An Ode to Being in a Band

I can’t believe how good we sound.

illustration of cloud with lightning with 3 arms holding mic, bass, drumsticks, and 3 feet keeping time appearing from behind it on purple background
Tim Lahan

As a drummer, yes, I’ve got problems.

Poor technique; irregular impacts; misdirected strike power, such that my kit will literally come apart when we play a show, expanding in all directions like the universe.

But. Preoccupied as I may be by my own shortcomings, for our collective thing, for who we are as a band, I have nothing but an idolatrous passion. I can’t believe how good we are. We sound, when we’re in our groove, like R.E.M.’s Murmur performed by early Motörhead. We sound like Neil Young being attacked by a flock of Canada geese. We sound like five middle-aged men slurping with wild gratitude at the elixir of rock and roll. Which weirdly—we are discovering—makes you older, not younger. But so what?

I once spent a weekend in Vermont with some Revolutionary War reenactors. We were all in our period gear, refighting the Battle of Hubbardton. I liked them, the reenactors, but as one of them came to the end of an especially fervent monologue about tactics or musketry or buttons, I asked him if he wasn’t perhaps taking it all a bit seriously. He looked at me with the transparency of the Dalai Lama. “The more seriously you take it,” he said, “the more fun it is.”

So it is with being in a band. Greg, rhythm guitarist/songwriter, expresses himself deeply and purely through our music. (“When I discovered the key of G,” he told us once during practice, “that’s when this whole thing popped open.”) And in Greg’s basement, we are all in the grip of the same late-flowering love: We strive and sweat to be worthy of his beautiful chord changes. We fuss over song parts. We have sudden, bold ideas. We’ve convulsed our schedules to be here. Our lives, responsibilities, etc. pile up outside. In rock-and-roll terms, we refight the Battle of Hubbardton every week.

And the reward, the payoff? It’s that feeling. In the core of the noise, that silent click of abandonment—you’re in it and you’re out of it, and your instrument is playing itself, and you’re with your friends, who before your suddenly cleared eyes are assuming their flamelike Platonic forms. There’s George, head down, tormenting his guitar to transcendence. There’s Mark, the singer: His tambourine scatters sparks. There’s Scott, secure in the intestinal majesty of his bass playing. This feeling, I understood only in Greg’s basement, is why musicians take drugs. They have to, because it’s fleeting, and when it’s gone it’s gone, and nothing in ordinary life can touch it.

Are we going anywhere, as a unit? We’ve got haggard faces and haggard minds: When we make an album, we’re calling it Look What Happens to People. “Eternity is in love with the productions of Time,” said William Blake. And I keep time in my band.

This article appears in the September 2022 print edition with the headline “Ode to Being in a Band.”