the pie; they join to stand in solidarity on the proverbial soapbox and bring pep to those fighting the good fight. We have had folks join simply because they want to play in a band (we affectionately call them Gig Whores), but that’s OK because either the politics become too much for them and they leave, or they become enlightened—and that’s the cherry on top of the sugar.
How do you pay for expenses? One year, in a band discussion forum at the HONK Festival (http://honkfest.org/) in Somerville, Massachusetts, someone said they didn’t think a band could survive without making money. Another asked, “How do you pay for expenses?”
The simple answer is that we survive the same way a person would to keep a personal hobby going: we simply don’t incur expenses that aren’t necessary. We help each other find instruments on the cheap or free. We pay for our own reeds and drumsticks. We carpool to gigs and pitch in for gas.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Good fortune and luck may play a role too, if you believe in that. We have been fortunate to have practice space at no charge, but I guess we’ve been most fortunate to have a group of people who get along and work so well together. We’ve also received a lot of love, gratitude and support from our community.
Now what?! So what did we do with $54.61? We asked the community. An audience member pointed to the historic old church behind us, one with a slowly decaying steeple, and said, “Donate it to the steeple restoration project,” and the crowd agreed.
Perfect! “All in favor?” “Aye!” Meeting adjourned; on to the next song. We squawked out the rest of our Bush-bashing set list, out of tune, full of clams and looking confused. But hey, what do you want for free?