Saturday, February 19, 2011

Don't Worry. I'm with the band.

Eventually your music will help put an end to war and poverty. It will align the planets and bring them into universal harmony. Allowing meaningful contact with all forms of life. From extra terrestrials to common household pets. And, it's excellent for dancing. 
- Rufus, "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure"
I am now officially a Dad Band veteran. The common term used to be "Middle-Age Garage Band" but I suspect with the whole notion of "middle age" being chronically indeterminate and inelegant there came a need to find a category that was broader, friendlier and less tied to personal mortality. Or maybe I'm way over-thinking that.

Now the Dad Band thing has not gone unnoticed. The New York Times did a piece on it a few years back. It made the back cover of Reader's Digest

First there was White Man's Overbite back in my Savannah GA days. A group of good friends who fit the Dad Band profile dead-on. Men of a certain age who were too old to be easily embarrassed and, well, just wanted to play. Now we took the garage in garage band seriously. Our lead guitarist fitted out a room above his garage for us to practice in. Our wives rolled their eyes, my kids were mortified, and we had the time of our lives. As the bass player, I couldn't keep time if the future of democracy depended on it (for those unfamiliar with what a bass player is actually supposed to do, think of bread without yeast, coffee without caffeine and beer without alcohol; keeping time is sort of the point. Thankfully our drummer compensated). They wouldn't let me near a microphone. But the adrenaline rush of pounding through the A-D-E root note progression of "Louie Louie", no matter how epically botched, was exhilarating.

(By the way, there's a reason why "Louie Louie" is preternaturally suited for garage bands. As long as you keep going it is completely impossible to screw up. The best and most familiar version of the song is by a bunch of high school kids called the Kingsmen and was recorded in 1963 in one take in front of one microphone at a storefront studio in Portland, Oregon. One take because that's all they could afford. The lack of polish is part of its intrinsic genius. If you listen very closely you can hear the drummer drop an f-bomb when he comes in too early before the second verse.)

Moving to Birmingham in 2008 put an end to my WMO days. Determined to get back the groove I helped put together a new band, The Flaming Republican War Lovers (Shoot Me I'm Dead). Now this group stretched the Dad Band taxonomy just a bit. The other men were all married and most of them were Dads, but they were on the younger and authentically hipper side. Yet they entered into the spirit of things with the same zeal and musical mediocrity as my Savannah friends.

A conspiracy of interstate moves, inertia and other factors put an end to the Flamers and I went over a year in three-chord exile. It was killing me.

But I'm giddy to tell you I have a new band. Ladies and Gentlemen: The Buzz Killingtons. Our first practice was this past Thursday. Our drummer took the picture at the top of the page from behind his kit. I'm just out of camera to the left. An architect, a lawyer, a construction manager, a scrap metal broker, and me. Two of us are holdovers from the Flamers. We sounded, well, enthusiastic.

So as close to an expert on the dynamics of the Dad Band as you'll find, let me clear up a few things.

  1. We know we stink. The Dad Band that does not begin with that essential level of self-awareness is doomed from the start. You think I'm feigning humility? This is a video of a Flamers gig. I defy you to watch more than a minute. You don't have to be polite. I won't know. A Dad Band member who says, "We need to take it to the next level" needs to be ruthlessly told there is no next level and the one we're on is just fine and dandy, thank you very much.
  2. Of course it's a barely camouflaged attempt at recapturing our youth. If youth is wasted on the young, then we're making up for lost time.
  3. We gig once a year. That's all. This is a common mistake of Dad Bands. Two gigs a year is over-gigging. Let me explain. A Dad Band can fill a coffee house or a bar at their first gig. Wives, friends and other family members will turn out in droves for the novelty factor. Even the kids will show up in a slow-down-for-a-car-wreck kind of way. But don't tempt providence. It takes a full 12 months for the novelty factor to kick in again. I can tell you that from experience.
  4. What's best about this thing is, no surprise, the human connection. I've seen in my adult life as a Christian and a pastor every conceivable form of "men's ministry" and "accountability groups". They are mostly well-intentioned but usually forced, inauthentic and have a notoriously brief shelf-life. Our "practices" are off the chart low-key, gloriously inefficient and formative in ways that may surprise you. Yes, we get around to playing but a lot gets in the way, thankfully. A good measure of what they call in Scotland "havering". That comfortable chatter among good friends that seems utterly random but really serves as the white noise of friendship, comfortably reassuring and settling. Regular "beer breaks" (Cheap beer please. Our new drummer brought some Belgian imports. Great beer. Not garage. He'll learn.) And the freedom to talk about Serious Matters. Or not. The gigs are fun. The practices make it.
So I'm a happy and still inveterately lousy bass player. The Buzz Killingtons will have their annual gig some time in late May or June. Stay tuned. There will be noise.

As for the name of the band, it was suggested by my 17 year old son Noah.

Good thing too. I was considering calling the band Viagra Triangle.


  1. I would have signed on for "viagra triangle"..

  2. Good advice on #3.

    I've not hazarded the journey of picking the axe back up - I mean, how can I ever top the glorious efforts of "The Crocodiles," and "Rain Syndicate" from 20+ years ago. But I flick my lighter and yell "Freebird" in your general direction by way of salute.

  3. Pat - to quote Dewey Finn in School of Rock, "Grab your bass
    and come back to the garage."

    There is immense joy and freedom in playing with zero delusional expectations. You live in Portland for crying out loud. The place has to be crawling with other would be Dad Banders.