Wednesday, March 3, 2010

So you want to be a rock and roll star...

The Beatles led me astray.

If I think about bad influences in my life, I'd have to put the Beatles at the top of that list. If not for their influence on my malleable young mind, I might not find myself at this juncture in my life.

Music's always been a large part of my life. Unfortunately, I have zero talent and can't play a lick. My Dad played piano/organ and accordion and the house was always rocking. Well, swinging was more like it. Dad was a huge fan of jazz, before he got into rock music, which was in its infancy, then.

The Beatles come along and WHAM!, there I am with a plastic guitar, singing along to their records and putting on "shows" for the parents, while they sipped their highballs. I wasn't alone in this. I remember (and have photos, somewhere) of me and my siblings "jamming" poolside, where our folks were getting a little sun. Hey, it was 1966 and I was seven.

My red plastic guitar took a childhood hit one day as I jumped on a bed or couch without looking before I leapt. SNAP! went the neck and instantly my treasured hollow-body was now garbage. Into the trash it went. Years later, I begged my parents to provide me with music lessons, as they had done earlier, with my older brother. They consented and I proved unteachable and lazy. Practice? What the hell was that? Acoustic? I wanted to jack into a big Fender stack and crank it!

So, they soon pulled the plug on the lessons and it was many years later, on my own dime, that I tried again. There was only one problem, I CAN'T READ MUSIC. WTF? I had gotten well past the point of learning a new "language".

But I could sing and I had rhythm. I could keep time like Desi Arnaz, on his congas. So, I joined the boys chorus in grade school and sang my sweet, little soprano heart out. The songs SUCKED. One painful memory is "The New Ashmolean Marching Society and Students Conservatory Band". It was from some Broadway show of the era, or the era way before cool. God I hated that song. It went on and on. Didn't composers of that era know about a hook? Or a guitar solo? I wanted to sing catchy, rock songs.

One day, I heard a song on the radio that I thought was The Partridge Family. It turned out to be Queen, performing "You're My Best Friend". I was instantly hooked. Freddie Mercury had an impressive range and the songs were simple and melodic. Then came "Bohemian Rhapsody". I could sing it pretty well but I knew what a difficult piece it was. My next door neighbor Jeanine's greasy, little boyfriend Louie showed up and he could sing it a whole lot better than I did. Hmm. So, I knew I had my limitations but I didn't let that stop me from singing, though.

We formed a little band, of sorts. My neighbor Pete had a white Ibanez strat, Bob Wragg had a Gibson Les Paul, brother Bobby had some sort of drum kit and I bought a mic and stand, which played through one of the amps. And we jammed. We probably knew about three or four songs. That was it, our entire repertoire. I think we knew "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" all the way through. When I say practice, I really mean hang out in the garage after school, make some noise and smoke cigarettes. We had more discussion than actual playing. "Can you play this?" "No." "Can you play, this?? "No".

Of our little four-man combo, only Bob Wragg practiced and could actually play his guitar. Pete was a hack and I don't even think took lessons. His parents just indulged his expensive whims to placate him. Bob PRACTICED. He spent hours indoors when we were out running around, trying to get into trouble or trying to get one of the neighborhood girls to kiss us. So, we soon drifted apart and the "sessions" came to a halt.

My dreams of becoming a rock star took a back seat to more practical things. I did well in high school. I didn't have to work at all to maintain a B average. I played soccer and enjoyed it as much as one can, under the tutelage of a German Varsity coach, who took his training drills from the East German Army. There were girls and more ineptitude. The fumblings in the dark at school dances. Experimentation, education, learning.

College arrived, I put my thoughts of singing out of my head, with the exception of the Freddie Mercury and David Bowie posters in my room freshman year. Who knew back then that Freddie Mercury was gay, or that David Bowie was bi-sexual? Jeez, not me, seriously. Not that I'm biased, but the guys in the fraternity didn't get it and the posters came down. Besides, my roommate that first year was a big, puffy marshmallow of a guy named Scott and who knows what he did while looking at my posters, when I wasn't around. He could have been my first gay friend but chose to BFF my girlfriend instead. I wonder where he is now?

Years later, here I am, no talent, still torturing myself and others, with my guitar-playing. My voice is shot from age, booze and cigars. I don't sound like Tom Waits yet, but give it time. It's sad to see artists not progress from the adolescent sounds they can create when they're 20 and become "stars". I recall some rock and roll induction ceremony not long ago where John Sebastian (of the Lovin' Spoonful) CROAKED his way through "Do You Believe in Magic". Sad. Pathetic. I felt really badly for him.

So, there it is. I'll never have that dream fulfilled and I don't even know why I carried it along for so many years. I blame the Beatles for making me want it so much. If I'd had a more realistic role model (and achievable goals) then, who knows? Maybe I wouldn't be sitting here, wondering what I'm going to do today. Perhaps my career would have taken a different direction. I should have given more serious consideration to my father's offer to go into his business. Maybe I could have learned something at his feet, gone from apprentice to master. But I had pride. I was a college graduate. Manual labor was beneath me. I should have listened to Marsellus Wallace (to Butch, the fighter):

"The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps."

Maybe soon, I'll get over myself and get back to work. I know I can't sing, unless it's in my helmet, at speed. They say, "In Space, no one can hear you scream". The same is true when I'm riding. No one can hear me sing.

Riding season is almost here. Time to put take the charger off and put the seat back on. Now where the hell is my iPod? Ride safe!

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket