Middle-aged rockin’…

If you built yourself a time machine and zipped back 15 or so years into the past to find me and tell me that as I approached 40 I would abandon punk rock and playing in original bands in favor of devoting my musical energies to playing in a hard rock cover band I wouldn’t have laughed in your face. No, I probably would’ve cried.

The funny thing is, that is precisely what I have done.

These are my cards and I’m laying them out on the table: While I adore punk rock and I have had some truly amazing times in my life playing in messy, chaotic, energetic and powerful punk bands I have also become keenly aware that I am no longer made for the punk rock life, and it’s entirely possible that I never was. The reality of playing in a punk rock band, unless you’re fortunate enough to be in [tag]Green Day[/tag] or a handful of other bands who receive genuine appreciation from the masses, is pretty grim. On any given night you’re likely to find yourself performing in front of a doorman, soundman, bartender, three barflies and five or six friends who could’ve just as easily come to see you in your rehearsal room. And that doesn’t even begin to address the venues you’re going to be playing in.

In all the years I’ve played in punk bands the best shows have almost never been in nightclubs or bars. The best shows have been in warehouses, a restaurant after the last table was cleared and the furniture was moved to the side, someone’s basement, a backyard in some small town or some questionable location like the loading docks behind some warehouse in a funky and sketchy part of town using electricity stolen from the unknowing legitimate occupant of said building. There was a time when these types of locale were the only option for a punk show. Traditional venues wanted nothing to do with punk, its bands and its fans, and with good reason.

Part of being in a [tag]punk[/tag] band meant being creative about coming up with places to play. That creativity put an energy into putting together shows that was infectious and helped to bring enthusiastic crowds. It also meant that kids, for whom all youth culture like punk rock, really belongs, were a big part of the audience. Somewhere in the past 7 or 8 years two things conspired to make punk musicians lazy and simultaneously ruin the experience and culture of punk rock for me. The first was the aging of the purveyors of punk rock – case in point: me. I’m 39 years old. When I was 16 I thought a middle aged rocker, a la [tag]Mick Jagger[/tag] or [tag]Paul McCartney[/tag], was a profoundly ridiculous thing. My friends have heard me squawk a million times about how all these old dudes need to pack it in. Youth culture produced by graying, paunchy old men is just wrong. With punk what’s happened is that the bands the kids love, like [tag]Blink 182[/tag], [tag]NoFX[/tag] and even Green Day, are near universally despised by my generation of punk fans. So we’ve shoved punk into the bars and nightclubs where the kids aren’t welcome and we’ve turned punk shows into drunken, loutish and frankly boring events that are remarkable only for how badly dressed and out of shape the audiences are. The spectacle of some 40+ year old geezer spiking his hair and wrapping his ample frame in bondage pants is really just beyond comical.

The second part of the conspiracy that’s driven punk into dingy bars and nightclubs is the sheer laziness of middle age. We no longer have the desire to do much of anything for ourselves. The DIY spirit that made punk so great is mostly dead. Making records is an overwrought effort that causes bands whose music is gritty and sloppy to spend too much money, too much time and too much effort trying to turn their three chord attacks into overproduced epics. The same problem affects putting on a simple show. Instead of pulling together our own events we beg bar owners and nightclub bookers to let us play their smelly rathole dives so that someone else will worry about promotion, paying the sound man, making sure the PA works and arranging to provide libations for our tens of fans.

I’ve grown sick of standing around in bars for hours watching my peers make asses of themselves, dressed like sad and filthy clowns just for the chance to spend 30 or 40 minutes on stage playing to drunk, uninterested sheep, then having to sort out equipment and get it back to a rehearsal room so that I could get enough sleep to survive the next day at work. It only adds insult to injury to also be rarely paid enough to cover gas money by bar and nightclub managers who make a tidy profit off the imbibing of both the bands and audiences at these shows.

What used to keep me interested in the above-described ritual were the occassional trips out of town or the prospect of a tour. For some reason playing in an unfamiliar town made enduring the above seem exotic and exciting. Trouble is, my body stopped being able to endure the punishment of “touring” about three years ago. My back can no longer recover quickly from a series of nights spent missing hours of sleep and when what sleep I got came on a hard (and often stinky) floor in some punk fan’s squalid apartment by the end of even a weekend of doing this I was a mess. I’ve also lost patience with driving 10 or 12 hours (sometimes quite a bit more) to get to a club so that we could then spend several more hours waiting to play for 30 or 40 minutes. Where I once enjoyed the joking around and general hilarity that follows a vanload of musicians on the road I found myself dreading it and more and more often strapping on my [tag]iPod[/tag] in as secluded a corner of a crowded van as I could find to shut out any chance of conversation with my bandmates.

I’ll digress here to condemn the iPod and other [tag]mp3[/tag] players for ruining the road experience a little bit. For one they make it far too easy for anyone with antisocial tendencies to indulge them, and if you’re not going to be social on tour then you’re a problem (I’ll plead guilty right here). For another if you hook one into the van’s stereo system one of the more enjoyable features of the band road trip is annihilated. One of my absolute favorite on-the-road experiences was making trip tapes to entertain myself and my bandmates during a tour. Easily as enjoyable was listening to the tapes others made for the same purpose. The finite length of a cassette tape enforced some democracy on the music selection while on the road and prevented any one band member from engaging in extended torture via a band or style of music no one else in the vehicle could stand. Even if your drummer decided to treat you to a cassette full of amateur Ukrainian zydeco you could relax knowing that after 45 minutes the side of the tape now playing would run out and it would be someone else’s turn. Not so with the iPod. I may never recover from a particularly hellish drive to Southern California during which I was subjected to something like four hours of [tag]Metallica[/tag]. *woof*

Suffice to say I am no longer suited to being a member of an original punk rock band who intend to make records, tour and play nightclubs and bars. Thus I find myself the bass player in a rather talented group of other middle-aged guys playing [tag]Foghat[/tag], [tag]Joe Walsh[/tag], [tag]AC/DC[/tag] and other classics of our teenage years. An old associate who travelled with the [tag]Wynona Riders[/tag] when we were on tour back in 1995 once looked me in the eye during a long van ride and said, “you’re what punks scream about.” I thought that was funny then. Now I know he was right, and I’m not bothered by it a bit. I’d rather spend time with my family than spend it driving across miles of highway. I’d rather sleep in my own bed next to my wife than on someone’s dog-peed-upon floor. I’d rather play with my kids than spend two or three nights a week rehearsing in a vain attempt to make the band sound better. And I’d rather not keep trying to repeat experiences I’ve had hundreds of times hoping they’ll reflect the best of those experiences and not the worst.
Punk rock should belong to kids. It should belong to people who can’t behave properly in adult society. It should belong to people who spike their hair and dye it odd colors and find no shame in so doing. As they say, there’s a time and place for everything. Now is the time for Foghat and turning in at a decent hour.

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