Ken Rosser's reflections on the Paper Bag experience


Paper Bag came at a time for me that was full of upheavals and rediscoveries in my personal life: it's impossible for me to reflect on it without all of that coming to mind, most of which isn't worth going into here. I feel this is worth mentioning, though: it was the first time I spent a significant amount of time in Los Angeles, and I was fresh off of a stint at a university studying classical guitar as well as a gig with a more commercially-oriented rock band that was coming out the other side of the major-label wringer. I wasn't sure at the time whether I wanted to completely reject these experiences or somehow use them as a springboard. In retrospect, I'm not even sure which I decided... 

Before joining up with Paper Bag I was an enthusiastic devotee of improvising, especially in a group context, where everyone's parts were expected to evolve in relation to the others. I had done a bit of this before, most often in bands where it was used as a composing tool, working something over this way and that until parts were settled on. Try as I might to be a team player, there was no hiding from myself the fact that performing pieces "written" in this manner was highly anti-climactic. To me, 95% of the fun was in the sense of discovery, the path getting there, the journey rather than the destination. Paper Bag was the first band I was in that seemed to say, "You know, the journey is enough". And we performed it as such. I have very fond memories of many of the gigs we did. I have continued to do this kind of thing today with like-minded musicians whenever I can.  

I made a decision to leave the group because I felt I had come to a crossroads as a player, where I felt the need to immerse myself in more traditional structures to challenge myself more as a player. As much as I love it and am devoted to it as an art in and of itself, to me improvisation presents a double-edged sword: as freeing and conducive to self-discovery as it can be, it can also help you hide behind and cultivate shortcomings if you're not careful. After a few years of a wonderful and complete lack of discipline, I craved the greater structure as the next step in honing my craft. I don't project this assessment onto anyone else: we all choose our own path and this was mine. In retrospect it was the right decision at the right time. I've since wobbled all over the map in regards to this discipline/freedom conundrum and had a ball every step of the way. The Paper Bag years were good to me, but semi-objectively speaking, I felt the band really fullfilled its promise when I left and George stepped in. It sounded more cohesive, more like a "band". Still, I remember the long discussions over coffee and doughnuts after an evening of furious improvising, laying down the foundation, the parameters and methods to our madness and what I assume was the working blueprint for the madness in the ensuing years after my departure. I pulled out a few tapes yesterday that I probably haven't heard in about ten years and listened to them. There's some moments where something clicks and a musical event happens that I don't think anyone could have actually composed. Isn't that what we were all in this for anyway?  

Ken Rosser, 1/14/2000



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