Band Life

By Possum Carvidi

A wise man once said, rock n' roll tells a young boy lies.  Nothing could be more true.  I know this from experience, because I drank that Kool-Aid at a very early age.  This is, of course, a blessing and a curse, as it results in one of the worst kinds of person: a musician.  I'm not sure how I became one of these people. What I can say is that I have somehow racked up fifteen plus years of contributing live music to San Francisco.  If I never played another show in this city, I would be very proud of that contribution. It's impossible to predict my musical future here, in this constantly changing city.  How I got to this point, however, is both fantastically odd and stereotypically familiar.
 
To this day, I have never questioned my attraction to music.  Even as a child it felt as natural eating food.  My earliest musical memory came from my grandmother.  I used to sit in amazement watching her hands and feet move so gracefully while she played her organ.  As a toddler I assumed everybody could perform this sort of magic, including myself. I grew up devouring music any way I could.  Through my father’s record collection, my cousin’s record collection, and everything that came on MTV, I became an official rock n’ roll junkie. In my mind, the people who played on these records and showed up on MTV may have well been from Mars.  I lived in the real world, however, where kids are offered clarinets and violins to make music, not drums and guitars.  I chose the saxophone because I liked the case it came in.  For the next twelve years, school bands were the only things keeping me in music.  Again, I wasn’t from Mars, so I played in wind ensembles and jazz combos, not rock n’ roll bands.
 
Those tides started changing in college when I was able to go to live shows more often. For about two years, seeing live music was my number one activity.  And there, in the belly of my first local music scene, is where I encountered ROCK N’ ROLL LIE #1: “If I am more talented and play better music than this person, then I will be more successful than they are.” I had it all worked out.  I would teach myself the rock n’ roll instruments that were unavailable in my youth.  I would combine all of the elements of music that I love and form a band in San Francisco that everyone will love.  Which brings us to ROCK N’ ROLL LIE #2: “I’ve got my whole music career figured out at 22.”
 
I moved to San Francisco in 1998, at the height of a dot-com boom.  The city was being driven by technology and the music at the time reflected it.  I loved electronic music ever since I heard drum machines in the 1980s, so I fit right in.  Through café culture I met some other electronic music enthusiasts and eventually I was in my first band … playing a drum machine.  A far cry from the wild guitar solos I grew up on, but that didn’t matter. I just wanted to be in the band.  We were making music that we were proud of and having a great time doing it.  This is it, I thought.  We’re going to “make it”.  Even though I didn’t know what “making it” meant.  None of us knew what “making it” meant.  In fact, we had never met anybody who HAD “made it”.  

San Francisco certainly lived up to its reputation as an artistic town at that time.  It seemed as though everyone I met was involved in the arts. Music venues were abundant, giving any band an opportunity to be heard.  And if you couldn't get a gig in a legitimate music venue, there were always underground parties that needed entertainment.  In my eyes, the music scene was almost too good.  When everyone is working on their own masterpiece, it's difficult to get them to come to your shows. This is something else that ROCK N' ROLL fails to mention: Being in a band is hard fucking work.

This brings us to ROCK N’ ROLL LIE #3: “Everybody in my band thinks the way I do.” When we realized that we weren't going to take over the world right away, everything became more difficult.  After a few years we had played some great shows and made some really great music.  But in the end, it's the same old story.  Everyone had different opinions on where the band is heading and what its identity should be.  Outside influences began to take its hold and eventually we just kind of grew apart.  This story has been written thousands of times, of course.  My story has a bit of a twist, however.

During the course of my short-lived career in electronic music, I had a strong desire to play acoustic instruments in my spare time.  I played a decent guitar and I tried—and failed—to learn the banjo.  As luck would have it, just about the time my former band was closing up shop, I was asked to join a bluegrass band called The Murder Ballad String Band (later named The Pine Box Boys)—not because I could play the banjo, but simply because I owned one (See ROCK N'ROLL LIE #2).  This is how rock n' roll really works.  

The experience of playing in this band for the last twelve years was something I never could have expected, and it has changed my life forever.  I have learned a whole lot of rock’n’roll lies and the realities of band life in modern-day San Francisco. Which brings me to the point of this column:  In the months to come I'll expose more of these lies, from the point of view of a band that apparently has "made it".  You can judge for yourself, after you hear what it takes to keep doing it.  As for me, I've got some practicing to do until we meet again.