The Songwriter and The Kid(s)
Some things can't be taught. Hey, kid what's with the hair? And a cure for sadness.
The Kid starts to sing and people smile.
I don’t even know what that feels like. Even at my happiest I have a look that Pops used to call “somebody’s going to pay for this.”
That look served me well on late night trips on the T in Boston in the late 70’s and early 80’s when Boston was affordable and more dangerous (and more fun).
It hasn’t been so helpful everywhere else.
Just look at this great photograph, that I posted in a previous post, taken by Marco Bakker, from Cloud Nine at Tivoli Vredenburg. I’m having as much fun as a human being can have and I still look like an extra from The Shining!
A guy who looks like this, what can you say?
I have to show every audience that I’m not going to cause trouble.
The Kid is serious about life but she doesn’t have this problem. She has steel for a backbone, but she’s optimistic and reasonably good natured and it shows.
She would fit in well as a cast member in the original Muppet Movie.
I think she would see this as a compliment.
More importantly, The Kid hears changes and melodies instinctively in ways I never have and never will.
She’s my guitar student but I’m less her teacher and more a voice from her future. Flexible time in action.
She plays and I listen. Then I tell her something she probably would have figured out on her own. I’m a person who is paid to provide short cuts,
Everybody who encounters The Kid recognizes her musicality and artistry. So The Kid is always busy.
The Kid plays cello as well as guitar. She’s accompanied me on cello at a couple of shows. I kept the arrangements simple since we’d never played together, but I could see that she wanted to play more, and more interestingly. That’s The Kid, in a nutshell.
The Kid is also part of my Thursday night student project, Acoustic Bowie. The band is comprised of students of mine between the ages of 13 and 17, with the exception of the drummer (a drummer who has me as a teacher would be in trouble). They’ve started out playing David Bowie songs, although we/they are about to add some Velvet Underground songs that Bowie covered to spice it up a little. Everybody but The Kid came to the band with no substantial performance experience.
Acoustic Bowie exists because the lead singer, who I’ll refer to as Ziggy, my guitar student and the only person I know who reads as much as I did at 15, can sing in the spirit of the Thin White Duke and, coincidentally, Acoustic Bowie’s Bass player, who has two first names and was 12 at the time, would go home from our lessons and, just for the heck of it, learn Glam rock and classic 70’s bass parts.
Two First Names ( the bass player) and I were talking about our favorite Bowie records and when I mentioned “Rock and Roll Suicide,” she admitted that the song made her cry. A kid like that? What can you say?
So I sent her away to learn the song and also to learn Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel,” and when she came back the next week with more than competent versions of the bass parts for both, I decided to get Ziggy on board as lead singer/guitarist and start a band.
The bass player with two first names gets tempo. The first time I asked her to play on the front of a beat, she did it, no questions asked. Then, just to check, I asked her to play on the back of the beat. She did that, too. That was during her second lesson.
I decided to ask The Kid, who was already over scheduled (and is in another band), to come on board as a steadying influence. I thought it might also help her short cut the learning process when it comes to working with inexperienced musicians. The Kid, being The Kid, instantly became the de facto band leader.
Acoustic Bowie made an impressive two song stage debut in August of this year.
Since then we’ve added two musicians.
The Kid brought the drummer from the other band to Acoustic Bowie. The drummer is a competitive climber who had never played a musical instrument before, but has proven to have a rock solid sense of tempo. She is also proof that giving a shit can speed up the learning curve, as she now plays quite capably in two bands. Fewer than three months ago, she hadn’t played a beat.
We’ve also added another of my students, a bit of a prodigy who was playing barre chords by lesson two.
The Prodigy gets exponentially better at every rehearsal. This is something I’ve witnessed every time my students play with their peers. The pressure of wanting to fit in musically and not let anybody down sharpens the mind.
The Prodigy is the quietest of the bunch but is starting to have that Mick Taylor with The Stones vibe and her rhythm playing is providing a solid foundation.
The Polaroid of Acoustic Bowie that hangs on the teaching studio door.
The Kid’s other band includes another of my students, a guitarist who is teaching himself Classical guitar while I take on my usual role of short cut expert. He’s obsessed with the Spanish canon of romantic guitar pieces. This student blew everybody away in his first serious guitar performance at the August benefit with four pieces I couldn’t have learned, all played emotionally with enormous depth of expression. He’s 16. Like The Kid, his entire genetic make up is built on notes, chords and melodies. I think he’d like to move to Spain, but only if he could time travel to when the father of classical guitar, Francisco Tarrega, was still alive.
The Spaniard thinks that The Kid is an amazing musician and The Kid thinks the Spaniard is an incredible musician. They haven’t told each other this but I’ve hipped them both to the mutual admiration.
In addition to trying, and failing, to bring back the word “groovy,” I am attempting to bring back any word or phrase that was used during the heyday of Bop and Cool. Therefore, they were “hipped” like a couple of cool cats.
I’m holding out hope for “far out,” but that’s a different essay.
The bass player in The Kid’s band has a sense of humor as acutely sharp as his bass playing, an exceptional ear and sense of tempo, bass player stage “cool,” and, like Ms. Vito in My Cousin Vinny, surprises you with his intimate knowledge of cars. He’s also tough as nails. If the band ever tours he’s going to be the guy who carries the money, and a wrench.
They named themselves Peers Under Pressure, which I like for a few reasons, but love for the fact that they can make merchandise that says PUP.
Maybe someday they will be like Oasis or the Kinks and start punching each other, but right now, these bands are the way bands should be, immersed in the positive force that is playing music.
Maybe everybody, including The Kid, will do something else with their lives, something perfectly honorable and important in the Trades, or the medical field, or teaching, or accounting, or anything that isn’t being in a band every day.
But they will have always done THIS.
The Kid reminds me of another 17 year old kid.
This kid, in 1976 at the Iowa Fiddler’s Picnic in Iowa City, playing a borrowed Guild guitar.
That kid had a band, too.
Desert Water, in the local news, Iowa City, late 70’s, rehearsing in Rich, the drummer’s, garage. Three of these kids would make music a big part of their careers. None of these kids would ever forget this band.
Steve, the other guitar player, and girl magnet, is still teaching guitar.
When I talk to my friend Bill, the bass player and a world class singer who went on to teach music and performance at the University level, we are always surprised to find that more people knew about us than we realized at the time of our brief moment of local notoriety.
Several people have told us that we gave them something to belong to when they felt lost and abandoned.
We had no idea. We were just playing music.
Peers Under Pressure. Polaroid on the door.
The majority of the players in Acoustic Bowie say that “Rock and Roll Suicide” is their favorite song (the drummer, being a drummer, has a different favorite song because the beat in that song is syncopated in a cool way).
Oh no love! you're not alone
No matter what or who you've been
No matter when or where you've seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I've had my share, I'll help you with the pain
You're not alone
Just turn on with me and you're not alone
Let's turn on with me and you're not alone
Let's turn on and be not alone
Gimme your hands cause you're wonderful
Gimme your hands cause you're wonderful
Oh gimme your hands.
I don’t think it’s an accident that when we played this song (I’m still a guitar player in Acoustic Bowie, but probably not for long) at the benefit in front of a full house of local people, parents, and friends of the band, the reception was raucous and emotional.
Times are hard for young people.
Even with the Vietnam War hanging over us, with the huge societal shift from post war culture to flower power and the casting off, by my generation, of the usual expectations (job for life, marriage, men’s and women’s traditional roles, the church) for a life of exciting but frightening potential, and all the uncertainty that came with that much freedom, I think we had it easier.
We mostly chose our interactions by who we chose to spend our time with, what we read, and what we watched on television.We could ignore or turn off what we found useless, objectionable, and insulting.
We had to gather together to do almost everything, to have a conversation (phone calls were not yet free), to play a game (even video games), to argue and agree to disagree. We had to be around people who weren’t like us and learn to live with them.
We did a poor job of loving everyone, but some of us were working to make that better.
And we could step away when we needed to, find some peace in reading a book, listening to an album, or just doing nothing much of anything.
A 24/7 phone and information overload device wasn’t in our pocket at all times.
Nothing happened instantly.
We weren’t tied to a phone, a screen, a daily check of who loved or hated who.
We weren’t marketed to every second of our lives.
The world could still be hard. And mean. But it was getting better, a day at a time.
There are many ways that the world has improved since 1976, but I think it is harder now for young people.
The kids in Acoustic Bowie and Peers Under Pressure aren’t slaves to social media. They prefer doing something to observing others doing nothing.
But everything is everywhere, now. There’s no escaping the vitriol and the hatred.
Kids today almost can’t avoid Twitter wars, hateful comments on Instagram, and a stream of news every day that is dominated by the worst things people say to each other. It would be easy to believe that the world that these kids have to navigate is unkind and uncaring.
There’s big money in hatred.
Add to this the constant bombardment of information, a world dealing with an unprecedented number of crises caused by a steadily worsening climate crisis, uncountable reasons to despair, and a plague that isolated our children for the better part of two years, which resulted in them being thrown into an accelerated environment, intended to catch them up to the place in their lives that they should have reached without the Pandemic.
It’s unfair to expect them to be at that place. It’s insane to expect them to feel normal. Nobody recovers quickly from two years of death, uncertainty, and escalating horrible, scathing rhetoric.
Everybody I know lost something and/or somebody.
Everybody I know is sad all of the time.
I am sad every minute of every day.
There was a part of me that thinks there is no cure for such sadness.
The kids showed me that there is, by showing up and simply playing in a band.
46 years after The Royal Executioners, soon to be Desert Water, bumbled our way through “Hey Joe” and a band was born, I had forgotten.
I am starting to remember what it was like to figure everything out, a note and beat at a time, with other people.
I can almost feel the pain in my fingers when we played so long to learn one simple song that my callouses gave out. I love that feeling.
We like to think we know what will happen if we work hard. We like to believe that kindness and effort are rewarded but we really don’t know anything.
We don’t know if we can make a difference when the forces of hate are loud and constant.
We can feel overwhelmed by the forces that work to silence, divide, and dismiss people.
So it’s a huge act of intentional kindness to play in a band, to show the world that you won’t stay silent, to stand on stage and sing, like The Kid does, a Fred Roger’s song about loving each other. The Kid pulls it off.
The Kid and the Ex-Kid at Barking Legs Theater with the Chattanooga Super Session band of Gordon Inman on Reeds, Craig Pratt on Electric Guitar, and Pate Russell on Drums.
At Acoustic Bowie’s debut , the second and closing song was “Rebel, Rebel”
Rebel rebel, you've torn your dress
Rebel rebel, your face is a mess
Rebel rebel, how could they know?
Hot tramp, I love you so!
I don’t know if the audience knew that “Rebel, Rebel” is about loving somebody for exactly who they are and not who everybody else wants them to be, a song about finding your people and your place, no matter what, but when Ziggy, in Bowie wig and white lab coat, and the bass player with two first names (who never let on that her left hand was cramping from playing the fast and intricate bass lines) drove the song to a clattering, triumphant ending, the lines “Give me your hands, you’re not alone” ringing out, the room exploded.
Pops said that music always wins.
It’s been 60 years since the The Who sang that the “Kids are Alright.”
After two years of emotional chaos, I think the kids are a mess.
A wonderful, loving, powerful mess.
The kids don’t know that they are changing the world.
They don’t know that they are saving the world, one Bowie song at a time.
But that’s what kids in bands do.
You’re not alone.
(Dedicated to Bill, Rich, and Steve, with my deepest gratitude. We were pretty damn good, my friends)
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Any chance to get a video/audio of the group?