To put away or not to put away
January 21, 2012 Leave a comment
When I was 15, I bought a bass guitar – it was 3/4 scale (but I didn’t realize that at the time) cherry red, and I flailed away on it a bit. I had previously had fantasies of rock stardom which had been only prevented by my complete and utter lack of talent or effort. I was flipping back and forth between punk and hippie phases, and pretty much stunk.
Eventually, I got Dar Q (drums), Tammy H (keyboard, vox), and Steve D (guitar, vox), and we formed a band called Peristalsis. We sounded about as good as you’d expect a band named after a digestive process to sound, and made up in enthusiasm what we lacked in talent. Eventually, this stopped – I was working too much in fast food (30+ hours OT / week = how to make a minimum wage job pay well).
Then I went off to UMd for a semester – this wasn’t my idea: I was pretty much forced into going, and I didn’t want to be there, so I flunked out, but before I did that, I spent a few hundred dollars on a Fender acoustic 12-string, and started indulging my assorted fantasies of dropping out of polite society to become a street musician.
The lack of realism there is evident to any stringed musician: playing outside is rough on one’s tuning under the best of circumstances, but keeping a 12-string in tune (or even close enough to not sound painful) is quite laborious. Oh, yeah, and then there’s the fact that “street musician” is not a career path which includes being able to pay rent consistently without trouble, and I was pretty dead-set on getting myself into a heck of a lot of trouble.
I came back to Utah, and got back together with Dar and Steve, only this time we called ourselves The Sunmasons, after a poem by a former High School classmate whose last name was Mason. In this configuration, we played a few shows, mostly with the other tiny local SLC band Painted Cloud. At one point, Jon B (other drummer) joined the band, and we had a massive stage presence (two drummers will do that). That lasted a while, and we actually put out a cassette (“It’s OK, I’m with the BAND”). Eventually Steve became (like many, many other musicians) overcome by a drug problem – the music for a song I wrote about that ended up getting a second life later on as “Ender.”
So Dar and I decided, in an evolutionary manner, to shake up the band a bit: I moved over to guitar (I had a knockoff of an Ibanez X), Dar moved to Bass (in a beautiful midnight blue, which was much closer to dark purple), and we got members Corinne (guitar, vox), Joe (percussion), and Leon (crazy, yoga-guy drums), and turned into a vastly jazzier incarnation of the Sunmasons. In this lineup, we played a few all-ages clubs (only Leon was over 21), a few outdoor festivals, and had gigs with larger local bands Ali Ali Oxen Free and My Sister Jane. I was halfway through my hippie phase, as evinced by the presence of a percussionist and by my outlandish costuming and extremely long hair (to be fair, the hair was actually a chick magnet, but the women at the U of U were more interested in playing with my hair than actually dating me). A couple more of my songs date from this period – the music to “Lojack” and “Vorlon” and the actual song “The Girl Next Door.” But this too faded away – I had been running a group house and making the incredibly stupid move of renting rooms to my friends who were terrible credit risks. When that came to a thundering halt (basically I walked away, and let the landlord come and kick everyone out, because they hadn’t been willing to pay me their share of the rent and I lacked the wherewithal to evict them), Leon vanished, and Joe and Corinne faded out shortly thereafter.
So Dar and I were again left without a band. We re-contacted Jon B, and it turned out that he had just kicked Steve out of his band at the time, and was left with Yuri (bass, keys) and Zack (lead guitar, flute). Dar and I joined them, and for a while had the dual-bass player thing going on, which was exceedingly cool. We played some gigs, and went into the studio to record, getting so far as to have four songs which were album-ready (with the exception of Jon’s inexplicable decision to use electronic rather than acoustic drums – the drums were passable, but the cymbals were atrocious). Music I wrote for Dar’s song “Airflesh” later became “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” It felt like we were on the cusp of something – a real shot at making a career out of making music. I had just gotten a gig promoting concerts at the U of U, and at the time was wholly shameless about self-promotion (I had not yet learned the lessons regarding pride and falls). But sadly, this too was to come to an end. I had a pretty explosive temper, and would never back down or compromise. After one particularly loud and yelly practice, Jon unceremoniously kicked me out. Dar quit a bit later, and that was when I stopped seriously following them. I was not gracious – had they asked me for a favor I wouldn’t have done it, but they never asked. They did eventually go on to put out some music (I believe with a wholly different lineup – I don’t even know whether Jon was involved at that point).
At this point, I was pretty lost musically – I tried a few things as as soloist, but could never really get any mojo. A friend and I did a coffee-lounge gig of mostly covers as “The Indigo Guys,” but anyone who said we were any good was either generous or extremely stoned. I tried being a music major – I did classical guitar lessons, got a cheap ($50) drum kit and took some lessons, and even took some piano and theory classes, but I couldn’t really compete with the people who had actually been serious about music for decades. Eventually I realized that.
The drum set died when my ex-wife took it apart too far during a move when I wasn’t around (she took all of the hardware bits apart, and then most of the washers, springs, nuts, and the like were almost instantly lost, and what was left wasn’t worth saving). For the next year or so I would occasionally play a cover gig at a restaurant or the like, but nothing to write home about.
After that, I didn’t do anything with music for years. After moving East, getting a divorce, converting to Judaism and getting re-married, and several more years, some of my friends indicated that they were starting a Jewish a cappella group called Makela. I auditioned by singing “Southern Cross” (I was later told I was the only person who didn’t come in singing something Jewish), and got in. A funny part of this was that I auditioned as a baritone / bass, but they told me that I was a tenor. After I learned more, and worked on my voice for a while, I realized that not only was I a tenor, I was a very high tenor (I can get well into Alto).
I had a good time doing that – it had some cheesy choreography, uniforms, and the like, but it was a fun way to pass the time. Their shtick was either translating secular songs into Hebrew (eem etahev = “If I fell”), doing well known Hebrew songs (Dodi Li), and they eventually wanted to branch out a bit into home-written lyrics. Another member was struggling to re-write Toto’s “Africa,” to make it about Israel, and I stepped in to help do that. I wrote the words to be “I face the wall in Jerusalem” and the like, and that was popular with them. We were starting to home-record an album (on a system which was pretty advanced at the time, but now would be viewed as paleolithic). Then there was trouble: the owners of the Toto copyright wouldn’t give us permission to do this recording, and the price of doing this without permission (via mechanical license etc) would have been extremely high, especially for a self-financed CD. So the band was about to go try to find another melody to use with those words, when I suggested that I could go write one. Ilana B and I knocked out “Aliyah L’Regel” (about traveling through three cities in Israel to end up in Jerusalem) in about a day (partially because I could recycle the music from one of my old Sunmasons songs, “Kiwi”), and that was a smashing success. Shortly after the CD was recorded & released, there was more trouble: Ilana had done something (I don’t remember what) which pissed off the bandleaders so much that she was kicked out. I disagreed with this, and resigned in protest at the same time.
So now I was again musically adrift – I was thinking that playing guitar would be a good idea, but had no idea where to really start. About a year or so afterwards, Sarah introduced me to Patrick, and the two of us played together as multi-instrumentalists – he’s mostly a drummer, but also plays guitar, and I’m the reverse. I bought a Washburn J-9, which has become my primary guitar – the only thing I would do differently if I had to do it over would be get one with a fixed bridge. We got some others and became The Franchise, and were able to release three albums (with a different lineup on each one). We were halfway through the fourth (with yet another lineup), when I got sick last year. I couldn’t play guitar at all for several months, and drums were right out.
And so now I come to the crux of the matter. I haven’t played guitar in about six months. I don’t know whether this is the start of a long drought or just a dry spell, but the space which has been my music room is idle. It’s full of music stuff – guitars on the walls (mine, Patrick’s and Don’s), Patrick’s drum set, our PA, a bunch of amps, and oodles of recording gear & microphones with cables carefully run along hooks on the walls and ducts.
But if this is a long thing, I need to not store unused music stuff there. The space is just too valuable – if the musical detritus wasn’t there, Sarah would have turned it into an exercise room long ago. I haven’t felt the pull of songwriting at all, and am more at peace with myself than I’ve been in my recollection, so I have no reserve of angst from which to draw out new songs.
I guess this is the process of determining whether this is a childish thing which should be put away — I’m at a crossroads with this, and I’ll need to do some praying about it before I can decide which way to go. I do know that either way will be tinged with the question of the road not taken, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Still, more food for thought.