It’s so convenient to treat a pop star’s sudden rise to the top and dizzying descent to anonymity with a one-dimensional, Trivial-Pursuit-punch-line sort of callousness; with sold out arenas and gold albums being a thing of the past for the perennial “where are they now” one-hit wonders, it’s also easy to forget that their lives – and careers – do carry on, even though the details aren’t splashed across headlines and their faces aren’t constantly on MTV.
Chris Barron has witnessed the glare of teen idol adulation and the
obscurity of one-night stands in tiny clubs. And having experienced
both, the former lead singer for The Spin Doctors would prefer
something in the middle – but he’ll take what he can get.
Almost 20 years after enjoying a short run as the singer of one of
America’s top rock bands – with 1993’s seventh best selling album,
Pocketful of Kryptonite
, and two giant singles, “Two Princes
“Little Miss Can’t be Wrong
,” – the 42-year-old Barron is soldiering
on, doing really the only thing he knows how to do well – make music.
“I was always very ambitious, but it was never my ambition to be super
duper big,” said Barron last week from Key West, Florida, where he was
performing at a songwriters’ showcase sponsored by his publishing
“My aim was to make a living playing music, and not to have to work in
any other jobs. I had a lot of jobs. I started working at age 14,
before it was even legal to work, at my friend’s father’s ice cream
shop. And I pretty quickly got the idea that I didn’t want to end up
with a mundane kind of job. And I definitely wasn’t office material – I
was never going to be someone who was going to rise the ranks in a big
company. So it was sink or swim for me with music.”
BARRON HAS not only kept afloat with music, he rode a huge tidal wave
with The Spin Doctors. Formed in New York City in the late 1980s, the
quartet, featuring Barron, guitarist Eric Schenkman, drummer Aaron
Comess and bassist Mark White, became known as a good-time party jam
band, a more commercial version of the ultimate ’90s stoner band
For Barron, it was the pinnacle of a life that began in 1968 in Pearl
Harbor, Hawaii, where his father, a Vietnam War veteran, was stationed.
“I don’t remember much about Hawaii – I was just a baby. I went to
elementary school in Australia, and then we moved to New Jersey, where
we stayed. That deleted all those romantic places,” laughed Barron. “I
was always interested in music – from an early age. I took guitar
lessons when I was eight or so.”
Barron enrolled for an elective course in music theory in
middle-schools, and his eyes were opened to the possibilities inherent
“One day my guitar teacher came in and I showed him something that I
had taken from a Fleetwood Mac and a Harry Belafonte song and combined
their chords. I didn’t even know if I was allowed to do that. But he
said, ‘that’s the way to do it. Pretty soon, it will turn into a song.’
“‘That’s it? What about writing down the notes and giving notations for the melody?’
He said, ‘Do you think Bob Dylan or John Lennon can read music?’ That
was an eye opener for me. Until then I didn’t think anyone could write
a song – I thought you needed something like a pilot’s license. It was
also a blessing, because I’ve never been good at figuring out how to
play other people’s songs. I could always sing them, but I couldn’t sit
down and figure out the chords to a song on the radio. So making your
own tunes was a great option.”
By the time of Pocketful of Kryptonite
, Barron had gotten the
songwriting thing down, and with its success, the Spin Doctors were
suddenly everywhere, from headlining the HORDE festival to appearing
with Elmo on Sesame Street. And then they were nowhere. Their next
album Turn It Upside Down
, while selling nearly two million copies, was
considered a let down. Within a couple years, guitarist Schenkman had
quit and the band’s third album, 1996’s You’ve Got To Believe in
, sunk like a lead zeppelin.
“It was a difficult time,” admitted Barron. “Our popularity was on the
wane, our guitar player left, which was disruptive to what we were
about. It’s all about chemistry, and you just can’t take out one guy
and insert another even if he’s a great player. When Eric left the
band, it was extremely disruptive, although the fact that he left
suggests that we didn’t have much of a trajectory left. If something
falls apart, it doesn’t have a trajectory.”
BARRON CHALKED up the band’s demise to losing the focus on music that brought them together in the first place.
“The band lost its cohesiveness because it was so much easier for
outside influences to take effect. In the beginning, we were in control
of our aesthetics, but as we got big, there was much more outside
pressure, and you end up making decisions that might be lucrative, but
not the best decisions,” he said.
“Looking back, we should have held back more, kept things on a smaller
scale and moved slower. One change that came about that affected us was
our following. We were always a college rock band; people would get
loaded and come see the band. But when you get a hit, and you’re on MTV
a million times a day, you attract a younger set, and our audiences
began to become much younger. So we had hippies and 10-year-olds in the
crowd. We didn’t know how to react – it wasn’t ours anymore.
But you can’t go to MTV and say, ‘hey, stop playing our stuff!’”
Barron, whose daughter had just been born during the tumultuous period,
responded to the crash by immersing himself in music, honing his guitar
playing and writing songs. Although he’s kept The Spin Doctors name
alive and various permutations of the band still occasionally perform,
Barron has mostly concentrated on developing a solo career focusing on
his roots rock and soulful voice. He’s bringing his show to Israel for
the first time on Tuesday, at the Jerusalem Student Day celebration in
Independence Park, where he’ll be performing some songs with local
favorites Monica Sex, and on Wednesday night in Tel Aviv for a solo
acoustic show at the Barby club.
“I’ve always wanted to come to Israel – it’s an absolute dream come
true,” said Barron. “But I’m not a good Jew – I was never bar
mitzvahed. My brother’s more of a practicing Jew and he was jealous
when I told him I was coming. He’s a better Jew than I am.”
Barron appreciates the irony of appearing in Israel as a nostalgia act
and having college students singing along to songs like “Two Princes” –
which were recorded when they were babies – while at the same time he’s
trying to reestablish himself as a viable singer/songwriter.
“I used to walk into a mall and 300 kids would surround me for
autographs. There were times when I just wanted to buy socks and not
deal with that. But I’ve always been grateful to the fans and was
always happy to sign for them and appreciate the acknowledgement – even
if could be somewhat disruptive,” he said.
“Now it’s more selective. On my way to Key West this week, the security
person at the airport gate said, ‘Are you the singer for the Spin
Doctors? Oh, my god!’ I gave her a guitar pick with my name on it.
Those are nice moments. My girlfriend says she sees people looking out
of the corner of their eyes at me sometimes, trying to place me.”
BARRON EXPRESSED no interest in returning to anything resembling the level of notoriety he enjoyed with the Spin Doctors.
“I had that and I don’t want it again – it’s hectic and stressful and
turns you into a commodity,” he said. “Here you are, a smart and
engaged person, and there are people all around you who see dollar
signs when they look at you. It’s kind of a perilous lifestyle.
“I would love to have more of a cult kind of thing going on, rather
than be a huge mainstream success. I wouldn’t mind having the audience
of someone like Ryan Adams; a comfortable following, where I can fill a
But whether it’s appearing in front of 50,000 or 500, Barron remains an
eternal optimist. And it’s his positive outlook that has enabled him to
not only appreciate his past accomplishments, but to be grateful for
his current status as a lifelong professional musician.
“I try to focus on the bright side. Here I was, just a kid from New
Jersey who never went to college. I had a great ride with a couple hit
songs and I’m continuing to play music for a living. For me, the cup is
half full, not half empty,” he said.
“I’m grateful I haven’t had a real job since I was 20, I have a
beautiful daughter and a girlfriend, I’ve got 26 guitars on my wall,
and I’m still making records. I’m making a living, I’m here in Key West
and it’s sunny and beautiful. I’d have to be an a**hole to complain.”