Thursday, August 20, 2009

Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Rage Against the Machine: Joy

I cannot help but be in awe of passion enacted, of seeing the temple in which a person's heart lies. As J lounged about at the foot of my bed, near midnight, laughing and chatting with me and D, I knew he was happy and proud and satisfied. Rarely do I see this person. Rarely does he allow himself to feel the joy to the point where it spills out, splashing those who love him most. It was a wonderful sight! They were precious moments indeed.

See, tonight he played his music - shared himself at his best with strangers, friends, and family at a humble restaurant-bar in the suburbs - he played his drums, driving the music with his excellent timing and lively fills. J and his band played their fave music, a 45-minute set of good old fashioned rock and roll. At the end of the set, he and his bandmates each got paid 50 bucks, and the restaurant owner wants them back. An awesome night. He was exactly where he wanted to be. He was where his heart truly lies, where he thrives and lives and breathes.

One year ago, J was kicking and screaming as we signed him up for an ongoing, formal "rock band" music program in our city. He didn't want to do anthing that even hinted of "school." The program director was young and hip and yet J proved a major challenge to him. J said horrid things aloud, rebelled against the structure of the weekly sessions, he sometimes didn't want to go to practice. The director would sort of look at J in distress, laughing sometimes, cringing at others. He admonished J. Sort of implied that maybe J shouldn't come back. The director was like a first-time parent (in fact, the session J attended was only the director's second session of his cool new program). Never had he encountered such an unpredictable and difficult to wrangle kid (we were so proud).

D and I figured this was yet another path that he'd burn up. Oh we fought him on it, we pushed for it, but we knew this was up to him to pull off. So J slogged through that first session, concluding the five weeks by playing three or four rock songs with other students at a big outdoor show (part of a music festival in our L.A. suburb). Another five-week session was about to start. D and I prayed he'd sign up but doubted it. J complained about the director, about being older than some of the kids he played songs with, about the time away from his "friends", friends D and I desperately loathed (and still do).

The director (like all smart and loving parents) decided to try a different approach with J. Before the session was to begin, he called J on the phone to personally invite him to the program once again. He used plain words, saying simply, "You're my best drummer. Nobody gets it like you do. I need you to be a leader...not a fucking shit head." Please know, the young and hip director had our full support.

J signed up again. And again. For the past four months, he has not only been a part of the formal program, but got asked to be part of a separate band by a fellow program student. The best of the best, really. These other kids are awesome, great kids. These kids comprise J's band - they have grown to be good friends. Very good friends. The band has played quite a few shows around town. Played at an under-18 club, at a party, played at a couple of fund-raising carnivals. All on their own, with a little help at booking by the parents behind the scenes. And they're good! I knew J knew his stuff, but how cool that these kids found each other, all very talented for being so young, all passionate about music.

Now, yes, they are well-supported by their parents. I worried about that actually. At first, they seemed like five kids stuck together, playing music their parents liked. J, of course, was most worrisome. He would get a bit moody because these weren't HIS friends. He liked them, but they weren't his people. I don't worry any more. He has slowly begun to prefer his bandmates to his friends. Slowly. In fact, they have not only become good friends, but true professionals.

When the lead singer quit (you're not a real band until someone quits!) a few short days before a gig at a carnival, the remaining four buckled down with the lead guitar player taking over lead vocal and let me tell you, they played the hell out of that show. They were in a pinch and they tackled it, without the parents calling any shots. I was most proud of J.

They have a new singer now who played tonight, another great kid with a great voice and that same amazing passion in someone so young. In other words, an excellent match. Mind you, the boys advertised for a new singer, got a hit, auditioned him, and took him on.

Yes, yes, tomorrow we'll get angry at J for more rebellion, for more poor decision-making. He will continue to struggle against those damn boxes until he can get to music full-time. We will struggle with trying to get him into the box because that's our job. We're hoping for a little compliance with the continuation school...for meeting with the school-appointed psychologists...because we are his parents and we have to do the "right" thing to keep him off certain rocky, unpaved roads to which he seems ever-drawn.

Not too long ago, someone commented to me, "Why the hell are you encouraging this rock and roll crap? He needs to be in school!"

We encourage the "crap" because we ARE his parents, and we see where his heart lies. It is a beautiful place. It might not look like YOUR might not offer up a degree...or a corner office...or a pension plan.
No, J's temple is deliciously dark, and moody, with colored lights flashing, tall amplifiers blaring, electric guitars whining, where beers and tacos get carted around by curvy waitresses, and there's a tip jar on a step. His temple smells like cigarette smoke that wafts in from the outside, and there are flirtations happening on the side of the stage where he can't quite see. There are girls in the front dancing and making eyes at the players, and there are grown folks who nod and bob their heads the incessant beat and say, "damn, I remember doing that," or "damn, I wish I'd been able to do that way back when..." The temple is filled with music...and joy.

Tonight J was at his best, he was where he is supposed to be. For that, I am in awe.


Dale said...

That makes me so happy. Good for you! And for the band director. And for J.

Edge said...

what a beautiful, joyous post. He is so lucky to have you.

Adriana Bliss said...

Thanks, Dale and Edge. You know, we're just so happy to see that he has a place to "be" - that he feels there is a reason to trudge forward. Hugs to both of you!

em said...

Wow. I have a kid like that. I may let her read this post. I'm really glad that I stumbled across this post. Thanks for writing it.