First steps are magical, but a child’s first garage band can really make your eyes water (and, yes, ears bleed).
My high school daughter recently assembled her inaugural group, Foxtrot Brigade. It comes just a year after we nudged her into guitar lessons. Somewhere along the way, that initial reluctance blossomed into a high decibel romance with rock ’n’ roll – right around the time, in fact, she started piping up more about politics and social issues, both national and family-centric. In a related development, her hair went from naturally blonde to bright purple.
Business took me out of town during that first practice, which no doubt was just fine with her. Still, I couldn’t help but leave advice taped to the drum kit in our unkempt basement where the jam would go down.
Here are five guidelines this dad came up with based on a few unforgettable years of “band-ing,” as well as decades of fascination with the jams and lore of the ragged buccaneers who set sail for musical misadventure:
1. Be yourself x 100
This is almost the entire point, yes? Self-expression – amplified.
More than any other form of communication, pop music thrives on the alchemy of an unconventional individual blowing up his/her quirks, even freakishness, to capture the imaginations of dozens, hundreds, millions.
On this wondrous plane, David Lee Roth taps his inner ham to become the King Kong of party animals, while Kurt Cobain unearths boiling wells of personal pain and unites legions who never felt invited to the party.
If all goes well, my daughter and her bandmates are about to find out more about who they are or who they want to become – while opening the door to a world (big or small) of others they never suspected felt the same. Isn’t that what we parents spend huge amounts of time and money and heart nudging them toward from Day One?
2. Steal with zeal
On a more conventional set of guidelines, this is where the old reliable “Respect your elders” might sit. While there’s much in the rock ’n’ roll canon to respect and a plethora of elders to admire, the essential thing is not to be a keeper of the flame but to keep new thrills coming.
Stealing is pop’s time-honored way of quickly building an audience by offering something recognizable – and then taking the whole shebang to a new place by applying the “Be yourself x 100” adage. And so we get Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant turning Muddy Waters’ blues into mystical heavy metal epics and the Ramones jacking up the joys of ’50s and ’60s bubblegum (while sprinkling in references to lobotomies and chainsaws).
Give your sources their due, of course. But remember, you’re a pirate looking into a glittering treasure chest. This is no time to be shy.
3. Try that weird chord
A teenager down the street strums for two bands, and when I walk the dog, we hear them bashing away in – quite literally – the family garage. One of his combos sounds like John Mayer ambushed by Black Sabbath. Which pretty much makes it a 21st century Vanilla Fudge – or Nickelback for a new generation.
But I can’t so easily categorize his other project. Is it jam band bent into an unfamiliar new shape? Or is it progadelic-funk? The mind boggles! The kid’s first group may eventually make solid driving-around money playing college keggers (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But the second might usher in a whole new genre.
That’s why I was so pumped to hear that in addition to the standard guitar, bass and drums, my daughter’s outfit also includes a … trumpet. Gloriously goofy, perhaps. But, maybe, just maybe, brilliant.
4. Carry something
As in, don’t sit back while the drummer breaks his/her back hauling around the band’s kit. Get in and help – with everything.
The music, the ideas, the image are only part of the challenge. Behind the scenes, bands are people – artistic people, yet! – who willingly endure each other’s quirks and foibles in pursuit of a whole greater than its parts. Put that way, garage bands could be a team-building exercise for any Fortune 500 company looking to strengthen the bonds of its management teams.
Charlie Watts reportedly decked Mick Jagger after the noted frontman dismissively referred to the Stones’ redoubtable time-keeper as “MY drummer.” Peering down at the toppled icon, Watts is said to have sneered, “No, you’re MY singer.”
In the best case, everyone’s a star and everyone’s a roadie. And even if you don’t really believe that, it’s a philosophy worth “band-ing” by.
5. But hey, it’s your band
This is the inevitable “There are no rules” entry, but with a twist. One of the great threads of pop music – from country “outlaws” to teen divas – is the struggle to be heard on a mass scale while retaining a meaningful degree of autonomy and independence. There are exponentially more stories of musicians fighting with record company executives than there are wrinkles on Neil Young’s forehead.
Welcome to the world, kids. Compromise and enforced conformity, poor choices and outright self-sabotage – you’ll get to know them no matter what your path.
But once you step into that garage and plug in the amps, you and your comrades are in charge like never before in your young lives. You decide what to play. You decide how hard to work. No babysitter. No teacher. Alas, no dad.
So I’ll get out of the way now. I wish you all the best of chords and choruses. And when you’re ready, I’ll be in the mosh pit or the back row – whichever rocks your world, kiddo.
Members of Foxtrot Brigade are Rae Warden (guitar, vocals), Meghan Anderson (trumpet), Joe Linthicum (drums), Lauren Okoth (bass) and Asher Fox (keyboard).