Once Upon A Time, I Was A Musician: Part 1

Once Upon A Time, I Was A Musician: Part 1
Photo courtesy of S.W. aka Bubba Novich

A buddy of mine from the Army sent me a photo from a metal show the other day.   It was an Oceano/Whitechapel show.  I was super impressed that he remembered that I dig those types of bands.  More importantly, the mention of Oceano brought back some wicked memories.  Allow me to explain. 

I’ve been very fortunate to live a very eclectic life.  It’s had many twists and turns, and if you asked those few who’ve been around for most of the ride, I’m sure they would tell you they’d never have expected me to end up where I am, which is a great place by all means, and I’m not complaining, but I definitely started my life on a completely different trajectory for many reasons.

One of them is because once upon a time, I was a musician, and that was what I lived for.

I got into music in 7th grade.  I was accepted into one of the top magnet programs in the city, at Morgan Park High School.  Like everything else in my life, I got in late, registered late, etc, and I remember sitting in having my schedule pretty much done on the fly.  One of the requirements was an arts/humanities class.  The only classes open were band and piano.  I said band.

“What instrument?”

“Umm….the one that looks like a J?”

“I think that’s called a saxophone.”

And that was that.  That was the illustrious start to my music career.  From there, I continued playing saxophone.  Got to high school and  became a full on band geek.  Most of my friends don’t know, but I was a John Philip Sousa Band Award recipient, which I am still to this day extremely proud of.

My senior year of high school, I took up preparatory band.  Here’s a story I don’t think I’ve ever shared publicly:

I loved snow ball fights growing up.  I also hated wearing gloves, which can be treacherous in Chicago winters.  So, after getting some variation of frost bite in a couple of fingers for the 2nd or 3rd time, a medical professional told me I needed to be more careful, because I could potentially lose a finger.  So, I decided to learn to play trumpet, because you can play trumpet with just 3 fingers.

Senior year of high school was also when I began singing.  That too is a funny story I don’t think I’ve ever shared.  My high school had a very lively music program, both band and choir/theater.  My junior year, the show was the Pirates of Penzance.

I remember the stage manager, a young lady named Rose asking me if I’d thought about auditioning for the musical.  I immediately said no.  And she was like “oh, why not?  You should, etc.”

So in high school, I had the biggest crush on Rose.  I don’t particularly remember why.  I mean, we didn’t really have the same circle of friends, nor did we interact much at all.  But I thought she was dreamy.  I remember her being really sweet, and having a great smile. She just had a positive attitude.  I’m sure physically there was something I was digging there as well, but yeah, I was all about her.  I’m pretty sure no one on earth knows that…until now.

So, you know when a woman’s facial and body language is totally focused on buttering a man up?  Well that was exactly what this exchange we were having in the band room was like, and I fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

Yeah, I’ll totally audition.  When is it?

I’m pretty sure she said 30 minutes.  Maybe it was an hour.  I’d never sang before, and never sang in front of people.  I was like, “holy shit…huh???”

And in came my friend Joe to the rescue.  He sat with me, and a keyboard, and helped me learn the parts to the audition song.

My audition was fucking ridiculous.  That I can be pretty sure about.  However, afterwards, the choir director, Mr. Fallon, pulled me aside.
He asked me if I’d sang before.  He asked me how long I’d had the audition music.  He then invited me to be join the choir.

“No offense Mr. Fallon, but I’ve seen the concert choir.  Really big, but lots of amateurs. I’m not really interested in getting involved in that.”

“No, I meant the Mixed Concert Choir.”

“You mean like the really small group? With all the really pretty girls in it?”

Awkward shrug and head nod.

“Aww snap…count me in!”

Yes, I had singular motivations in high school.

And from there, I sang.  I did concert choir.  I did show choir…yes, I’m talking jazz hands and sparkly vests…the whole shebang.   I went on to take vocal lessons in college, and continue playing saxophone and trumpet.  Somewhere in there, I became involved in the Drum and Bugle Corps activity.  There I primarily played Contrabass Bugle, although I also played pit percussion for a portion of the time in my first year of drum corps.

I was very fortunate in that phase of my musical career.  I played in jazz bands, world champion-level drum corps, great wind symphonies and concert bands…it was all fabulous!

And then I got burned out.

That happens.

I was playing in a fabulous swing band called “Swing and a Miss.”  One day, after playing a wedding, I was pretty certain I needed something else.

To make a long story short, I got into metal…singing that is.  The first band I sang with…I don’t even think we had a name.  We did Nirvana and Metallica covers.  It was a gas.  From there, I landed with the band Under My Skin.  It was a great ensemble, and I learned a lot.  These years of my life, often feel like a blur in my mind.  So many people, and places, times and experiences that I can’t even hope to remember, but I remember it all being valuable.

It’s at this point that the mention of Oceano brings back memories.  I immediately was brought back to seeing them at the Soundlab.  The singer was a black kid, which wasn’t as common then as it is today, and I always went out of my way to try and support fellow black dudes in the local metal scene.  And they were good.  Sometimes, you see bands, and you know they have a bright future if they keep it all in hand, and Oceano definitely had that vibe for me from the jump.

At the time, I was singing in a hardcore-ish band named Life Without Sleep.  I really enjoyed that band.  The guys were all really interesting, and the music was pretty good.  Eventually, we weren’t on the same page creatively, which happens.  I think it’s hard for my friends today, many of them, to think I used to sing in a metal band.

As I sit back and think, so many memories come to mind about those days.  So many venues, so many bands, so many characters.  I actually think I will save all of that for another post…probably to come soon.

But yeah, once upon a time I was a musician.  A pretty damn good one actually.  And as time passed, my music gave way to a military career, and then to jiu jitsu, and politics, and social advocacy…it’s amazing how life changes.

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This post was created on an HP Pavilion x360. 


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