Twenty years ago, I wanted to be in Fishbone. Not Fishbone per se, you understand. A dorky, white, Midwestern goober would've fit in with them about as well as a giant radioactive lizard. But a Fishbone-like band -- one that played ska and punk and funk and rock and any other kind of music they pleased -- would've suited me to a T.
There were a bunch of bands like that at the time, actually. In the Midwest alone, you had Johnny Socko, The Pacers, The Siren Six!, MU330, Wild Kingdom, Gangster Fun, The Urge and Blue Meanies. And those are just the good ones I can remember off the top of my head. There were a thousand horrible ones I've forgotten, most of them with names like The Kooksters!!! and Ska & Order.
In fact, I just remembered: I was in one of the horrible ones, briefly kinda-sorta. We were called The Mennonites and we existed as a band for about a year, during which we practiced five times and never managed to play a gig at all. (Hence the "briefly kinda-sorta" and the fact that when I began this post I truly had forgotten I'd been in a band.) I played the trumpet horribly and sang even worse. Our last practice was our best. I'd written a new, terrible Operation Ivy ripoff, and I got to jump around shrieking the lyrics for an hour, playing front man for the first and last time in my life. Then I went outside, threw up in the gutter and spent the next three days in bed.
Was it the flu or the only appropriate response to the sound of my own "singing"? We'll never know.
(O.K., we will. I had the flu. Still -- I'm sure my singing didn't help.)
In hindsight, I'm grateful that I sucked so hard at the thing I wanted most to do: make music. Because when I finally gave up and sold my cool black trumpet to a dude in a mariachi band (no joke -- he showed up to get it in his rhinestone-studded outfit and sombrero) the thing I turned to next was writing. For about seven seconds, I thought I might move to L.A. and try to break into television, but I'd heard enough about writers' rooms and studio notes and network Standards and Practices to find the idea simultaneously terrifying and nauseating. So I started writing short stories instead. A mere 10 years and a million rejections later, I was a published novelist. Good thing I'd ended up barfing that one day or I might not have turned my back on music, and then where would I be?
I started thinking about all this after watching the new-ish documentary Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone. It's a fascinating film whether one's partial to ska-punk-funk-rock or not. Sure, it follows the trials and tribulations of one specific band, but most of the things that tear Fishbone apart -- egos, iconoclastic (and conflicting) artistic visions, corporate shortsightedness -- are also faced, in one way or another, by every creative person you admire. It's not just musicians who'll watch Everyday Sunshine and nod knowingly and groan, "Oh, yeah...that crap." It's writers and directors and actors and painters and sculptors and mimes.
Well, maybe not mimes. They get to live in little invisible worlds that they create themselves. If a mime says there's a wall in front of him, dammit, there's a wall in front of him. He doesn't have to mime-argue with a mime-designer about how tall and wide it should be and whether to use mime-bricks or mime-plaster to mime-build it.
I'm not jealous of the guys in Fishbone anymore (though it would still be fun to have even the slightest sliver of their musical talent). I think it's the mime who appeals to me more now. Not that I'm going to slap on greasepaint and start working on my walking-against-the-wind routine. I just like the idea of one imagination creating something and offering it up to the world, with no second-guessing or bean-counting -- no one else's crap -- getting in the way.
Time to stop beating around the bush and say it: I'm thinking about ebooks here. I just finished my next novel for a traditional publisher and I love it and can't wait to tell you about it, but it took me a year to nail down the deal and it'll be another year before the book comes out. What am I going to do in the meantime? As much as I can, that's what! I'm not going to bog myself down with more pitches and proposals and crap when I can go Marcel Marceau on your ass!
Well, not on your ass. More like Amazon's ass.
Wow. This whole mime metaphor just turned horribly awkward. Let's drop it and go back to music.
No, I'm still not a musician. But maybe I am finally ready to rock.
UPDATE: My old pal/fellow Mennonite Shyloh Wideman has popped up to let me know there's a recording of the song I sang so hard I puked. It's called "Kid," and it's online here. That's not me singing it, though: It's Shyloh with his post-Mennonites band Evil Villain Types. Listening to "Kid" again after all these years, I think it's obvious I was destined to become a writer. That song's got waaaaaaaaaaay too many words....