Blog: Skewed Views & News

Battle of the bands

My custom bass drum head. Not at all ripped off from The Police.

If you ever want a window into someone’s soul, pinpoint his or her hobby. For me, after the typically lame and knee-jerk response “spending time with my family,” I can list a trifecta of favorite pastimes that includes writing, running and drumming. And during this beautiful summer weekend, I got a rare chance to indulge in all three.

I call this weekend rare because as I get older, my drumming gigs have sadly become few and far between. When I was in college and throughout my early 20s, I played in a mock ‘n roll band called Language: Power and Abuse (L:PA), named after a course none of its members took. The band’s unofficial motto was “we’re friends first, musicians second,” – a philosophy that was clearly evident to anyone who heard us play. We also adopted an official slogan: “We want to work your private functions!” And not surprisingly, nearly all our gigs centered around alcohol: Beer as compensation. Beer as stage decoration. Beer as projectile weapons when crowds got out of control.

Now that I’ve reluctantly entered middle age, L:PA sadly is no more. In its place, however, is a party band of fiftysomethings I play with a few times a year, including this weekend’s gig at a suburban city-pride festival. Comprised of the best musicians I’ve ever played with, this band is called The Backyard Band, named when we auctioned ourselves to the highest bidder at a charity event to play a backyard summer gig years ago.

Comparing these two band experiences is probably unfair. My college band was more interested in making the bar crowd laugh than playing in the same key. My “adult” band is more interested in mastering four-part harmony than making certain that their beer cups are never empty. But if I could change one thing about my current group, it’s the set list. Take a quick look at some of the artists featured in the two bands’ set lists, and the difference is pretty clear:

The Cure
The Replacements
Gear Daddies
Guns n’ Roses
Def Leppard

The Backyard Band
The Beatles
The Turtles
Roy Orbison
Steve Miller
Whoever the hell wrote “Midnight Hour”
Jimmy Buffett
Neil Diamond
Whoever the f*#! wrote “Jump Jivin’”

I suppose what this tells me is that when you hit middle age, you make some compromises if you want to play with really great guys who are excellent musicians in a really tight band.  Even an ’80s music lover and accidental adult like me. I also imagine this tells me I must really love playing my drums, especially if it means playing “Margaritaville” five times a year.

But like all accidental adults who are outnumbered by assimilated adults, I’ve found a way to cope. It works like this. In their earliest years, Van Halen often put their own spin on cover tunes by other artists, and I always imagined them doing a rocking rendition of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.” So whenever The Backyard Band plays “Croc Rock,” I simply close my eyes and apply the Van Halen filter, imagining David Lee Roth’s howling screech above Eddie’s ripping guitar licks. When I told the bass player of this trick, he laughed and said, “You know Colin, I’ll bet you apply that Van Halen filter to just about every song we play, don’t you?”

That adult knows me pretty well.