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28 April, 2008

Why I am in a band at all...

Location: starting in Amherst, 1992
Mood: glad

When I was in graduate school, at University of Massachusetts, I was dating Luisa. I think I've mentioned her before. It's interesting to me how the "what I've done" and "where I've gone" in life are repeatedly being the product of "whom I've been with" at a particular time. So, though the relationship with Luisa was not my longest or best relationship, she was part of a very important process. She was an undergraduate in the Chemistry department. As such, she had a work-study job with a lab that was using "biosynthesis" to make polymers. This means they were growing bacteria who were instructed to make a particular polymer molecule (probably through a process called "transformation"). Then you purify the polymer from the bacteria by lysing the cells. I didn't know about any of this process until 10 years later, but what I did know was that it smelled really bad, and made Luisa's clothes smell too.

All that, irrelevant.

So, Luisa knew I wanted to play softball, and she suggested I play with the people for whom she worked. This included a few guys named John, Jeff, Frank, and Mike, among others. I met these guys, and joined the softball team (which was initially called "Toxic Avengers", but eventually called "Bark Like a Dog" for reasons I will explain). These guys were great fun, and I immediately began forging a friendship with all of them. And one thing about these guys is that the all belonged to an Amherst rock band named Bark Like a Dog. And I would regularly go see those guys. It got to the point that I was their #1 groupie, which I am not sure is something to announce, or something to keep secret. But nonetheless, I was. And I would sometimes do sound for them. And I would often offer unsolicited feedback on their performance. My intent was to "help" them, but I think I really overstepped my bounds a little bit, and probably got to be a bit of an annoyance. But either way, we were all friends, and they put up with me.

It was John who first started saying to me "You need to get into a band". And I knew he was right. What I really wanted was to get into *his* band. But that wasn't in the stars. At one point, Jeff had left the band, and they needed a new lead guitar player. I really wanted that job, but I wasn't even being considered for it. I don't know if I wasn't good enough, or if John didn't think it would be good for the friendship, or what? Maybe it's that I spent so many years "critiquing" these guys, that they couldn't bear to have "Simon Cowle" become a member of the band. Who knows. I probably was not quite good enough then, since Jeff was a very good player, and why take a step down just to have your friend in the band.

But it hurt me.

On one occasion, they let me go on a road trip with them to Vermont, and I actually got to play 3 or 4 songs with them (after Jeff had left the band) because I knew how to play most of their songs. It hurt that I was "good enough for that" but not good enough to be a member. But I loved it, and was glad to do just that. I also got the opportunity to record parts of a few songs in the studio with them, which I still have on CD as my "first studio experience ever". That was fun, but at the same time, payback is a bitch. I remember John making me play the intro of one of the songs over and over and over because he said it wasn't right. I was pissed off because I knew I was probably playing it cleaner than Jeff had even played it! And Jeff was the one who wrote it! But because of all those years I had nitpicked their performances, this was my turn. At one point, John was so frustrated, he tried to come in the room and play it himself, and he couldn't get it either. Finally I ended up getting it "good enough" and we even edited out part of the beginning of the song. But I guess I deserved that.

So it was John who really got me started in bands. I'll pick up from there later.

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