I met Adam Lazzara of Taking Back Sunday a little more than a year ago. He'd come over to my house to do an audio interview with my friend DD Thornton, host of the Internet radio show Deaconlight at ErrorFM.com. DD plays a huge variety of rock on the show, much of it punk-based — everything from records by old-school bands such as the Damned and the Replacements to tracks by more recent acts like Taking Back Sunday. I'd loaned out my home to DD because her studio is in Greensboro, and she needed a quiet space.
I had no idea Lazzara lived in Charlotte. Up to that point, neither the daily paper nor Creative Loafing had written anything about the singer's move back to his home state, although since then, the Observer has done a small feature. I was curious why, and the answer — at least in Lazzara's mind — is in a comment he made during my interview with him for this week's cover story: "I don't think people in Charlotte like my band all that much."
I'm not so sure that's true. I think it's something a bit more complex, something that has as much to do with Charlotte itself as it does with Lazzara or Taking Back Sunday. When it comes to celebrity, Charlotte can be an odd place. On the one hand, it's become something of a cliché — and the butt of many jokes — to spoof city boosters' characterization of Charlotte as a "world-class city." City boosters love to talk about the celebrities in town. It's as though it's validation of some sort. On the other hand, that very desperation has led others in Charlotte — the more adventurous underground artists, hipsters, activists, etc. — to be almost embarrassed of anything smacking of celebrity or mainstream appeal. Obviously, this underground/mainstream divide is hardly exclusive to Charlotte, but it seems to be a particularly raw topic here.
At best, it leads to a vigorously defiant elitism in our music scene that's a little out of proportion. That's perhaps because this city traditionally has not supported — and in fact, in some cases, punishes — adventurous artists who push buttons. On the other hand, there's also a powerful sense of provincial entitlement from even non-adventurous artists who don't push any buttons at all, unless you consider stuff like antiquated thrash-metal riffs, croaked vocals and pseudo-danger for its own sake button-pushing. Those acts seem to think they should be supported simply because they're local, and not necessarily because they're in some way special, interesting or worthy of notice. When local artists who actually are special and noteworthy gain wider attention (the Avett Brothers, for example), or when artists who are successful choose to move back to their home state (Lazzara), they're often either dismissed (as sell-outs, I suppose?) or ignored altogether. That's unfortunate, and CL is going to avoid playing that game.
Say what you will about Taking Back Sunday. They may be too pop-punk for some tastes, or not musically adventurous enough for those who prefer "avant-" attached to their genre of choice. But Lazzara and his family have chosen to live in Charlotte; they get their coffee at Smelly Cat and go see shows at the Neighborhood Theatre. Lazzara also happens to be in a band which sells lots of records that chart pretty well at Billboard. This week, that band is headlining the Vans Warped Tour.
When I found out last year that Lazzara was living here, I vowed to write about him the next opportunity I got. There are plenty of bands I like more than Taking Back Sunday and plenty that I like less, but Lazzara has an interesting story and I like writing about Charlotteans who have interesting stories. Whether or not you plan to go see Taking Back Sunday, you might consider getting to know Adam Lazzara. After all, he's your neighbor.