Written by Jonathan Aryeh Wayne, August 10, 2017
Along the Darwinian road to harmonious probability, I encountered sterile white walls with padlocked protected doors. The silver elevator with mirrors reflected my temperament, while awaiting the rush of warm, stale air on the non air-conditioned seventh floor. The first time I experienced the seventh floor of this vast storage facility was earlier this Summer, after receiving a tip for a flyer a rock and roll band posted on a coffeehouse bulletin board. They were looking for a keyboard or bass player to help fill in the missing ambience with some songs they’d already written. After a month passed by, I revisited this opportunity half-heartedly, not expecting a response. When this quartet of musicians invited me to a band practice on Pittsburgh’s Southside, I eagerly boarded a bus and soon found myself texting the bass player to open the door for me. After stepping out onto the seventh floor, I overheard a cacophony of music or rather noise, coming from behind the many closed white doors in this storage facility. Other bands were practicing in these small storage rooms for hours on end. I entered Room 709, where after a dozen more band practices and six weeks later, I was suddenly performing live on stage as the bass keyboardist in our band, opening up for Men Without Hats, a legendary 1980’s New Wave/Synthpop band from Canada.
“Sure, we had some moments, but too much experimenting with electronic theremins with stoned out drummers high on Marijuana, drunken piano players and depressed left-handed guitar players took its toll on my soul and psyche.”
How did this onslaught of change occur so fast? I never considered myself a professional musician by any means. In fact, I dabbled in music over the decades, simply having jam sessions with unambitious friends in their basements. It was all for fun and nothing more. Back in my 20s, I enjoyed bringing my electric guitar and effects pedals to play with, and when I hit my 30s, I surprisingly enjoyed playing bass as well as drums and keyboard. I never truly tried to write a song, blaming myself for a non-existent form of “writer’s block”. It was all a joke back then, as it was just an outlet for my energy and frustrations. When a particular night came around and someone’s girlfriend advised us to learn a cover song from a top 40s hit list, that was the beginning of the end however. Then when I heard our piano player drunkenly playing the Cheers theme on his keyboard, I knew that our demise was in sight. On one humid August evening, while taking a break on the back porch after getting into an argument with the drummer about why I should learn how to play Ethiopian Jazz instead of the New Order song I liked, it all finally ended right then and there. I ultimately had realized that there never was any chemistry with these 2 men I was playing music with throughout my entire youth. Sure, we had some moments, but too much experimenting with electronic theremins with stoned out drummers high on Marijuana, drunken piano players and depressed left-handed guitar players took its toll on my soul and psyche. The self-indulgence couldn’t last one more day, as not a remnant of joy and ambition was left in that rank, dark, moldy basement, where even the pet cat had taken a shit on the rug.
It was around 5:45 PM on a Tuesday afternoon. My fellow bandmate, the lead keyboard player, finally had found a parking space after about 15 minutes of driving around several blocks around East Carson Street. Load in time was at 5:30 PM, but we weren’t late by any means. I carried my 30 pound vintage keyboard, a Yamaha DX7IIFD in my gig bag, along with a keyboard stand I had borrowed from the band. We walked briskly down the busy street and entered the black-walled music venue with our gear. I saw another bandmate, our female lead vocalist, standing in the empty club, watching the opening band on stage setting up a soundcheck. There were no security guards around and the front entrance was wide open for just about anyone to enter. This was business as usual. The bartender carried a bucket of ice towards the bar, while two bathroom attendants were setting up their toxic candy, carcinogenic perfume and unhealthy energy drinks in the restrooms. The music promoter was busy, setting up velvet rope barriers and collecting ticket money from the opening bands. The air conditioning was blasting, and I was frigid to the bone, having wished I had brought a light jacket or long sleeve shirt. I stowed my keyboard backstage in a small alcove before joining the rest of the band on the main floor. Doors were about to open and just a small line of 10 people were waiting outside. I was quite anxious as this was going to be my very first time playing live on a stage in a rock band. This was also our band’s live debut as well, so it was a first for many of us. Naturally, being nervous was nothing unusual. Yet, I was focused and knew the 5 original songs by heart, so I wasn’t worried about forgetting anything. I just kept wondering how I was going to plug into the house PA system through their direct boxes. I had brought 2 different cables with me: one dual Stereo 1/4 inch cable and one regular Mono 1/4 inch cable. These uncertainties plagued my mind up until we boarded the stage with about 40 or 50 people in the audience.
“I suddenly wanted to be Andy Fletcher from Depeche Mode circa 1988.”
Back when I was 9 years old, I was performing classical piano pieces at student recitals in front of elderly senior citizens in nursing homes. I learned music from Joseph Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Beethoven. I was a pipsqueak of a child: thin, shy and fairly introverted. I remember my Russian piano teacher being very calm, relaxed and warmhearted when I visited her home for piano lessons as a young boy. I was taught how to read sheet music, how to sit straight with my shoulders relaxed, and how to properly place my fingers on the piano keys. I recalled the faint yet rustic aromas of dinner cooking in her family’s kitchen. I remembered her house was also somewhat dark and monochrome, but the natural light by the window illuminated the black upright piano even on the coldest of Winter days. I did not know much about popular music in general at that age, but having been exposed to a plethora of classical music was most likely a good thing. I remembered being rather nervous however, when I had to publicly perform the piano compositions I had learned. All of those elderly men and women were probably not expecting a virtuoso, but I was mostly concerned with just being able to play the song from memory, as I had absolutely no awareness of feeling or understanding of the music I was performing. I hadn’t understood subtlety or musical intuition nor did I know what dynamics were yet. The wisdom of age all around me balanced out the naïveté of youth within me.
It was somewhere around 7:50 PM and I found myself at stage right about to play the opening chords of our first song: Shell Game. A small crowd of fans walked towards the stage cheering out loud. I suddenly wanted to be Andy Fletcher from Depeche Mode circa 1988. At that moment, I imagined I could have been anywhere on the planet, perhaps even in a small independent club in Brooklyn or London with talented music critics from competitive music blogs searching for seriously up and coming bands. But no, this was Pittsburgh, and I had to snap back to the reality that I was living in a second run city. As I stood over my 30 year old keyboard, I became aware of my posture and stance, even though when I looked occasionally at the crowd, most of the attendees were staring in mesmerization at our female lead vocalist. Who was looking at me, I wondered? I was glad at least 1 or 2 people glanced at me at one point, even though it didn’t matter as I was on the far end of the stage providing the backup rhythm and bass on probably the coolest synthesizer that no other synth player had that night, my Yamaha DX7 mark II. I must confess that I felt my own ego going up in volume from 1 to 4 on the speaker knob. The only time that I smiled was at the end of the show as the audience clapped for us as we walked off the stage. A distinct sense of contentment hit me as I carried my keyboard. Now I was going to emerge back onto the floor with everyone else. Who or what would await me? What would my friends and family say? Would I get people’s attention? Would single women come and up say hi to me? Only time may tell of the improbability of one middle aged man suddenly becoming a, ha ha, “rock star”.