TWO DEGREES OF AWESOME
Last weekend, on a snowy night in Reno, my band played with a substitute guitarist. This was the first time in 15 years that we had a planned substitution for my dear bandmate. We have been in it from the beginning, and we’ve been playing this music together for so long this was quite an event for me, to think of being on stage without her presence and that familiar locking-in. The deep intuition that develops musically over time is a magical thing. I don’t know that you can achieve this kind of communication any other way than to spend the years at it. I treasure it as much as anything in my life.
She said this other guitarist could handle the job and I trusted her recommendation. I trust her standards, in musicians and in people. It makes me feel good about myself that I make the cut.
I love that my band is known for its players. This kind of group can easily be seen as a collection of hired guns, and I’ve been proud of the connection the fans have to the individuals. We feel like family, and there are folks who have seen the band tens of times, and they join the family too. I never take any of it for granted. A music career is a fragile and elusive bird, and if you don’t appreciate all the subtle colors of feather, it flies away.
Anyway, this lovely substitute guitarist had learned the songs in a month, which was remarkable in itself, since the music is known for its rather surprising arrangements, defined and deep feel, and technical chops. As soon as we started our practice the day before the show, I relaxed. The most important thing to me is that the feel is right, and she locked right in. Even in the first song I could feel her deep intuition about where I was, and the connection between the drums and guitar was airtight. We were going to be in good hands.
Even though I had full confidence in the show musically, I was curious as to how the audience would accept this turn of events. I’ve been in female bands for close to 30 years, and there a few things I can count on. One of them is that any change throws people for a loop. Some other things:
The band and the players will always be underestimated. Underestimated for ability, for kindness, for humor.
Also, people will be much more familiar with us than they are with other bands. They feel free to hug us, to order us around, to lecture us on things of which they know very little, to write and ask that we call to talk to them. A woman just wrote to tell us that her 43-year old son decided that he no longer wanted to be a virgin after seeing our videos, could they have backstage passes? If those who underestimate our senses of humor could see our reactions in these moments, there would be no question that we can take a joke.
Compassion is big with us, so it takes a lot to really offend us. People will tell me what to think, how to think, and correct me wrongly. They will tell me I’ve gotten fat, as if I need someone to alert me to any weight gain, and then in the next breath tell me they like me best of everyone in the band. They’ll somehow believe that I want to hear them tear down my bandmates when I get off stage, while I’m still sweaty from sharing a beautiful two-hour intuitive musical ecstasy with them.
The other thing that I have learned is that at some point, people will assume that we are all secretly plotting against each other and all other female musicians. I don’t wonder where this comes from. American culture is built on competition, and the female cat-fight is a whole reality-TV industry unto itself. When men create the culture, they create the narrative of women fighting for their attention: this is Feminist Theory 101. Again, in the circle of the band, it’s often funny and puzzling and tiring.
The ideas of popular culture aren’t the way real people live their lives. I think we’re all pretty aware of that, and becoming more aware of it daily. Our stereotypes dissolve when we interact, when we open our hearts and see into everyone’s personal struggles to belong. Media supports stereotypes, this is the lesson we’re all learning. Media is yet another layer to a reality that is not a reflection, but a distortion to what the truth is. When we take control of how we see reality, the truth can be dazzling. Turn off all media for a few days, take a lot of walks and interact with some strangers, and see for yourself.
Anyway, what I was expecting didn’t happen. I got off stage and rather than being inundated with comparisons of the two guitarists, it was a celebration of the differences. “Two degrees of awesome:” this was the general consensus. The two guitarists are different players, different sensibilities, different histories that both connect them and create two unique ways of interpreting. It was a different show. Different and good, different and fun, different and entertaining. I was so proud of the audience, and maybe that’s because it was Reno where people seem more open to the possibilities of a new way of being, of thinking for themselves. It was wonderful.
The weekend before this show, I attended a workshop learning some hippie stuff in my pursuit of my other love, assisting folks in finding an inner awareness of truth. I sat next to a couple from Portland, about my age. The first day, we had lovely superficial conversations about particulars: their trip down, how they came to do this work.
On the second day, the man asked about my music career, and said that he loved music. That his youngest played. He said she was 15 years old and played the drums. “Permanently 15” was the way he described her, and I laughed, thinking that was a description of her spirit. No, he said. She had died suddenly, 8 months previous.
I was shocked by this. I think this must be the most difficult thing a person can go through, to lose a child. I was instantly heartbroken for them. He said that the week before she passed away, she played a concert at her school in which she played “Tom Sawyer,” by Rush.
It wasn’t lost on me that just a few month before this, I too had sat down to learn “Tom Sawyer” in a time of stress in my life, as a release. That the probability of a rock drummer attending a workshop like this, and then sitting next to these lovely people who had lost their rock drummer daughter just months before, this all seemed meaningful. The profound synchronicity felt like I was in the right place, right time.
Shortly after this, I had a dream. I was visiting a guide, a native American chief. I was at his feet, and could smell the leather on his clothing and was amazed at his beauty. I noticed that he was holding a beautiful white bird in his hands. It was dead, and he held it by the neck. It was so beautiful I put my hands on it and felt its soft and gorgeous down. After a while, the chief lifted the bird and took its heart out, and pushed it into my own. When he did this, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of expansion, of light, of open love and of beauty.
I see how music has opened this field of awareness in which I am connected to a bigger truth, and I am continually overwhelmed. How is it that 30 years ago, as I picked up my first drumsticks, they would carry me here, to this unfolding of truth and beauty and connection with humanity and my own open heart.
This is what music is to me, the conduit through which I access this open awareness and love. We all have the ability to reach this awareness. And in fact, when we fall into this reality, media and superficial interactions seem like a big funny game, and all the fake importance drifts away from us like clouds. In each clear gaze of another we see the universe and a universe of love. No matter what silliness is causing paroxysms of laughter in the backstage room.
Thank you, audience of Reno who attended this show and lived in the glorious moment. Thank you for not feeling the need to compare or denigrate, and for creating a space in which our connections traveled freely on waves of rock and roll, as the gorgeous snow fell and nothing else mattered.
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