In his hierarchy of basic human needs, Maslow’s pyramid—the top section, above all the love/food/safety stuff, encompasses items essential to self-actualization. The psychologist lists six needs, an ostensible 50/50 split between seemingly contradictory concepts of responsibility (morality, problem solving, acceptance of facts) and personal freedom (creativity, spontaneity, lack of prejudice). Thus divvied up, we’re naturally drawn to the second set: the one that means we get to paint pretty pictures any time we want. Let’s focus on just one of those qualities: spontaneity.
Singled out, it’s more desire than need. Escape—everybody wants some. From The Refreshments’ self-released Wheelie (1994) through Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers’ current and sixth studio album (called Turbo Ocho, counting two live records), Clyne has written of hopping in a car, or on a plane or a boat, and lighting out in search of the happiness that eludes us in our day-to-day lives. In these songs, as in our dreams, we always find our quarry. Maybe it’s in a bottle, the arms of a stranger, the company of friends, the colorful, calorie-laden No. 12 combo in some cantina or on a long stretch of road that, with each mile, empties of known burdens and fills with unknown potential.
Clyne disagrees. It’s not about escape, he says, almost as soon as he hears the word. Well, what’s it about, then?
He’s right, but not just because he’s the songwriter. Art is subject to interpretation. In the case of music, the listener will hear what he hears, whether it’s the songwriter’s intended message or a subliminal misinterpretation instructing him to relieve himself on the bar. The artist can only hope to make a connection, not define it. So Clyne has a point, here.
Maslow’s hierarchy lists all kinds of what you might call “other stuff”—in categories such as “esteem,” “love/belonging,” “safety” and “physiological.” Said stuff is rudimentary and required for a reason: We suffer if we lack even one of these things. Granted, some are more essential than others, and their importance varies with the individual. One might need less sex, or care less about the respect of others, than another. But to speak of the basic is to be concerned with the general. And, generally, we all want to feel good about ourselves, that despite the crap that life flings at us, we are secure, stable and wanted. If we’re not talkin’ ’bout the 6/7 of the base of the pyramid—breathing, food, water, sleep, homeostasis, excretion—these needs are satisfied largely by connecting with other human beings.
So we can ride a shotgun through Clyne’s Southwestern fantasies. We can fight along with the Arizona boy when he gets in a less-filling/tastes-great debate with Tennesseans (“Jack vs. Jose” from the Peacemakers’ 1999 debut, Honky Tonk Union). Or rhapsodize together about “Mañana” (from Turbo Ocho) when “there’s no urgency/ Certainly no emergency/ Looks like we’re fresh out of anxiety/ throw your worries away/ no more troubles today.” What Clyne wants us to see, though, is that at the heart of these songs is the interaction between the characters. The Tennessee redneck who defends the honor of his guy Daniels over Clyne’s Cuervo is working out the frustration of his daily grind. “Mañana” is something we all dream about, whether we’re entry-level drones or itinerant rockers. It’s escapism, but also engagement in that, as we sing along, it’s unsaid, accepted, that we may never make that break—except maybe in brief five-day/ four-night shots, or definitely in a four- or five-minute song. Otherwise, we do our best to be happy with what we’ve got.
Clyne’s doing pretty well for himself, living in his little slice of heaven, a desert paradise among the cluck and ruffle of high-strung chickens that provide fresh organic eggs for his breakfast. He’s got his band, a self-contained quartet that carried over and expanded the Refreshments’ sizable fan base and canon of countrified alt-rock/power-pop tunes. Twice a year, the Peacemakers escape over the border to Rocky Point (Puerto Peñasco), Mexico for their own festival, Circus Mexicus. There, the band engages a growing contingent of fans who make the pilgrimage to satisfy a more narrow hierarchy of needs: food, drink, friends, fun, and music. And the rest of the year, for the fans who so far haven’t hit the Circus, Clyne takes the engagement on the road and they self-actualize together.
“The pursuit of happiness to me is evolving,” he says, “getting better. You have to have goals.” Each night Clyne tries to improve himself, and sees people of all walks doing the same. “They come together in front of a Peacemakers stage and just let it loose. They celebrate life together through rock & roll, and everybody goes out feelin’ a little more polished in their hearts. I’m only a really small part of a really big, cool thing.”
ROGER CLYNE & THE PEACEMAKERS
666 S. State
Tuesday, April 14-Wednesday, April 15