When I was sixteen, I went to a friend’s birthday party. She let her boyfriend’s band play. She bragged about how great they were and he did, too. They were awful. So awful most of the party fled outside despite a late November freeze. Outside we found their flyers placed on every windshield offering their services for bar mitzvahs and weddings. If Summerhaven played a bar mitzvah, what would their set list look like?
Well, Summerhaven liked to pride itself on playing originals, but any two-bit middling band knows the bread and butter is in covering songs that are easy, cheesy and fun to dance to. So I could imagine everyone but Billy being on board with this idea—the band members sell it to him as a way to get some quick cash, some exposure. With that in mind, for a bar mitzvah set list (age and setting and sell-out appropriate), a first set would likely include:
“Celebrate” by Kool and the Gang
“Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey
“Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof (but an original, fast-paced, klezmer-inspired take on it)
“Cherry Cherry” by Neil Diamond
“Get Up Offa That Thing” by James Brown
“We Built This City” by Jefferson Starship
“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham!
“Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley
“The Chicken Dance”
“Say You, Say Me” by Lionel Richie
“American Girl” by Tom Petty
There’s a certain point in the life of the American teenager when we dream of being in a band, or starting one, or, simply just develop crushes on those people. Clearly this obsession with rock stardom existed before shows like American Idol. Why do you think we’re so obsessed with the idea of musical fame? And why is American Idol still on the air?
The rock ‘n’ roll star obsession is most certainly out there, no matter what age you are. In some ways, I think it’s the ultimate expression of “doing what you love” combined with an unimpeachable kind of high-profile image cache. People love American Idol, I think, because it bridges the gap between a high-concept performer like Lady Gaga and, say, karaoke night. It’s (supposedly) everyday people whose potential is “discovered” by a talent scout—a dream come true! Everyone wants that, right?
But what American Idol doesn’t show is the seams of production—how it all fits together, the hours upon hours of hard work to make the sound be what you want it to be. It demands you to set aside your ego and to get the work done. If the band has done its job—the grueling, hard work of physically and sonically getting in sync with each other—all the audience sees is the shiny, final product. And that’s sexy. It’s a machine. It’s a Sex Machine! Who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?
If the band had stayed together, who would be their fan base, and would they slip me free Aunt Annie’s pretzels at the mall if I wore a Summerhaven concert tee?
That’s the sad fact of Summerhaven—they never really had a fan base, even in their “heyday.” I suspect Ace had a girlfriend who would lounge about the garage, hang out, go get takeout and sodas and such. I don’t think Billy had a girlfriend because if he did, his obsessions would have probably been diverted, shall we say, elsewhere. But I could see their current fan base being a little punky, a little poppy, spiked-collar-from-the mall types. I’m thinking of the kids I wrote about in “Black Cats“—a bit shallow but definitive in their musical expectations. Poseur types. Hangers-on, but with an edge. People more invested in the idea of a band than in the band itself. But in my book, a Summerhaven tee would always merit at least a free pretzel. At least!
As you write, bands and other creative ventures often terminate with “creative differences.” The ending certainly doesn’t leave out the possibility of the narrator visiting Billy at the Foot Locker to arrange a summer reunion tour. Which of the bandmates would be most difficult to work with if the band were to reunite?
Ace, the drummer, has turned out to be a bit of an ass. He has a playful side, a musical side, even, slipping in song lyrics to the food runners at a greasy spoon he now runs. But he is pretty particular about his clean floors (see “Hickory Wind“). And Billy is ridiculously jaded. Poor guy. He hates wearing his Foot Locker uniform, hates feet, particularly kids’ feet, and takes it out on them by tying their laces too tightly, pressing just a hair too hard on their big toe to see if the shoe fits (see “Hare Krishna“). Shannon has fallen on hard times—her family apartment building is under foreclosure now and she’s trying to make right by the ethos of her long-dead grandmother. I know all this because each of these characters help populate the stories in my forthcoming chapbook titled Heard Around Town (Arcadia Press). If they reunited, something tells me the issue of the band name would certainly surface, and I suspect the band members would, this time, cede to a revival of Summerhaven. But Billy would ruin everything by turning into Mr. “I Told You So,” lording over them—essentially picking up where they left off. And not in a good way.
Both the beginning and the ending seem hopeful in that they both suggest possibility. I once attended a karaoke night with a guy who did an amazing Michael Jackson impersonation. In another world, he was Michael, but truthfully, he probably worked at the local KFC. What’s the most memorable karaoke performance you’ve ever seen?
When I lived in Western Mass, a group of friends and I would go every Friday night to the old vets club on Conz Street, and the DJ/karaoke maestro would play dance songs as he set up the next singer (My standbys were “Kiss Me Deadly” by Lita Ford and “Back on the Chain Gang,” among countless others). Years later, in North Carolina, I’d go to this roadhouse out in the county on their Thursday “Steak and Karaoke” nights. One of the most disturbing/memorable karaoke performances I saw out there was an older man and his six-year-old granddaughter singing the Cheryl Crow/Kid Rock song “Picture.” The ew factor of hearing the nasal warbling of that little girl sing “Fuelin’ up on heartaches and cheap wine . . .” and “I can’t look at you while I’m lyin’ next to him” to her grandfather will forever be etched into my memory.
These days, I practice lots of guitar and still go to music parties (and band rehearsal), but there’s no karaoke in my sleepy little town in New Hampshire.