Friday, June 10, 2016

I followed my Rock'n'roll dreams and this is what happened

It may seem silly, but at one point in my life I was overcome by musical ambition. Specifically, to manifest a dream of becoming a "rock star" in a general sense, though later I focused this broad scope into a singular objective: to perform on late night television as part of a rock band.
Where this originated from is up for debate, but I can pinpoint a couple of influencing factors. I guess it all started with a love for music. The songs, "Benny and the Jets" and "In the Middle of the Night" by Elton John and Billy Joel ignited a love for music within me at around age five. I was also a fan of Ace Frehely after seeing his KISS makeup and hearing his song, "New York Groove" for the first time. I think the other most influencing factors were disco music and the repeated television broadcasts of Nirvana's "Unplugged" broadcast I faithfully watched over and over after the death of Kurt Cobain. Back when MTV was simply channel 51 out of about 70.

 Living my Rock'n'roll dreams outside of Stanhope House in NJ.

This all led to picking up a guitar and practicing each day. After I joined a band in high school for about six months, I began to form an interest in the behind-the-scenes activities of musicians, including booking shows. I developed my own strategies and enjoyed band promotion. Once high school ended, I was set for college, though made it in by a thread. At one point during the admissions process, I found myself not admitted anywhere. During this limbo period I stood in the entranceway of my parents home with my brown leather guitar case in hand and bemused, "Well, looks like I'm joining a band, let's get this tour going!" They weren't amused. I was admitted to one institution and matriculated that fall.

Performing w/The Handsome Men in Newark, NJ 2011

Throughout college I tried to practice as much as possible with music writing and performance, while also completing a degree in an unrelated field. Once college was over, I was ready to finally do something I wanted to do, instead of fulfilling the wishes of my parents. That's when I really set my mind to trying to live my dream. I spent a full year working alongside the founding member of our group to plan the launch of the band. This one-year period of planning was vital to the later success we enjoyed, it allowed us time to conceptualize the artistic direction of the group and write some of the preliminary material. Four or five months in, the third member was brought on board, and at around ten months after auditioning two drummers the group was fully formed and we performed a short set for the first time at a VFW hall.

Weeks earlier, on the first night of rehearsal I stood next to my Marshall half-stack in a dusty basement and declared to the other members of the group, "My goal here is to play on late night television, once that happens, I'm out, it's over." Of course, the goal was Letterman, Conan, Fallon, I guess Kimmel and Leno would've sufficed as well.

Here I am with 1/2 of the group after a musical set 
at the Stanhope House one afternoon

The rest is history. The group played thirty shows in a year, wrote/recorded an original album of material, and peaked with a headlining slot on a local show (Montclair, NJ) followed by an appearance on Chris Gethard's public access late night show and another headlining set at a local nightclub (Loop Lounge). What ultimately led to the dissolution of the group is up for debate. When you start to mix fantasy with reality it's easy to lose touch with what's going on around you. I simply started to "lose my mind" at a rapid pace. I had also neglected actual practice on my instrument in lieu of band promotion, which led to a thin set of skills during a time when new ideas were in high-demand.

Once the group disbanded, I lost my identity, and suffered through a mild "identity crisis." I also found it difficult to drop everything and completely start anew. Working for a living is quite different than pursuing a dream for a living.

At the end of the day, it was worth it. I have fond memories of the particular nights we'd play multiple shows in different cities across the Tri-State area. A show in NJ, then PA, then NYC, and all in one night. The van rides were fun during these marathon nights, and there was enough excitement around the opportunity to play the material we didn't even need coffee to stay awake. All in all I'd recommend pursuit to anyone who has a rock'n'roll dream. The high of playing original music at full volume as part of a band, and if you're lucky to a crowd of engaged audience members, is unrivaled.

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