I joined a band during Pipeline’s 18 month hiatus. As in, a rock n’ roll band, as sung about by other bands like Boston, though it’s doubtful Boston was singing about us in particular. Our band is called NGMP. It stands for something, but it’s not particularly important what that is. It’s one of those names that started as a working title, but ended up being our name anyway even though nobody particularly cared for it. Some things take on a life of their own, especially when you write an anthem where the chorus is “NGMP!” The song was better than the name, we needed songs, and the rest was musical history.
We’re a five man outfit; JohnS is the drummer, SteveC is our singer, ScottF handles the bass, TomJ handles the leads and I manhandle the chords. Some of us have been in bands before, some of us started from scratch, and some of us were just playing alone in our basements to an audience of none. I can’t say what the common link is we all share; I guess we all just wanted to be in a band, and that was enough.
We’ve been honing our skills and setlist for about a year now, mostly one night a week, sometimes twice a week, sometimes a week or three off. It’s slow going, but we’re pretty much ready for the big “friends and family” debut, play a couple parties, and then see about getting a 45 minute set on a weeknight somewhere. These goals are simultaneously modest and monumental.
When I joined the band, I thought that was the end goal…to play out in public. But along the way I’ve come to understand it really doesn’t matter as much to me whether we end up playing for 100 people or just the five of us, because no matter what happens, I’ve had the true experience I was seeking—to play music with other people. And make no mistake—even if we never play for anybody but ourselves–we are a band. We’ve put in the rehearsal time, we’ve argued over arrangements and setlists, we’ve had equipment fail, we’ve had blowups and meltdowns, we’ve downed beers and wondered why we were doing this, only to pick up the instruments again and remember why. True, we haven’t swapped wives, visited a guru, or snorted coke off a mixing board, but it’s only been a year.
Are we a good band? Not really; you’d see us play and know we were newcomers. But it doesn’t matter. Well, it matters to the extent that we don’t want to embarrass ourselves; naturally we want to be as good as possible given our time and talent limitations. But even a mediocre band of beginners is still a band. I know now what it’s like to not have to think about what chords to play, or no longer feel absurd being the middle-aged guy trying to catch up on things he wished he did 20 years ago. All of that melted away months ago when I realized how much fun we were having. Would I have been able to overcome my fears had I not had four other guys right there with me? I doubt it, but that’s what it means to be in a band. Now I just let it loose and play; we all do. It’s hard to describe how good it feels, even on the nights we kind of suck. But when it works it’s an amazing thing, one of the best things I’ve ever tried to do.
For the curious, here’s the setlist, more or less:
1. Who’ll save Rock n’ Roll, by the Dictators
2. NGMP, with a serious nod to The Wailers
3. Ever Fallen In Love, by the Buzzcocks
4. Everybody Knows, by Leonard Cohen
5. Red Right Hand, by Nick Cave (but we do it Arctic Monkeys style)
6. Pride and Joy, by Stevie Ray Vaughn
7. Freedom of Choice, by Devo
8. Chocolate Cake, with a serious nod to R.E.M.’s Carnival of Sorts
9. Coma Girl, by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros
10. Memphis Egypt, by the Mekons
11. Roadrunner, by the Modern Lovers
12. Suspect Device, by Stiff Little Fingers
13. Ghost Riders in the Sky, by a whole crapload of people
14. Kicks, by Paul Revere and the Raiders
15. Strychnine, by the Sonics