So you're sitting at home listening to Green Day, Nirvana, and the Ramones and you think, "Hey, I can do this! This is EASY!" So, you dust off that old AC/DC vinyl and as the last tortured notes of "Back in Black" scratch through your speakers, you crack a maniacal smile of self-affirmation. Well, listen up, Davy Jones. Been there, done that, have the bump on my head. And let me tell you, no matter how effortlessly Ricky Martin shakes his bon bon, it's NOT that easy. But because I am the Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah, I have developed a twelve-step program for rock 'n' roll success. Follow it to a T and who knows? You could be the next Right Said Fred.
So sexy it really DOES hurt.
Why should you listen to me? No, I don't have a CD out, nor have I toured the country extensively. I haven't worn make-up (at least not for a gig) or teased my hair with a natural gas tank-sized can of Aqua Net. But I have been in the trenches. I've sweated and bled for my music. Not because I've toiled hard, but because I get hot all the time and cut pretty easily. And I’ve played open mics
for backwoods whack-jobs. And all I have to show for it is tinnitus and Elephant Man-like calloused fingers. Hell, I was in bands called Maelstrom, Tempest, and Blackstar all before I could even play an instrument! I dreamed of being a star in the music biz and had everything I needed to reach my goal with the possible exception of an instrument, talent, and equally clueless bandmates. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know what it takes, Simon Cowell
I started playing acoustic guitar at a very early age. My parents tinkered around on the church circuit and showed me a thing or two. I even got to sit in a couple of times playing for masses and prayer groups, but after realizing that I wasn't going to land a ton of chicks playing "His Eye is on the Sparrow," I abandoned the six-string and moved on to that babe magnet instrument, the clarinet. All that got me was lip splinters, atomic wedgies, and kids at school that would literally pick up dog shit with their own bare hands just for the opportunity to hurl it at me when I was walking home. So, like the Prodigal Son, I sheepishly returned to the guitar, electric style, the year I entered Catholic high school and focused on being the next Vinnie Moore
. Who? Exactly.
Bands came and went. We were kicked out of mass for playing an instrumental version of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" during Communion, which we would have pulled off, if the student body decided to contemplate Jesus dying for their sins rather than singing, "There is no pain, you are receding", but we had fun anyway. Well, as much fun as you can have playing electric guitar in a mass, hampered by a suit jacket, tie, and a very un-rock star-like haircut. I went through a long dry period where I wasn’t doing much musically. My beloved Monkee's Uncle had disbanded and I did little more than play horribly depressing Bob Mould
covers on my acoustic for my mirror and, apparently, my upstairs neighbor Maxine. But now I am back with the creative juices flowing and get my kicks out of playing horribly depressing Bob Mould covers on my acoustic for the real-life cast of Deliverance
. Man, if I had a nickel for everytime someone requested "Duelling Banjos"...But that doesn’t mean I don’t know what it takes to make millions. So take heed, remember my words, apply them and never forget... I get 15%.I – Choosing Your Equipment
Always remember: Style over substance. I had the opportunity to buy a gorgeous Gibson hollow body electric for my first guitar way back when I was fifteen. Instead, I opted for a Value-Rite Red Flying-V monstrosity because it looked like the one the Night Ranger
guy had. Oh yes, Sister Christian…the time has come. It was virtually impossible to play sitting down and the knobs would inexplicably fall off mid-strum, but I was Joe Rock Star with that thing. I used to put my arm through the opening of the "V" and play it that way. I ran home the day I got it, cranked the Scorpions' Love At First Sting
and pretended I was "Still Loving You." My parents listened outside my door thinking I was a prodigy, not stopping to realize that a) all of a sudden, without a mere lesson, I could play a rock song, b) a drummer materialized in my room from out of nowhere and c) I now sang in a thick German accent. Riddled by guilt for miming the tune, I learned it years later. My parents affectionately referred to it as a "racket." Also, be an intelligent, thrifty shopper. I got a decent deal on a Peavey amp with a vomit stain on the speaker cover. Not a bad amp, but when it got really hot....II – Choosing Your Teacher
Not all of us are born with Stevie Ray Vaughan
chops in our genes, so if you feel the need to be tutored, go to the best in your area. My first instructor was named Bill. Bill was a great guy and a really decent axe-man with a lot of integrity. He would sit there during our lesson, with his Pat Metheny
shirt on and just roll his eyes disapprovingly when I asked him to teach me Rush's "By-Tor and the Snow Dog." But he still lowered himself to my depths and I greatly appreciated it. Evidently, Bill's girlfriend also appreciated him because one day, he was gone (he knocked her up and needed something slightly more high-brow than a $4.25/hr. teaching gig to put food on the table.) Enter Manny. If you want a teacher, I implore you. Find Manny. Sometimes Manny showed up for the lesson, sometimes Manny didn't. Sometimes Manny made bail, sometimes Manny didn't. When he had enough energy to shake off that Friday night Heffenreffer bender, Manny could play pretty well. Manny had long, greasy hair and I swore he played that same Gibson I dropped the ball on years earlier. Snugly tucked in the headstock was a stunted cigarette butt from the Paleolithic era, the sure sign of a bad ass rock star in the making. Manny also wouldn't put up with my shit. We played what HE wanted to play, which invariably was "Sympathy for the Devil" by the Stones. Every solitary week. One time I brought in a copy of Dokken's "Alone Again" (OK, OK, shut up. I was in high school for crying out loud.) Manny had never heard it, a fact that in retrospect, commands infinite respect, but was willing to learn it for me. He put the tape in, listened to the first few bars of George Lynch's delicate guitar intro, got a really dumb look on his face, rewound it, listened to it again, tuned his guitar to the tape and proceeded to launch right into "Sympathy." For the love of all that's holy, find Manny. And tell him that Dim says "The Stones suck."III – Choosing Your Bandmates
Since you're gonna wind up playing with people you hate, you may as well start off with enemies. Friends don't let friends play in bands together. Remember what it did for Vince Neil and Motley Crue back before they kissed, had plastic surgery and made up? No thanks. Besides, it's easier to contemplate homicide using your Value-Rite red Flying-V if you never sat down and had a beer with the victim (usually the lead singer... don't say I didn't warn you).IV - Choosing Your Setlist
Remember, diversity in your setlist is a good thing, but give serious consideration as to how Queensyche will sound following the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out." Also, stay within your limitations. Our stupid-ass bass player was into gadgets and gizmos. He picked up this voice processor (don't ask) and quickly discovered that, using this device, he could do the two-sentence spoken word intro to the Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince’s "1999," an intro that the rest of the free world could replicate without the aid of some fancy shmancy piece of junk. Just talk like Barry White, man! So guess what gets thrown on the setlist? "1999." No electronic drums, mind you. No pencil thin moustaches. No scantily clad women playing keyboards. No guy mysteriously dressed up as a surgeon. Just a goddamn vocal processor. Being the only guitar player (and actually having my testicles intact,) I got to play Prince's guitar part and sing the lower vocal part that the rhythm guitarist with the Samurai headband sang. After the bass player got his ya-ya's with the processor, we started the song in utter disarray. After two measures, I pulled a Nigel Tufnel
nutty, slammed my guitar down, grabbed the mic that was still plugged into the processor and said, in a tone eerily reminiscent of that thing in Sigourney Weaver's icebox in "Ghostbusters
" that said "Zuul," "We are never playing this fucking song again." And we never played that fucking song again.V - Choosing Your Name
Do not - I repeat - do NOT underestimate the potential catastrophe choosing your name will be. Keep sharp objects out of reach during discussion. Even potentially sharp objects...it's amazing what a little whittling can do. It's inconceivable that, with band names like Toad the Wet Sprocket and the Screaming Cheetah Wheelies among countless others, five semi-intelligent, non-comatose individuals cannot, or will not, agree on a moniker. After dismissing such gems as Crystal Nipple and Sport 'N' The Tall Boys, we settled on Zen Yogurt thanks to a faulty ice cream store marquee. Oh, and smart ass, if you're thinking of naming your band Free Beer, (picture that on a sign outside a club: Thursday - Free Beer) don't bother. I tried that one too. Also, keep your karma in check. I was in a band called Spork for awhile. Great musicians, but we almost killed each other. Taking your name from an androgynous eating utensil from Kentucky Fried Chicken is just a cosmic bus crash waiting to happen.VI – Watch What You Eat
Not that I think that Drake's Apple Pies are the Devil's Dessert or anything, but they don't set well before practice, especially if you don't...VII – Watch What You Drink
Now, Mountain Dew IS the Nectar of the Underworld, especially when coupled with Drake's Apple Pies and anyone who tells you different is too late to save. Kurt Cobain had his heroin. Janis Joplin had her Southern Comfort. Mama Cass had her ham sandwich. David Crosby had his...hell, what DIDN'T David Crosby have? Yours truly had Mountain Dew. I was in rehab for three years to get off of that stuff and still shudder like the space shuttle if I catch a glimpse of that Sugar Coma in a Green Can. And don't listen to these newly reformed rock stars. Play when you're tanked. You may not actually play better than when you're sober, but you'll think you do. And that's all that really matters. There's no better feeling of satisfaction than convincing four equally-as-drunk-as-you-bandmates that you really did nail that Van Halen solo.VIII – Play Anywhere
Don't be choosy with your gigs no matter how embarrassing they are. One time, we played a cookout in the rain for a bunch of octogenarians. They were a little taken aback by our Faith No More covers, but we entertained them with our multiple electric shocks as our system shorted out. If you ever find yourself in a similar playing environment, remember: stop, drop and convulse. Plus, there is nothing more existentially surreal than having some guy older than Nebuchadnezzar screaming "Freebird!" through an artificial voice box. Kinda sounded like the vocal processor, actually.IX – Develop An Entourage
You really don't need a Snoop Doggy Dogg posse to placate your developing ego, but it's nice to be followed around, even if it's by two fifteen year-old girls and you are well into your twenties. They'd beg us for autographs, used picks, broken strings, anything. They had a virtual Zen Yogurt shrine. Quite the ego boost, even though they probably just hung out with us so we could help them with their spelling homework. Tragically, over a fateful summer vacation, our little groupies decided we sucked and we never saw them again. When you can't even get two pimply-faced pre-pubescent girls who still have their baby fat to fawn over you, you're in deep shit now, Francis.X – Develop An Ego
If you've even vaguely followed steps one through nine, this should happen automatically. And think everything you do is earth-shattering. We spent an entire day writing a song that we thought was better than "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Looking back, it sounded like a tune that couldn't make the cut on the last Winger album.XI – Watch Out For UFOs
That is, Unidentified Falling Objects. I once got my bell rung by playing under a pull-down staircase in a garage. Just into our Journey cover, I realized that our Ritalin-deprived drummer needed to slow down. Having a drummer who can't keep the time is a real bummer, especially when he turns a Styx ballad into "Lady - The Slayer Version." Anyway, I go up to the drummer and scream "Slow down!!" He looked above me, noticing the vibrations from the bass and drums were causing the staircase to inch its way downward. He nodded, more to alert me to my impending doom than to comply with my request. Just when I figured it out, I looked up in time to get nailed on the side of my head with the staircase. I was out cold and the band thought my head and body went "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)." After I came to, I swore I nailed that Van Halen solo. Then again, maybe it was all that Miller Genuine Draft (see "Watch What You Drink".) Also, beware of falling bandmates. Our rather energetic, yet hardly svelte, bass player decided to climb up on a saw horse of all god-forsaken stage props for the finale of "Helter Skelter." He burned up on re-entry, but the sound of him landing on his bass, along with his screams of agony, added some appropriate ambiance. Blisters on my fingers, indeed.XII – Go Out In Style
If you do decide to hang it all up after your hard work, have a rousing farewell bash. Drake's Apple Pies and Mountain Dew for everyone, including the entourage. Break stuff, preferably someone else's equipment and start making plans for an unplugged reunion tour. Either that, or change your name to Esteban Iglesias and learn how to sing in Spanish. La vida loca indeed.
So you still wanna be a rock and roll star?
Everything zen, baby. I don’t think so.