“Keep your eye on the drummer. He’s amazing. Plus… wait til you see him. Swoon.”
“The drummer, really? … I wanted to be a drummer. I have a kit, my husband bought it for me. I used to play, but… I’m too old.”
“Oh. My. God. YOU ARE NOT TOO OLD.”
We were sitting side by side at a music festival/fundraiser, eating Hawaiian style buffet and watching the next band set up on stage. I pulled up the website for The Castaways on my phone and handed it to my hostess. I didn’t ask, but I think she was about my age. “That’s my band,” I said.
“No way. NO. WAY.”
“We play classic rock. I am 48 years old. I joined late last year. I did my first show in January.”
“Look…I love this picture… you are NOT too old. This is my point.”
I’ve had variations on this conversation a lot this year. More than you’d expect.
Last night, I played the last show of my first year of rock. It’s actually been a little over a year since I attended my first rehearsal, but I played my first show at the end of January. I was nervous and I felt great — the crowd was friendly, the venue was my favorite neighborhood coffee place, and the rehearsals had been going well. I knew that it wouldn’t be perfect, but I also knew that it wouldn’t suck. I was ready and thankfully, I was right, the show was good, it was fun, and we played well.
We have improved since then. As a person who has some facility with words, I’m frustrated that I can’t tell you what has changed or what that feels like. I was talking with a friend who I’d not seen in a while and she asked me about the band. “It’s you and four guys. What’s that like? Are they like your boyfriends or your brothers or…?” I did not have an answer. I met my husband more than 15 years ago, so the idea of a boyfriend is a little dusty. And I have brothers, three younger ones, but these guys are not like them, not at all.
Earlier this year when I was booked for a conference and couldn’t make a gig, the show poster had a picture of me on a milk carton, a “Have you seen me?” sort of thing. I missed another show recently — I’d been sick — and the boys (I call them the boys even though it is not age appropriate) sent me pictures and later, a video “wish you were here” message. We bring back edible souvenirs from our travels to share, we sit in restaurants passing around appetizers and drinking cocktails, we slog our collective gear in the rain, we roll our eyes and laugh a lot…
Surely, at some point, rock and roll will break my heart and then, my answer to “What’s it like?” may be “It was like the worst break up you ever had.” But for now, all I have is this: It’s like being in a band, I guess, only better, because it’s this band.
We have a running joke that goes like this. Something good will happen and one of the guys will say, “That doesn’t happen in other bands. It just doesn’t happen.”
And I will say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. This happens in all my bands.” Then, after a short pause, “This is my first band.”
In our first year we:
- Were paid (and fed) very well to play a handful of private events
- Recorded a fully licensed CD
- Had a Seattle music producer call our sound “pure, unadulterated joy”
- Shot raw footage for our video (it’s in edits, ETA late January)
- Had an enthusiastic friend offer to manage a West Coast tour
- Repeatedly had people stop and stare in a “What the hell is happening there?” kind of way
- Played in studio for a high profile radio show
- Got a smashing portfolio of band photos shot by a local photographer friend
- Entertained a handful of visiting Japanese photojournalists (we’re still not big in Japan, but it could happen)
- Got handmade gifts from fans
- Became setup and breakdown Olympiads (I think our best time is 11 minutes and we have gear, kids)
- Played several shows that were standing room only
- … and had any number of odd, serendipitous and all around happy things occur.
Last night, while we were packing up, our drummer said, “Yeah, did you see that? Where everyone rushed down front to dance and sing along? That doesn’t happen in other bands.” And I said, “What are you talking about? This happens in all my bands.”
A lot of good things happened this year. I did a fair amount of travel. I pounded a serious stake in the ground by writing the first section of a nonfiction manuscript that’s started to demand my attention again. (I hear you, I promise.) I landed some very nice writing bylines (Lonely Planet, The San Francisco Chronicle, Conde Nast Traveler) and a well paid quarterly travel column in which I get to write almost anything I want. On the technical side, I got a raise and career growth, two things that are notoriously hard to nail when you’re a contractor. I helped raise $110,000 to fund a clean water project in Haiti. And I managed to stay married to a guy who is ridiculously indulgent of all my erratic choices. (At one point, I was rabbiting on about rock and roll something or other. He looked at me and said, “What are you, 17?” “Yes. Yes, right now, this minute, I am.”)
And I played in a rock band. Okay, in the grand scheme of things, we’re a little local act, kind of odd. We’re a cover band, a novelty act, a minor blip on the radar. But for my 2012, the band has been the jewel in the crown.
I can’t wait to see what happens to us in 2013.