Almost Famous

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.

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21 thoughts on “Almost Famous

  1. . . . “but nonetheless happy to remember the time I was almost famous”. . . I’m pleased that you chose to use those words to finish off a short but interesting bit of autobiography. Although I have always yearned to play an instrument, and did teach myself to play a tune or two on an organ, I can barely read the simplest of written music. I do own a small harmonica, but any “music” coming out of it is strictly “original”. I compose as I go along.

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  2. Very cool. I never did anything like that. Guess I wasn’t up for the “fast lane”. I love reading your stuff. I saw Cricket’s prompt and thought, “I got nothin.”

    🙂

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  3. I loved the bit at the end. In fact, the imagery was so good, that I was seeing a little teleplay of the whole story. Golly, Selma. You are such a fine writer.

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  4. This is a wonderful piece. AHHH the memories it brings back. Growing up in Hollywood. Jamming ’til dawn. I kept living like a rock star,long after the band got jobs. Today I’m more famous than I ever thought, and that’s still not true fame , but Almost Enough for me. Great piece Selma !!!

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  5. Selma the singer! Wow I am impressed! I love the part where you said there was the rock n’ roll, no real drugs and absolutely no sex except for Jen & Ed! You rock in my book! And I love the ending…

    “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.”

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  6. The fact that you actually played gigs, by itself, constitutes success in my book. It was hard enough for me to hook up with musicians who were serious enough to actually show up, let alone get into a band that played gigs. I came close, though.

    Just think of how much hearing capacity you’ve saved by not continuing on with all that.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that you were able to take care of the sex part of the equation quite well without the rock.

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  7. MARY – I have met a lot of musicians over the years and have often found the self-taught musicians who couldn’t read music were the most creative in terms of just being able to pluck a tune out of thin air. They had developed their ear. My Grandfather was a top shelf fiddle player – he could play anything from classical to folk – but he couldn’t read a scrap of music. When asked once how he managed to play all those wonderful tunes, he tapped his chest and said: ‘I hear them in here.’ I am thrilled you play harmonica. It has painted such a wonderful picture of you in my mind. You are a special lady.

    TEXASBLU – It actually is far from glamorous being in a band, truth be told. You play in a lot of smoky bars, have to fend off the advances of a lot of drunken men and have to carry your own equipment. Those amps are heavy! However, it was an experience I’ll never forget.

    HEATHER – thank you so much. It was nice to revisit those old times. The things we do in our youth, eh?

    PUNATIK – I remember those jams until dawn. Playing until the neighbours sent the police round. We were on first name terms with the local constabulory. In some ways it was incredibly exciting but it also became apparent quite quickly how hard it is to ‘make it.’ It was a great experience to have. I wouldn’t change a thing!

    MELEAH – I love ‘Almost Famous.’ It is a brilliant movie. I actually bought it yesterday on sale. One of my faves!

    TBALL – awww, thanks hon. I’m glad you liked it.

    RICHARD – it does affect your hearing. I have a couple of friends who’ve been in bands for years and they have so much trouble with their hearing. When you speak to them on the phone you have to hold the receiver about a foot away. They’re practically shouting. You don’t realise at the time the damage it’s doing. And regarding the sex part – it’ll go with me to the grave….

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  8. Selma that’s terrific that you could cover Janis! You must have an unbelievable voice! I always wanted to play the drums, but my mom made me take piano instead. That didn’t last very long. 🙂 I’ve always thought I’d be a natural on the drums. *sigh*

    What a great experience to have had at the perfect stage of your life.

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  9. How’s this for selfish… I, for one, am GLAD you didn’t become famous, at least not yet, because then I never would have gotten the chance to “meet” you. Also, if you’d found your fame singing, then I would have missed out on all your wonderful stories.

    So, yeah. I’m selfish and greedy, and I won’t apologize.

    But I will offer chocolate, if that helps any.

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  10. Unfortunately, I play no instrument, and couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.

    But, when I was seventeen, I was offered a chance to play tennis professionally. I didn’t take it … in those days, tennis pros could be counted on your thumbs; the big names were ‘shamateurs’, negotiating for the best ‘conditions’.

    Not my thing at all, but I sometimes wonder … ???

    (I would have thought of something far more pithy than ‘You are the pits!!’)

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  11. EPIPHANY – I am sorry you missed out on playing the drums. All the drummers I know who always wanted to play drums ended up really enjoying playing. But you know what they say – ‘It’s never too late.’
    Many people take up instruments as adults and end up being very proficient. You should give it a go!

    KAREN – you are a character, my dear. But really, I don’t think there was any fear of me becoming a professional. I like reading, watching TV and yes, eating chocolate too much. What you have said however, has made me feel really happy because I am incredibly glad to have met you too. Cheers!

    TRAVELRAT – you must have been a brilliant player to have been offered that. Just think, you might have made it to Wimbledon. You might have met Prince Charles, or even better, Princess Michael of Kent. But then you wouldn’t be Travelrat and we would all miss you….

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  12. Ah, you’ve taken me back to my rock days, hair over a foot long, velvet loons, sleeper and crucifix, Les Paul copy going wild, Communication Breakdown, Born To Be Wild, Hey Joe, Brown Sugar, Summertown Blues, House of the Rising Sun ….
    Ah, rock heaven.
    Nowadays, rock ‘n’ roll is what I do when the cfs gets too much 😉
    But enjoyed the memories. Now, the CDs are out …

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  13. ANTHONY – I can imagine you with your long hair rocking out. I want photos. I’m sorry the CFS sometimes gets to that stage. I feel for you, I really do. But the music helps, I hope. Take care.

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  14. I can’t play an instrument or carry a tune, but I did date a drummer for a few years. He was in a local Chicago band, but they did open for Blue Oyster Cult once. It was a lot of fun but I did carry equipment on more than a few occasions.

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  15. >>you must have been a brilliant player to have been offered that.<<

    Not really … I did play for County Juniors, but Westmorland is a small county; we sometimes thought anyone who pitched up with a racquet and a set of whites got a game.

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  16. Our little Selma…a rock and roll chick. You have fulfilled one of the many things I have always wanted to do and that’s sing in public. Not that I would have the courage if given the opportunity, or the voice for that matter, but a girl can dream can’t she?

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  17. LINDA – I’m laughing right now because drummers are notorious for making people carry their equipment. My sister is a drummer and I am married to a former drummer so I have been there. I don’t think they mean to make us carry things, it’s just that they have so much stuff. Your drummer must have been in a pretty good band to open for Blue Oyster Cult. Cool.

    TRAVELRAT – I suspect you are being rather modest. Good on you.

    GYPSY – there is obviously a performing gene in your family – look at how talented your daughters are. I am glad I had the chance to be in a band. It is something to look back on fondly.

    CRICKET – you crack me up. Thanks for another great prompt that has taken me down memory lane!

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