Wednesday, August 5, 2009

forty-six and I like it

Last night, I called E, the woman who will share her apartment with me during the Ladies Rock Camp. Like me, she's always wanted to go electric, move from coffee-house style to at least one louder. Like me, she sings, plays a little guitar. And, like me, she's over forty-five. We are different because she has no spouse or child. And she's a New Yorker.

E is going to camp because she's always wanted to rock out—plain and simple. She'd signed up with a girlfriend last summer, but foot surgery got in the way. For me, back surgery is a hindrance, and we both have decided to leave our own guitars at home.

E's friends—a drummer, a bassist, and a singer—have signed up with her, so I'll be odd girl out. No room to be bandmates.

It's no secret I'm nervous. It's a healthy nervous—the kind that comes from both travel and crippling stagefright.

Part of me thinks we're a bit closer to Iron Workz than we'd care to admit.

Another part of me watches eleven-year-old rockers and thinks I ought to give it up.

Then again, maybe I ought to embrace my outer forty-six year old. I can always blame arthritis, hot flashes, and memory lapses for the major suckage.

Eighteen year olds don't have an excuse.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

mom who rocks

My daughter went to the Paul Green School of Rock, and all I got was this stupid t-shirt. Until now.

One week from today, mommy goes away to rock camp. That's right. I'm enrolled in the Willie Mae Ladies Rock Camp in Brooklyn, New York. I'm not sure this conjures pleasing images. I know how my own goodbye-goodbyes* flap around when I'm strumming particularly hard. But I want to believe this isn't a pathetic attempt to recapture our youth.

When men have midlife crises, they buy a motorcycle or a new guitar or have an affair. How do women typically handle it? Like Shirley Valentine? But I don't want make fuck with Tom Conti. I want to do what I should have done the first time I heard Suzi Quatro and realized girls can do way better than date a guitarist. They can be one.

But—story of my life—I was impatient. And I never satisfied that guitar jones.

Now, at 47, I'm not content to be a Rocker Mom. I want to be a mom who rocks. My husband asked me the other day which guitar I would be taking. I looked surprised, as if there were any other guitar besides my Gibson Songwriter Deluxe.

"You can't take an acoustic guitar to rock camp!" he insisted.

Perhaps he's right. This isn't singer-songwriter camp, after all. But hey, plenty of people rock the acoustic, and I plan to do just that.

I'll send you a letter from camp.

- - - - - -

*Goodbye-goodbyes are that inch of extra skin under the arms that wave goodbye a second time by themselves. Some call them "flags" because they continue to wave.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

the movie that goes to eleven (it's one louder)

It’s hard to convey in words your passion for something. You want to put the –est on the ends to show it’s at the top of all things awesome or great. You think you might capture how you really feel by saying very a few extra times or adding periods between words or using more than one exclamation point.

If you think that’s hard, try to capture someone else’s passion. Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), director of It might get loud, nailed it.

Three guitar gods (and I don’t use the word lightly)—Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White—tell the story not so much of the electric guitar, as the synopsis suggests, but of their love affair with it.

Before you quibble about the selection, remember this: all three have done something extraordinary to guitar that other people had not yet done. They invented a sound—became synonymous with it. And each represents a musical era (the not-yet ghosts of guitar past, present, and future), with tomorrow looking a little tenuous. Think of all the new music you've heard recently, and try to find a virtuosic guitar performance. White has the power to bring it back.

I spent the entire hour and a half grinning from ear to ear, except when I was crying, enrapt, which happened nearly every time Page, Edge, and White jammed together on each other’s songs. You could see it in White’s eyes when one of the others was playing a song; somewhere inside his head, he’s saying, “Holy fuck! I’m watching Jimmy Page play 'In My Time of Dying' right here in this room, right in front of me, with The Edge!” But outside, he’s cool.

Composed of new and old film footage, stills, location shots, and overdubbed interviews with the three guitar legends, the movie is as interesting and intricate to watch as it is to hear. I want to believe this would hold true for everyone, but hard as I try, I can’t imagine my mother, just two years Page’s senior, tolerating this for more than a moment, nor was my daughter’s nine-year-old friend (a keyboard player) unable to control his fidgeting from boredom. But the guitarists and wannabe guitarists in my group (well, the latter would be me) felt the same as I. I caught my husband crying a few times (no feat; he cries at sappy McDonald’s commercials).

My two favorite moments in the movie were when Jack White and Jimmy Page talked about their favorite songs. Page put a Link Wray record on his turntable, and his face glowed as he listened to what so many would have found a simple rockabilly riff, but Page plunked his air-guitar along with the record like the conductor of a technical symphony, explaining how the tremelo increased with every repeat. It looked like ecstasy, and it made me feel ecstatic, too. And when White spoke of his favorite song, “Grinning in Your Face,” by Son House, which was recorded with voice and hand clapping only, you could see White was overcome from what must be a spiritual experience every time he shares that song with someone new.

Perhaps these three aren’t the greatest guitarists of all time; they’d agree. But Edge, Page, and White have mastered the six strings, often times by creating new challenges (like playing on nasty, broken down guitars), and their personalities and passion are the success of this film.

It’s honestly the Very. Very. Awesomest. Movie. Ever!!

So I came home with my life changed and wrote a rockish-blues song. This is our first band practice; my daughter's feeling her way around a lead, and I'm trying to hit the right chords and still read the fresh lyrics from a sheet taped to the microphone. Marty is perfect, as ever, and in his slippers, as ever.

Monday, May 18, 2009

head over heels

"Something happens" when the School of Rock kids get together for a night of performances: awesomeness, this time in the form of the New Wave Heroes show.

I'm a bit stuck with this earworm, but it's a better one to have than, say, "Kung Fu Fighting" (which might be mine next season, if my daughter signs up for One-Hit Wonders). And now, for your listening and viewing (mostly listening, as the video is small) pleasure, I present "Head Over Heals," by Tears for Fears, featuring: Serena, vocals; Harrison, lead guitar, Taylor, rhythm guitar; Caroline, bass; Aaron and Thomas, keyboards; and Connor, drums.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

you know you have a fun job when you're being paid to touch kip winger

I met Stacy in a bar last summer while I was working. She told me I have a fun job. Stacy and her husband, Larry, paid two grand so that Larry could spend the day jamming with rock stars at Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp. I spent the day watching him for a Baltimore Magazine piece on ways grownups and kids can kick out their own separate jams at summer camp. (Ironically, the jams are the same: classic rock.)

I "worked" for thirteen hours (with a one-hour break from four to five to change clothes and chug a beer). I dragged my tired, forty-five-year-old butt into Towson University’s Union at 8:00 a.m. to hear some morning banter before check in, and I wobbled out of the Ram’s Head Live at 9:00 p.m. In the hours between, I wandered in and out of five band rooms, taking pictures and notes, eavesdropping, and interviewing campers about their experiences. I followed the godlike Earl Slick to the patio, where he smoked a Marlboro. I taped three minutes of a twenty-minute impromptu jam featuring Earl and Gilby Clarke. And I got to touch Kip Winger. On the stomach. And it was good.

* * *

While I was touching Kip Winger, an old friend from high school found me on Facebook and asked me to catch her up on the last 28 years of my life. I thought: who can do that in a paragraph? But a sentence was all I needed: I’m married to the man I fell in love with 25 years ago; I have a beautiful, smart daughter who plays electric guitar and soccer; I am having my first book published by Simon & Schuster in April; and I spent the day reporting on Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp.

Though we both have beautiful, smart children and good husbands, she decided my life was more glamorous than hers. She's an accountant.

* * *

This morning, I was lamenting to a male friend the lack of female participation at the Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp. Why don’t moms let their daughters grow up to be rock stars?* “Because it’s a stupid lifestyle,” my friend told me. But how is it more stupid than, say, being an accountant? Shouldn't we all find some way to follow our passions for pay? Isn't that how we keep from jumping off a bridge on purpose?

Mark Hudson, one of the Fantasy Camp counselors, knows for sure that as long as he's doing something with music, he's sane (though sane might not mean the same thing to us; Hudson's dyed his facial hair to resemble rainbow sorbet). Meeting him in the hallway shattered all my preconceptions about the camp; it was the light-bulb moment that I live for when I'm writing. He had stopped me to apologize because I'd come into his room at the moment he was admonishing his group for missing a cue. He couldn't help it; music is his passion, and that's why he participates in the camp each time. Hudson's face lit up when describing the joy he gets from watching his bands click after just a day of rehearsal.

So Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp is not, as I'd once joked, a bunch of guys on the Who Was list of rockers getting their egos stroked by computer analysts and accountants (and writers). And it's not about people who didn't follow their passions, either.

I love all the things I do—even when I'm editing newsletters for Johns Hopkins or writing some quick ad copy for a local market. A sentence is a set of words, and it can be as exquisite as I want to make it. I'd hate for some snob like me to think I was on the Who Was list of writers because I chose to teach or lead a workshop.

* * *

People dream of becoming some perfect success at some perfect thing. But I bet more people dream of becoming a rock star than anything else. I still dream about it. Why did I give up guitar lessons after just four of them and wait until April of 2008 to try again? And why didn't I join another band when my own broke up in 1982?

That's what the camp is about. Maybe there's still time for me, like there was for those eighteen guys and one girl who paid $2,000 to practice and perform with seasoned, passionate pros. When I told friends I was reporting on the camp, they all wondered who would pay so much to do that. Now I can tell them. I would. Twice.

Hell, I'd even pay to touch Kip Winger's tummy again.

* * *

*My first baby gift, while Serena was still in my belly, was a tiny red electric guitar pick from my cousin, Stacey. It sits in a shot glass with the others I’ve collected over the years, including a few with the Camp logo, which I lifted from a table. I'm just tickled that she already knows how to use them. Much as I love the idea that she could one day grow up and jam with Brandi Carlile, I'd still rather people pay to jam with Serena.

rocker mom

My daughter likes me to be there. “There” is wherever she is—whether it’s on the field at soccer, in the swimming pool, or in the band room at rock school. She’s not content with on the hill near the field, on a chair around the pool, in the school lounge. To some extent, I would simply like to be “here” while she is “there.” Not all the time, of course, but I need to do my thing. And I need her to need to do her thing.

I should probably wait until she’s twelve and starts to loathe me, the way all girls do until age fourteen. But she needs a little independence to prepare her for those awkward, mom-hating teen years. I’m not planning to send her to the park with the dogs alone. Hell, I won’t even let her ride her bike around the block by herself. But when she’s doing things with other people her age—with the appropriate adult supervisors—she should not need me to be visible.

Frankly, by this age, she should be embarrassed by me. After all, I’m the one who marches up to scream at the coach for humiliating the girls by mimicking the way they run, making them examples in front of their peers. I’m the one who blows my lid at the lifeguard who waits for Serena to make a mistake or break a rule known only by the lifeguards, just so that she can put my girl on the bench for ten minutes.

I don’t want to teach Serena that authority figures can’t be trusted; we need to count on our police and our coaches and our teachers. And I don’t want her to get the impression that a mother stomping across the wet concrete or mosquito-filled grass trumps all other authorities, even when she's doing it in the interest of fair play.

I've avoided the pool for much of the summer, sending father and daughter off alone. And I just told my husband that I would not be accompanying my daughter to soccer practice, either. I don’t want to be a soccer mom. Let me feel the pride when Serena scores, but don’t make me privy to how she learned to score. It’ll only piss me off.

Rock School is different. When we first started, Serena was a little shy. She didn’t care if we went next door for coffee during her private lesson. But when all the kids were jamming at Rock 101, she wanted us both visible through the tiny doorway, which means filling the narrow hall with chairs and bodies. I told the director we'd be less hands-on soon, but it’s been weeks. Serena still hasn't let us cut the umbilical bar chord. And now there’s a problem.

This I like to watch.

Serena has become my surrogate rock star. It’s too late for me; I am stricken with old age and fat and random silver wires and a bad back. Occasionally, I lean into the microphone and try to sing one of the girl songs, like "Walkin' on Sunshine" and “Zombie.” Sometimes I tell the kids the chords they’re messing up or shout out the correct lyrics. I make sure Serena's amp is turned up (not to eleven, but one louder). She has gotten so good at guitar that the teacher asks her each week what new song she’s learned to play that she can teach the group. He makes her feel valuable. Though other kids in the group can play well, she exudes this quiet cool, this skilled nonchalance, an aloof rockness that is just so darned attractive, and now especially so because it’s coming from a girl. My girl.

The other day, I took everyone’s email address and volunteered to send the songs, lyrics, chords, tabs—all the stuff they need to know for the following week. I set up a Google Group for them, uploaded all their songs, linked to all their chords, wrote little descriptions of the songs. I even made a logo.

Now I'm afraid she'll decide that rock school is the one place I should pull back. What’s a rocker mom to do?

Wanted: drummer, bassist, and lead guitarist for forty-something original rock band. Practice Friday nights. My basement. Bring beer.

* * *