Rock and Roll for Dummies
Wanna know how come no one paints his or her favorite band's name on the back of a denim jacket anymore? It's not because blue jean-jackets are out of style -- it's that rock bands are. No kidding. There ain't a group out there worth cracking out the acrylics for anymore, and even if some fool were to stick his neck out for his favorite band today in such a fashion, he'd be lucky if his heroes were still popular once the paint dried.
Record companies are no help -- they're always breaking up bands to promote the individual with star quality. There's a practical reason for that, too: If you've ever tried to photograph a band, you know that no two people in a group are ever happy with the way they look in any given photograph. Bad band names don't help the cause of group fandom, either. You might as well paint a permanent "Kick Me" sign if you're gonna give it up for Weezer.
Some may point to Creed's latest record entering the Billboard album chart at No. 1 as proof positive that rock groups are still as strong as ever. Granted, it's No. 1, but it's a quiet No. 1 compared to the inescapable chart-toppers of yesteryear. Seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band roll through town reminds you of how dedicated rock fans used to be, waiting all night at a record store to tear the shrink-wrap off of Tunnel of Love. Can you imagine Godsmack fans charging through plate-glass windows like they used to when Led Zeppelin tickets went on sale? And what foolhardy fan is gonna risk getting the brown stuffing kicked outta him for championing wimpazoids like matchbox 20?
Clearly, the number of piss-poor bands on top has a trickle-down effect on the local music scenes of Everytown, USA. Forming rock groups was once a time-honored tradition, but our nation's youth are bypassing them altogether and going straight to law school in an attempt to "follow the money." And local musicians, you, too, have lost the plot as to why you even play music. The traditional old reason (to meet girls) is dashed once you have a steady girlfriend/wife/boyfriend/husband entrenched to work the merch booth. And considering that every CD you've sold has been to one of your buddies, that world-domination scheme is starting to seem unlikely. At the start of every winter, plunging temperatures and audience apathy convince many bands that it's in their best interest to throw in the towel and stay home and watch the season premiere of Party of Five instead. I mean, who wants to load out equipment on a chilly November night?
Bah! You'd never hear Gary And saying that!
And just who is this sage Gary And, you ask? Any relation to Peter And (of Peter and Gordon fame)? Freddie And (the Dreamers)? Lothar And (the Hand People)? No -- a thousand times no. Before most of you lollygaggers were drawing baby breaths, Gary And wrote what could be the essential guide to musical success: Getting Together Your OWN Rock Group NOW!
A friend of mine found this book in a music store selling at a fraction of its original $1.95 cost. Sadly, he did not heed its righteous rhetoric when he formed a streamlined synth duo, an option the slim volume was too early to foresee. Judging by its mod illustrations and Gary's archetypal examples of happening musicians ("Paul McCartney" and "Joan Baez"), this rock-and-roll primer was stapled together and shipped out sometime between man's first walk on the moon and Tommy Roe's last Top 10 hit.
Yet much of what Gary And writes holds true for the befuddled budding musician of today.
But before we plumb its precious contents, the sticky question of "Who is Gary And?" returns to mind. Was he someone from "the Establishment" bent on infiltrating the "youth culture," or was he a well-meaning guy who just wanted to get young troubled teens off the street and hooked on heroin pronto, without all the runaround? That we may never know. But from what he's left us, there is one thing of which we can all be certain: Gary And was no rock star and never played one on TV. Quite possibly, And was just a man who walked and breathed among other mortal men, yet somehow found the secret to being a happy musician. Hint: It has nothing to do with marrying a supermodel or making sure there's a clause in your contract clearly stipulating the need for a rider full of M&Ms without the ampersands and fresh fruit hand-picked by virgins at every show.
Maybe Gary can help you attain your higher purpose in Chapter One, which is titled "WHY?"
"If you're like almost all kids today, you really dig contemporary music. Rock, Country Rock, Jug Band Music, etc. Some people also really love to sing. Nothing is more fun than to be at a party or a dance and know some of the people in the group that's playing. It makes you feel you belong.
Being able to do something with your friends, that is part of the now scene, and being paid for it isn't half bad either."
In our quest for seven-figure record deals, we've forgotten that without friends to impress, the now scene is the nowhere scene! With Kurt Cobain stuck as the rock role model for most kids these days, it's hard to imagine that playing music makes you "feel you belong." The next time you hear the singer of some new, life-loathin' band whining onstage about how no one loves him, you owe it to yourself to shout back at him, "Why aren't you having fun, like Joan Baez?" That'll spook 'em!
The author even tackles this ticklish situation: What if your friends are so impressed with your group that they want to join but possess no discernible talent!? To that, Gary advises: "Don't count them out, you can get them to help with equipment. Keep them around." Guess you can't be above turning friends into mindless roadies if you want to make it as a pro in the biz. Just promise them your groupie-gropin' sloppy seconds and they'll lug chamber organs if need be. I've even seen girlfriends carting their little drummer boy's six-piece Ludwig set across a busy street while Ringo was at the bar getting a drink. That's a subject for another book: Users and the Useful Women Who Love Them.
I would seriously caution those readers who are worried about their indie cred to skip over the next section: "PARENTS!"
Gary And believes that the key to a successful band is getting parental interest. Parental involvement certainly didn't help Marvin Gaye, but you must remind yourself that Marvin was a solo artist. Let's give Gary the floor.
"If your parents are open to some heavier talk, you can get into how self-independence and ego develop through such group involvements and that one of the underlying processes of art is expression. This is a far-out comparison, but you can tell them that "the Stones" are as valid an expression of contemporary music as Lawrence Welk is to them, but don't deliver that one until you're sure they are open and listening."
Beware Gary's next bombshell...
"The Rock musician's place in society, one of the largest industries in America, the world, is the music business. These people -- even if they have some unusual clothing and hair-styles -- are producing gigantic sources of income for millions of people and therefore are, in their own way, very much part of the Establishment -- though some of them still won't admit it."
Now that Mom and Dad are like putty in your hands, convince them that as a member of the new Establishment, you need money for a new public address system (one that produces "an undistorted vocal sound," recommends Gary) and persuade them to let you have a party at your house so the new group has a chance to try out.
Here are some more of Gary And's handy tips:
"You've got to know what instrument you want to play. Instruments can be expensive." Therefore, Gary urges you to "borrow a friend's guitar and try it out to see if you are really going to dig it." If economics are a deciding factor in finding an instrument, "old large bottles can even be used as whistles by blowing across their tops, as practiced by a number of 'Jug Bands' as they are called." Gary really pushes jug band music several times in this book, possibly an inside clue as to the well from which he sprang.
If that equipment-loading hassle is stopping you from being a musician, remember: "You don't want an amplifier larger than you can reasonably carry around." If you've ever carted a twin-head bass amp up a flight of stairs, jug band music starts sounding really good.
Remember the old joke about the lost New Yorker who asks, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" Ah, well, the title of this section neatly provides us the very punchline for that chortlin' chestnut. But don't worry, the laughs do not subside there. Once again, heeeere's Gary!
"Talent and equipment are the only ingredients for fun and success," he writes. Talent and equipment are also the only ingredients necessary for having sex by yourself, according to Dr. Ruth. Yes, practice does make perfect, and even in the privacy of the boudoir, a few dry runs couldn't hurt. Yet back to the problem at hand. Gary cites two of them when practicing MUSIC -- "transportation" and "Noise" with a capitol N.
"The transportation can be easily solved if you get a driver whose parents have a large station wagon." Yes, and wood paneling will ensure that you make lots of friends as you tour the heartland!
Hey, what about a place to practice? All right -- clearly there are three problems that exist for practicing music, but Gary provides a solution without prompting:
"School basements and friends' basements or garages are also great to practice. Adequate house wiring will usually take care of any amplification equipment (most of them draw 200-300 watts)."
Last time I checked, my electric pencil sharpener needed that much juice to get the lead out. Chances are your junior Jimmy Page's amplifier will probably have some trouble drowning the healthy grinding of a bitchin' Bostitch at those diminished db's.
Gary's handy glossary ends years of confusion and blown dope deals. "'Axe'" means 'any instrument,' 'gig' means 'a job, employment' and, most important, the 'harp' is 'a harmonica' and not an upright, open triangular frame with 46 strings of graded lengths played by plucking with the fingers! The same goes for 'Jew's harp.'"
"Many groups have gone back to the non-gimmicky, rather simple approach." Yeah, right. Tell it to the Aquabats!
The result of all this hard toil and trouble? According to Gary, "Maybe a pot of gold!" But we can assume the once-burned Gary And knows only too well to "beware of agents and managers that bring you down. They can't be doing a good job if that's the sort of vibe you get from them. And lastly if you loose [sic] interest and the rest of the group isn't having fun anymore, remember you can always end up in Medical School or maybe an astronaut."
My guess is that the life-sucking scum walking the corridors of power in the music industry these days have already made Getting Together Your OWN Rock Group NOW! required reading before becoming the agents and managers that are bringing us down at this very moment. Still, if Gary And talked at least one future Joan Baez into a career as an ear, nose and throat specialist -- or, better yet, into a space capsule -- it was worth it.
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