Google Something Clever 2.0: Not Even Close to Almost Famous

Nov 27, 2012

Not Even Close to Almost Famous

Did I ever tell you that I used to be in a band? It all started when I was 19 and I got fired from Toys R Us. I can't remember why; I think it may have been because I dyed my hair purple or something. A couple of days later, I was at the mall, just passing Hot Topic, and I thought, "Hey, I want to work there." So I went in, walked up to the cash register, and said to the guy, "Hi. I want to work here."

It turns out they were hiring, and he was the assistant manager. He interviewed me, and I got the job. It was a great job, for someone with no expenses. They only paid minimum wage, which at that time was $5.45 an hour (this was in 1999). But here's the cool part: the discount was 40% off. Since I was 19 and still lived with my parents, clothing was pretty much the only thing I spent money on, anyway. I got along great with pretty much everyone who worked there. It was a small store, with a tight-knit staff. Those who didn't fit in didn't last long. I was soon promoted to "part-time assistant manager," which meant that I still worked full-time, but I didn't get any benefits. Lame, but I didn't care, because I was young and carefree.

The other assistant manager, the one who first interviewed me, introduced me to punk rock. Don't get me wrong; I knew The Ramones and The Clash and all that, but he was super into punk rock, and knew all the bands you've never heard of. We went to shows in Boston. I met the Dropkick Murphys before Jonathan Papelbon made them a household name.

Remember this?

So, one day at work, he turns to me and says, "Hey, you play guitar, right?" I did. He says he wants to start a band. He would play guitar and sing, and he knows a guy who plays the drums. He asks me if I want to be the bass player. I told him I've never played a bass, and he assures me that it's just like the guitar, only easier. He has an old bass lying around, and he can teach me. I tell him sure, as long as I can sing a little. So the band was born.

We started practicing in his parents' garage, once or twice a week. The three of us would split a sixer of Mike's Hard Lemonade, because it was the only booze we could all agree on. I wrote maybe three or four songs that I sang lead on. He wrote eight or ten for himself, and I'd sing backup on most of those. In the winter, mom and dad wanted their garage back, so we started renting a practice space.

Now, the thing about Hot Topic, at least back in the 1999-2000 era, was that the kids loved it. It was like an underage club. They would all hang out there all weekend, and most days after school. And they all thought that the employees there were the coolest people ever. Seriously, we called them groupies. So when word got out that we had a band, the groupies were all about it. We got our first "show" at a local high school, broadcast live on the school's radio station. Not long after that, a local kid who was going to school in upstate New York (not Rochester!) got us a gig up there. Nothing big, just a VFW, but it was a paying gig. I don't think the pay even covered our gas, but we just wanted people to hear us. 

We got more shows. A lot of them were in Massachusetts, but a lot were in upstate New York. We built a little bit of a following there. We recorded a demo and burned our own copies from the master disc. I designed an album cover and we color-copied it. A girl we knew had a silkscreen kit, and she made some t-shirts for us. Our friends and coworkers would sometimes come along as "free roadies," although we didn't really need the help. As a Tetris Master, I was the only one who could fit our equipment into the trunks of the two compact cars we drove. 

My car died, and I bought a van. We started booking shows at bars. Shows with kinda-big-deal bands. We still only made enough to cover gas, beer, and maybe $10 apiece left over. And I was still making very little money at Hot Topic. Also, I had shitty teeth and a really bad cold that lasted for four months. So I got a second full-time job at a big-box store that offered benefits and a 401(k). Now I was working 80 hours a week. I'd have to wait for one store to make their schedule, then bring it to the other store so they could work around it. Both jobs were constantly questioning which one I took "more seriously." At one, I was a manager. At the other, they paid a lot more, and provided benefits. I'd practice with the band a couple times a week, by myself every day, and then, on Saturday nights, I'd have a show to play. Sometimes that show was 6 hours away, round trip.

Oh, did I mention that this was around the same time that I was kicked out of my parents house? And I had just turned 21, so I vastly preferred drinking to sleeping at that stage in my life? Yeah, that was some hard livin' I was doing.

Don't I look healthy?

After the third time I overslept and opened Hot Topic late, I was fired. My bandmate/boss was the one who actually had to fire me. And I mean, he had to. When a store opens late, the mall fines the company. Corporate knew what happened. I'm glad that it was him, and not some suit from the home office.

A couple months later, I believe, the band got an offer to do a tour. It was not for very much money; mainly for the exposure. But there was no way I could take a month off of work. Even if they would have let me, I didn't have the vacation time saved up, and I couldn't afford it. And I sure as hell couldn't quit; I needed three root canals.

Luckily, a friend of the band played bass. He pretty much knew all of our songs already. He came to practice and I taught him everything I knew. Everything I wrote. It sucked handing over the reigns like that. They went on tour, and it didn't go well. The drummer left the band and it was pretty much over. Eventually, the guitar player rebooted the band with his cousin playing drums, and my replacement playing bass. They played a few of our old songs, and a few new ones. 

I got a call from him one day, maybe three or four years later. They had a show booked and the bass player had hurt his wrist and couldn't play. They wanted me to sub for him. I came to their practice and they showed me the new songs. I still remembered all the old ones. I was pretty psyched to learn that the new guy had never been able to pull off this one riff that I'd written, one that I was really proud of. We played the show. It was great. But I knew it was the last one I'd ever play.

I miss the band, but I can't imagine doing it again. I'd love to, but I just don't have the energy anymore. Hell, I barely had it when I was 21. I thought working 80 hours a week was exhausting. Now I'm 33 and I work approximately 126 hours a week. Those days are most definitely done. I will say that I really look forward to the two or three times a year that I sing karaoke. But nothing will ever top the feeling of singing my own song that I wrote, and watching those kids in the audience singing it back to me. Nothing.