On June 26th, I walked by a group of people snapping selfies in front of David Ortiz’s Lamborghini. I was on my way to watch a humble man sing onstage about how his grandfather worked his fingers to the bone, having fought in WWII and spent the rest of his free years working for next to nothing in order to provide for his family. This man is BJ Barham, a solo artist and the frontman of the Raleigh, NC band American Aquarium.
In 2016, Barham released his first solo album titled, Rockingham. He wrote the record while American Aquarium was on tour in Europe, after shows were cancelled due to the Paris terrorist attacks at The Bataclan. The 8-song-album is an oral history of his family’s relationships and their struggle to survive in an economically challenged region of the US.
I first fell in love with Barham’s song writing after hearing the track, “Burn.Flicker.Die.” In the song, he sings, “It’s nights like this that the drugs don’t work, it’s getting in the way instead of picking me up, I wish my addictions didn’t mean so much, but we all can’t be born with that kind of luck.” My admiration for Barham grew after meeting him at a pre-show in 2012. He was drinking a bottle of St. Peter’s Organic English Ale and commenting on the old school medicine bottle shape of the beer.
Fast forward 5 years to now. Barham just celebrated his third year of sobriety. From the bare stage of The Middle East Upstairs, he made light of the fact that because he’s now sober, writing songs is more of a challenge, saying, “It’s easy to write about being angry, drunk and messed up on drugs. It’s a challenge to write songs about being sober, responsible and caring for your loved ones.”