|... This ...|
The old guys have children now. And they don't ask as much out of life as they used to. The imagined future doesn't stretch itself out before them anymore like a red carpet lined with adoring members of the opposite sex. The old guys no longer consider themselves the center of the universe.
No streets have been named after them. They live on streets with names of blighted trees (Elm and Chestnut) or as generic as Albuterol (Main and Center). They don't own jets. Rolling Stone never calls. They know the price of a gallon of milk. They save their receipts.
|Versus ... this.|
Nope, the old guys — me and three friends — no longer dream of being rock stars, of living off the fat of the land with a guitar lick and drum kick. We've forgotten about that dream, actually — until now, anyway, as we climb down into the basement hauling amps and guitar cases.
None of us have jammed with each other before. Dan knows Luke who knows John who knows me. None of us have jammed — period — in more than 10 years. But our formative experiences were nearly identical. Much of our teen years were spent in musty basements like this, making music, dreaming the dream, preparing to impress the girls, certain that biographers would someday have us recall those days in minute detail.
"Yes," we'd tell our biographers. "We sometimes couldn't tell the difference in sound between the fuzz guitar and the sump pump. But we did what we had to do. We knew we had to get out of that stinking town and make something of ourselves."
Climbing down into the basement last Monday evening was like climbing into a time machine. We old guys plug guitars into amplifiers and kick at the bass drum before stuffing it with a pillow. All of us take turns apologizing for how unskilled we're about to prove ourselves.
If our 16-year-old selves could get a load of our 40-something-year-old selves, they would surely be horrified. Their depression would be steep, deep, maybe bottomless. Four old bozos in a basement about to stagger through a bunch of tired old cover songs?
No, no, no, no, no. You've got it all wrong. That wasn't the plan. The plan was fame, of dazzling the world with our awesome selves.
I'm not sure of Dan and Luke's band history beyond the typical teen-basement-band experience. John had a good run with some great Boston bands that got radio play. In my case, a drummer, I scratched a living from music on and off during my 20s. But the bands did what bands are genetically predisposed to do: break up in ugly fashion.
The last band for me broke up through my own doing. I had just turned 30, and I was in the midst of a bread-and-butter tour with an American band in Europe. On the west coast of Ireland, I quickly got knocked off my high horse when I listened to the impromptu, late evening jam sessions in the pubs.
Almost without fail, no matter what backwater pub we found ourselves in, local farmers and teachers and fisherman — people who worked for a living — would be sipping pints and playing songs on guitars and fiddles and bodhrans. Almost without fail, they were masters of their instruments — way better than us. And unlike us, they didn’t expect to be paid. Unlike we imprudent American musicians who demanded so much attention, they sought nothing more but to play with others whether people listened or not. They exemplified what it means to "play" music.
Not only did I not want to be a rock star anymore, but when I got back the States, I quit the band, sold my drums, felt deeply relieved, got married, and had a child who has taught me how to “play” again, like people should play: with joy.
Back down in the basement last Monday evening, John has a borrowed bass. I have a borrowed drum kit. The four of us just sort of just look at each other for a bit. We're going to just play. You know, for fun, right? Yes, of course.
There's some timid tuning. A little getting acquainted with the cymbals and snare.
"Well, what should we play? ... "
We settle on a song.
A four count. Then the familiar power chords — A, D, then E. What a sound: shocking, really. It reverberates in the bone marrow.
The four old guys kick into that greatest, most fitting of old rock songs.
fighting in the streets/
fighting in the streets/
With our children at our feet.
Yeah, that's right!
Pick up my guitar and play/
Just like yesterday/
Then I'll get on my knees and pray...
We won't get fooled again.