The human brain is a tender mess of wiring, and if it’s knocked about just right, who knows what kind of damage might be done. Just ask Blair Crimmins.
Five years ago, the Atlanta-based Crimmins was skateboarding down the street when he took a fall. Three days later, he was somebody else.
“My taste had changed. I lost my sense of smell, which was actually really strange and disorienting. Something is on fire in the kitchen and I don’t notice until the smoke is creeping into the living room,” Crimmins says.
“I had to learn what it was like to be in my skin again,” he adds. “I felt strange in my own head for a while, and then I changed my life to make myself more comfortable and gravitated to certain kinds of music and different kinds of art and started writing the music I write now. I feel pretty normal now.”
Before his accident in 2007, Crimmins had released two albums of eclectic college/indie rock with his band Bishop Don. “When I listen to my old records, which I rarely do — and I don’t play any of those songs anymore, ever — I feel like I am listening to somebody else,” he says. “I have the memories of all that stuff, but I just don’t feel like that’s me. I know that it is me singing, and if I tried to start playing those songs, I could do it, but I just completely cut myself off from my former self.”
Instead Crimmins started a whole new life. He moved to an old house in a different part of town and he started playing Prohibition-era hot jazz. At first, it was just keys-guitar-drum-bass, but he eventually added horns and built a band he dubbed Blair Crimmins and the Hookers. From the beginning, the idea was that Crimmins would be aided by a rotating cast of characters as replaceable as, say, a hooker.
“I was writing all the songs for Bishop Don, and after awhile there became this sense of entitlement. I said fuck that shit. I’m going to find people that are professional, and you book a gig and guarantee them this. Then at the end of the night you say goodnight, see ya later, I’ll call you next time,” he says.
Of course, naming your backing band the Hookers can pose problems, especially as your profile increases.
“It got us tons of attention when I first started out,” Crimmins says. “As we enter the mainstream eye, people don’t really find the name as amusing anymore. We played a festival in Greenville, S.C., and they weren’t so happy with the Hookers, or in Ohio, in a small town where their mayor had just been busted with an escort.”
While he was still settling on a somewhat solid set of players, Crimmins toured solo, getting his name out there and flogging his spunky 2010 debut, The Musical Stylings of. Recently, Crimmins finished up a second, 12-track album, Sing-alongs, which he’ll release early next year. This go-round his stable of musicians has solidified.
“It’s a great sounding record. It’s our most ragtime record yet. It’s got a more traditional sound,” Crimmins says. “One of the best things about this record is that we’ve settled into being a band. I’ve been playing with these guys for a while, and they’re really familiar with the tunes.”
Beyond the greater improvisational opportunities for Crimmins and his band, there’s the simple fact of safety in numbers. He discovered this during one of his early solo tours.
“I had someone come up and talk to me while I was playing. He was one of the only people there, drinking an RC Cola and eating a hot dog,” says Crimmins. “He decided in the middle of one of the songs he wanted to come up and tell me he liked the song. ‘This is really good. This song could be in a commercial.’ Maybe you could let me finish it?”
By and large, Crimmins is happy with his new life. Though his younger self seems alien to him, he views it like one of the transitions all of us make as we enter our 30s, if a bit more dramatic.
“[The concussion] just expedited the whole process,” Crimmins jokes. “I never felt 100 percent comfortable as a rocker anyway, not the way I do now. Now I get up there and I know exactly who I am and what I’m doing and I love every minute of it, every single moment of the night, and I know I could do this the rest of my life and be happy.”
Just so long as he doesn’t hit his head again.