A few years ago I was the drummer in a 90’s alterna-rock cover band. You know the drill; guitar based rock and pop songs played pretty close to the original. Just at a different tempo. And sloppier. Some cool and mercifully energetic songs mixed with many other songs that are not bad so much as dreadfully boring. If you go to sports bars in the suburbs of any American city on a Saturday night, you have heard some variant of this band.
We practiced and attempted to choose songs that we liked to compliment the songs that drunk, suburban former frat dudes wanted to yell “woo” to. We enjoyed playing together and definitely did not take the whole band thing too seriously. We were usually paid for our efforts and were always pleasantly surprised when we loaded out with money in hand after our bar tab was subtracted.
One day, our suburban 90’s alterna-rock cover band was asked to play a private birthday party. Of course we said yes, because why the hell not? Playing shows is always more fun than not playing shows. This birthday party was in fact the big fiftieth party for an acquaintance who played in a cover band himself. His band played classic rock covers and material more well-traveled than our thing. They played close to the originals and were pretty serious about being a suburban cover band. So serious that they couldn’t possibly stoop to playing at their own member’s birthday party. Even though they were all there. Also, they had horn players. That means something; you decide if that something is good or bad.
We played a bunch of songs in our usual style. People seemed to dig it, as was usually the case. Birthday Boy definitely enjoyed it, but I am not sure if his bandmates shared that enthusiasm. All musicians judge other musicians. No matter one’s relative skill level. That is just the way it works, so let’s not pretend otherwise. We all have different reasons for why we play an instrument and those reasons influence how we view other players; particularly those individuals who have chosen to play the instrument we have chosen.
Our band never had a “band leader”, mostly because it seems silly for a suburban cover band made up of adult persons to require such a role but also because no one in the band was “That Guy”. You know, the guy that wants to talk to you about your “stage clothes” when playing in the corner of a dank bar or wants to talk to you about your practice regimen before rehearsal. That Guy.
Birthday boy’s band definitely had That Guy. At some point during the party, it was decided that the serious suburban cover band would play some songs, which was cool with us as we could go have a beer and eat something porky. This decision made Birthday Boy happy since it was clear that he had wanted his band to play in the first place. That Guy was empty handed, so our guitar player graciously let him borrow a Les Paul.
The guitar strap was a bit long for That Guy, but instead of adjusting it to his liking himself, he asked our guitar player to come up and adjust it for him. So That Guy stood there like a gleaming monument to an anonymous rock star while our normal person guitar player adjusted the strap on his own guitar so that someone else could play it. Then during a song, just prior to the guitar solo, the other band members frantically called out for a chair in order for That Guy to put his leg up. To play the solo. Someone dutifully brought a chair up. And the leg was perched for soloing.
Finally, That Guy broke a string and subsequently stood there staring at the now hideously deformed Les Paul. The band stopped. Our normal person guitar player offered to change the string; it would take but a moment. Nah. That Guy proclaimed the show over, took the guitar off, and strolled over to another part of the garage to chat with a fan. Birthday Boy was deflated. At least there was beer.
No matter my skills at guitar playing, at least I will never be That Guy. He sucks at being a person. And also guitar playing.