I’m Not Going to Be in a Band

At age 54, I finally decided to give up the dream. I’ve realized, finally, that I’m never going to be in a band.

Yeah, you ask, what the hell you play? The answer is that I used to play trumpet in school, and I can read music. (Mostly treble clef, but I can fake it on the bass clef).I know a few chords, some rudimentary theory, but lack the manual dexterity or patience to play guitar or bass, and the coordination for drums, and the ear, along with everything else for anything but the most basic keyboard or synthesizer.

Yet, despite it all, I dreamed. I dreamed it during days, at night, during meetings, while listening to tunes, while watching shows…basically anywhere. Even after I outgrew the fallacy that I could play some sort of college or professional sports (that lack of coordination, dexterity, and other things, you know), I still held on to the music thing.

And it was always a band. I wanted to be part of a unit. Not a solo artist, but part of a living, breathing band.

It first manifested itself when I started to write on the back of my K-Tel records who among my friends would sing the songs that we’d cover. I had four vocalsits, me, a friend, and our two elementary school crushes. Pipe dreamin’ in more ways than one.

It really started in high school. I had friends who could really play, and there were a couple of honest-to-goodness bands from my high school. My best friend could also play guitar. So after my assignments were done (I was pretty quick in doing schoolwork), I’d create bands and albums and what not. I had a main band, and then a couple of off-shoots (the side projects before side projects were cool).

In college, I went from there to actually writing lyrics. A serious girlfriend will do that. But I didn’t write music – the melodies were in my head and I never got them out on paper. I thought these lyrics were the bomb – sensitive, poignant, arty.

I was rather much mistaken in retrospect. Cringe worthy.

This hit its peak when I moved to Indy and had a job that was less than challenging at the first. I had plenty of time, and a cube in the back, where I could daydream. I came up with an entire list of band names (I may still have that somewhere – it included such names as Ethelred the Unready, Topless Waitresses, and the “No” symbol” – the circle with the line through it).

But my big deal was creating a band, on paper, that started out as an indie band, got signed, made 20 or so records, had a couple of hit singles, plenty of original tunes (I could come up with song titles like no one’s business) and our singles would always have cover songs as the B-sides. It had an entire back story, and it ended when we decided to go into production full-time or something. We had one album where every song was listed as a color (not with a title), so Track 1 was a block of Purple, Track 2 Aqua, etc.

When I started to go to grad school for my MBA, and then got jobs that were actually challenging, and started a family that wish-casting was put aside. Oh, I’d do things like buy a keyboard on sale at Costco, but I always returned it or gave it away.

Then, for some reason, the notion came back. It never was really out of my head, but with my streaming catalog and access to gajillions of songs (thanks Google Play) it came back with a vengeance. That and knowing a couple of singers and musicians here at my job at Central Washington U.

So I started to create playlists, and played them in the car and while grilling, or cleaning. It would be my bands set list. It got a bit out of control.

First, the band would be a six-piece. My favorite barista on vocals (she actually sings for a band). My opera singing friend on vocals and keyboards. (She’s a soprano, and the barista’s an alto – it fits well). My best friend and his wife on guitar and occasional keyboards and vocals (backing mostly). I’d be on bass and have the good sense to be quiet, and we’d get some drummer. Hey, I work at a college with a great music program. There are drummers abounding.

When I say out of control – I had two playists. Mainstream (ish) and Alternative (ish). I’d program deeper cuts and forgotten singles, not the big hits. I’d find songs that would sound good with our mix, and if we needed a violin or something (like when covering Camper Van Beethoven or mid-period Roxy Music) I had a former student worker who played an electric violin and would add a hippie-chick barefoot presence on stage.

Oh, these playlist were….huge. Almost 1,000 total. (This doesn’t count the three I made for a band for songs to consider.) It rangerd from “Pony” by Ginuwine (mostly as a hoot, but still), to “Starship Trooper” by Yes, to “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, to “Incense and Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock. And plenty of progressive, punk, classic rock, and new wave tracks.

Oh, I was proud of this playlist and this band that WAS going to happen, if I ever learned to play the bass and got these six people in the same area code. (Hard to do when two live near DC, and one is in the Palm Springs area).

So I was telling this to my best friend about this and he had one comment. “Well, you’d book one show, and that’d be it. Gotta keep the audience interested. This isn’t playing your record collection on stage.”

Well, I never…thought of it like that.

No matter how good we were, this was going to be too eclectic, too all over the place, too much ME for it to work. I still held on, somehow, but in the dentist’s chair a couple of days ago (where all good thinking happens), I realized that even the .0001% chance of it happening was not something to hold onto.

Really, who remembers “Sausalito Summer Nights” by Diesel, much less wants to hear it on stage?

I still have the playlists, and probably will add more to them for the road, but alas, it’s just not going to be limited to songs I’d play on stage.

So the dream is over.

Unless I hit the lottery. Then I can buy instruments, a studio and rehearsal place, and pay my friends to come play with me.

So maybe it’s not over…just deferred until I get that filthy lucre.

The Trouble With…

I’d be lying if I said that I have purged my entire music catalog of people who have been found, or accused of, bad behavior. Not parking ticket bad, and not even drug use bad. But BAD behavior – crimes against others.

And I’d be lying if I said that I’ve purged my catalog of any song that mentions, or even celebrates bad behavior.

But I do have some issues with those behaviors, real or imagined. And my reaction to it seemingly depends on the artist, their catalog, and what they mean to the music scene as a whole.

First off, let’s acknowledge that there were plenty of old musicians – blues, jazz, country, big band, etc. that weren’t model citizens. Rock followed with angels, and devils, and people in between.

Country artists wrote about prison and murder with regularity. Jerry Lee Lewis was perpetually in trouble with society, for his marriages and relationships. Ira Louvin, Spade Cooley and many others treated their wives like speed bags. Rock, soul, and R&B had similar problems.

These early stars reflected the environment of the times. Many things were swept under the rug, if they could be, for white males. Many things were out in the open for black performers. Women weren’t even considered here – they were supposed to be window dressing.

This kept going on, unfortunately. In the 70’s, the era of excess, rock stars routinely bedded “super groupies”, the most famous of them all was only 14 and was Jimmy Page’s concubine for a few months (after David Bowie introduced them). At least two performers, Ted Nugent and Steven Tyler, adopted their underage girlfriends. This was shrugged off, seemingly, and no outcry or stink impeded their careers.

In the 80’s, Tipper Gore came on the scene with the PMRC to try to ‘clean up’ rock. We all know how that went down. The targets she picked were either obsucre (the Mentors anyone?) or totally misunderstood.

Funny thing, though, it wasn’t until hip hop started to reflect life on the street in violent, unsanitized terms that people started to really take notice. Charlton Heston reading the words to “Cop Killer” was laughable, but Middle America seemingly no longer could roll with sexism and violence – if it came from black voices.

Fortunately, we’re smart enough as people to realize (this may be a stretch but I’m here on a limb and I’m not retreating) to understand the difference between character work and real life. I didn’t expect Ice-T to bust out on the streets hunting cops with a sub-machine gun.

But how do you deal with real life issues in the here and now when domestic violence, statutory rape, and other allegations of abuse (emotional and physical) and criminal behavior are no longer whispered about, or amusing anectodes, but out in the open court for public shaming?

Who do we give a pass to?

Sadly, I think it’s dependent on your relationship to the work of the artist and how vital it seems to you. I never was really on board with R. Kelly or Chris Brown, so it’s easy for me to cast them aside. Gary Glitter was always disposable, and he’s easy to dispose now (except at sporting events).

For older artists, or artists where the transgressions were 40 or more years ago, I don’t think I can do more than say “that’s not right, at all.” I still marvel at the Louvin Brothers’ harmonies even knowing Ira was a drunk that beat his wife and girlfriends. Zeppelin, the Stooges, Bowie, and Aerosmith are still on my playlists knowing that in the 70’s they had sex with groupies under 16.

There’s a song called “Francine” by ZZ Top. It’s a nice blues rocker from their second album and was their first charting single. Yet the final verse states that Francine just turned 13. Ick. I don’t know if that was the reason it stalled on the Hot 100 or not, but…yikes.

But what to do with someone like Ryan Adams? Adams was always a favorite of mine. Starting from his days as an alt-country heartthrob in Whiskeytown to his varied and enigmatic solo career, Adams was one to follow and watch. He mostly made great records, and even if he whiffed many times it was intriguing to see him try.

Now, though, it has come out that Adams was emotionally abusive to Mandy Moore (allegedly) during their relationship, and Adams also had a close mentee who was an underaged female and that he exchanged inappropriate messages with regularly. There are other stories of him grooming female artists and then going in for the kill, sexually.

I loved Adams’ work, and was sorry that I never had seen him live. Was. Right now, I don’t know what I’ll do about Adams’ music in my collection. I’ll review his albums, neutrally, but as for my own personal catalog I don’t know. “Love Is Hell” is always a go-to for me when I’m down. But is it such a go to considering the source? The CDs I had are sunk costs, but if I stream an Adams song now that wasn’t uploaded personally, he’s going to get royalties.

We’re all going to be confronted with these choices. When we take the fandom blinders off, and are left with the person and their art, what are we going to do? Where is that line?

It’s blurred, now.

The Best Show I Didn’t See

It was 1992, and I was single and living in Indianapolis. I fell in with a crowd that inhabited several haunts in Broad Ripple listening to bands that played original music. Yes, an original music scene in Indianapolis – go figure.

Most of the time was spent at the Patio, where local bands played along with smaller national acts. It was there that I met and hung with (a bit) the Birdmen of Alcatraz, which were a great rock-funk-rap group ala the Red Hot Chili Peppers but with less pandering and more reality.

I saw them play around town, too, and they introduced me to their tattoo artist, where I got my first tattoo. It was a trident (“the symbol of the sea” as I sad to my less-than-hip friends).

It was also the logo for the band Prong.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s Prong went from being a scuzzy hardcore-ish band that inhabited the NYC scene to a national hardcore metal-y act that played loud and denomically. The logo I got tattooed on my arm was from their first full-length album (Force Fed), where they played detuned punk-metal songs without abandon. I dug that record tremendously.

By 1991, they had released two major-label albums. They also changed bassists and added a little funk and swing into their doom-laden punk metal. During the tour for the Prove You Wrong record they played in Indiana. Not in Indianapolis, though. In Bloomington, home of Indiana University.

Bloomington had a couple of clubs that were like the clubs in Indy, where local artists or national acts played almost daily. And when the national acts came through, local bands opened up for them, usually. The Birdmen were going to open for Prong, and damned if I wasn’t going to be there.

I got my ticket and headed to Bloomington, found a place to park nearby, and went into the show. I went up front near the edge of the stage so I could be nearby without being in the actual mosh-pit. See, I wore glasses, and I couldn’t afford to have them broken, and I definitely couldn’t drive from Bloomington to Indianapolis without them. So being on the edges gave me some protection. I could move people back into the pit without being in the melee.

After the Birdmen set, I noticed people gathering closer to the stage. I then had a brilliant idea.

I ran back to my car, put my glasses in my glove box, and came back to the club. I worked my way back towards the front, knowing that I’d be more likely to be part of the maelstrom than not even if I was near the side.

It was a wide move. While the band was blurry, I could hear everything, and I did get swept up a few times (and helped girls in the front away from goobers that were just there to be violent idiots). It was fantastic, but the best thing happened about 2/3 through the show.

My favorite cut by then was “Freezer Burn”. It was the song that inspired me to get a tattoo. So after a song I was there by the stage where Tommy Victor’s mic was. I rolled up my shirt, showed the tat, and said “FREEZER BURN!” I didn’t think they’d play it because they focused on their latest release for the most part, with their new, funkier bass player.

Next thing I heard was, “Here’s an old one” and he launched into the riff of my favorite Prong song. I was ecstatic. My eyes were wide open (though I was pretty much blind – thanks astigmatism), I sang every word. I banged my head. It was glorious.

I don’t remember anything much after that. I know I went back into my car all sweaty and smelling like beer and bad cigarettes. I got to my car, put my glasses on and headed back to Indy. I got up 20 minutes before I had to be in work, but I made it, somehow. (I had a key to the back door so I did slip in that way).

Did I see the show? Not really. I saw forms and shapes. But I felt the show. And that’s what mattered!

OK Boomer!

I love where I am in life. I’ve been alive for 54+ years and have experienced music from 1968 (my first 45) to the present day, and I’ve taken it all in. Well, there was that time when I didn’t really listen to much since my first wife didn’t like it so loud, and I had kids, and what not. But music’s most always been there as a constant companion and friend.

So I’ve seen the rise and fall of many musical genres, and one thing is consistent. People one or two generations past the target pop music demo will always bitch and moan about award shows and special events.

“The music is terrible.” “It’s not the way it used to be.” “I’m using clever nicknames to put down the artists because I can’t think of anything useful to say.”

All I have to say is….”SHUT THE HELL UP, BOOMER!”

So J-Lo and Shakira wasn’t your thing at the Super Bowl. They spoke to a different crowd than you (Latinx, mostly female, and under 30). So Billy Ellish’s moody pop songs make you scratch your head. She’s trying to break pop out of the era of the song doctors and same-same sounding tracks.

So hip-hop is popular and it makes you uncomfortable. (I could have used this since the 80’s). YOU ARE NOT THE TARGET DEMO! AND THEY’RE DOING INTERESTING THINGS WITH BEATS AND RHYMES.

There are so many ways you can experience music today, and so many ways to customize your listening experience. Heaven forbid you hear something that the kids are listening to today, or that different ethnic groups find popular. Pop music isn’t catering to you anymore – deal with it.

I do have reservations of the ways that music is become so sub-sub-sub genre’d. Radio is the same way, it seems. (I mean, look at the Billboard Charts and how many there are now. It’s no longer just the Hot 100 and Billboard 200 that people pay attention to). But with changes in the way they measure popularity (actual streaming data and radio plays), the charts are much more accurate. The Hot 100 does capture the 100 songs of the week.

And guess what – they’re not the songs you want to hear, Boomer.

So when there’s an award show and something is played that you need to complain about, maybe you should think twice and realize this is not your time. Your time where the pop charts were influenced by you is long past and you wasted it on freakin’ REO Speedwagon and Chicago’s goopy-ass love songs.

And your parents complained about them as well.