“Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song?” Such were the words of William Miller in the movie “Almost Famous” as his character asked Russell Hammond what it was like to be in a band. Judging from my own personal experience of being in a rock band, it was a lot like the movie … in that they both lasted about two hours.
Picking up the guitar at age 20, I quickly became known around my circle of friends as the black Eric Clapton, which is weird, because I’m white. My life became centered on learning everything there is to know about the guitar. I was like a crack addict who just kept yearning for the next fix. But enough about Courtney Love.
After almost two years of learning every Metallica song my fingers could muster, I was ready for the next step: joining a mediocre local rock band. Lucky for me, my best friend was already playing bass in a local outfit known as Quantum Theory. Think Jimmy Eat World if it was Christian and had no talent, and you’d have Quantum Theory. It started as a trio, but as luck would have it, was looking to expand to a foursome (what guy in college wasn’t, right?). That’s when I made it my ambition to be part of rock history. With my newly developed lead guitar skills, my position in the band was an obvious choice: bass. Turns out, my friend wanted to move to lead guitar. He pulled rank and ousted me down the musical ladder. I auditioned, got the part and began getting acquainted with slapping the four-string. My first step down the golden brick road of rock godliness had been taken.
After weeks of rehearsals, petty arguments and an unknown number of $5 pizzas, we were ready for our first show as a foursome. The locale was a downtown staple known as Jerry’s Pizza. It was cozy, the way the trunk of a Cadillac is cozy if you were to be kidnapped by the Mafia. Of course, the trunk would probably smell better.
Groupies: check. Sound: check. Groupies: double check. Butterflies the size of pterodactyls: check. The opening of our six-song set began with me playing a long bass line while the rest of the band slowly faded in. All I could envision was playing the wrong note, breaking a string or having a steady stream of urine make its way down my leg like a Hawaiian waterfall.
Fortunately, I made it through the first song unscathed. As the performance unfolded, my emotions were like the end of “Dirty Dancing”: I was having the time of my life. The fifth song of our set was a fast-paced tune designed to get the crowd moving around like hummingbirds on crack. As the song started, I attempted an epic stage move: the punk rock jump. Unfortunately for my skull, I forgot we were playing in a basement. My head slammed into a wooden beam like Paul Bunyan’s axe taking down a pine tree. Keeping with true rock star status, I kept playing and never missed a beat. I remember seeing stars, but it was most likely the flashes from people taking pictures of me and laughing hysterically.
Our second show as a foursome was a private gig for kids at a local Catholic church. If uptight, snarky Catholic teenagers aren’t fans of second-rate rock music, I don’t know who is. After playing our first song, the music stopped, but the applause didn’t start. There’s nothing more humbling than playing a song for four minutes and having 30 teenagers stare at you blankly as if you were teaching them how to do their taxes. We finished our set and high-tailed it out of there. Groupies be damned.
The third, and what turned out to be final, show of Quantum Theory’s career took place at a local Christian venue that had everything: great sound, bright lights and a crowd that didn’t judge, save for one big guy upstairs. With two shows in the books, we had a feeling this was going to be our breakout performance, and it was. For 30 minutes of amplified glory, every fist pumped hard and every head banged concussively. We sounded like Aerosmith back when they were good and still on drugs.
When the last note of the night sounded and the crowd erupted in cheers, I felt like Eminem at the end of “8 Mile.” Strangers came up to me as I was loading my $90 bass into my $100 case to tell me how much they loved the show. The two years I had spent learning guitar had finally amounted to something, albeit in the form of a bass, but all that mattered that night was the splendor of rock.
Like most local bands, we broke up shortly after. Many calendar pages have since been torn away and I have yet to play another live show. But the memory stays with me. The thrill of playing a successful concert is like herpes — you just can’t get rid of it.
How’s that for an answer, William?