Friday, August 27, 2010

Playing in the Band

In the 4th grade, a crush on the cutest girl in the class prompted me to ask my parents for piano lessons. She too played the piano, and it was my hope that I might be able to use our common interest as a means to make a connection with her. It wasn't a bad idea really, but I now know that all I needed to know was man up and tell her that I "liked" her and that probably would have been enough. But that is the subject for another post.

As it turned out, I had a natural aptitude for music. I learned to read sheet music quickly, and competently performed both classical and modern pieces. I was able to learn songs or concertos I found interesting in a fraction of the time it would take me to learn something I had never heard before. I know this sounds obvious and logical... but the difference was huge. For some reason I had already heard a lot of Beethoven and therefore was able to play many of his piano compositions within days... where as I had not heard much Handel, or Chopin , and it would take me weeks or months to figure out. This would be one of the earlier signs of ADHD that was mostly ignored until later in my life. As electronic music and synthesizers gained popularity, I started becoming more interested in imitating newer styles rather than focus on the classics. For some reasons alot of the sheet music available at the piano store were movie and TV theme songs. I found myself playing the themes from "Cheers", "The Pink Panther", "James Bond", "St. Elmo's Fire", "Live and let Die", and "St. Elsewhere" among many others. At one recital, in between butchered versions of "Fur Elise" and "Canon in D", I broke out my Yamaha synthesizer and played "Axel F" - the theme from Beverly Hills Cop complete with the prerecorded drum mix and accompanying tracks. My father told me later I successfully brought three and half minutes of toe tapping enjoyment to a room full of comatose parents and petrified children.

A few years later I became friends with a kid from around the block named Kevin Baucom, who happened to play the drums. Another friend of ours, Ben Steele, played the guitar and sang. I had a pretty decent Casio synthesizer, so I brought it over and we formed a little band in his garage. In the 6th and 7th grade, "The Albino Fishermen" performed heinously ridiculous offerings like "Dead Squirrel Song" and "Kid in a fridge". The chord progressions were basic, the timing all the same 4/4 metronome, and the lyrics were stupid and meaningless. Another friend of ours, Dave Merritt, was feeling left out so he decided to get a guitar for Christmas and join the noise...despite the fact that we really probably needed a bass player more than a second guitarist.

It was the early 90's and the heyday of the grunge scene. Keyboards were not as prevalent in the popular music, so I got a bass guitar and learned to play it almost overnight. It was a much simpler instrument and I made the transition easily. I started encouraging the band to play covers, as I was greatly embarrassed by the immaturity of Ben's lyrics. I thought it was going to be hard to impress chicks with verses like "I was driving down the street, when all of a sudden I smelled my feet..." So we learned some Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, the Cure, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Lemonheads, Rage against the Machine, Stone Temple Pilots, and continued to write a few songs ourselves that we mixed in. Ben ended up moving away to Indiana. We changed our name to "Carne", I took over singing, and we continued with just the three of us.

After a few years of practice, we actually developed a "sound" that was tolerable enough to actually get us some gigs... at what limited venues were available for a rock trio of high school kids. So it was house parties, battle of the bands, college fraternity parties, and a few small clubs that either ignored liquor laws or thought that we were old enough to play in a bar. I had my heart broken for the first time, started experimenting with pot, and consequently started to write and perform some music that had actual meaning. With inspiration we became a much better band, and even had a small following of friends and classmates. After listening to myself in a few recordings, I came to terms with my limited vocal range and stopped trying to perform covers that my voice couldn't handle. Towards our senior year of high school we were playing gigs where the music was 80% ours, and some of it sounded really good. Today, I still grab the guitar play a few of the songs from back then with fond memories.

After graduation Dave and I headed up to Radford University and roomed together freshmen year. Kevin was 30 minutes across the valley at Virginia Tech. Kevin's older brother was a couple years ahead of us and attending Tech as well, so he hooked us up with a practice space. ON weekends we continued to practice and play gigs. We improved and matured and gradually morphed into a musically gifted act. We were on the verge of finding a lead singer (I finally acquiesced and admitted that I was very limited in my singing capabilities) We had enough material and money. and looked to book some time in an actual recording studio. But it all ended suddenly, when Dave decided to return to Virginia Beach and the girl he left behind. Kevin remained at Virginia Tech, and I at Radford. We didn't look for a replacement for Dave. The growing amount of activity in the rest of our lives took over and the band dissolved. Kevin played a few gigs here and there with some other guys. I played the bass for 6 months in a Sublime-Cover act called "Badfish", but life was too hectic to put the requisite amount of energy back into a real working effort. My cover band broke up when the lead guitarist flunked out. The rest of my extra-curricular activities took up the my time....

...And just like that, my band days were over.

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