One of the prompts from Cricket’s Slice of Life this week is – the age of sex, drugs, and rock & roll.
Even though it’s been a long time since I rocked and rolled, I thought I’d share this story with you…..
When I was in my third year of University my sister, Shelley, and I answered an ad to join a band. I was 20, she was 18. I was a singer and mediocre rhythm guitarist, she was a brilliant drummer of almost professional standard.
We went along to the audition full of nervous enthusiasm and were surprised by the cavalcade of would-be rockstars who had turned up. There were Rockers, Goths, Punks. Guitarists were strumming Stairway to Heaven and Smoke On The Water. Singers were warming up by singing scales or just hitting high notes at random. One girl kept singing the first line from Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights over and over again –
Out on the wiley, windy moors
We’d roll and fall in green
A drummer was sitting on a stool flicking his sticks out in front of him as if imagining he was some famous drummer flicking them into the crowd. A bass player kept playing FDC FDC FDC over and over again.
I felt like I had stepped into a odd, film noir version of Fame.
The audition had been organised by Jen and Ed. What had attracted so many people was a little tagline at the end of the ad –
record deal on the table
Aaah, the naivete` of youth. It was many years before I learned that on the table wasn’t synonymous with a signed, sealed and delivered contract.
You would have been right in thinking that Jen and Ed were a girl and a guy but they were in fact, two girls. Jennifer and Edwina. It was their aim to form an all-girl band even though they hadn’t said so in the ad for fear of attracting a lot of pop star types. These girls were the real deal. Jen was a killer lead guitarist and Ed was an equally impressive bass player. Their influences were the Ramones, Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop, The Cult. My sister thought she had died and gone to heaven. She sat in with them for one song, an original called Mutation, and it was as if they’d been playing together for years. They signed her up straight away.
I wasn’t sold quite so quickly. I mean, I liked all the bands they were influenced by but as a singer who yearned to sing jazz, I was looking for something slightly more melodic. However, when they found out I was Shelley’s sister they pressured me to try out. The only song I could think of that came close to fitting the genre was Janis Joplin’s Move Over. They liked it and the rest is history.
From the beginning the band was fraught with tension. Jen’s father had paid for her new guitar on the proviso her younger sister, Megan join the band as keyboard player. I am a fan of keyboard generally but not when it is played with one finger and the player doesn’t know the difference between a major and a minor chord.
We played mostly originals but Megan insisted on throwing in a few of her favourite covers here and there. Like Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad by Meat Loaf or Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Benatar. Her choices didn’t fit the flavour of the band at all but she had Jen by the proverbial short and curlies, so Jen caved in again and again.
You see Jen had been trying to make it as a musician for over five years. At 24 she had no qualifications, had never had a full time job and relied on her Dad for everything. If Jen didn’t butter up her younger sister the funds would dry up pretty quickly and Jen would be stacking shelves in Woolworths before you could say G major seventh chord.
Megan also had something else on Jen. Something that would finish her off for good if her father were to find out. Jen and Edwina were a couple. Jen had told us her father didn’t approve of homosexuality and had made a sweeping statement once about how he would disown anyone in his family who turned out to be gay.
By this stage I was getting sick of the drama. ‘So why don’t you just tell him to go and jump and fend for yourself? The rest of us work full time.’
Ed immediately jumped to her girlfriend’s defence. ‘Jen’s an artist,’ she said. ‘Working will interfere with her creative spirit.’
I should have known then it was all going to end in tears.
We gigged together for almost two years. Three or four nights a week. It was enervating and exhilarating at the same time. I will admit that one of the reasons I had been attracted to joining a band in the first place was due to the whole sex, drugs and rock’n’roll theme. But let me tell you, there was a lot of rock’n’roll, very few drugs (unless you count the paracetamol we were constantly popping due to the headaches we suffered as a result of Megan’s shocking keyboard playing) and no sex at all. Except for Jen and Ed, of course. And in a strange twist – Megan.
While the rest of us spent our time rehearsing and writing songs Little Miss I’m-Gonna-Tell-Daddy-On-You spent all her time gallivanting around telling people she was in a band and that she was almost famous. And it worked. We supported quite a few well known bands and it was always Megan who bedded the lead singer or the band manager.
It was in fact, Megan, who nearly succeeded in changing our almost famous status. She slept with the A&R guy from a major record company at the time and a few days later we ended up in his office discussing deals. Megan was elated. We were deflated.
There was a catch, you see. It was the catch I named the pretty in pink clause. The record company were keen to give us a deal, they actually liked our sound, but they wanted to market us as a pretty all girl band with an edge, complete with haircuts, makeovers and pink outfits. And they suggested dance routines. I thought Jen and Ed were going to pass out when the words pink and dance were mentioned.
Megan was jubilant. Bouncing up and down in her seat and clapping. I knew she was imagining herself on stage in her hot pink outfit with knee high pink boots being interviewed afterwards by a cute journalist from Rolling Stone. The rest of us sat in silence, imagining multiple ways to get pink eliminated from the contract.
In the end we couldn’t compromise. We walked out of the record company’s office without a whisper of pink dancing shoes in sight. Megan was so peeved she ran home crying to her father. Jen was thrown out of the house but she and Ed ended up getting a deal with an independent label and became quite successful. Shelley got a scholarship to the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood and spent many years working as a session drummer and I, well, I carried on with my life in my usual fashion. Working a bit, singing a bit, writing a bit, immersing myself in imaginary worlds, but nonetheless happy to remember the time I was almost famous.