I once commissioned an illustrator friend to draw an anniversary card for my boyfriend that said, "You're the Ad-Rock to my Kathleen Hanna," with the living music icons' likenesses drawn on it. The card never materialized, but the thought has always been there — the thought that to my riot grrrl, there has existed a perfect human musician counterpart from another corner of the universe, and somehow, we found each other.
Like musician-partners Kathleen Hanna and Ad-Rock, my boyfriend and I don't make music together. Well, at least not in any sort of serious manner — because I refuse to. As a musician who has dated other musicians for most of my life, I've always found the idea of collaborating creatively with a partner to just be something I don't want to do. I like to pretend that life is compartmentalized — music is made with people I love and trust to make music with. I love and trust my partner, but being the kind of vulnerable in front of him that creativity requires isn't something I've ever wanted to do.
I have so many excuses as to why we shouldn't play music together. He's a "musicians' musician" — reading music, studying music, having the ability to play along to any record or jam with any musician on the spot. He plays drums, piano and guitar, and can pick up any instrument and pluck along and figure it out, all while having a great time doing it. He can practice for hours, working on the same song over and over again or run through entire sets with ease and enjoyment.
Not me. I'm a punk; I don't read music, I don't know the names of notes and I definitely don't "jam." I play music with a select few musicians I trust. I play bass, and that's about the only instrument I understand. (I took guitar lessons for almost a year from an incredible teacher and didn't seem to pick any of it up.) I learn mostly by ear but don't consider myself a traditional player in any sense. Playing for me takes tedious practice, and I can't remember anything, so each time I sit down with my bass, it's like starting all over.
The funny part about our relationship is, other than maybe politics, music is the thing my boyfriend and I talk about the most. It's how we met in the first place: He was the source for a story I was writing. I called this then-stranger to talk about a music festival he was organizing, and we ended up talking about the Hype!, the movie about pop culture's uplifting and subsequent consumption of what became known as grunge. Not long after, our bands played a show together. Then we started hanging out. A lot.
Now we live together, and our daily conversations revolve around tours he's booking, bands I'm interviewing, how we notice similar production techniques on pop songs and what we like and don't like about current music-culture phenomena (for example, we both love "Hotline Bling" and almost every single fifteen-second video version of it on the Internet.) We are constantly discussing our favorite records, artists, producers, labels — anything and everything to do with music over the last century. If there's a documentary about any musician, a musical movement, a venerable recording studio, a historic venue, etc., we'll watch it and talk for hours about it. Most events we attend socially involve live music, hanging out with other musicians or doing things at music-related establishments.
Last year, when friend and musician David Castillo put out a call for submissions for his online music festival Bummeroo, I signed myself up for it. Castillo's idea was to invite musicians from all over the country to submit a video performance "set," which he would later upload to YouTube one after another, all in one day. This way, anyone could "get into" the festival for free, from anywhere, and enjoy music from musicians all over the country. I saw via Facebook that friends were hosting Bummeroo watch parties. Bummeroo took off.
When I originally said I would create a set of music for Bummeroo 2014, I didn't have a band. In fact, I hadn't been in a band since my old band broke up in 2013 and subsequently broke my heart. It was a breakup I just couldn't get over. I thought Bummeroo would be a good excuse for me to have a deadline to create something — anything — with a musical instrument and get back to being the hard-to-work-with punk jerk I've always been in a band. As the due date for my Bummeroo set loomed, I realized I couldn't do it by myself. I broke down and asked my boyfriend to start a band with me on the spot and record a set of music.
We did. The band is called Dick Party. To this day, we have only played shows twice ("shows" that have also doubled as our only practices).
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Playing music with my boyfriend turned out to be not so bad after all. I was insecure about playing music with him, but only for a few moments. I realized that my desire to not make music with someone I love really just stemmed from me feeling like an inferior musician. It had nothing to do with him. If there's anything my boyfriend doesn't do, it's make me feel inferior. Ever. About anything. I was hiding from being creatively vulnerable in front of a person I can otherwise be myself in front of 24/7. There is nothing I can't tell him, so why couldn't I just pluck a fuckin' bass string in front of him?
Last night, Dick Party reunited to play its second show ever — in our bedroom with our dog Frankenstein as the only audience member (for the record, he put himself in his kennel, the place he hates the most, because he disliked our music that much). I had forgotten how much fun it was to play music with my boyfriend; I had also forgotten how much fun it was to play music at all. "You should start a band, dummy," he said to me.
There have been many great couples over the course of modern music history that have made amazing music together — Fred and Toody Cole of Dead Moon, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, Lux Interior and Poison Ivy (The Cramps), Linda and Paul McCartney, Alice and John Coltrane (for one album,) Johnny Cash and June Carter. But for every band of lovers, there are plenty of famous folks who make great partners but never tried to make art together. Even if we never make art again, I'm glad my boyfriend and I took the opportunity to try to communicate through the art we both adore. Even if the result is a twelve-minute video of us playing on our bedroom floor to our dog.
Bummeroo 2 broadcasts "live" via David Castillo's YouTube channel on Tuesday, December 22. Catch sets from Pookie & the Poodlez, The Milk Blossoms, Bollywood Life, Love Cop, Homebody and dozens more local and national acts, all for free. For more information and a full lineup for Bummeroo 2, visit the virtual music fest's Facebook page.