C’mon. Admit it. You wanted to be a rock star. Is there anyone on this planet who hasn’t at some point fantasized about how he or she would look on stage in skin tight pants made of material that ought not to be worn by any human, all while perfecting the art of strumming eighth notes on the guitar?
I’m proud to announce that I belong to an elite group – no, not the media elite Sarah Palin loved to reference as a justification for her repeated inability to answer simple political questions. I belong to a group of people that can look back on their youth with the proud memories of their attempt to make it on the music scene.
It all started at a young age. I won awards for practicing the piano more than the other eight-year olds in my class. I played Bach and Beehtoven before I mastered long division. Over the years, I tried a variety of instruments until finally settling on the guitar.
During my years in college I was thankfully weaned from my addiction to big hair and Jersey disco and was re-introduced to folk music and the brooding melodies of Depeche Mode, New Order, Ministry and the like. I hate to admit that I was still in college when grunge became a fashion statement. I still listen to Smells Like Teen Spirit on my ipod.
After graduating, I found work as an intern at a rock magazine and within a couple of years was living on the edge of Alphabet City and writing songs on my Mexican Stratocaster. My friends and I were such pioneers at that time. We knew the drug dealer on the corner by his first name (though we, of course, never supported his career) and we taunted the Teryaki Boy owners when they would not deliver to us because we lived east of 1st Avenue – dangerous territory. When I didn’t feel up to walking the two blocks to pick up the Teryaki Boy myself, I subsisted on macaroni and velveeta meals, s’mores flavored pop-tarts, hot dogs out of the package, fried perogis from Odessa and shots of soy sauce for extra protein (this is clearly before I discovered my gluten sensitivity).
At the age of 23 I founded my own band. My friend and former band mate suggested that we call ourselves Super Visor. He thought we should all wear matching visors on stage. Another friend came up with the name Sticky Leaf. I don’t know what that means, but I remember thinking it was cool.
I put corn rows in my hair. I wore pants made of vinyl. I owned six pairs of platform shoes. I hung out at the neighborhood bars with other local talent. I spent countless weekend nights cheering on friends that scored a gig in the basement of The Spiral. (For those who don’t know, if you had a pulse you could get a gig at The Spiral).
Finally, it was my time. I brought together a bunch of friends and made reservations at a nearby rehearsal studio. We were ready to rock!!!
And then, reality set in. We were…how do I say this…not good. I mean, we really sucked.
It took us about 30 minutes to set up the amps so that we didn’t have constant feedback, and then it took us about another 30 minutes to figure out how to set up the tape decks to make sure we had recordings of our fiasco collaboration. By that time we only had an hour left to practice.
I could barely play the guitar. The bass player had talent but was permanently stoned and could never repeat the same lick twice. The lead guitarist, also talented, had long, curly hair and had a habit of standing in front of the fan, replicating something out of a Stevie Nicks music video. He loved crooning out his background vocals into the microphone, drowning out my horrendous attempt at lead rock vocals. I couldn’t hear myself over the noise and sang out of tune, even though I had written the melodies we were practicing. I started each verse in a different key. The drummer didn’t know what the hell to do with us and wandered off into his own time zone.
Despite all of this, everyone in the band seemed to think we had a shot at making it big. I did have an unusual talent for writing catchy, saccharin melodies that would keep you up at night with their persistence in your head. I remember one song in particular. Oh, I hated that song. I couldn’t imagine what had compelled me to write it, but everybody else thought it was our ticket out of Squatterville. So, we played it over, and over. It goes like this: “It takes a little to try, but it only takes a second to smi-i-ile. It takes a minute to re-a-lize that it only takes a little while.”
The bass player was bored out of his mind when we rehearsed so he injected profanity into the song whenever possible. The lead guitarist practiced his crooning by repeating the line, “It oooooooonly takes a little while!” The drummer was catatonic. And I, I really hated that song. I begged my band mates to move into other territory but they insisted that we focus on that one damn song.
This went on for a few months. We diligently attended rehearsals a couple of times a week, but I refused to get a gig at The Spiral. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of all the other local rock star wannabes that I liked to criticize and I certainly did not want to admit that I had written that God awful song.
We worked on a few other tunes, including a personal favorite about a guy who liked to express his affection by alternately pulling on my breasts as though he was milking a cow. I screamed into the mic, “I’m not a cow! I’m not a cow! I’m not a cow! Moooooooooo!” That was the only time the owner of the rehearsal space stopped what he was doing to tell us we sounded good. I found that strange because I actually thought I sounded like a cow.
Eventually, the corn rows started to frizz out of control and I gave them up in lieu of died jet black hair. The bass player and drummer found that they were somehow on the same page musically. The drummer didn’t mind that the bassist wandered off into his own world because that gave him an opportunity to improvise different beats in seriously bizarre time signatures. The guitarist continued to write his own stuff and became a very well-respected illustrator.
As for me, I continued writing songs for a while and my singing did improve. But the emergence of my real voice surpassed all else. I guess I wasn’t meant to be a rock star. Elitism isn’t for me. I’m much more comfortable looking people directly in the eye when I speak.