The Rock Star Within

At the age of fifteen I was CRAZY for music. I suppose must of us generally are. Music was (and still is, especially for teens) the most viable way to express one’s self. I wore band shirts and when I got a car, at the keen age of seventeen, I was sure to sticker it up with the groups I loved.

Music, at the time, was changing. I was a little snot nosed punk right smack dab in the middle of the Grunge explosion. Looking back, it wasn’t a bad time to be a kid. We didn’t have the rock and roll rebellion of the early 50’s where for the first time, music became specifically generational. Kids could blare loud, electric guitars and do-wop grooves much to the chagrin of their standards loving parents. We didn’t have the genius of the Beatles.

The nineties seem a lot like the seventies (I suppose, but this is just hypothesizing from someone who was too young to remember anything until the eighties kicked in). On one side of the fence you have heavy rock, on the other disco. In the nineties, we had heavy rock and dance music. Rap was also solidifying itself as a viable thing (which had been going on for years and years, but the mainstream, what with rappers guesting on dance tunes, was finally, fully embracing it).

(“We’re gonna wipe you right out, right out, right out…” Oh yeah!)

The only thing that mattered to me was intelligent, alternative rock – be it guitar driven or electronic based. You see (just like now), I was somewhat of a cultural snob. Music had to mean something. I could appreciate love songs or weird, pointless abstractions, the songs didn’t have to be meaningful in that they focused on a particular topic, they just had to strike me with a modicum of depth. They had to do something more than the hair metal, dance music, and radio-friendly rap dominating MTV and top 40.

The Cure and Depeche Mode were my lovey stuff, the Pixies, my avant garde, art rock, Ministry, Skinny Puppy, and my absolute favorite, Nine Inch Nails, held down the heavy angle (along with some Marilyn Manson a few years later). Classic rock – Zeppelin and Hendrix mostly – rounded things out.

(One of my favorite albums ever!)

I was an intense kid. My bedroom walls were covered with subversive art pieces and pictures cut from SPIN magazine.

My high school put on a talent show every year. My ninth grade year found me and two brave companions lip syncing along with the Beastie Boys’ Shake Your Rump (ah, Paul’s Boutique – great album) while wearing giant baby diapers and bibs. It was a cute idea and we had enough fun to outweigh the embarrassment of wearing diapers in front of a packed gymnasium.

The next year, I matured (some). I put together a lip synced rendition of Ministry’s Thieves (with those awesome FULL METAL JACKET samples – get up, get on your feet!). My group of eight performers borrowed real instruments from friends and one friend even brought his other friend who brought along a real drum set and played it along in time with the music. It was awesome. We didn’t win, but my music career had officially begun.

(When Ministry went heavy, everything changed. They make rock RAWK!)

Turns out this drummer, Dan, a kid a few years older than me who went to school a city over, liked my lip work. Though I was mouthing words, I played the part to perfection, Loyal Reader. I was a solid, lip syncing frontman. He asked me if I wanted to sing for a band he was putting together.

Being fifteen, and restless, and a theatrical music fanatic, I immediately accepted and threw myself into it head first.

I was great at promotion and setting up gigs and making flyers and supplying vision, but when it came to singing? Meh. I couldn’t really carry a tune. Which wasn’t much of problem – we were a loud, hardcore outfit. Screaming sufficed. I wanted so much more. I wrote lyrics with depth – dark little things that read like beat poetry, but when sung came out like guttural, screeching noise.

Jobee (hi Jobee!), our guitarist had mad skills. At sixteen, he could tear it up, write great songs, and play almost anything by ear. The kid was way talented. He handled lyrics too. And I was proud to sing, um, scream them.

Live, we did our thing. Kids liked us. We played house parties and half empty warehouses and real gigs at little venues (one of the biggest being a show opening for Cannibal Corpse – we were almost Death Metal, but probably a little more thrash what with my scream-o yelping). It was great. We booked studio time (no laptop studios, kiddies – this was in the early nineties and recording on anything other than a four-track was expensive – hell, for struggling high school kids, a four-track was damn expensive). I tried to actually sing, but it sounded horrible, so we went the other way and got me yelling my head off. I’m quite proud of our first demo.

(We opened for these guys! It was an experience.)

We called ourselves Grimoire and we had big dreams. We stuck it out for two or three years, had a few triumphant moments (some incredible shows), but things grew stagnant and the band wanted to move in different directions. They held some practices without me (I was kind of flakey anyhow – I blame girls). They eventually found a new singer, just as I was packing my bags and moving away to Reno for a change of scenery and a different life (drama).

I miss those guys. We had a lot of great times growing up together.

I was nineteen when I got to Reno. I got a job, plunked over the cash for a guitar and amp, and then began to apply everything I learned from Jobee and the rest of my old band buddies by practicing, practicing, and practicing. I recorded lots and lots of crappy songs on a crappy four-track. I learned how to love the guitar. Sometimes it loves me, sometimes not so much. I keep at it.

Though I tried, I could never get a proper band going in Reno. I jammed a little. I posted flyers and hung out at a hip, independent record store, but nothing ever came out of it.

A few years later, I moved back to Southern California. Within a few months I got another band together – this one more in the vein of something like the Smashing Pumpkins with a bit of Nirvana and the Pixies and Fugazi thrown in for good measure. I developed a real kinship with those guys and we still hang out a couple of times a year, rocking our old jams (and new ones) at a house party (a Halloween jam is coming up very soon, yay!). Our band was called BURN and we had something special going, but I was twenty-one and it was time to get life going. Community College, then the eventual transfer to a university, simply took precedence. I had to leave for CSUN.

Which sucks, but that’s life, huh?

One minute you’ve got a scuffed Doc Marten boot poised atop a vibrating monitor, leaning over a frenzied crowd, screaming love songs (aren’t they all?) with passionate fury, the next you’re driving your kid to school and paying down an impossible mortgage.

But you know what? I think making it work with a family, for me that’s two others and we’re like Voltron, is what it’s all about. We form up. We are bound by love. You can’t break us.

(“Cool boots, man!” – Lloyd Christmas, DUMB & DUMBER)

I’ve always been extremely envious of the rock stars who make it. The little rocker inside throws up double devil horns and screams along, but wants more than anything to be up there on stage getting down. What a way to make a living – That’s the way you do it, you get your money for nothing and your chicks for free (thank you, Mr. Knopfler).

But then…

Nothing’s quite as sad as a successful rock star who don’t know how to grow up. Arrested development can be an ugly, ugly thing. But imagine it: you’re seventeen, you hit it big, for the next ten to twenty years nobody ever tells you, “No.” How can you ever lead a normal life? I guess the old adage – be careful what you wish for – is sound.

But then…

Some folks handle it better than others. Look at Bono or someone as cool as Leonard Cohen. No one is as cool as Leonard Cohen. If I could go back and do it right, make deals properly, keep a band together (all of the in-fighting and petty crap you read about within the band structure, all those break-ups, all of that stuff is generally 100% accurate – dysfunctional families fall into disfunction), write something of worth, make enough money to live on for the rest of my life, I would hope to end up as cool as Leonard Cohen. That dude gives rock stars a good name.

Okay, I could go on and on, but I gotta give it a rest. Rock on, Loyal Reader!

(Post up! MDM is on the attack!)

Here’s the man…


8 Responses to “The Rock Star Within”

  1. Pretty Hate Machine was my absolute favorite album in high school – and one of my only old favorites that’s on my ipod now!

  2. What memories…you are much too kind in describing my guitar skills. Either time has clouded your memory or you’re being extra nice because you know I’m reading. I appreciate it either way. As I was reading I went BURN! Hey I remember that! I don’t know if you remember, I filled in on bass once for a backyard party at Jeff’s house. I don’t know if it was because I was playinig songs I just learned or if it was because it wasn’t my usual instrument, but I has such a blast that night. Good times.

    PS–you blame girls for making you flakey? As far as I can remember, there was only one girl to blame. She shall remain nameless…

    • 😉

      Yeah, that was awesome when you filled in. I think our bass player was going out of town and we had already planned this band party. You saved our asses – and anyone who can learn an entire, new set of songs mere hours before performing them live has SKILLS whether they care to admit it or not.

      The good old days…

      If you ever get out to SoCal we oughta jam for nostaliga’s sake. We are having a Halloween jam on the Saturday before the 31st. Lots of musicians will be present. It gets loud 😉

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