My track record with garage bands is beginning to look as bad as my record with real jobs. Sporadic flashes of promise, inconsistent areas of emphasis, and above all, no long-term commitment.
Here's a sampling of my band experience thus far:
Zebedee Coltrane, 1998-1999
Style: Alternative/blues, some pop covers, odes to dung beetles.
Highlights: Made our public debut at the University 32nd Ward Talent Show in the spring of 1999. Two weeks later a friend of ours gave us a strawberry pie to play a special gig in a handicapped girl's living room for her birthday.
Reason for leaving: Creative Differences.
Style: Borderline-sacreligious electric covers of LDS church hymns.
Highlights: Formed exclusively to make a short film for a Stake film festival in the summer of 1999. The result won "best soundtrack" at the festival, and has attracted the most venomous comments on my You Tube channel of any video post to date.
Reason for leaving: Fear of excommunication.
The Atomic Thunderlips Traveling Ministry, 2000-2001
Style: Obscure proto-punk covers, original tributes to local fast food chains mixed with classical chord progressions.
Highlights: Tried to make our debut at the 2001 U32 Toga Party, but were thwarted when lightning killed the power at the church. Played modest public performance from guitarist and bass player's garage (they were married) the following November, and I got dumped by my would-be girlfriend immediately following the gig.
Reason for leaving: Graduate school and increasing family obligations (for guitarist and bass player).
Dreamy Phil and the Diamond Dazzlers/Hassenpheffer and the Bomdiggity, 2003
Style: Initially a Neil Diamond cover band, wound up playing a set of acoustic-rock originals through the spring of 2003.
Highlights: Headlined 2003 Utah State University Valentines Dance, 2003 Earth Day performance on Taggart Student Center patio.
Reason for leaving: School obligations...plus I could never get the violinist to go out with me.
Lionel Ritchie, 2003
Style: Classic rock covers, including "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Sister Golden Hair."
Highlights: Headlined sister's variety show fundraiser for her New Zealand study abroad. Also played a set at a ward talent show a couple of weeks later.
Reason for leaving: Lead guitarist left on LDS mission.
The Tony Danza Experience, 2005
Style: Modern(ish) rock covers, including selections from Cake ("Short Skirt/Long Jacket") and The Black Crowes ("Hard to Handle")
Highlights: Formed to play at University Stake FHE outdoor music event, but canceled last minute when bass player couldn't get off work. Played ward talent show two months later.
Reason for leaving: Two members went to law school.
The Last Starfighters, 2007
Style: Original alternative rock numbers, penned by rhythm guitarist.
Highlights: Played U32 Talent Show in November of 2007, where I actually kind of sort of played my first mid-performance drum solo.
Reason for leaving: Lead guitarist moved back to Illinois, I started working graveyards at KJZZ.
In the midst of all this, I've held periodic jam sessions with friends that never quite made it to public performance level, though some did wind up on You Tube. Whatever the reason, a long-term album-cutting rock band has never been in the cards for me, though I always have a great time whenever I play. (Well, except for that time I got dumped afterwards, but that's another story.)
Anyhoo, it's time to add another band to the list, though with a little luck, we might stick together for a while longer. About a month ago my buddy Breto's wife recruited us to play at a charter school assembly in North Salt Lake. The performance was connected to some kind of fundraising competition at the school, and by the time we took the stage last Friday morning, we were penciled in to play two different assemblies, one for each half of the student body.
To be honest, I wasn't expecting much, and after our two practices, I wasn't even sure if we were going to make it through our three-song set. The plan was to open with a punk version of "This Land is Your Land"--something the kids could sing along to--then follow it up with a couple of pop covers that would embody a spirit of inspiration and patriotism, namely, Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" and Neil Diamond's "America." Since we were going to be playing at a school, I thought it might be appropriate to name the band "Abstinence" or "Intelligent Design," but we settled on "The Guitar Heroes" since it connected to our message about how it was a lot more fun to play real musical instruments than fake plastic ones for video games. We also considered changing "Livin' on a Prayer" to "Livin' on a Non-Denominational Personal Moment of Silence and/or Meditation," but decided that real rock and rollers would take the risk of introducing the concept of prayer in a public educational setting.
But in spite of my own lowered expectations, the morning assemblies turned out to be a total blast. I've played for hormone-fueled teens, angry neighbors and disinterested peers, but there's something totally different about playing for hundreds of little kids. For one thing, you don't feel as much pressure to avoid screwing up (our lead singer Randy--one of my old Thunderlips bandmates--had a nightmare the prior evening that he was going to forget all the words onstage). But it's also just a lot of fun to see a bunch of nine-year-olds jumping and dancing in the aisles while you play. I think a few of them were even making devil horns at us in our honor.
The whole gig left us thinking we should consider the idea of staying together. There are all kinds of kids up and down the Wasatch Front we could corrupt. I've always figured that playing in bands would just be for fun, a side project to channel my inner rock star every once in a while while pursuing more distinguished professional pursuits, but maybe I was wrong.
Maybe I just needed to find the right audience.
The Guitar Heroes
Style: Kitchy 80's rock anthem covers, punk distortions of folk protest songs that people have turned into patriotic standards.
Highlights: Headlining a set of school assemblies at the Legacy charter school/jamming out a painfully awkward re-hash of "Livin' on a Prayer" with the top fundraising class while they stage-dived off my drum riser and did bunny ears behind my head.
Reason for leaving: N/A...we're keeping our fingers crossed.