I have a confession to make. You know that band that moved into the house down the street from you? The band that plays deafening music at antisocial hours of the day? Sometimes you see its badly dressed, visibly unhygienic members roaming around your neighborhood in a dissolute vacant-eyed pack? Perhaps they are trying to capture a raccoon and turn it into their band mascot, or accidentally yet repeatedly dribbling a basketball into your car?
That was me.
(I mean that probably wasn’t literally me, unless you lived in Arlington, Massachusetts, ten years ago. But still. My bad.)
Being in a band has been a defining part of my life ever since my first band, which I started with some friends when we were 13. We were called Meow Meow Kitty and we had one song. The song had four chords, no title, and lyrics that will always be completely theoretical to me because I could not hear them. We were very loud. Also for a brief period, we were known as Area Toaster: The Secret Government Eggo Project, because our lead guitarist was an avid conspiracy theorist.
Our limited output notwithstanding, I thought of the band at the time as a primarily creative endeavor: me and my fellow musicians, making art. But in hindsight, it’s clear that its value to me was much more social than artistic. And even as I got serious about my instrument (bass), bands for me remained as much about friendship and camaraderie as they were about the music itself.
So I had to write about being in a band sooner or later. And recently, I did. My new novel is called The Haters and it’s about two boys who listen to music together all the time but are afraid to play anything, for fear that it will suck. It’s also about a girl who is dealing with her own doubts and insecurities, but who nevertheless convinces the boys to hit the road with her and take risks and do dumb things and try to become a band. And they do. Sort of.
Band friendships are specific and intense. They’re about trying to fuse your identities together into art. They’re about being vulnerable in front of each other, which is hard, which is why bandmates fight so much. They’re also about being enormous dumbasses a lot of the time, because bands are made up of musicians, and musicians just tend to have a pretty strong Dumbass Gene. (I’m sorry. I know this is a generalization. But it is definitely true and there is nothing anyone can do about it.)
After college, the bands I was in (Hurra Kam Rada; Teen Plant; The Young Dads; please do not look any of them up) became about Making It. We wanted our fan base to get to the point where they weren’t all people we knew personally. We wanted sold-out shows and multi-state tours and six-figure record sales and glossy music videos. In Teen Plant, specifically, we wanted to enter every show via helicopter, and additionally be the first band to play in space. We also wanted to give our drummer Dave “dog hormones” so that he could slowly, excruciatingly turn into a dog, and then we’d also be the first band with a dog drummer.
We didn’t make it. We worked our asses off for consistently meager, underwhelmed audiences. Our tours were laughably short and our online presence was ignored. Teen Plant cut a record, and no one listened to it. None of the bands made it.
But some of the members did. One is a working composer in Los Angeles. One gigs and teaches in the Bay Area. One is becoming a rabbi and writes beautiful liturgical music. And Dave never became a dog, but one of his other bands, Rubblebucket, played Jimmy Kimmel and tours regularly. (They kick ass and you should stop reading this and go listen to them.)
But the main thing is, whether our bands made it is not even the point. If I had told 24-year-old me that, he would have been disgusted and maybe physically assaulted me. But it’s true. The friendship is the point.
Those friendships are probably the best and most intense and most complex that I will ever have in my life, and honestly, I wouldn’t trade any of them for being the first band to play in space. (Maybe a couple. There are a couple where I’d have to think about it.)
Does the band in The Haters make it? They might. If you read the book, you’ll find out. But honestly, the book is really about whether the kids make it in a completely different way.
And by that I mean, whether once the tour is over, they will all move into a house down the street from you and wage open war on your property values. Again, I’m sorry. I was young and stupid. God, it was great.