Rock and Roll Reality Camp

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Man, is my dander up now! You can’t get out of bed without some sort of totally absurd piece of flotsam shoved in your face.

After turning on my computer to read the daily horror stories, balderdash and propaganda lo and behold what do I discover? An invitation (advertisement) to join the 2008 Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp Tour! Leapin’ windmills Pete! Are they kidding?

Nope.

Yes you, the wanna-be rocker can rock with the stars this summer and fulfill your wildest fantasies! You get to rock live on stage with actual Rock ‘n’ Roll Gods like uh… Paul Shaffer from David Letterman’s show… Huh? Okay, they do have some real rockers scheduled this year like Gilby Clarke of Guns and Roses! I didn’t know there was another guitar player besides Slash in that band. Guess I was wrong. Or… Kip Winger of Winger! Yeah, I forgot they existed too. And… Glen Hughes of Deep Purple! Now wait a minute. I smell a rat. Ritchie Blackmore was THE guitar player of Deep Purple. Who’s this dude?

Well, maybe I’m out of touch with what’s uh… cool.

Anyway, we all still have that primal and instinctive need to rock. Sadly… or fortunately… most of us never get the chance. So for the middle-aged white-collar worker maybe this is a sort of therapeutic service. Of course it’ll cost you just like your Prozac and Xanax but it’s not covered by insurance.

Just how much is the fee to rock? Well, sloppy journalist that I am I never got that far in the website. They wanted my name and email address and I wasn’t about to give them that info. But, I did see they require a $299 down payment. Hm… do you suppose this is "Pay To Play"?

Not to be a bitter old man, I hope those who sign up for Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp have the time of their lives. And I’m serious. But be advised, fantasy is what they will get.

Therefore, I think it’s only fair I offer an alternative. Yes, let me suggest Rock ‘n’ Roll Reality Camp this summer! I will be your guide. After all, surviving three decades in the trenches gives me a degree of expertise. Just imagine the great time rockin’ out we’ll have!

First up you’ll need some gear. Sorry, it’s not provided at Rock ‘n’ Roll Reality Camp. Now, do not and I repeat, DO NOT go into Guitar World and blow three grand on a brand new Marshall stack or Slingerland drum kit. That would be cheating. Go to the local pawnshop and get something ugly, dubious and cheap. Same thing goes for your guitar. Buy something that looks like a truck ran over it. Real rockers start out playing gear de merde.

Bass drum held together with duct tape and super glue? Perfect! Heads beat to hell? Outstanding! That’s what the rest of the roll of duct tape is for. The guitar squeals like a stuck pig when you plug it in? Excellent! The amp doesn’t make a sound until you tinker with the speaker cable and then it makes strange buzzing and crackling noises? We’re getting there. And best of all, when you walk up to the microphone you get a major electrical zap that causes you to blank out for a few seconds? Now we’re cooking with Napalm and ready to rock!

Next up, songs. No, no, no! We are NOT playing Hotel California, Stairway to Heaven or Proud Mary! You are gonna write the material. Let me get you started. Get out that chord chart that came with the Mel Bay guitar book and learn these chords: E and A. If you know these two and have an index finger you can cheat and play almost anything. No, you won’t be any good, but then this is Rock ‘n’ Roll Reality Camp.

Once we have about ten crummy songs to learn, into the smelly, stinky rehearsal studio without A/C we head. The guys who work the place might be really cool if we pick a good studio. Or they might be a bunch of arrogant jerks that think they’re the next Chumbawamba.

Okay, we’re going to spend hours in this ten-foot by ten-foot hotbox every day until we don’t totally suck. But we sure will stink! Oh and uh… that ringing in your ears… uh… yeah… uh… ignore it. It will go away… when you die!

Can we start and stop together about 75% of the time? Yes? We’re ready. Let’s rock!

We’re going to need a gig. You gotta book it! Sorry, it’s all part of the "fun." I’ve been there and done that. That’s why you have to do it.

Pay to play shows are strictly verboten! If that’s what you wanted, why didn’t you sign up for R & R Fantasy Camp? Sorry Captain Sensible, we want the real thing.

Okay, after two months of groveling, pleading and butt kissing you’ve got us a gig! Wow that was fast! You could be the next Lou Pearlman. But what’s this? We’re not headlining on a Saturday night at the Hollywood Palladium? Well, what the hell did you expect? Our gig is on a Tuesday night at Friar Tuck’s Sports Bar in Pomona. We go on last at 1:30 AM and get thirty minutes. We also get 10% of the door. Again, I’m amazed. How do you smooth talk such a sweet deal?

However, I hate to break the news to you but last does not mean headlining. Last means mopping up after the headliner. Oh well, it’s our first gig. Rock on Bro.

Never mind that we’ll have to drive two hours to get to our triumphant debut. It’s time to cram everything into the Ford Econoline Van and hope it makes it over the hill.

Now here’s another reality of rock and roll. Once a band starts out on a "tour" somebody will get sick. Don’t ask why. I have no answer. But it’s a law of physics that never fails. With luck you’ll only have the worst head cold of your life. More realistically, you’ll have a real rip-snorter stomach bug that opens up the sluices at both ends. We will have to stop at every service station and Burger World along the way.

But the show must go on!

We made it to our destination and are ready to kick ass! It’s 6:30 PM and time for our sound check. But the sound guy isn’t here. Not to worry he’ll be here any minute. Uh… well… in reality, nobody does sound checks and that means "any minute" is in reality just before the first band. We have seven hours to kill.

What to do? With all our crap… uh, I mean equipment piled up in a corner of the bar we can’t leave. We could play pool, but the bouncers own the table and those tattoos on their necks do not say: "Let’s be friends." Best to leave them be. So that leaves sitting at the bar watching WWF pro-wrestling on the tube and drinking. What better way to spend a Tuesday night?

At about 10:00 PM the other bands are here and "the crowd" shows up… all fifteen of them. Half the people in the bar are in bands. Are we having fun yet? Good! Because now comes the bad news. The show is running late. The headliner (Silky and the Glow Worms) isn’t done with their set until 1:45 AM. That leaves us just fifteen minutes before closin’ time. Better haul ass!

We rip into our glorious opening number and guess what? We’re out of tune. NO! Don’t stop to fix it Kurt Cobain! That’s not what the Dead Boys would do. Besides, there are only six people left in the audience. At this point, who cares?

Five anthems of rock later the power on the stage is cut right in the middle of our closing opus. There is uh… "polite applause." The head bouncer, Thor, walks up to you (you booked the gig remember?) and says: "You guys made $8. You can pick it up tomorrow. Your bar tab is $87. Pay up."

Also one of our fans… I didn’t know we had any… broke the toilet in the Ladies Room and… you guessed it… we have to pay.

Well, the ride home is rather quiet. Nobody says a word. We’ve all had such a rockin’ kick ass time. When’s the next gig?

Tom Chartier [send him mail] played lead guitar in legendary Los Angeles punk band The Rotters for 26 years until their final appearance in January of 2004. He has lived in Tokyo and Los Angeles. Currently he resides somewhere in the Caribbean.

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