And yet, I couldn’t stop myself from pondering what the hell I was doing as, sticky with sweat, I madly broke down my gear before the three people who had come to see me play had even stopped clapping. It was a Thursday night, three-band bill at a local bar, and, as I had just finished performing in Group Number Two, I was trying to get off stage and make room for Group Number Three as quickly as possible.
Minutes before, I was a 51-year-old man, leaping around like an goon, caught up in some dream left over from my younger, more ambitious rock career. As I humped my amp and guitars down a flight of stairs to my car, I surveyed the crowd: a beehive of young professionals who were arguing about sports, looking to hook up, or bitching about their jobs, but definitely not paying much attention to the act that had just pumped out 45 minutes of music. I was a sideman on this project, so I could always wrap an excuse or two around my pride by saying the bandleader can’t draw, but I’d still be in a world where I don’t have roadies, a luxurious band bus, a fabulous rehearsal space, a record deal, or, at the moment, an audience that gives a sh*t.
Furthermore, the night belongs to the cute and feisty frontwoman of Group Number Three—a barely 20-something, Gibson ES-335-wielding basher who sings pretty good when she isn’t screaming out of pitch. I’m not envious.
After all, I stole my patch of stage in this joint. I don’t belong here. This is the turf of young bands. This is where they bare the husks of their musical naiveté amidst the nurturing glow of peers and invited friends and relatives. It was no different back in the late ’70s, when my community comprised the enthusiastic club audiences, and older, more experienced rock bands couldn’t understand how these horrible punk acts were blowing them off the stage.
But as I start my car, it hits me—all the fears of looking old and silly aren’t strong enough to ruin my love of performing live music. This was never about the audience, or the money, or even whether people consider me talented or lame. Michael Aczon—a high-school buddy who is now a music lawyer—always called me a “career criminal,” meaning that I’d never
surrender the glorious rush of being an active musician. Yeah, I got old, but the love is as strong as it was when I was eight, shuddering at the miracle that was the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. You’re a GP reader, so you know what I’m babbling about: Playing guitar is a life sentence, and bliss has no age limit or expiration date. So I’ll salute the memory of Link Wray—who wore leathers and sunglasses, played ferocious guitar, and bounded onto stages way into his 70s—and rock on. I still wish I had my roadies back, though.