Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Everyone Needs Band Practice

I've been thinking about what my next post should be about for a while and not coming up with much.  (Believe it or not, a blog this incisive and profound requires more time and effort than the superficial appearance of hastiness and poor judgment would lead one to believe.)

The band has been at it a year now and the novelty of each new threshold crossed has gradually given way to increasing comfort and familiarity.  Where once I trembled nervously in anticipation of singing into a startlingly serpent-like microphone for the very first time, now I regularly volunteer any number of sounds, some of which might not be altogether unpleasant. This is not to say that all nervousness and apprehension has dissipated.  Far from it.  But it is to acknowledge that at least the habit of showing-up and taking a whack at it has taken root.  Why should it be my concern if Jim and Andy have an unusual tolerance for bad singing and beginning tambourine?  If they can handle it, I can too. 

Admittedly, I am still struggling on the guitar and tambourine fronts, but these things are known to take time.  Still, the novelty of attempting to learn guitar or write a song or endure listening to one's own voice as part of the recording process has already been mined for blogging ore.  (Here we shall carefully avoid analogies to the yield from said mine and whether the investors got taken.)  And while I'm sure it's just a matter of time and a smidgen more practice until I can reveal what it is like to be on the cover of Rolling Stone and traveling the world in support of a new, critically acclaimed album rapidly rocketing to platinum status, until that moment actually arrives the band simply continues on from one week to the next, practicing, refining and steadily adding new covers and original songs.

So what's a blogger to do? 

One option, of course, is to really comb through my memory and ensure that I am telling you absolutely everything that goes on . . .  Like, did I mention the time that Craig Finn and Bob Mould happened to be walking down the street outside Jim's house in Edina (I know, right?!  Those two guys?  Together?!  In Edina?!) and were so struck by what they heard coming from the basement that they knocked on the door and insisted that they be allowed in and then we all jammed together for, like, ten hours, until they called their respective labels and insisted that they sign us on the spot, at which point a bidding war broke out and we had offers going back and forth and then Bob and Craig got in a fight and we had to break it up?  No?  I didn't tell you about that time?  Huh.  It must have slipped my mind as a result of the trauma of seeing those two guys brawling in Jim's basement.  Plus, they each wanted to do a duet with me on our original song, "Sun" and they were being so petulant about the whole thing that I told them both they had to go home and think about how they behaved and couldn't come back until they were ready to say they were sorry.  I must have been more stern than I realized because I haven't heard back from them yet.  I guess they're still thinking about their behavior.

Or another option for future blog posts would be to go the reality/confessional route blazed by such revered journalistic pioneers as "Intervention" and VH1's "Behind the Music" and pull back the veil on the sordid personal lives of the band.  There's Jim's generosity and type-A achievement issues that need to be addressed and Andy's all-around agreeableness that just has to be a front for something much more disturbed and sinister.  Clearly I could get, like, a year's worth of posts out of all that raw material.  Thankfully, I'm pretty much all good and able to hold the band together and serve as your impartial observer.

Any of those routes would be likely to increase readership and maybe get me a book deal or a byline in The National Enquirer.  But, as it turns out, I kinda like the routine of band practice, in all of its plain, non-newsworthy ordinariness.   And although the event of band practice no longer stands out as new or unusual, what happens at band practice is far from mundane.

Band practice is a black box built from the rare wood of spare hours joined together with latent and implausible fantasies.  Inside this box, magic happens.  Lawyers and account managers and finance guys transform into singers, songwriters and rock musicians and the universe of unseen possibility stretches out infinitely, paradoxically all within the confines of an otherwise unremarkable suburban basement.  There are no bosses to impress, no clients whose needs must be paramount, and no financial returns of any kind whatsoever to even begin to contemplate.  (Indeed, the cost of beer alone has the band in the red and I'm afraid the trend shows no signs of abating anytime soon.)

We own all of our own stock.  We are both management and labor and we have only ourselves to answer to and negotiate with.  Indeed, it is the sheer freedom of band practice that constricts most tightly.  With no external limits, you have only yourself to look to for shape and form.  It is one thing to perfect the art of pouring oneself into various professional molds, ensuring that each curve and crease is filled and the content evenly distributed within, but it is another thing altogether to be mold-less.  (At the moment, we also happen to be Bob Mould-less, but I expect that to be resolved very soon.  Bob's always been a very sensitive, contemplative guy who just needs time to work through things.)

If you could do anything and no one would know, what would you do?  If you could sing a song, bang on the drums or, for the more daring out there, attempt to sing while also shaking a tambourine -- would you do it?  Of course you would.  You do it already in the privacy of your head and in those rare moments when you are alone in your own home and no one knows if you drink the milk out of the carton, scoop the jelly out of the jar with your finger or decide to watch the last 45 minutes of Beaches that you stumbled upon on Lifetime while changing channels.  (I'm just passing along the reports I've heard on the internet that some people do these things, not that I would know anything about that kind of clearly deviant behavior.)

This is the beauty of regular, ordinary band practice: the protective shield of the black box.  No matter what has happened in the outer world, band practice exists in a different dimension.  At least for me it does.  Somehow the simple physics involved in driving 10 minutes to Jim's house and walking down a flight of stairs really messes with time and space in a way that even Stephen Hawking can't explain.  I might have had a bad day or a sad day or an alarmingly boring and unremarkable day, but band practice allows me to step sideways, slip out of my skin and take on another form.

Most importantly of all, I think, if I have the courage to really try, band practice provides that rarest of all opportunities: the chance to try and fail without serious consequence, save a few bumps and bruises to the ever delicate ego.  How often any more in this stage of life does one really have the luxury of experimentation and failure?  Certainly it has not been recommended as a path to success in the legal field or most others for that matter.  You gave catastrophically bad legal advice to your last client?  Excellent.  You're hired.  Likewise on the home front.  Parenting in particular is fraught with the stress of trying to "get it right," whatever that means. 

So along comes band practice, offering the opportunity to ditch the real world for a few hours and see if I still know what it means to step off the ledge, push myself past my comfort zone and allow myself to do and try -- and fail.   And yet it is so much harder than you think it will be, even in the black box.  I don't want to sing badly.  I don't want to write a lousy song.  I don't want to fail.  But I have done all of those things and I have felt the heat in my cheeks when confronted with these small, uncomfortable realities.  But each time, I also feel a bit more sure that despite how it feels, it is actually forward progress.  That each time I fail, I also succeed.

So now that I've gotten that off my chest, managed to punch out one more blog post and give Oprah a run for her money (I hear there's going to be an opening in that area pretty soon that I might want to apply for), here's the Reader's Digest version for those of you who don't have the time, like Craig and Bob, to really contemplate your behavior: go out there and find a way to try something new and really fuck it up.  You'll be glad you did.