Thursday, March 15, 2012

Like Vitamins For The Soul

     Last night, Spartacus and I ventured out at 9 p.m. to see my sons, Nick and Rory, perform with their grunge/hard rock band, Bearknuckle, at a little neighborhood bar in East Atlanta. It the first time we'd seen the boys play together since their progressive metal band, Sanus Valde, broke up a few years ago. I'd been looking forward to Bearknuckle's show all week long. Although I'd heard some of their recordings online, to capture a band's real essence, you have to see them live. When Sanus Valde was performing around town, we tried to catch every show. Their music was all original, sort of a fusion of heavy metal and blues, and Nick, who played guitar, Rory, who played bass, and their drummer, Walker, had a great chemistry together. At the time, they were only 16 or 17, which made it a little difficult to obtain gigs in bars, so the majority of their live performances were held in public warehouses or basements, specifically designed for young garage bands who needed a venue.
     Just when Sanus Valde seemed to be gaining momentum, Walker quit the band. Nick and Rory were both disappointed and frustrated, mostly because of the way he'd just up and quit, for no apparent reason. Walker, who was a year younger than the boys, had been a fixture at our house for a couple of years. He had an odd, sometimes disturbing sense of humor, a highly elevated opinion of his talent and ability, and seemed to do or say things just to get a rise out of people. I guess you could say he was both a little narcissistic and anti-social. Although my heart broke for Nick and Rory, I knew that life in rock and roll would be punctuated by lots of breakups and disputes, with moments of pure electric glory in between. Whether Sanus Valde kept on going would ultimately be up to Nick and Rory, and how much they enjoyed playing music together.
     Sanus Valde's last show took place at Walker's house, at an outdoor party hosted by his parents. I thought it was cool that their pulmonologist, Lindy, a young mother of two, brought her husband and kids to the show. She knew how serious Nick and Rory were about their music, and wanted to support them. Nick and Rory were sort of novel patients for Lindy; as the director of the Emory Adult Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Center, they were the youngest patients she'd ever had. Shortly after that show, we learned that Lindy had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, and despite treatment, she died about a year later. Her death left a hole in our hearts; she'd been so accessible, such an advocate for the boys. At the show, Walker gave a bizarre, rambling speech about why he was leaving the band, and though his words stung, and his actions seemed so senseless, I thought "Good riddance." That same afternoon, he introduced the boys to a drummer friend of his, a young man named Fred. Fred was about a year older than Nick and Rory, and was married, with a baby on the way. He'd spent a short time in the Marines, but had been medically discharged because he'd developed ulcerative colitis. Fred had been with a band called AngelGrinder, and though his style was different from Walker's, he melded with Sanus Valde quite nicely.
     Because bass players, like drummers, seem to be a sought-after asset, Rory started being approached by some other local bands. He ended up securing a spot playing bass for The Craigger White Band, a local hard rock group. Craigger White, who's made rock and roll his profession, is 24 years older than Rory, and has been a great friend and mentor to him. He later invited Rory to play bass for Craigger White's Rainbow Bridge, which is the only Jimi Hendrix tribute band endorsed by the Hendrix family. They've toured in Florida and Texas, and have a following down in the Gainesville, Florida area. Rory was also the bass player for K-Dence, a local "klub rock" band whose sound can best be described as rock-infused Southern rap. Rory's increasing commitment to these other bands, as well as Fred's ulcerative colitis and the birth of his son, Sagara, resulted in less available time to devote to the music of Sanus Valde. After Fred left, Walker briefly rejoined the band, quitting multiple times before they broke up for good. While Walker alienated himself from Nick and Rory's circle of friends, Fred, his wife, Amy, and their son, Sagara, became part of our extended family. Amy enlisted in the military about a year ago, and the three of them now live in Texas. Walker is still out there somewhere, marching to the beat of a different drummer.
     I've seen Rory perform around town with all of his bands, and love watching him on stage. He's blossomed into an honest-to-goodness professional musician; it's kind of funny to hear him complaining now about other musicians who "aren't punctual." What amazes me about Rory is his natural, innate grasp of music theory. No one taught him this; it's something he was born with. Nick, who's spent the last couple of years on a spiritual quest, has continued to develop and expand his virtuosity on guitar. His playing has evolved from adolescent showmanship into an outward expression of his inner calm, and it is a beautiful thing. Last summer, Nick and Rory came to visit us in Rome (Georgia, not Italy!) on their 21st birthday, accompanied by many of their good friends, and they put on an impromptu show for us. It was sort of a blues improvisation, reminiscent of Clapton when he played with Cream, and it was the first time I'd heard the boys play together since Sanus Valde. Watching and listening as Rory deftly plucked his upright bass, while Nick's fingers soulfully traversed the frets of his custom Gibson semi-hollow body was absolute magic, other-worldly, incredible. There was talk of a new band, which would include Nick, Rory, and their friend of almost 7 years, Willie. Willie and his brother, Chad, are my sons from another mother; the bond they share with Nick and Rory has deepened and grown more intimate with each passing year. Their friendship has weathered the test of time, and I think it will last a lifetime. Willie and Chad, together with Fred and his family, Nick's long term girlfriend, Haley, Rory's girlfriend, Fanchon, and Jessica and Russell, friends of the boys who have been together since high school, comprise a diverse and talented group of young adults, who I consider "family." I am grateful for these friends, who have always demonstrated concern for Nick and Rory's well being in so many ways. Whether it was coming to the hospital to visit them during a CF tune up, accompanying them to doctor's visits, confronting them about an unruly girlfriend, attending their various live performances, or helping them pick up the pieces after a break up, this group of friends has remained steadfast and loyal. Just like Nick and Rory's beloved pulmonologist, Wendy, friends like this come along once in a lifetime.
     When we arrived at the bar last night, we were greeted warmly by the boys' friends, just about all of whom are now 21 or older. The opening act, The Eithers, had to borrow Bearknuckle's drummer, Donny, because their drummer was in jail. No one knows exactly why he was in jail, but his absence caused quite a bit of inconvenience for his band. Although Donny did a bang up job of improvising on the spur of the moment, it's apparently just not the same, playing without your own drummer. During the second half of their set, the singer took over on the drums, and the guitar player performed the vocals. Overall, I thought they compensated for the loss of their drummer pretty well. Spartacus noticed that The Either's bass player made a bee line for Haley after their performance, who I'm guessing informed him that she was with Nick. I missed out on that. Haley is a gorgeous girl, though, and last night, she was decked out in a crushed velvet suit, wearing a Jim Morrison T-shirt, looking ever so rock'n'roll, snapping photographs left and right with her fancy new camera. Fanchon, whose job entails working the night shift, was off last night, so she got to come and hang out. Spartacus and I drank beer, enjoying our conversations with Nick and Rory's compadres, patiently awaiting 11 p.m., which was when Bearknuckle was scheduled to play. When they finally took the stage, I couldn't stop smiling. It was obvious that they were having fun together, and the chemistry among Nick, Rory, Willie, and Donny, as well as the energy in the room was palpable. I thought they sounded great. With a little more time and practice together, who knows what will happen? It's a matter of each of them finding their niche, their unique voice within the tapestry of the music, I suppose.
     As Bearknuckle's set came to an end, I realized I was standing next to the singer of The Eithers. He commented about how awesome Bearknuckle sounded, and we traded a few laughs about his drummer's unfortunate, and untimely, confinement. When I remarked that I was "the twins' Mom", he turned to me and said, "Wow, I'm almost 40, and my mom has never come to see me play!" That struck me as so sad. I can't imagine being a parent who didn't care enough to come out and see my child perform. Before we moved to Rome last year, we'd tried to make as many of Rory's shows as possible, and before that, we'd gone to see Sanus Valde every time they performed. One of the hardest parts about living in Rome was missing out on shows. I happen to be a music aficionado, and am perhaps one of very few mothers who purposely exposed her children to Rage Against The Machine, Black Sabbath, and Nirvana. For us, music is a common bond, a gift we all continue to surprise and delight each other with, a gift that keeps on giving. Playing music is part of who Nick and Rory are, which makes supporting their efforts such a priority: it brings them (and me!) joy. In that sense, music is similar to Nick and Rory's remarkable friendships, the melodies of which have been crafted and adapted over time, each chord and note an integral part of the masterwork in progress. Like vitamins for the soul, the music and friendships they've nurtured provide ongoing nourishment and sustenance, fueling their spirits, recharging their minds, healing their bodies, and allowing them to look past themselves to truly savor the "good stuff" of life. In doing what they love, and knowing they are loved, I think Nick and Rory have come to know and love themselves. As their mom, there's not too much more I could ask for.
                                           Rory and Nick, jamming on their 21st birthday, 2011
Bearknuckle, March 14, 2011 Nick (left, on guitar) Willie (center, singing) Donny (on drums) Rory (right, on bass)

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