What do you want to know about Rich Show? That he lived some sort of rock ‘n roll dream. That he played guitar like it was the last thing he would ever do.
That’s not Rich Show. And that’s not music; it’s not art.
We talk about art as if it’s something we don’t understand or we shouldn’t. When in fact what we mean is something we feel in places that only art can live, embedded in the memory of what was and the hope of what can be.
That’s music. That’s Rich Show.
It is raw expression boiling over in ways that make life hard, trying to find some granule of actual truth in our lives, no matter the cost. It’s a pursuit of words and music and emotion tied together to create something real, something lasting, something that only you can say. That’s art. Or, maybe it’s not. But it’s music. And it’s Rich Show.
It started with a three-piece punk band called No Direction, the roots of which go back to 1979. It was a reflection of the times writ large in London and New York, translated for Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It yearned for a beach that didn’t exist, a system that left us behind and a future that held little promise. These were end-times for the dance hall days. The end of 3.2 beer and drown night. The death throes of bars where about any cover band could get regular gigs. The music – the art – reflected the times. This was the emergence of Rich Show.
No Direction led to Flag With Hank, again a reflection of the late 1980s when songwriting came to the fore, telling the stories of our lives. There was Rich Show. Searching for lyrics and melodies and purpose and some dark spot where people could gather to listen to some real songs and have fun. Flag With Hank exploded, like no band for at least a decade, maybe more. They forged their own path, built a following through hard work and determination. There were records and smoky corners filled with a generation lost between Boomers and the empty promise of video lottery.
Flag With Hank died somewhere between here and Austin, Texas. If you’re from Sioux Falls, you don’t reach for the sun. There is no promised land, just the biting reality of a January wind on a Saturday night. That’s Rich Show. In the world he’s created, in the hundreds of songs he’s written, there is this commonality – you are who you are, and maybe that’s just fine. Or maybe not.
The end of Flag With Hank spawned Violet, something bigger, more powerful, more lyrical. And for once, Rich Show was part of something bigger. In the 1990s there were other bands, other songwriters, other artists exploring the same journey of discovery. Violet flourished and flirted with the rock ‘n roll myth of record companies and paisley dreams. But if you’re from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, don’t expect too much. Violet too, those original powerful five artists, were a temporary gift.
But you know what? The songs live on through incarnations of the Working Poor, Catholic Family Radio, The Red Leaves, Oxford Comma. Here lies the lesson. Rich Show is still out there, 40 years on, writing songs, making music. His catalogue is unparalleled. Not just here, but almost anywhere. Go watch him present his art today. It’s vibrant. No Rich Show set has ever been the same as one that came before. It’s constantly evolving and transforming. The search isn’t over. It never will be.
That, my friends, is more than rock ‘n roll.
It is art.