Thursday, February 21, 2008

Day fifty...Occupational Hazards.


That's what it says on page one of my police report.

Mu-sician. Full time. Quit the day job and keep the receipts because tax time is a bitch.

It's something I'm quite proud of. It's something I've worked hard for almost 30 years to accomplish. And it's also something that has unfortunately taken its toll on my mind, body, and reputation.

But I knew what I signed up for well in advance. I just thought I was smart enough to not let all the smoke and mirrors fool me.

Back in 1984, as a freshman in High School, I had a lot going on. I had just changed my name from Fred to Alex. That first day was a lot of fun during roll call in each class:

"Frederick Johnson?"

"Um...I'm going by my middle name now. Can you please call me Alex?"

Snicker, snicker, snicker.

"OK ...Alex." Weirdo.

I was dating a senior. I had joined the drama club and had successfully secured an important role (read: 3 lines) in the 1984 winter production of the Sunday afternoon (read: second string) performance of "Twelve Angry Jurors."(Yeah, weird I know, but there were girls and stuff and we had to rename it.)

Oh, and I was in a band; a rock band.

The band consisted of me on guitar and sleeveless striped shirt; a bass player named Dean; and a mean jerk of a drummer named Dave who blurted out outrageous sentiments such as: "I don't sing, so I don't think I should put in money for monitors." I was saying, we had a mean jerk of a drummer named Dave, and we had a lot of time and energy. We were kids. Both Dave and Dean were 3 or 4 years my senior but as far as being in a band went we were all pretty inexperienced.

I'll never forget the night I got the phone call from Dean telling me he knew of a drummer who had a basement and did I want to go over and jam. Oh my god. Did I ever. I have an amazingly vivid memory of me packing up my Aria Pro 2 Thor Sound 600 guitar, Yamaha amp, Boss SD-1 distortion pedal and light blue D.O.D. chorus pedal (it was the 80's and chorus pedals were de rigeur). I kissed my mother on the cheek and headed on over to play in a group for the very first time. I left my house on 1073 Bedford St. to play rock and roll with a bass player and a drummer in a cold, musty basement on a school night.

And that was the end of my childhood.

That night I felt it slip swiftly away as I feverishly launched into the simple, two note guitar intro to U2's "I Will Follow." I heard the drums and bass kick in and I began to sing. I felt the blood in my veins start to heat up. I saw my hot breath in front of my face and felt the "whoosh" of air come out of the bass drum. I stood there, mouth agape and guitar wailing, and watched my childhood innocence float away. I saw it escape up the rickety wooden staircase and out the storm door. It knew better than to look back. It didn't leave a card.

It was gone for good. So to speak.

So, what next? We would need a name. mean, Alex. Any ideas?

How about a bad one? How about C.I.A.?

What? C.I.A.?

C.I.A. stood for "Creative Image Artists."

I know. It's awful. Simply rubbish, and it means absolutely nothing. I liked the intelligence agency angle as I was into spys and spying (I once took apart a watch and stuffed a guitar string inside it in case I needed to strangle an adversary, Roger Moore style). I had also designed the logo myself and was quite proud of it. Said logo made its presence known to the whole student body of Bishop Connolly High by having the perfect placement in large black letters on white typing paper under the clear plastic front of my green Trapper Keeper.

How cool was I.

When you do something long enough and often enough, you start to believe in it. You don't want to give it up because you've gotten used to it, and you can't think of doing it any other way.

But the name didn't last long.

Our mean jerk of a drummer, Dave, renamed the band "Atria."

Some would say it was a better name. I will never agree.

According to the medical dictionary which, by the way, is much more gross than the regular dictionary:

"Atria (plural of atrium) refers to the top two chambers of the human heart. There are two atria, one on either side of the heart. On the right side is the atrium that holds blood that needs oxygen. It sends blood to the right ventricle which sends it to the lungs for oxygen. After it comes back, it is sent to the left atrium. The blood is pumped from the left atrium and sent to the ventricle where it is sent to the aorta which takes it to the rest of the body."

That is so rock and roll.

We had a regular practice night and we came up with a list of songs to work on:

"Sultan's of Swing", "I Will Follow", "Sunday Bloody Sunday", "Roadhouse Blues" and plenty of others.

We got a gig.

It was at a friend's house and there was supposed to be girls and beer.

When we arrived, there was neither. This situation didn't last long but it was, in effect, my first load in. It was also my first encounter with an incorrect contract rider. Certainly not to be my last.

We set up in the living room. People started to filter in. Not just dudes, but girls too. And the girls brought the requisite Bartles and James' wine coolers and two liter bottles of Purple Passion.

Someone else brought a keg.

Now that's what I'm talkin' about.

I had a couple of beers. The first one tasted kind of gross. The second one not so much. And then we played.

I once again busted into "I Will Follow", and the joint exploded. There were tons of people at this point and they were all dancing. Jumping. Throwing themselves around and generally freaking out.

I was singing the only way I knew how- incorrectly, but that didn't matter. The song sounded pretty good and the girls were smiling. The breakdown happened in the middle with the pedestrian harmonics and I experienced a major head rush. The beer was working its magic and the music became a gigantic swirl of energy, emotion, and transistor distortion.

It was the perfect moment at the perfect time on the most wonderful night of my life. I even got to kiss a girl on the lips for the very first time.

I made out with the girl my bass player had a major crush on. He refused to make a move because he was deathly afraid of losing her as a friend if it wasn't reciprocated. I was three years his junior, she wasn't my friend, and I didn't give a rats ass. Plus, I had backup; a good, 4 beer buzz and a rock star afterglow.

One of my first buzzes at my very first gig, and I got to kiss a girl; a pretty one.

Not bad for a fourteen year old.

And, I had made an important discovery.

Rock and roll, + beer and girls=an unbelievably good time.

And who could argue with that equation? It's so simple and pure. It's practically laboratory tested. It's what parents used to warn their kids against because they knew it was a powerful mixture. They were well aware that if those ingredients were not handled with the utmost care, they could explode and cause some serious damage.

That could happen in chemistry class if you're not careful, too.

But that police report didn't say "Occupation, Chemist."

No. It didn't say that at all.

Coming tomorrow: Atria gets a Christian keyboard player; the all important High School dance gig, and the headshot heard 'round the block.

Oh yes, there are photos, and I will be sharing.

Stay tuned.


1 comment:

Libby Spencer said...

I love this post. I can't wait for the next installment.