It started in a basement, not a garage, in a suburban enclave of Wallingford, PA, listening to four guys called Dried Fish — Buzz Quarles, Glenn Bickle, Ricky Goldstein, and David Kuhn — play Traffic and Cream.
Only 16, my raging hormones made me certain that I loved them all and might die if one of them would pay me any attention. I was one of the girls who was basically one of the guys, and while I adored being allowed in the basement, my part was to sit, nod, maybe pass along a joint, and in general, be in worship mode.
Fast-forward many years, and my son gathers together a motely crew of four guys of his own. They call themselves Milk & Cookies, and though it really never gets off the ground, I could not be happier. Having my sleep disturbed by the jarring rhythms of electric guitar and singing aping Neutral Milk Hotel, I once again am in nirvana. Soon enough, however, the band disbands and the boys — budding guitar gods all — go off to other, lesser things: basketball tournaments, tennis games, the National Honor Society. . . .
But I’m patient. I wait. I know I’ve planted the seeds. Ever since Noah was small, I’ve taught him that rock and roll is more than music; it is, as Bruce insinuates, a religion. I’ve taken him to witness Keith and Mick. I’ve slipped copies of Highway 61 Revisited and Jimi Hendrix onto the car stereo. And finally, mid-freshman year during his first year at college, I get my wish. A real, honest-to-god band is born.
At first, it didn’t have a name. Then, gradually, it came together — Yeoman’s Omen, as in Yo Man. O Man. O.K., maybe it was a little lame. But everything had to begin somewhere. And it was catchy. And this time, instead of just noodling on guitars, the boys wrote their own songs. Songs with hooks and bridges and rhythm and blues and alternative sway.
Take it from me, the mother of one of the writers and lead guitarists and singers: These boys could play.
I know, I know. I’m the mother. But I had spent my life living underground, dreaming of the moment that Bruce might leave Patti and arrive on my driveway on his knees, begging me to come outside. To do what? That was considerably less clear. But as the years passed, and Bruce failed to show up in person, I had my doubts. The fantasy didn’t fade, but I wondered if we were really meant to be. I had a perfectly good husband, two kids, and a dog. I wasn’t unhappy or even dissatisfied.
And yet, I did remember those nights listening to Dried Fish, the certain way a flick of a guitar string could make your heart jump and make you feel.
Yeoman’s Omen was great. And it wasn’t only my opinion. Or the other three mothers’. They were a sensation on campus. They played real shows, Fridays and Saturday nights. They put their songs online. They appeared on the campus radio. They gave off-the-cuff interviews, every bit as clever as John, Paul, George, and Ringo, witty and composed. They had real groupies — girls who wrote notes, who wanted to meet them, who danced wildly in the mosh pit to their rhythmically complex songs.
“I am the mother of a garage band,” I thought when some household task was particularly dull. In the line at Whole Foods, I reminded myself that while other mothers might have kids off to Harvard or Georgetown Law, I had raised an artist, an emotionally connected kid who knew how to express himself. I listened to their songs while I worked; I hummed them in the shower. When I went up to the college and heard a roomful of kids singing along with their hit, “Signs,” I joined right in.
This went on for about a year. And then, little cracks appeared. There was a drummer who talked too much. A bit of ennui stepped in. Dissension in the ranks — I mean, who the hell knows? The exact story has been lost to history, but the result was clear — the band, my band, the band that I had vicariously lived through, was no more.
We, the mothers, didn’t get a vote. We hardly got notified. There were vague mumblings about reorganizing, about starting a new phase. There was a brief reunion as something called Garbage, then another as Dead Babe, as in “How you doing?” “I’m so dead babe.” (I told you they were witty.) But these iterations lacked the fierceness of the first, as though they had been diluted.
College is over now, the boys gone off to other destinies. Music remains in their stars; they still gather together or individually strum. They don’t look back because they’re too young to care about nostalgia or personal history. But at 59, some days looking back is all I do, and when I do, I think of the time I birthed one fourth of a band. The time I was almost — by blood relation — cool.