Saturday, November 27, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For

It's one thing to send-off a half-cocked e-mail one random Thursday morning inviting three people who don't know each other to join you in a band.  It's quite another thing when they immediately say yes.  To be frank, I did not appreciate the possibility that such a thing could actually happen.  I mean, each one of them knew me and had spent enough time around me to know much, much better.  Further, each of them knew that I had no previous band experience whatsoever and not a single one of them had ever heard me sing.  Personally, I think this speaks to the desperation that develops over the long, Minnesota winter.  After months of dark and cold and the complete absence of bratwurst grilled to crispy-juicy perfection on a backyard grill, the desperation and deprivation are measurable with a geiger counter.  It is the stuff of icy, sub-zero Midwestern lore.  Or, as I like to say, it's what keeps the riffraff out. By mid-March the good, patient, fair-minded people of the Upper Midwest feel utterly entitled to springtime.   Yet, year after year, Spring spits in their faces and refuses to go on stage for at least another month, maybe longer.

In other words, the timing of my request was perfect: I hit them when they were down.  

But agreeing to form a band via e-mail does not a band make.  Actual human beings need to be eye-balled, musical tastes and preferences bandied-about, skills surveyed and the line-up established.  Given the delicate nature of this exercise, the choice of venue is key.  Convening at someone's home risks putting the host in the power position prematurely, while meeting at Noodles risks sterilizing the whole undertaking before anything is even under enough to take.  Clearly, the only appropriate choice is a bar -- a real bar -- not some personals ad section with a liquor license. For those familiar with Minneapolis and its storied music scene, several venues immediately come to mind for a meeting such as ours.  One of them is the CC Club, which is where we unanimously agreed to convene.  We knocked out our first decision before everyone had even met each other.  Maybe this wasn't so hard after all.

Ah, but not so fast.

In my experience, scheduling in this "middle" stage of life is one of the last remaining areas where the hard sciences have yet to make any real progress.  Fermat's Last Theorem?   Sooo proved yesterday.  String theory?  Might as well be talking kittens and yarn.  Discovering how to fit modern life into the limitations of time and space as we know it, however, may require something akin to the Large Hadron Collider. Unless we can smash minutes into each other at high speeds to discover some new time particle, we will be stuck with only 24 hours in a day while trying to accomplish 36 hours worth of obligations.

So, after controlling for soccer, music lessons, yoga, board meetings, business travel, book club and appointments with various and sundry service providers, as well as the occasional need to feed and interact with our families, we arrived at one precarious Thursday night as the available option for the first band meeting.  It was agreed to and dutifully input into iPhones, Treos and Google calendars, legitimizing its existence and at least marginally increasing the likelihood of it actually happening.

And then, at the last minute,  "Marty" (heretofore one of the anonymous e-mail recipients) couldn't make it.

So, we went ahead without him.  It went down like this:

From: Robin.Preble
Sent: Friday, April 09, 2010 9:52 AM
To: ["Marty"]; ["Andy"]; ["Jim"]
Subject: Future MTV Music Video Award Recipients

Hey Marty-

Missed you last night.  Hope [your in-laws] arrived safely and are settled in. 

Meanwhile, let the annals of rock history record that the other three members of a band to be named later did in fact convene last night at the CC.  We discovered that Jim owns more keyboards than is really appropriate for a middle-aged finance guy and that Andy gigged the summer after high school with a bar band in Michigan, which means he has a substantial back catalog of Bon Jovi tunes ready to go.  (Both have lots of other legitimate band experience, but I’m telling the story so I’m just picking out the parts I like best.)  We also discovered that the CC Club will never win an award for excellent service.

Unfortunately for me, where we left it is that I need to determine at least three songs that I can sing (and who knows if there are even that many) which I will then communicate to the group.  If my selections present certain challenges, those will be discussed and the list revised.  Otherwise, the plan is that we would all practice those songs for a few weeks and then convene at Jim’s to see where we are.  We decided that Sunday afternoons generally work the best for future band practice dates.

So, I think that constitutes the minutes of our first meeting.  It’s normal for a band to have minutes communicated by e-mail, right?


To which Jim replied with the following;

From: [Jim]
Sent: Friday, April 09, 2010 10:30 AM
To: [Marty]; [Andy]; Robin.Preble
Subject: RE: Future MTV Music Video Award Recipients

The email minutes will help in a bid for the lesser known "Most Organized Band" category of the MTV Awards.

At this point, I feel it necessary to give a shout-out to Marty.  It turns out that various twists of fate and the previously mentioned limitations of the current science on time and space created impossible scheduling conflicts incapable of resolution.  Translation: the only time the other three of us were available for practice was Sunday mornings, but that time didn't work for Marty.  Further translation: Marty is in no way associated with or otherwise to blame for the events and sounds that may be revealed in this blog in the coming months.

Which leaves us with a group of three and the task of choosing the first songs to play and sing:

From: Robin.Preble
Sent: Monday, April 12, 2010 11:09 AM
To: [Jim];[Andy]
Subject: The moment you've all been waiting for . . .

Having already approached the edge of insanity and leaned far out over the rim, I figured I might as well just jump all the way in and see what happens. 

I spent most of the weekend closeted-off in some corner of my house or another chasing down lyrics and attempting to sing any number of songs (and yes, that is different than how I usually spend my weekends.) The result of that most scientific process is the list below:

Breathless (X's cover)
Together (The Raconteurs)
Gold Lion (The Yeah Yeah Yeahs)

Don't Wanna Talk (Brendan Benson)
I Can't Explain (The Who)
Let Me Go (CAKE)

The first three are the ones I recommend that we start with, subject to objections like “there’s no f-ing way we can play that.”  The next three are the alternates I would offer in that event or in case anyone really loves one of them better.  I have to say, the idea of playing some funked-out CAKE song does have its appeal.  Let me know what you think.

With that e-mail I sealed my fate.  

After the instigating e-mail, the odds were at least 10-1 that nothing would really come of it.  Even after the CC Club meeting the odds were probably still 5-1 that it would go no further.  To be clear, I fully disclosed the fact that I had never been in a band or done any singing in front of anyone before except, perhaps, my cats, who, it should be noted, never once objected.  Granted, I had done a great deal of singing in my car and in the shower, but it turns out that kind of experience doesn't show up on the resumes of most accomplished musicians and singer-songwriters.  While everyone was interested enough in an excuse to meet for a few beers and talk about rock 'n' roll, it was still more probable than not that the center wouldn't hold.  But it did. Not only were Jim and Andy genuinely interested in seeing what would come of this, but I had picked songs and agreed to sing them.  With that, the ridiculously unlikely suddenly wasn't.

This could only mean one thing:  I was actually going to have to sing in front of other people -- out loud.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


As things go, and as you probably know things can and often do go any number of ways, the way this particular thing went was not in the least bit surprising.  Exactly 40 years after my birth, I encountered my 40th birthday.  It was right there waiting for me at the appointed date and time, complete with a surprise visit from the best friend from high school, followed by the carefully planned surprise dinner with friends at a favorite restaurant and, the next day, the requisite hangover.  And, just as predictably, the event came and went and nothing much really changed.

Except that then it happened again.  The birthday, that is, though of course this time it was a year later.  It occurred to me, being the educated, meticulously observant person that I am, that this pattern was likely to continue, with each birthday accumulating on top of its predecessor until the number reached some unholy level beyond human comprehension.  This profound insight into the very fabric of the universe produced such an overload on my synapses as to cause my thoughts to start driving on the left-hand side of the road.  And, get this, my thoughts didn't even know how to drive before!  I know, right?!   Strange things started happening.  I calculated my probable life expectancy.  I  found myself perusing offerings of skin cream for "mature" skin that promised to "reduce visible signs of aging" and "eliminate fine lines and restore youthful skin tone."  I began flossing my teeth every day.  I started writing a novel.  Here is the opening sentence:

Fucking high school vampires.

Now, I know you really want to know what the second and third sentences are, but you're just going to have to wait for the published edition.  No Stephenie Meyers "you stole my incomplete manuscript of Edward's response to Twilight and posted it on the Internet without my permission" drama for me, thank you.  Suffice it to say, the novel continues for some eleven or twelve more riveting pages until one comes to the following passage:

But 41 was different.  It snuck up on you and bit you in the ass.   She had been perched precariously on the ledge that was 40 for a year, but this day now marked the inevitable tip over the edge and the downhill slide to 50 and – unthinkable -- points beyond.  

She was middle-aged.  

Somehow the moniker seemed to emphasize the aged part and much less so the middle part.  It was like having someone roll-up a nice leather recliner right next to as you were busy running flat out as fast as you can.  It called.  It beckoned.   And the irresistible urge was to sit down.  Take a load off.  Rest for just a minute.  It sounded like such a relief and like so much common sense.  But the trick was on you.  Those minutes would turn into years and you would never get up again.  Not really.  Once you sat down and got comfortable, it would never be the same again.  

In short, it was the beginning of the end.

I know.  It's pretty awesome.  The point, though, is that the novel writing continued and as of this post there are at least 126 pages of prose, the likes of which you cannot begin to imagine, now occupying a folder on my laptop.  But here's the thing: once your thoughts start driving on the left side of the road they will not go back.  They start drinking Guinness,  gossiping about the Windsors and spending inordinate amount of time at the dentist in order to address the many needs of their very bad teeth.  And then, they start a rock band.  

It happened like this:

From: Robin.Preble
Sent: Thursday, March 18, 2010 11:09 AM
To: [friends who shall remain anonymous]
Cc: [spouses of said friends who shall also remain anonymous]
Subject: I am certain to regret this . . .

Although you don't all know each other (yet), you all know me which means you already know that I am not completely right in the head, so hopefully this e-mail will not come as a total surprise.

As most of you know, for the last year or so I have been contemplating what it means to be forty-f***ing something and I have answered that question in a variety of ways, including probing the limits of my capacity to drink Gin, finding out how much smack I can still lay on a tennis ball, and most importantly, massively increasing my daily allowance of rock 'n roll.  So far, I have discovered that (1) although clear, Gin can still lead to punishing hangovers, (2) I can smack a tennis ball plenty hard, but it will result in shoulder impingement syndrome and a physical therapy program to encourage my right shoulder blade to play nicely with the muscles and tendons around it (less impingement, more cooperation), and (3) that rock 'n' roll still has magic, youth-infusing, healing properties.  It is on this last point that I wish to address this group.  In plain and simple terms my proposal is this: let's form a band.  

WTF?  You may be saying to yourself.  Yes, we are busy.  Yes, we are old.  Yes, this is not a practical proposal.  I concede all of those points.  But if you keep following that course, when you wake up tomorrow you will be 80.  Not being in favor of being 80 anytime soon, I propose that we not give in to reason and practicality.  They are nefarious forces if allowed too much free reign.  (This is also where the Gin can be very useful.)

So, why are you the lucky invitees?  Easy.  You are the only people I know with past band experience and some musical ability.  All flattery aside, I think this could be fun and I have what I think is a modest goal in mind: If we could play one or two songs by the end of the summer, I would gladly host a backyard bash for our debut performance.  

I am open to including others you know of and/or any of our offspring who are interested.  As for my contribution?  I am willing to provide organization, enthusiasm and possibly some singing (provided I've had enough G&Ts first).  Also, I am going to be taking drum lessons, so I might be able to do something minimal on that front, but it's a long shot.

So there you go.   Happy Thursday.   

[signature block with my name and contact information at very large corporation]

Indeed, it happened exactly like that.  One minute I was happily engaged in the dutiful and prudent tasks that one encounters on the right side of the road -- obeying all traffic laws and utilizing seat belts and turn signals appropriately to increase safety and the efficient flow of motor traffic -- and the next I am careening into oncoming vehicles, honking wildly and arranging gigs in my backyard.  

What is threatening to follow in subsequent posts on this blog is the sordid, ugly reality of what happens when such thoughts hijack the brain of a middle-aged woman of no significant stature or consequence and compel her to do rock 'n' roll. If you have any respect for yourself and others, you will look away and pursue this no further.  If, however, you have no such respect, then by all means pull-up a Guinness and a tooth pick.