Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Sold my soul to rock and roll

Walking through a local big box store about a week before the stampede that was “Black Friday,” I noticed the piles of boxes of a video game called “Rock Band.”

I’ve also seen that there’s a new version coming out, and there’s talk of variants for different bands of the ’70s, though a version for The Beatles probably won’t happen.

It makes me wonder, because it seems I never see or hear of teenagers forming their own garage bands anymore. Back when I was a copy editor for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, I read an article about a bunch of guys my age who had a garage band that played ’70s songs, though the leader noted that neighbors would call the police (law enforcement, I snarkily clarified in a photo caption, and not the ’70s band) to complain about the noise.

Maybe teenagers today are too busy, or worried that noise complaints could lead to an arrest and felony charges by officers who prefer “Begin the Beguine” or something by Dionne Warwick.

Though I’ve managed to block out most of my teen years, there are some good memories. Among them are the times with a band some friends of mine had in which I was a roadie, though they seldom had a gig in which carriage of equipment was necessary. Still, that illusory status enabled me to sit in on the band’s practices; a privilege granted to few, and even then sometimes practices were closed even to me.

Just about every garage band of that era had “Smoke on the Water” on its playlist, and more ambitious groups would try “Stairway to Heaven” if the mood struck. My friends in the band tried some “originals,” including some dreck I typed up for them. I’ll admit this, the band’s leader did set some of my work to music, and for that I’m grateful.

The band’s members were in high school, but took their music seriously and practices could be really intense. Every band dreamed of success and getting the attention of someone big and important, and this one was no exception.

I still remember the band’s biggest gig, which was at a bar in Queens, N.Y., called Your Mother’s Moustache. A sign in the doorway read: “Guys 21, Girls 18, No Exceptions!” Still, the band attracted its mostly underage clientele and we settled down for beers and a rockin’ set by the band. It launched into a rousing opening with Queen’s “Tie Your Mother Down” that should have started the place rocking out, but the drummer broke his foot pedal during the song and that delayed the second song by about an hour as a replacement was procured. The mists of time obscure what happened afterward.

I soon left for Marine Corps basic training after graduating high school, and lost contact with the band. After I left the service, I was back in touch with one member, but a fight that was mostly my fault ended our contact for good.

It was a pretty fun and creative time, though, and with groups like Aerosmith as a model those little garage bands had a lot of fun, if little success. In a way, I miss those days when you could walk down the street and hear, muffled by a closed garage door, a group of young men (and a few young women) trying to figure out the chords to a song by Kansas, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, the Beatles or any number of groups whose hits were on the playlist at the rock stations on the radio.

According to a recent article here, those who play “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” sometimes want to learn a real instrument, so maybe there’s hope after all for the future of garage bands. And maybe they’ll need, if not a roadie, someone to be their press agent when fame and fortune hits.


December 2, 2008 - Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Yeah it really is too bad that Rock Band and Guitar Hero are distracting the current youth generation from creating their own good music with real instruments. The game is fun but hardly worth the effort required to make it to Guitar Hero stardom. I think it is ridiculous that bands like Motley Crue actually have Rock Band Game bands opening for them. Pick up a real guitar and make a real scene. Just my opinion.

    Comment by Ryan | December 2, 2008 | Reply

  2. One of the best musical instruments that man has ever created is the guitar. It is a fact, that more than 65% of Americans know how to play the guitar. Learning how to play the guitar is as easy as 1-2-3 and for this reason so many people can play this excellent instrument.

    Comment by Jones | December 5, 2008 | Reply

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