Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Boys (and Girl) In the Band

Admit it--you've always wanted to play in a band. You've fantasized doing the Jagger cockstrut in front of thousands but you'll settle for playing to a few drunks in a bar in Northern Virginia. The drunks don't pay attention, they're too busy starring at the waitress's cleavage, and the waitress isn't interested because she's seen a hundred bands, she thinks all musicians are assholes, and even if she didn't her boyfriend is the bouncer, and he would break your face just to get blood on his knuckles.

Still, somehow, it's worth it. For 11 years I played in a local band that did mostly bars, private parties and the occasional biker event. I don't think I earned more than $1000 on any given year, and I probably spent twice that on gas, strings and new instruments. The closest I got to romance was when a woman flashed me, then walked away. We once got an extra $100 for playing Country Roads, which we'd never played before but that didn't stop us, we just kept hollering the refrain over and over again while the bar owner nodded off in his beer.

My band, Idylwood, put out one CD. We recorded and mixed it ourselves, finalized it in a local studio, and got it listed on iTunes but, to the best of my knowledge, no one ever downloaded us. Recently, the band split. The lead guitarist and former singer nursed a resentment for five years before leaving and taking the bass and drummer to form a power trio. I'm not sure what that is but it sounds pretty boring. So, after more than a decade, here's what I learned.

  1. Drummers are a pain in the ass and control freaks. No surprise there; these are guys who beat on dead animal skins with sticks.
  2. Male lead singers are almost never as good as female lead singers, and they write atrocious lyrics. Trust me on this.
  3. Most lead guitarists have three riffs they recycle endlessly.
  4. Most bass players have the intellectual stamina of a cicada.

OK, now I've pissed everybody off. Here's installment no. 5 of Wasted Miracles.

Maybe she was doing it wrong. Maybe you weren't supposed to ask for things; but if you weren’t, what was the purpose of a god in the first place? She wondered if those people in India or Tibet, the ones with the prayer wheels, had the right idea. There’d been a show about them on the Discovery Channel, how they turned the wheel endlessly and for each revolution a prayer went wafting up and away, so that if you were really conscientious about it, if flipping the wheel became second nature, then every single day there would be hundreds, thousands, millions of prayers, and how could any god refuse such entreaties?
In the beginning, when she came to accept for the very first time that she couldn’t do everything, control everything, she'd prayed for herself, taking a moment or two during the day to close her eyes and visualize her thoughts going out of her head and into the sky, as if they were winged things. She had prayed during rehab, beseeched god to take the yearning away and it had worked. A miracle. A common one, her counselors had said, but to her beyond comprehension.
Then she had prayed for her marriage but that hadn’t worked at all. Sometimes, her sponsor had told her, God says no. If anything, Lars had grown more distant and critical. They hadn't had sex in two years and that only once after he'd gotten his promotion. She had stayed dry and it had been over in a painfully offensive minute. For a few weeks after that she’d prayed Lars would simply become impotent or, even better, die, but he hadn’t.
And through it all there had been Josie, a willful and secretive child who had gotten high the first time when she was only 12 years old but Catherine hadn't noticed, of course, Catherine had been wrestling with her own genies, trying and failing to stuff them back into the bottle. By the time a Georgetown Day School counselor had called Lars and Catherine in for a talk, Josie was 15, carrying a flask of Stoly and an ounce of dope in her knapsack, turning on her friends and passing out in a toilet stall in the girl's room.
Catherine sipped the ginger ale. It had gone flat in the fridge and she'd come to prefer it that way. She looked at the clock again, thought she heard a car door slam, glanced out the window. The street was deserted. She folded her knees beneath her, held the glass in both hands.
So now she prayed for Josie and that was a constant murmur in her head, just like a prayer wheel. And Josie had been straight for eleven months and seventeen days; in two weeks she'd get her one-year chips from both AA and NA and Catherine asked herself if perhaps the worst of it wasn't over. She wanted desperately to believe it was but the odds were so slim, so many kids out there, all walks of life, swimming in a sea of drugs that flowed through the schools, private or public, it didn't matter, polluted them so it was a wonder they weren't all addicts, unbelievable that the blight struck so few of them, really. What were the statistics? More than 30 million drunks and addicts in the country? And two of them right here in one household. It didn't seem fair.

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