The Three Things I Remember About The Old Practice Space
My daughter turns 14 this summer. She’s decided to learn how to play the electric guitar. She spends an hour or so a day learning solos from internet tablature — Modest Mouse, Mother Mother, probably other bands with two Ms — except in the case of Sidney Gish’s “Sin Triangle,” of which she couldn’t find any internet tablature so she decided to write her own.
- “Sin Triangle” — Sidney Gish
- “In My Bones” — Jacob Collier (w/ Kimbra & Tank and the Bangas)
- “Blade: The Art of Ox” — Cannibal Ox (w/ Artifacts & U-God)
- “A.M. 180” — Grandaddy
- “The Healthy One” — Laura Stevenson
- “Big Burner” — Three-Layer Cake
- “If There Is Something” – Roxy Music
- “Relativity” — Heiruspecs
- “The Seventh Son” — Mose Alison
- “Hace Frio” — Mato
- “Gut Feeling / (Slap Your Mammy)” — DEVO
- “Liberation Frequency” — Refused
- “Terry Gross” — Dessa
- “Angel Dust” — Engine Kid
- “Infected” — Bad Religion
- “This Sentence Will Ruin/Save Your Life” — Born Ruffians
- “Ur Gonna Wish U Believed Me” — Cavetown
- “The Way I Feel Inside” — PHOX
I’m not going to write about my almost–14-year-old. My almost–14-year-old would not want me writing about her, to be honest, and so I will say no more except to say that I, too, was in my early-to-mid-teens, and I, too, tried to learn an electric guitar.
Mine was a bass. I didn’t really try that hard, but I did learn the bass line to Pink Floyd’s “Money,” and also Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” and I somehow wrote the intro to a song for my band, despite not actually paying the bass guitar in that band.
I think about that band every time I go around the bike trail. Here in Sioux Falls, our bike trail is a 20-mile loop, and part of that loop goes through Falls Park, named after the falls of the Sioux River. A block or so from that park is a garage, surrounded by a chain link fence. It’s just any other garage, really, except I know that (at least in the mid- to late 90s) there is a band practice space inside of it.
Early on, our band used to practice there. It belonged to the dad of our second bass player — second as in we had lost a bass player and brought him on, only to eventually kick him out, which made this practice space temporary — and served as the main practice space and hangout for a local bar rock band. It had a one-foot-tall stage and dirty couches and ash trays, but more importantly it had a place where we could store our stuff; where the mics actually worked and there were monitors and real equipment. It was very bad-ass, and even though we didn’t really want to keep the bass player in the band we still needed to stay cool because this practice space made us feel as though we were legitimate.
I have three memories of this practice space.
I remember having space.
We had been practicing in garages and (once) cramped into a small bedroom, but this was the first time we felt (to me) like a legitimate band. It was like being 15 and walking into a small-town bar — the kind that doesn’t really care how old anyone is — and realizing you’d crossed some kind of age barrier. The practice space was for adults. We were using it. By application of the transitive property, this made us pretty much adults.
I remember being watched.
The bass player’s dad’s friends — I assume they were in the aforementioned bar band — caught the end of one of our practices. They laughed. We were not good, and we probably deserved it, but they were still assholes. There aren’t a lot of hard and fast rules, but one of them is that you don’t laugh at kids trying to make crappy music.
I remember crying.
Not out of sadness, or out of anger. But out of burning pain. We were a band filled with pseudo-punkers trying to find a sound. We hadn’t written much original music, and instead we tried on different movements — our repertoire swung from first album Offspring to major label Bad Religion to, for some reason, Marilyn Manson. We were far from cool. We were, frankly, absurd.
We took this experimentation to absurdity, too. When you’re still in high school — still learning about counter-culture, I suppose — there’s an assumption that anything weird might actually stick. Every trend comes from some accidental trial, and so any trial might eventually become a trend.
For us, it was how, one day, someone (I think our drummer Matt?) brought a small tin of Tiger Balm and then put it under their eyes.
If you’re not familiar, know that Tiger Balm is not meant to be anywhere near your eyes. It burned. It burned a lot, honestly, and looking back I struggle to see the benefit; I cannot grasp why this was a practice worth preserving. It burned, and then we were all trying it. For a week or so, practice looked like this: apply Tiger Balm under the eyes, get teary-eyed, smell like a locker room, repeat in between takes of Face to Face’s “Promises.”
And then, we stopped. We moved on. But that weird experience will always be ours. That weird test was something we shared, that we can now look back on and think, “Why did we think that was a good idea?” knowing there is no answer. We didn’t learn anything, but we didn’t learn anything together.
Without being a real dad about things, I keep tabs on my daughter’s progress. I know it’s going to be slow; I know from experience that making music is hard and weird and sometimes you put yourself through pain for no reason other than to test out a niche or two. I know you don’t laugh at anything that comes out of the guitar.
I know that you shrug off the weirdness that comes along with playing a rock instrument. I know that being 14 or 15 is inherently weird, and no number of bass players will change that.
I always note that there’s a band practice space in that old garage, but I actually don’t know if the practice space is still there. That doesn’t matter. The location doesn’t matter. The practice space could have been anywhere. It was anywhere we got weird for a little bit. I hope my daughter finds that too. Some place to get weird. Some people to share those weird things with. And a deep catalog of songs that were never quite mastered, yet perfected enough to grasp onto.