I was sitting among a gaggle of Baby Boomers around the Tiki Bar at Tarpon Point Grill last night. We were shivering around the heaters while getting belted by the chilly winds off the Manatee River. My mother was in town, and we were enjoying an alcoholic nightcap. As we sipped our drinks, we listened to the musical stylings of a jam band. I do not remember their name, but that is just another sign of their mediocrity. They were a foursome of 50 and 60 year-old gentleman who were content playing to a sparse crowd of fifteen to twenty. Their beer bellies swayed back and forth as they strummed their guitars and pounded their drums. Smiles were pasted across the faces of the entertainers and entertainees alike as they belted out covers of tunes called “Frigidaire Woman” (which contained numerous sexual innuendos about home appliances) and “Hit Her with a Brick” (which was rather literal in its interpretation). Their song choices were as suspect as everything else that occurred on stage last night.
I wondered if this was just a hobby for the entertainers, or if this was a continued pursuit of a life long dream to be a rock star. I can't imagine that this was what they pictured when they first picked up an instrument. Is it possible that a young fifteen year-old held aloft a cheap plastic pick or splintered wood drum stick and said, “Some day, I'll be playing a Bradenton tiki bar on a Thursday night in front of dozens of people. That's right... dozens!”
I continued to wonder. I have seen plenty of local bands that were made up of “kids” in their early twenties. What goes through their minds as they get ready to play a show? Are they satisfied with the crowds of fifteen to twenty? Do they hope for a packed bar of 40 to 50 half-interested and fully inebriated patrons? Or do they still dream of playing in front of sold out crowds at Madison Square Garden or the 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheater?
I have seen plenty of aging rockers in their twilight years playing a multitude of local venues.
I see the bands that grew up listening to and idolizing Ronnie James Dio and Mötley Crüe. They have receding hairlines, protruding guts, and a certain air of failure exuding from their pores. They have a devout following that never exceeds fifty people, and through my brief research, the entertainers have blue collar day jobs. Once upon a time, they were skinnier and their dreams were larger. What happened? Did they get a groupie pregnant? Were they popular enough to have groupies? Or did life and their metabolism just catch up with them?
I don't actually worry too much about the current crop of dream-crushed musicians. No, I care more about the current wave of young musicians that are in that all important stage of life where they must choose to shit or get off the stage. Shitting being the figurative symbol of “making it” in the music business. I want all my friends to be able to have the opportunity to shit (once again, figuratively). My amateur ears tell me that they are talented, and just need the right opportunity to really “make it.” But that is not the reality. The odds are that opportunity will never arise, or will be missed. Life will happen, and making music will become an activity of the past or just a hobby. I just hope they don't become tomorrow's sad sights at a tiki bar on a Thursday night way into the future, playing Green Day covers to a smattering of drunken patrons.
I picture the Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers in their Emo glory, traipsing around a small stage some twenty years from now. I assume they'll still be wearing eye liner and skinny jeans just like they do today. Or the metal heads would be smearing blood on their faces just hours after finishing their TPS reports. It would be a sad set of affairs. Then again, I don't think they care. They are still doing what they love, and I doubt they see themselves in the same vain that I do.
I imagine they would still see themselves as rock Gods. Looking down on those who partake in karaoke, just to bellow into a microphone on stage. No, they are being paid (albeit in small increments) to entertain. They will most certainly picture themselves just as they looked in their twenties. They would have to do that. Dreams and positive self-image are for those who hang on to what could be. Reality is for those who have given up.
My final question is this; when is it appropriate to hang up your spurs (or more accurately, your Converse)? At some point you have to hit a figurative musical wall, and the choice has to be made. Do you heed the signs that it is time to move on, and join the ranks of the other white collar workers of the world? Or do you ignore them and continue pursuing your dream until you become the subject matter for some snarky blog writer who couldn't play a lick on a guitar? I'll leave that decision up to them. For now, I'm going to continue going to shows to cheer and support local music. God speed; you rulers of rock, you masters of Metal, you purveyors of punk.
PS- If you are in a Sublime cover band, please stop... now.