The Band Thing

Does your new band have a new album out?  Yes, I would love to listen to it!  In the previous century.

So if you happen to have a time machine along with your demo MP3 or CD or whatever you’ve got there, I’d be glad to hop into it with you and take a listen, otherwise, I’m fine to just sit in my car and continue listening to this Van Halen song, thanks.

I don’t want to be that old person who thinks your new band sucks or is boring.  If we’re being perfectly honest here, and I would hope after all this time we’ve been together that we should feel comfortable being honest, I can’t even muster up enough interest in your new band to form an opinion on whether it’s boring or it sucks.  The distance between my finger and the play button might as well be a mile.  I cannot make myself care enough to even listen to ten seconds of it.  I just can’t.  I overdosed on new bands years ago and I had to quit cold turkey.  Even if nine out of ten dentists recommend brushing with your new band, I’ll be on the side of that one, lone-holdout dentist who refuses to even weigh in on the matter.

(Please note that I am only on the lone-holdout dentist’s side for this particular scenario only.  Otherwise those guys can all go straight to hell.  I have to assume the lone-holdout dentist in any of those dental studies is just one of those contrarian-types by nature, and will argue the other side of anything with anybody, just for the sake of being difficult.  If you put them in a room with a bunch of round-earthers, they’d say the world is flat, and if you put them in a room with a bunch of flat-earthers, they’d say Kanye totally has a chance of making a comeback after all this shit he’s pulled.)

The problem isn’t the new bands.  It really isn’t.  The problem is the years I personally spent in a band and The Wizard of Oz takeaway I got from it.  I made the long journey down the yellow brick road, pulled back the curtain, and was like fuuuuuuuuuuuuck.  Related – I have no idea why I’m so into the Wizard of Oz lately.

I wanted to be in a band from the time I was four years old when I saw Joan Jett on television for the first time.  I was standing in the living room on the shag carpeting, holding my favorite stuffed animal (Lammy Pie, who I still sleep with in the bed), and was truly thunderstruck.  Joan Jett.  I’d never seen a woman like her before.  I knew right then that I wanted to be whatever she was.  She was, and still totally is, the actual. fucking. coolest.

Fast forward many years and I was finally in a band – for ten years.  It wasn’t anything like I thought it would be.

That’s mainly because most musicians aren’t “cool” so much as they are goddamned insufferable.  They’re all the perfect 50/50 combination of massive ego and eggshell ego, which has long been the recipe if you want to make a big ol’ bucket of Grade A “Asshole”.  They require constant attention, constant reassurance and ego-stroking and expect everyone to hang on their every word because oh, they’re such brilliant and sensitive geniuses!  Nobody’s more clever or damaged than they are!

They also win the award for thinking they’re the only people in the world who ever shed a fucking tear.  Just wait until someone they were friends with for two days at summer camp, someone they haven’t seen in 20 years, falls down an elevator shaft or something and they’ll write a 12 minute magnum opus about how their “best friend” died and then they’ll walk around wearing all black for three months.  Oh god, the drama.  I assume November Rain was written about one time it got cloudy for like five minutes and Axl Rose stared out a window and thought, “NOTHING LASTS FOREVER”.

Being in a band is also a lot of standing around listening to all the other musicians talk about how great they were or how sad they were or how much they didn’t give a fuck – and how much everybody else falls short by comparison.  Lots of arguing over who got to be the loudest onstage, lots of secret volume knob-turning up after the argument had been settled, and non-stop jockeying for the most prime space on the bill and on the stage.

Or was that just the way I acted when I was in the band?  Wait, I think that was just me.

Wait, no.  It was all of us.  Most of us?  Be honest with yourselves, musicians.  If you’ve ever uttered the words, “Can I get more vocal in the monitor?”, you’re probably insufferable.  Don’t worry – it’s part of your charm.  Much in the way a skunk’s stink is also part of its charm.  It’s the thing that makes them remarkable.  Stinky, something you should avoid like the plague, and remarkable.

You have actually interrupted someone’s wedding vows to explain your bass rig to someone.  You know you have.

You have handed out your CD at a funeral.

You have non-ironically quoted your own lyrics in casual conversation.  Gross.

You have told people, with a straight face, that you really need to get your signature song, your “message” out to the masses.  Also, your signature song was written using a Webster’s Rhyming Dictionary, which I know for a fact you have, because you left it on the back of your toilet that time when you had that party.

If given the option to give up ten IQ points or finally achieve that perfect tone you’ve been seeking with your new guitar setup, you’d ditch the IQ points.

Also, I can think of approximately fifty trillion things that are more interesting to anyone in conversation than your guitar tone, so please, for the love of god, stop talking about it.  You are allowed to talk about your tone when you’re at the guitar store and the guitar store only.  That’s it.

And get this – nobody at the guitar store wants to hear about your tone, either.  They’re just waiting for their turn to talk about theirs.  Even if Eddie Van Halen did an in-store appearance and talked about his tone, you’d just be sitting there waiting for your turn to tell him about yours, like he gives a shit.

It’s like when you get a room full of new parents together, and each one is just waiting for their turn to talk about their baby and nodding politely until the other person stops talking.  They’re not listening to you and they don’t care about your baby.  They just want to talk about their own baby.  Then when they start talking about their baby, all you’re doing is waiting for your turn to talk about your baby again.

Bands ruined me for all subsequent bands.  I don’t want to hear about your new band, I don’t want to listen to your new band’s new song, I don’t want to know what the word “band” means anymore.

I thought people in bands were the coolest people in the world my whole life, until I made it into a band myself, pulled back the curtain, and instead of finding a wizard, I found a bunch of assholes preening and whining and pretending they didn’t go turn up their amp after everyone just agreed they needed to turn it down.

You’re allllllll stinky.  You’re stinky like a skunk.

Also, shut up.

Once Bitten, One Million Times Shy

I suffer from debilitating shyness.  I know this is confusing to people who used to jam into dirty clubs and watch me hold court onstage over a room of sweaty drunk people, but what you were witnessing was a stunning display of acting.  I never started a single show in nearly ten years without a broken record playing in my head, screaming, “You cannot do this.  People are looking at you.  Run out of the building right now and never look back.  RUN!”

Thankfully, right when I was juuust about to fake a stomach cramp to get the hell out of there, the drums would start.  I would focus solely on the drums (because they were the only thing that was ever on time in that band (zing!)) and then, somehow, I would manage to make it through the set without nerve-vomiting on someone.  The other trick was to pick out one person in the crowd, and taunt them relentlessly the entire time.  That way my brain only had one thing to focus on, instead of focusing on a pile of people who were staring at me.  If I didn’t always have one exterior thing to focus on, I would have most certainly lost my shit and made a break for the closest exit.  It was like a miracle every time I pulled off a show without running out of the room in terror.

I never got used to it, but I found ways to deal with it.  Aside from focusing on one thing, I will tell you this much:  Drinks help.  I realize “drinks help” are the kind of words that eventually bite you in the ass when you wake up all dead and bloated at 27 and teenagers swarm your grave site every year on the anniversary of your death to give each other handjobs on top of your headstone, but I’m 41 now, so I no longer have to worry about anybody making blacklight wall tapestries of my face when I overdose on something in a bathtub.  People only make bad art of your face when you die in your 20s.  Nobody is going to print my face on a flag with the words “The Lizard King” printed under it.  Pressure’s off there!  So have a drink – it’ll loosen you up.

It also helps to pretend that you are not you.  I never, ever acknowledged to myself that that was me standing up there.  It was always someone who was playing a much cooler and confident version of me, but certainly, most definitely, not me.  The person up there is not the same person who hangs up on the pizza guy when he answers the phone when they realize they aren’t emotionally ready to talk to a stranger on the phone.  Definitely not the same person whose hands shake when they have to say “Two adults, please” to the movie theater box office person.  Absolutely not the person who has actually hidden under their desk to avoid having to speak to a customer.  If that person were the same person who climbed up on that stage on any given night, that person would have fainted every time.

I get that some people are just totally cool to be the center of attention – and here’s the thing – I totally am.  I adore being the center of attention, so long as you’re not looking at me, listening to me, or even thinking about me.  Because if I fully realize you are looking at me, or listening to me, or even thinking about me – it will freak me the fuck out.  Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m thinking about you reading it, and it’s freaking me the fuck out.

I get why this may be news to you.  Because while I am terrified of people I don’t know, I am capable of putting on a very convincing display when push comes to shove, because at the end of the day I’d rather be secretly terrified by staying in the room than be publicly humiliated by running out of it like a lunatic baby.  I make deals with myself constantly to just be able to stay in the room.  “If you stay in this room right now and keep talking to these strangers, later on I will let you hide in a bathroom stall!”  “If you stay in this room, you can watch two episodes of The Love Boat by yourself when you get home!”  I’m like the Monty Hall of Social Anxiety, but with considerably shakier hands.

That’s why I can’t really blame you (but I still will) for those times when you invite me out to dinner with you, and I show up expecting a relaxed evening of one-on-one conversation, but you had failed to mention you were bringing along ten people I have never met before in my life.  Springing a table of strangers on me makes me wish a sinkhole would open in the ground right under me and swallow me up in it so I can get away.  My palms are starting to sweat just thinking about it.

Keeping up the false appearance of being an extrovert is hard work on a regular day, but it takes a hell of a lot of mental agility to keep the sham going with a table full of people I’ve never met.  I am so mentally and emotionally exhausted after these types of encounters that I feel like a wrung-out rag when I get home, and it takes a full day of hermiting to feel okay again.

Here’s the thing – I like you.  I want to spend time with you.  I can put aside my issues with you looking at me, listening to me, and even thinking about me, because the exchange of your friendship and spending time with you is worth it to me.  I’ve run the cost-benefit analysis on it, and it’s a win.  But with ten strangers staring at me, you have completely thrown off said cost-benefit analysis.

Now instead of spending time with you, the person I know and like, I get to spend the evening really struggling to make small talk with people I’ll never see again, or worse, be forced to endure a one-sided conversation with your cousin who wants to educate me on how he became a Buddhist after he saw The Matrix, and I’m supposed to just sit there with a straight face and not punt a cantaloupe right into his frameless sunglasses.

Do you know how hard it is to stop thinking about punting a cantaloupe into someone’s face after you’ve fully formed the picture in your mind?  It’s not just the picture, either.  I’m imagining the hollow plonky-thump noise that it would make, and it’s the most satisfying thing I’ve heard since that time Steve Bannon said, “I’m going to unshackle you from the hot tub rail. You’re free to go.  Sorry I thought you were a teenage boy.”

I mean, I get it.  You people are natural extroverts.  I am not.  Mine is accomplished through Photoshop and trick mirrors and shit.