We practiced every
Saturday in the drummers garage. Technically his mom owned the house, but
she always found errands to do while we were rocking out. The yellow Colonial
sat at the end of a usually quiet street, surrounded by woods and farmland. We
would get dropped off by our parents, unload our equipment, and try to
renegotiate the time they would return to pick us up.
We never wanted to
quit. We only wanted to jam.
We would set up in a
semi-circle in front of the drummers dark blue five-piece kit. Guitar.
Another guitar. Bass. Keyboard. Wed get in tune and start with a real ass
kicker, something like Born to Be Wild or You Really Got
Me. We performed for the empty driveway or the occasional cow in the
field across the street, imagining a sea of swaying girls and record label
execs. Wed dance in place, jut out our chins, shake our five heads of
When we finished, the
drummer would raise his arm and twirl a drumstick and hang his head, eyes
closed, like he was in prayer.
The drummer was our
singer and he was also our band leader. He would stop drumming whenever we made
a mistake, no matter how small, sometimes throwing one of his drum sticks at
the guy who had messed up. He was always threatening to quit.
I could form
another band like that, he would say, snapping his fingers. You
know how many people in this town want to jam with me? Do you realize how lucky
you are to be in this garage right now?
Every week, wed
teach ourselves new songs. Something by The Cars, or Blue Oyster Cult, or Cheap
Trick. When we could play a song all the way through, twice, with no mistakes,
we added it to our master list.
Some of the songs on
the master list had stars next to them. This meant they were key songs. As in
key to our existence. Central to our identity. The songs that defined us.
The drummer usually
decided which songs were key.
*Sympathy for the Devil
A decade later, the four of us would take turns reading
that list at the drummers memorial service.
Our goal freshman year
was to win Battle of the Bands. But then the drummer got suspended for beating
up Jimmy Sullivan in the Boys room. The drummers mom banned
practice for three weeks. When we finally started again, we made even more
mistakes. Our rhythm was off.
On the last day we
played together, a week before the drummer moved to Florida to live with his
dad, we were trying to learn a tune by Bad Company. The drummer got so mad that
he broke the bass players tinted eyeglasses. It was an accident, we
supposed, but the drumstick did nail him right in the face.
Still, we didnt
want to quit. The drummer was right: we felt lucky to be in that garage.
We added our last key
song to the master list that day.