DIARY OF A FADING ROCKSTAR: Episode I: What It Is, and What It Was

Written By: Erik Rader

In the surreal landscape of high school, even the most alienated soul was privy to a local network of profound, if obscure, communitarian sensibility, a sort of ad-hoc anarchist playground where society was reduced to an abstract microcosm. one heard by word of mouth that certain people were musicians, and that they were good; it wasnʼt hard to find them, as someone inevitably had a class with them, particularly jazz band. Oneʼs word of mouth network was all the network one needed to find experts at anything – home manufacture of designer drugs, for example, or cultivated contraband; or someone who could draw a poster, or silkscreen a logo on a trenchcoat, or who could acquire firearms or explosives or other devices of terror; or someone who might have a guitar or drum kit for sale, or who might be interested in playing bass.

All it took was an exchange of phone numbers on scraps of paper, a saturday afternoon in common, which was universal, since no one had a job [well, the bass player, the elder statesman, had a job; but he showed up for rehearsal anyway]. all it took was the mere suggestion and somehow will and energy coalesced, because the landscape was devoid of imminent responsibility or entertainment. none of us were anxiously preparing for the next meeting of the model UN, or as a favorite chemistry teacher so biliously put it, “going to discover the next element.” we had time, and we had the inclination of “why not?”, and we had living rooms.

How did one write a song? one thought of a melody, imagined accompaniment, wrote down lyrics – a song was born. how did one lead a band? one demonstrated the arrangement – how difficult could it be? “It goes like this – then it goes like this – then it goes like this.” How did one promote oneʼs band? With a logo and a sharpie pen and a tile wall in a high school corridor. with a xerox machine and a staple gun and yards of plywood fenced construction site. how did one get bookings? One called up club owners, got hung up on, called again, got hung up on, and called again. One told stories of hundreds of kids turning out in the high school courtyard, of benefit concerts, of parties. One somehow landed a Wednesday night opener. All of oneʼs schoolmates
showed up. Soon enough, the Wednesday night opener became a Friday night headliner.

Before there were managers and booking agents and road managers and label executives and entertainment lawyers and professional photographers and producers and engineers and caterers and lighting and sound technicians and roadies and guitar and drum techs…there were some people, and some songs, and some instruments, and a living room, and a name. Before all of the dross, before the muddled album cover designs and the unattractive T-shirts, before the effects pedals, before the solos that were longer than the verses, before the bragging about the previous nightʼs groupie sex, before the showing up late to the gig high as a kite, before the rehearsals broken up by near-fistfights, before the sudden unannounced firings of band members, before the rifts in the dream, there was the dream itself: where a consolidation of creative wills came together in an atmosphere of naivete and positivity, where nothing was ever reduced to the practical, much less the profitable; where any gig was a good gig; where even an
audience of one was a triumph; where the joy and excitement of listening to ourselves
play was enough motivation.

There was a time when it was enough to notice someone elseʼs clothes to know they were of a like mind, one could broach a conversation about bands, then in three swift moves have recruited a fellow musician for a project. there were no day planners and no day jobs, no palm pilots or palm greasing, there were no contracts, there were no riders, there were no hourly rates. There was a time when one was willing to enter into any opportunity to actually play music, before the tendency arose to find any and every practical excuse why it must be an untenable and unprofitable excursion.

There was a time when people would get into a dirty white chevy van and risk life and limb to drive to some college town, raid their student council entertainment fund for cash and liquor, and blow peopleʼs minds. There was a time when one was on nothing other than a fanatical
quest to blow peopleʼs minds, and nothing would stand in oneʼs way. Not to entertain, but to blow their minds. before there was american idol, before there was MTV, before there was “bling bling”, before anyone even cared about a record contract – there was a time when no mental obstacles separated one from direct expression to oneʼs constituency – to oneʼs peers.

You went out and you made things happen because nobody told you that you couldnʼt, and when they did tell you that you couldnʼt you said, “Fuck you anyway” and moved on. You didnʼt pay to play, you “rocked the party.” You didnʼt say “Cʼmon, everybody, put your hands together!”, you screamed “Iʼm an antichrist!” or “Nazi punks fuck off!”

Before there was alternative this or indy that, before there was a scene or scenes, before DJʼs, before the booking agent you had to know personally to get a gig, before “buzz”, you created everything, because you had no fear, because you had no hope. You did it because you were unruly and untamed. You did it because no one could stop you; not your parents, not your family, not your congregation, not your teachers, not the police, not the guidance counselor who wanted you to go to college, not the fucking losers at your school who thought they were greek gods but in reality were merely trolls.

You didnʼt “break in” to anything, you stood your ground and blasted, and you let them all come to you. you didnʼt do market research, you didnʼt have “visioning” meetings, you didnʼt read Variety or CMJ. You showed up to school in fashions you made yourself, you had music in your head you made yourself, everything about you was made yourself, not bought in a store or bought from anywhere. You were the creator of your own memetic universe, your own total reality map. You cultivated obscurantism. You cultivated eccentricity. you werenʼt afraid of being divested of your livelihood because you didnʼt have one – you had nothing, no freedom, no capital, no assets. All you had was your attitude and your rage, and you funneled it all into a total assault on the reality proscribed and prescribed by your inferiors, the people who lived in fear of a vision of anything beyond what had been proscribed and prescribed for them. you spit on them
and climbed over their sorry asses. you shook the dust off of your sandals. you were the judgement of Armageddon time upon the heads of the boring. You were righteous. You were fifteen.

Erik Rader was, like, this close to becoming a famous rockstar in the mid-1980ʼs. He lives with his family in Seattle, where there are more almost-famous people per capita than any other city besides Los Angeles.

Check Out The Other Articles In This Series:
Episode II
Episode III


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