The bright light of one o’clock in the afternoon battles its way between half closed blinds and wakes me. I blink. God, that hurts. Everything hurts. My knee caps hurt. My elbows hurt. That little muscle in my wrist aches. I’m in pain. After a moment’s pause, I try to remember why. Oh yeah, a gig. Then I remember. One set. Thirty minutes, between two other bands whose names I’ve momentarily forgotten but will remember later. What did we play? Oh right, the new song. Did it go well? Not bad, could be better. I missed the pick-up notes into the chorus. I blew a beat in the third verse. I remember now. My left calf was aching. I was playing hi-hat all the way through – the first time to do that – so now it all hurts. Hip to toes. It all aches. Augh. My back. My damn back. The little congenital defect in my lower back admonishes me. It says: “This is what happens when you don’t suck in your abs.” Abs. Right, my abs. I should do yoga today. Maybe tomorrow. No, today. Tomorrow…

Brian is already up. He’s at the kitchen table surfing the internet for new gear. That’s the routine. I sleep late. He gets up early to research new gear. Every show is an experiment for him in how to get a different or more refined tone and that requires research, a lot of research. He shouts at me from the kitchen, “So what do you think about a [insert gearhead gobbedly-gook here]? It would help me get a fuller sound.”

“Great. That’s sounds great.”

I lift my legs out of bed and place them on the cold hard wood floor. I feel the balls of my feet wince.

“Or how about a [insert incomprensible string of letters and numbers]?

“That’s good too.”

I swallow. My throat’s dry.

“You’re not listening.” He shouts from the kitchen.

“Yes, I am.” I shout back.

No. I’m not. I feel wrung out. All this and I didn’t drink a drop of liquor. Not a drop. All this comes from being 39 years-old. I’m almost twice as old as all the musicians who played last night, some of whom are young enough to be students in my college composition class. I keep waiting for one to turn up with a backpack and a pencil and ask me after the first class, “Hey, aren’t you?” I would look quizzically at them, almost haughtily, as if they had asked me to accept a late paper. “Me? Of course not. Who do you take me for?” I would swirl out in blaze of pseudo-professorial glory. I like to imagine that scene as if I was Clark Kent being mistaken for Superman. Me? In blue tights? What do you take me for? But that’s not now. Now, my toes hurt when I step on them.

Every show is a physical challenge for me. Since I’m older and my body has been through a lot already there’s a few things I learned that cannot do if I want to play at all. The first, drink. I can’t drink liquor. I’m not twenty-two years old so if I drink and try to play the drums my beats end up all over the place. I can’t hear the groove in the song and I seem to slur not my speech, but my rhythm. The second thing I can’t do is eat too heavily. During one memorable show at Hotti Biscotti, one of our favorite places to play, they have free food on Friday nights. So while I waited for the first act to finish I settled in to a plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. By the time it was time for me to play I had completely slipped out of performance mode and was as comfortable there as I am at home. I was so relaxed that I had lost that little performance edge, that slight alleviation in all the senses when I think I can hear every noise being made in the whole world. That, I would learn, is the recipe for disaster. I blew the third song, “Olivia.” Even at that time, I would try to match my snare and bass hits with Brian’s strumming, a feat not easy for me to achieve at my novice level and yet crucial to the sound of the song. Halfway through, I don’t know how, I reversed the beats. Instead of BOOM-CHIK- BOOM-CHIK, I played CHIK-BOOM-CHIK-BOOM. Brian’s a good guitarist but not that good. The chords didn’t fit over the beat and Brian was left playing on top of a rhythm that didn’t match either the melody or his strumming pattern. Before I could fix it (as if I could have), Brian was waving his hands in the air. “Whoa! Wait! Stop!”

I stopped. There was an audible “awww” from the whole audience which on that night was just four guys at the bar. Well, I thought, at least they’re listening.

Brian turned to me, mid-set, in front of everyone, and said: “What the hell happened?”

I couldn’t lie. I pulled the microphone over to my lips. “It was the meatloaf. I had the meatloaf.”

Silence.

“Sorry.” I muttered.

Brian started the song again and we played through it and finally through the whole set.

I should be mortified when I think about. I should want to erase the memory from my mind. I should wish it never happened. But I don’t. I learned things that are very important to how I prepare for a show and even in the worst-case scenario that being “I made a complete ass out of myself,” it was still fun. Audiences, I believe, are generally forgiving. They want you to sound great and when you don’t they feel for you. The people who are hardest on the musicians are the musicians themselves. We want it to be perfect. We want it to sound perfect. We want it to look perfect. But, life’s not perfect. I’ve learned that in order to enjoy every night that we’re out there, I have to embrace my own imperfections. Thankfully, Brian’s comfortable enough with himself on stage that we can both stand up there together, flawed, and still play. There have been nights when we were on the verge of having an argument with each other, but we kept playing and we let the music do our communicating. There have been nights when he was tired or I was cranky. And we still played. The point though for me isn’t that we inflict all those bad moods on the audience, but that we express them to ourselves. Hey, I feel sad so this beat here, it’s going to be slower. Or, hey, I’m stoked – look at me! I’m on stage! Let’s speed up!

So the nights we get to play are the nights we get to hear ourselves and really hear ourselves – on a stage in front of people.

But that’s the bright side. Right now, my hips hurt. My neck aches. And I’m thirsty.

Brian shouts from the kitchen.

“Hey, the mega guitar store is having sale today! Do you want to go with me to get a [insert obscure gearhead lingo here].

“Sure. Love to.” I shout back.

No. I would not love to. My pinky fingers hurt. I’m hungry. I lift my legs back into bed. The balls of my feet thank me and I fall back to sleep with Brian still shouting at me from the kitchen.

“How about a [insert gearhead tech speak here]? Honey? Honey?”

Advertisements