Our band (of Pickles) could be your life: A reflection on coaching Girls Rock camp
Ladies and gentlemen, The Hopeless Pickles of Pizazz!
The Hopeless Pickles of Pizazz was the best band at Girls Rock Denver's annual summer camp this year. But I would be lying if I didn't immediately acknowledge my own bias: This band of eight- and nine-year-old girls was coached by me and fellow Westword contributor Robin Edwards. Seriously, though, how could this not be the best band in the world, with hit song "Helalulu" -- written in less than a week, by the way -- covering everything from the plight of inspirational goldfish to the smell of love in the air and the hottest topic of 2012, pigs on wheels?
In signing up to volunteer a good thirty hours of my week for Girls Rock, I was selfishly concerned about my own time. Could I really devote a week's worth of work hours to something that didn't pay? But then I realized I do it all the time for adult-like projects: I play in three bands, make art for posters and fliers, write for zines, help organize shows, etc. I also assumed that my experience as a gymnastics instructor and sports-camp counselor for six years would be enough to guide my time with Girls Rock -- but failed to remember that my work with kids happened from 1994 to 2000, also known as a million years ago. Still, I could surely teach a week of half-day sessions focused on music, something so intrinsic to the rest of my life.
But alas, my big headed-ness was my downfall. After the first day of camp, I was emotionally exhausted. Why weren't these kids listening to me? Why didn't I know how to talk to them? Why didn't these kids like me? Why was I even worried about second-graders liking me? It is bizarre to be an adult who doesn't have kids (or interact with kids on a regular basis), even when you think it's not going to be weird at all. Kids are like the coolest version of human beings, and there is no way you can ever truly be on their level. That's what makes them so cool. But once I got over my adult insecurities, I was able to focus on the task at hand: herding my four baby cats into a mental space where they could create something awesome together. They did everything by group consensus: from picking The Hopeless Pickles of Pizazz as the band's name to selecting the verses and choruses (or "sweet" and "crazy" parts) of "Helalulu" from brainstorming sessions, everything was done by the girls.
The Hopeless Pickles of Pizazz, and front and center, two crazy pageant moms.
As a coach, you don't really get training for Girls Rock -- there's an informative handbook, yes, but it's definitely more of a "here are the wolves, and we are tossing you to them" kind of deal. I was the band coach, and with my good friend Robin as the Pickles manager, we were pumped to teach the girls our self-taught ways. We had never done anything quite like this before, but figured that with our experience in sister bands over the last half-decade, we could help these Pickles make it. As musicians, artists, writers and friends, Robin and I have jointly applied a staunch DIY-ethos to everything we do -- from figuring out how to book shows, make records and book national tours by ourselves, our bands go it alone.
I mean, we had experience living in a van together for three weeks, so why couldn't we show some second-graders that all they needed to make it as a band was each other?
At first, our approach was pretty much hands-off -- so concerned with Kim Fowleying the band, we let our Pickles do whatever they wanted. Afternoon staff meetings with other coaches and managers led us to believe this wasn't always the best way to go, though. They shared good tips, like clapping with the Pickles while singing through a song, instead of playing instruments right away, and setting up song structure for them. But Robin and I were thoroughly enjoying our band's dissonant, No Wave-ish tendencies and were opposed to hampering the Pickles' sparse sound by forcing a formula.
Somehow, we struck a balance, and the song "Helalulu" was born. It was a glorious day. Now the band had something to practice, over and over and over again -- which we did, for several days before our big show at the Oriental Theatre. Robin and I watched as the girls fed each other forgotten lyrics and helped each other remember their solos, and it was these little triumphs that made Girls Rock camp feel as awesome for us as it (hopefully) was for them.
The day of the big show, we had some minor logistical hiccups, but the performance itself was a success. In fact, the problems the Pickles faced were much like real-life band drama -- one member went missing right before the one-song set, but she appeared in the nick of time, ready to play for the parental masses. Robin and I stood at the foot of the stage beaming with pride, slightly baffled by how amazing the whole experience was. We were so proud of our Pickles.
That night, my own band played a show at some sort of derivative of a biker bar -- the place was plastered with images of almost-naked women with dead eyes and beer logos for nipple covers. We were bumped down in the line-up in order for the touring band to get the night's "prime spot," one that definitely gave them the advantage of a bigger crowd to laugh at a spray of rape jokes.
But being a woman who has made it her mission to play music while remaining innocuous to the inherent stupidity that is (often) rock and roll, I was reminded of why Girls Rock rules: Because girls are going to play music whether the world thinks they can or not. And it's going to be awesome, every single time they pick up their instruments.
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