Not sure why I feel the need to answer this question, or maybe more specifically defend myself, but it’s a question that swirls through my head from time to time. I guess I feel whispers in my head of negative energy, “…the poor guy is just trying to relive his glory days” or “I guess he really believes that people still enjoy looking at him or listening to that noise”. I can’t answer this question for everyone, but I can for myself and will say that none of these self-defeating threads come close to hitting the mark.
Growing up as a kid music was always in our house, including a piano that my grandfather played and sang along to. We had a large vinyl album collection that played on our turntable and music was always on in the car. I started learning how to actually play an instrument when I was about 10 or 11, I can’t remember exactly. What I do know is that my mom was kind enough to buy me a cheap electric bass guitar and amp and took me to private lessons on Saturday mornings. I recall my poor instructor, a long-haired, seventies-style rocker, hungover from gigging the night before falling in and out of sleep as I played through my lessons. In the same timeframe, I joined my middle school concert band and played trumpet, learning to sight-read music, both skills I have slowly lost. I also played bass in a school-sponsored quintet (The Bumblebees) for a couple of years, featuring the local kid keyboard prodigy. We were often carted out to entertain the other kids during assemblies, school dances, and the like. Ultimately, I think this experience may have soured me a bit, as the music we played was, well, shall I say, was not what the kids were listening to at the time and the stress of getting out there in front of all my friends playing that stuff was a bit much for an overly self-conscious, long-haired teenager. Ultimately, towards the latter part of my high school years, although still a complete music and audio nut, any ambition I had to be a musician came to a crashing halt as teenage self-doubt, and peer pressure lead me to many other distractions and away from the band crowd, which to this day I sorely regret.
Attending college, I studied Geology and then Electrical Engineering, neither curriculum providing me even a hint of free time to play music. During that time, I did pick up an acoustic guitar along the way and learned to play a simple library of chords, using it more as a stress reliever than anything else. Thankfully, once out of college, I found myself working in the field of audio electronics, helping define and market all types of audio semiconductors (chips) for everything from Boom Boxes, Car Audio, Laptop computers, and ultimately cell phones. This work kept me around music and audio, unfortunately, the high-tech life does not lend itself well to immersing yourself in anything but your job; you’re either all in or you’re out. I digress.
So, let me get back to why a middle-aged man would want to be in a band. Through several connections, in my mid to late thirties, I began finding myself around other people who were like me and quasi-capable of playing a musical instrument and who love music. I began fooling around putting myself in scenarios where I was able to clumsily play music together with others. At this point, I’m feeling magic begin to happen. It’s hard to explain, but something very spiritual occurs when people play music together, I certainly think humans have a deep connection with sound, things like chords, voices, and melodies that can mysteriously move us without understanding why. There’s also this thing that happens when people are playing music together and the sum of the parts becomes much larger than the pieces alone. Maybe even more energizing is how the connection between people playing music together becomes intensely stronger than just hanging out having a drink, conversation, or watching or playing a game. In any case, by this point in my life I am now, late in the game, realizing that playing music in a band, or with a group of people is my rock climbing, my art, my clarity. So, what am I to do and where am I going with this?
Well, it took a while but, somewhere in my early forties, I started playing out at various open mics with a friend; I played bass, he played guitar, we’d switch back & forth, and we both sang; we called the band “Floody Waters”. It was a fun project and lasted several years, helping us both improve our chops, but it sort of ran its course and I needed some distance from it to evolve. I then connected, through a neighbor, with a local band that played cover songs and was in need of a bass player. I have now played with them for many years (Amanda & The Issues). Many good times in this band over almost a decade, playing out at weddings, corporate parties, bars, and restaurants. My time with this band has really allowed me to improve my skills in playing out live, how to create a more pleasing tone with my instrument, how to fit in a mix, and committing to memory a large library of songs (50-75). As I write this, I’m in my mid-fifties and am still musically hungry, looking for more; I love it. I mean why set the bar low and limit myself to occasionally playing out live or just rehashing cover songs over and over just because of age. I’ll know when to fold it up, but it’s not now. My latest music evolution has been sitting in with Jonathon Titmouse, trying to establish myself as their live bass player. This project is all about music as an art form, with beautifully creative lyrical compositions played over a large dynamic range of sounds and interesting chord progressions. No shade meant to others I play music with but, aside from me, the musicians in this band are, well, professional musicians (making a living playing music). Although I can feel a bit intimidated at times with these guys scrutinizing my chops, I feel an overwhelming connection with them and, with a little luck, hope to stick around for the long run as they evolve and create more music.
So, why does a middle-aged man want to be in a band? For me, although I’m realizing a little later in life, I can honestly say that playing music in a band is like a spiritual calling, an activity as important as eating or exercising. It’s my church, my art, solace from the noise in the world, and my life. I can only hope that I find myself in the company of people who feel the same and that my skills continue to improve to the point where I can create and play music that is relevant, provides real comfort, inspiration, and meaningful entertainment for anyone who may find themselves subjected to the noise I make.