Saturday, March 30, 2019

How to Be a Rockstar for Just a Minute

It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ’n roll. And I never even got off the damn ground. But I tried. And I had a kickass time along the way. I think. 

I’d always wanted to be a rockstar. As far back as I can remember I dreamt of being on a stage with a mic in my hand.

In grade school I formed a one-day band with a few buddies to lip-synch Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock” to a gym full of kids and Catholic nuns. We brought the house down. At least that’s how I remember it. 

As a teen, I chose to sing my everyday observations much to my family’s delight. “I just took a really big poop!” sounded much better when delivered with a rocking melody. I still do this. Just ask my wife. She LOVES it. 

When I got old enough to frequent the taverns, it was karaoke city whenever I got the chance. My go-to was, (still is) “Crazy Train”, but once in awhile I’d get brave and try a Skid Row or Journey tune. The results weren’t always stellar, but drunk people don’t require stellar.  

Then, somewhere in the late nineties, early aughts (the time thing is kind of blurry. I’ve killed a lot of brain cells over the years) I got the chance to be a “real” rockstar. And the rest is history. Seriously, it’s all history now. Over and done with. But damn was it fun while it lasted.

First there was Redeye and Redeye was good. Four typical guys with day jobs squeezing out every last bit of talent in them. I miss the practices in the cold garages. I miss playing crappy college bars and the adoration of the tens of fans in the crowd. I miss Gus, the tiny bass player with the dirtiest house I’ve ever seen. (Gus was a hoarder before hoarding was televised.) I miss the severe head pain brought on by dehydration — the cheap rented stage lights cooked my head and caused me to sweat more than any human being ever should. The free shitty beer did nothing to replenish my fluids. The adrenaline of being on stage made me want to guzzle as much booze as possible, which in turn caused me to forget a big chunk of my lyrics by the third set. We weren’t winning any Grammys, but we were pretty decent for a hodgepodge of wannabes. We even headlined our own festival—SchultzFest. When I say headlined, I mean we invited one other band to play before us, for free. People liked us. And we liked being liked. Those were some of the best days of my life. And no one can ever take them away. 

Then, I moved to Madison and Redeye was no more. So I looked for a new band, and found Downfall. I wish I hadn’t. More cover tunes, this time with a little more edge but with a bunch of dudes I barely knew, or barely liked. I’d drive an hour to practice at least once a week, missing Redeye the entire time. We sucked, and only managed to land a few shows. I think the lead guitarist literally (yes, I know what that word means) thought he was Eddie Van Halen. He wasn’t. Literally or figuratively. The gig where the drummer showed up wearing eyeliner was my last gig with that band. I wonder where those guys are today. Wait, no I don’t. They were dicks. 

In 2006 I moved to Milwaukee and landed a quick stint with a band that had too many members and too little talent. They called themselves 45 North because that’s the road you took to get to where they lived. Original. It was my first attempt at sharing the stage with another singer. It didn’t go well. Egos, even in a cover band, are humungous. No frontman worth a shit shares the stage with another singer — that’s not how the rockstar thing works. I couldn’t learn the songs because I hated every single song on the setlist. I’d have piles of notebook paper at my feet filled with lyrics in 75-font-size so I could glance down when I needed a reminder. They made me sing country. Nobody makes me sing country. I was doomed from the get-go and stuck out like a sore thumb. That time we played a church festival was time for me to move on. Jesus and rock ’n roll don’t go together. Unless you’re Stryper. And it’s debatable if it worked for them. 

My last attempt at rock stardom was Ten Foot Small. And this band had potential. These were serious, focused, talented musicians. We didn’t suck. We even had a few tunes of our own, and a sound guy who promised to “take us to the top.” We liked each other, for the most part. I threw a tantrum or two now and then, that’s what lead singers do, but we got along. Things were going well. But then they weren’t. I moved, again, because I could never sit still. And Ten Foot Small ended. Like so many bands do. 

And those were just the bands I got the chance to be part of. There were many more that wanted nothing to do with me. And some of those stories are just as good. 

Most of those stories go something like this: I’d respond to an ad posted in a music-store lobby or Craigslist. After an awkward phone interview, I’d get a tryout in a stank basement or creepy storage unit. I’d show up, plug in my mic, and do my best to impress a roomful of strange faces staring back at me. No pressure at all. In between tunes I’d stand off to the side and watch the rest of guys take a few pulls off the water bong. (I wasn’t in it for the drugs. Drugs were so cliche’.) After the weed — I assumed it was just weed but what do I know — a few test tunes and some uncomfortable small talk, I’d pack up my mic, walk up the stairs, and most of the time, never hear from the stoned strangers ever again. It was weird. But it was cool. And I wasn’t murdered and left in any of those stank basements, so there’s that.  

So many memories. So many stories. So many bragging rights. I don't care what anybody says, I was a rockstar, even if for just a minute. I’ve thought about giving it another go, but with 50 just a stone’s throw away, I ain’t got it in me. How do bands like the Stones make it work for so long? How do they survive the drama, the egos, the arthritis? Do they wear Depends on stage? So many questions. 

The stage was always my safe place. A pedestal I could stand on with an admiring crowd in front of me, and be somebody else for three hours. It was my alter-ego. My weekly self-esteem boost. My break from the real world. And I miss it. A lot. 

Writing about it makes me want to get the band back together! Maybe I’ll call up a couple of the guys from Redeye and see if they want to jam. Wait, it’s after 9. They’re probably sleeping. Never mind. 

Let’s rock.

No comments:

Post a Comment