For a decade or so, I had puttered around with the acoustic guitar, learning the first several bars of Dan Fogelberg’s “Leader of the Band” and mumbling a few of the lyrics while I played. Same with “Fire and Rain, Dust in the Wind,” etc.
Then, in December 2013, I vowed to get serious about the instrument and sing like no one was listening. About the same time, in an eerie example of how the planets occasionally align, my wife walked across the street from our Fort Worth, Texas, apartment and, for a Christmas present, secretly enrolled me in the School of Rock.
That led to the historic recent night when a group of terrified rock ‘n’ roll neophytes made their debut at Hyena’s Comedy Club in downtown Fort Worth. (Let’s let the irony of the venue slide right on by, shall we?) There was Martin Garcia on lead guitar, Laurie Raulerson on drums, Paige Farr on vocals, and me on rhythm guitar and singing a few songs, too. We called ourselves RoXygen. (You’re dead without it!)
We took the stage and tuned up. Laurie counted us in with her sticks. Martin launched into a driving guitar riff and Paige a piercing imitation of Robert Plant. I sang the first verse of Led Zepellin’s “The Immigrant Song.”
We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow…
Thousands stood and roared at the end of that first song, sensing history. (OK, there were maybe thirty people there, but they were REALLY LOUD!)
RoXygen was born. And at age 57, I had stood on a stage with a guitar strap over my shoulder and had sung into a microphone in front of real people. A trip to Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is pretty much inevitable, I figure.
“I joined the group as a stress reliever after a messy divorce,” he said. “Stayed for the fun, great tunes and for the euphoria only music can give.”
I am a decade or two older than Martin with a generation of air guitar experience and a lifetime’s worth of Juke Box Hero fantasies. Our teachers were two young dudes and legitimate local rockers, Tyler Vela and Nate Grady. They were very talented and very patient.
I could say that the role of lead singer fell to me by default because Martin didn’t want to, but that would be a lie. I insisted the guys stick a mic in my face. (See vow: December 2013.)
Laurie, an occupational therapist who works with kids, came along months later. She is a single mother who named her son after Texas songwriting legend Townes Van Zandt and her daughter after Natalie Merchant.
“At some point, playing drums one day in a senior citizen, (I resent that!) rock ‘n’ roll garage band became something I had put on my very short bucket list,” she said. “After having such a challenging summer … terrible, really… I decided to start something new, creative, physical and therapeutic.
“My daughter was just beginning to take drums at SOR, so I thought, ‘Why not do it with her? Why not me? Why not now?”
The night Laurie joined us, she was not entirely sure which end of the drum sticks to hold. I exaggerate, but only a little.
Paige came last. Her husband is a drummer and her daughter one of the most talented students at SOR. Paige also had the most natural talent of any of us, (sorry Martin), with a voice that is part P!nk and part Pat Benatar. But poor Paige was known to get stage fright in the supermarket checkout line.
Yet every Monday night for months, we came together at the SOR and gradually began to suck a little less. Martin became Jimmy Page; Paige became Benatar; Laurie became Keith Moon. I was still me, but three out of four isn’t bad. Our covers of Tom Petty, Led, Lita Ford, P!nk, Foreigner, Van Halen and the Greg Kihn Band were almost recognizable. And those two hours at SOR were always among the best of my week.
Finally, Andrew Sudderth, the SOR manager and a renowned local rocker himself, (though he goes by the stage name, Darroh) decided it was time to throw us from the nest. On that recent Sunday night at the comedy club, RoXygen would join the roster of other bands for the SOR Showcase.
In the weeks preceding, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking, “I’m about to do what?”
It occurs to me that each of us came to the SOR looking for fun, sure, but also healing in some way, the healing only music can give. Life is hard and trying to play like Jimmy Page or sing like Tom Petty is a balm.
I’ve written previously about what my friend Fred Rogers called my Furies, years of depression, despair, etc. I fought through the dark times with the help of friends like Fred and many of you. Years ago, I also made a commitment to feel my feelings, no matter how unruly and painful they might have been. I allowed old demons to catch up with me and have their way.
Now, for the most part, the Furies are in the past. That, more than anything, is why I found myself on the stage with RoXygen.
Millions have suffered the way I did and millions still do. I know from hard experience that life can seem hopeless, that there seems no end to the misery. But there is. To those who still suffer I say that, even at age 57, there can be peace and healing and a fledgling rock band.
And from now on, every butchered guitar lick I play, every screeching , off-key lyric I sing, will be dedicated to those still trying to step out of the darkness. It can be done.