I don’t watch live music. That’s really hard for some people to accept. I don’t mean hard to understand, I mean hard to accept. I can’t blame them. It’s like someone talking trash about your best friend, the primal reaction is to call that person a shitbrain and give them punches until they take it back. People feel that strongly about music, and especially live music, it’s a loved one.
The truth feels like a dark secret, and it’s something I don’t share often, instead I just find excuses to skip whatever musical event I’m invited to. It’s not worth the energy to explain why I feel the way I do, and it’s definitely not worth the feelings of sadness that come with reminding myself. Music broke my heart and I try my best to forget her.
Everyone in my family is musically talented. My sister, who would consider herself the “least gifted” could play Bach if you gave her a piece of sheet music, a weekend, and a really good threat. My father, the “most gifted” of us all, runs a music studio, leads two different bands, and can play at least ten instruments. “Musician” is a major adjective in his life, and on his list it probably sits just below “father” and “husband”.
As children we were all expected to learn the piano, it didn’t click for me, I was never able to read the music, I would learn the song by watching my teacher’s hands and then pretend to read the page. I felt nothing for music at that point. I liked to listen to The Offspring because they said swears. And Weird Al.
For my 13th birthday I was given an heirloom, a hollow-body Gibson 335 knockoff, with manual pickups, and a whammy bar that moved like a crypt door. A company named “Goya” made it, and it had been my father’s when he was the same age. I fell in love. It was my first real six-string. I actually did play it until my fingers bled. It was the summer of 99’.
The next year, instead of following my friends to the neighborhood high school, I registered in a performing arts school exactly like the one in Fame. I joined the band and since there was no guitar chair, I played percussion, the only position that wouldn’t require me to read music.
I started a band with some of the new friends I met there. Our music was like virgins making love, anyone with any expertise would say it was empirically terrible, but we had a lot of fun doing it. We got high on it. Music was the first drug I ever did.
Too bad I found real drugs. Once I got those in my system all bets were off. Before long the band dissolved, some of the boys moved away, other’s got Warcraft II. I started focusing on being high as fuck, and trying to kiss girls with nice singing voices. The Goya sat collecting dust. I quit the school band. I forgot about music.
That was a sad time, the only aspiration I had was to live in a place where I could grow weed. I got a job in a kitchen and before long my entire life was flipping burgers and drinking with my roommates in our shared basement apartment. I was bored out of my mind. I was lonely. I was unsatisfied.
Music came back to me in the most unexpected way. I saw an old friend while driving one day and pulled my car over to say hello. He invited me to his house for a beer and I accepted. When I walked in the front door I knew I had found somewhere magical. Inside the living room, right as you entered his house, there was a piano and an old church organ set up back-to-back. Acoustic instruments hung on the wall and lay on the furniture.
We played music for hours that night, until my fingers ached the way they had when I first picked up that Goya, until my throat was raw from singing. Like any great romance, absence had only made my heart grow fonder. I moved in the next week so we could be together all the time. Another friend from school saw what was happening and moved in soon after. Just like that, we had a band, and I was reunited with my true love.
Unlike our first relationship, this time I committed myself fully. I began to study music in a way I never had before. I began to study theory, I began to study different instruments, and most importantly, I began to study music production. We built a small studio in our basement and we figured out how to record ourselves. The house had a large window out front. In the summer we would sit on the deck and watch movies projected on the glass. We called the band “Patio Theater”.
That was my life. I was a musician. I worked hard at it, I practised, I studied, I finally had somewhere to put my energy and attention. I started getting better. I wrote music. I experimented with the recording equipment.
The two years Patio Theater played together were some of the most exciting times in my life. None of the drugs I’ve ever tried compare to playing music with talented musicians. Conversation cannot compete with that kind of communication. Improvisational music is one of the greatest things humans are capable of. I miss it. Desperately.
The details of our collapse as a band were cliché and predictable. We Fleetwood Mac’d ourselves. For years after that I tried to put together an act, but even when the musicians were right, the timing was wrong. I was 23 and living in my parent’s basement. I took a job building furniture and decided to try writing screenplays. That would take up the next five years of my life.
I didn’t play music anymore after that. I wouldn’t even touch the keys of a piano when I walked by one. I broke the D string on my guitar and it stayed like that for three years. I deleted the music off my phone to make room for audiobooks. I hated myself for having such a silly dream. Worst of all, if I went to a concert, it picked every scab clean off. Still, all these years later, the sight and sound of a band creating something beautiful still exposes every nerve.
It’s like watching someone go to bed with the person you love most. Having experienced both, I can tell you the feeling is eerily comparable, and I would never ask anyone to subject themselves to it. I love music, I’m glad you guys are still friends, but I hope we don’t run into each other before I’m ready.