Garage Band at 51!
Being in what some might call a "garage band" at the age of 51 is an experience I highly recommend, especially for those who believe that age is a frame of mind.
After more than two years of work, my band Space Debris has released not one, but two CD's. Given the fact that we all have day jobs, and I have to travel two hours from Stinson Beach to Sacramento every time we practice, this feat is nothing short of a minor miracle.
Why play in a garage band when your hair is turning grey, your feet hurt when you play the wah-wah pedal, and most folks pushing their own music are half of your age?
The answer to that question is quite simple: the joys of creating music with a bunch of buddies you've known for over two decades. The communication of music is less defined than that of words. In a band such as Space Debris -- which thrives on rampant and sometimes chaotic improvisations -- the pure points of discovery and random reinforcement propels me to keep playing this stuff we call "music."
Space Debris was born out of pure frustration with horrible work conditions. I didn't even have my own electric guitar when we started in 1982, having lost my 1964 Gibson ES 330 in the haze of a college dispute back in Madison, Wisconsin. Every Friday we gathered, and I then wrote my first song for the band, whose name was put forward by our bass player -- Mr. Clites -- a NASA buff. The first song I wrote for Space Debris was entitled "Terminalizing," and it was a pseudo-reggae tune also influenced by the Grateful Dead's "Estimated Prophet."
The lyrics were obtuse, but largely criticized our work conditions as we inputted enormous quantities of data on votes and campaign contributions shaping California law under the Capitol rotunda in Sacramento. This was the first time all of this information was being computerized, and soon thereafter I launched my career as an investigative reporter, uncovering the unsavory influence of money on state politics. This experience also shaped the political nature of some of my early songs, including "Terminalizing."
The band went on to become involved in local energy politics, performing at anti-nuclear rallies that were part of the successful campaign to close the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant by a local referenda vote.
But lets get back to the music. Despite the fact that we've never made a lot of money, and often went for months without any gigs, the core of Space Debris has continued to get together and play music. Its become a musical conversation, where we can play wild, wild jams without ever mentioning a key, or any guidance whatsoever on what we might play. We just let the muse take over. Every once in a while, the sounds clash and we freely admit the noise we produced was better left unheard by the masses.
Ironically enough, it does seem the very best forms of musical synchronicity never end up on tape. It is only our memories that sustain the magic of when everything comes together.
The two CD's worth of material contained in "It's Not Rocket Science" and "Under The Radar" represent decades of work. Some of these songs -- notably the long instrumental "Trip To The Moon," our songs that do not fit neatly in any category. Indeed, that is Space Debris biggest marketing challenge. Our music is so all over the map, nobody knows quite what to make of us.
As proof, check out the reactions on the www.garageband.com website. Are we groove rock? Surf rock? Alternative pop? We've always enjoyed the fact that we couldn't be pigeonholed. But that strength also becomes a liability in this age of superficial delineations among types of music.
Samples from the forthcoming CD appear on this website in my personal folder. Since I wrote most of the originals, I am particularly interested in what influences people see in my own music. But for me, the greatest kick I get out of being in a garageband at the age of 51 are the free-form kick-butt jams we embark upon, without a map, without a key, and with reckless abandon. That's where we excel, whether noodling in a delicate way such as on the song or driving down the road with a head full of steam.
If you want to hear the band in fine form on one of my originals, check out our MySpace page (spacedebrismusic). There is a full-length version of "Freedom Wind," perhaps my heaviest and most obscure song. It was recorded this past February at Smiley's Saloon in Bolinas, California, the oldest continually operating saloon on the entire West Coast.
Music is the message. Don't ever think you are too old to play rock 'n roll. When in doubt, put on some Debris, and listen to us rip it up on folk tunes, new pop and some of the strangest music you will ever hear!