On Saturday, my band had a gig at one of the area coffee shops. Ashley had been to one of our shows previously, but this time she invited pretty much all of her family and friends. We played well and everyone in attendance seemed to have a pretty good time. Ashley’s family enjoyed our music, and my songs in particular. Her dad kinda grooved along in his chair, a fifty-something dude with a biker’s goatee and a stark-white skullet, while her mom apparently thought that I have moves like Meatloaf.
After the show, I recommended a band field-trip to Waffle House in order to carb-up a bit before unloading all the gear. While we were there, one of Ashley’s friends, Tonya, asked me an interesting question:
‘Is that what you’d would do all the time, if you could? Be on stage, performing?’
The truth is, no.
I enjoy being on stage, sure. it’s fun to bounce around and laugh and entertain people. And there’s a comfort in the confidence I feel up there. By the time I find myself on stage, I know I can do what I’m there to do. And, more importantly, I know I can handle anything I might screw up.(1)
In other words, being on stage is a nice break from regular life.
Truth be told, though, it’s what happens before the show. Before we set up. Before we book the gig. Before we practice a song to perfection.
What I love is the learning of a new song. I love figuring out how to do them. We’re just a four-piece(2): typically rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass and percussion(3). Most songs that we cover have more going on than can be effectively covered by a drumset-less four-piece, and it falls to me to figure out how to make it work. Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes it’s quite a challenge. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all.
But I love every minute of it. It’s like a huge aural pile of Play-Doh.(4) I have a rough idea of what I want to achieve, I’m just not sure how to get it. I have the constituent parts, but have to meld it into a whole.
Kinda like olive loaf.
It’s a rare thing to excel at something, and rarer still to find the opportunity to do it on a regular basis. But I didn’t even know I was good at this kind of thing. Shortly before our first gig, I submitted a list to the band of little problem spots in the performances of our songs. They were nit-picky things: the harmony on this line, a moderate tempo shift at the chorus here, not stopping together there. After that list, everyone pretty much left this type of work up to me. We each come up with our own parts to play, and for the most part, people look to me to see if it works. I’m the quote-unquote musician of the band, the one who understands music and how and why it works.(5) While Bubby is most assuredly the spirit of the band, I’m the brains of the operation.
And that’s what I love about being in a band. It really turns on corners of my brain that would otherwise atrophy or be overrun by the area of my brain responsible for images and captions.
I read recently in Dr. Sack’s excellent Musicophilia that the act of listening to music differs – from a brain-activity standpoint – for many people, and that the brains of people who compose and/or produce music light up like Christmas in many different areas of the brain during an fMRI.
I swear that when I really get into the process, I can feel it. I feel like light zooming through the universe.
- Dee, for example, completely botched the lyrics to “Accidentally in Love,” subbing the second verse for the first and then getting stuck in a mind-loop that should couldn’t pull out of. But she rambled on, covered as best she could, and, well, the show went on.
- Soon, we may be re-adding a sax player to the group, a young man we call Kix who left us about a year ago. I’m hesitant to let him back in, but he agreed that I could make all the Kix’s Mom jokes I want and he can’t get mad, so what the hell, right?
- We have two multi-instrumentalists in the band, myself and Bubby, so sometimes we change things up by adding keyboard or mandolin. I’m always trying to learn new instruments, so I’m hoping soon to add some banjo.
- Play-Doh is a registered trademark of Playskool, itself a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc.
- But I can’t really play all that well. I can play several instruments moderately well but don’t excel at any of them.