Girl Bands: What You’ll Never Know

We just didn’t care about what you thought we were doing or what you thought of us or our agenda. We weren’t driven by desire to please, and if you thought that we were thinking that way, I can tell you right now that we weren’t. The Jiffy Lube guy who traded us an oil change for a joint, he knew as much about us as anyone did. He didn’t try to hit on us. He knew the ball was in our court only. He bowed to the power of three.

We stood together no matter what the cracks internally. The best way to get us to play well was to insult us, one or all. In fact, sometimes we’d use that knowledge, the unity of the common enemy, to our own advantage. If we were feeling a little lackadaisical or unconnected before a show, one of us would bring up an old insult while we were getting ready to take the stage and then you could be sure we were going ram the music down your throats. You have no idea how we loved playing our instruments. How every night was different, the guitar unearthing melodies and new rhythms endlessly born, the left foot tries a different pattern, the tempo adjusts, the ear uncovers something new. So much of the van conversation could be so esoteric, about furthering the playing, about what we strived to find in the moment-to-moment connection on stage. We searched for words to describe language that has no words, only feeling and sound. You’ll never know the emotional nuance of writing out a set list. There’s so much you’ll never know.

How strange and beautiful our outlook. You don’t see how innocent we were, or how silly. There was an elaborate plan around sleeping in truck stops: we would pull over and traipse through the first stop at 4 AM, brush our teeth, clean up, change for sleep, and then drive down the road to the next one and park without getting out so no one knew we were pajama’d inside. The bass player’s cot across the front seats, guitarist on the bench, and me on a pad on top of the bass cabinet. I woke one morning on a big metal planet, rolling and rumbling as it turned. I opened my eyes to a beautiful white design of still snowflakes in a metal sky. I fell in love with the vision until I saw it for what it was, frost on the van ceiling and semi-trucks ringing us, pumping diesel fumes into my dreams.

You would never guess our conversations as we drove from one venue to the next, a different city and a different rock club every day for a year. Farm animals and motor homes and fireflies on the corn fields, how long the conversations and then how solitary the rolling, endless drives, headphones and naps and writing and dreaming. Just one person added to the mix changed the dynamic, and three was the only way to keep the tenuous but strong relationship working. There were cracks in it for sure, and later, as one person crumbled so the whole thing. But back then, how joined at the hip we were. There was no one lifting or selling us. We had a booking agent at the end of a phone line and that was it. You’ll never know what if feels like to decide in an instant that we would leave, three minds combining in a flash of New Jersey sunset. Leave our partners and apartments and city and jobs to live together indefinitely in a silver Econoline van, all so we could play our instruments, so we could be on stage every night. How that moment fused us forever.

You don’t know how much bullshit we had to listen to, or how quickly we could see through all of the promises of old men. All the phony record deals and insinuations of stardom. All the subtle slights from other musicians, all the soundmen and promoters and bartenders and their dismissive insulting ways. You don’t know how good we got at the game, how to just smile and take it, take the advice or condescending remarks, and out of that create a monster of sound. Just smile and take it, that was the deal, and then when it’s our turn we’re going to tear your head off with volume and aggression. I’m going to slam that kick drum through you and nail that snare drum to the back of your skull, and you are going to be kissing our ass at the end of the set.

You don’t know how deep our forgiveness, because we know you just don’t know. You’re in the boy’s club that is rock and roll, and boys love boxes. We were never hot enough or mannish enough or wry enough or in on the joke enough or relaxed enough or just plain enough to be in the club. You thought you knew what box we lived in, but you have no idea how strange and special it was. We were never on the inside so we created a box that you would never be able to crack. Even now that we haven’t spoken in twelve years that bond is still there, and there are no three people in the world who know this story but us, who know this passion and anger and love as we lived it. We held your reality in our hearts, though. You taught us that at least. At the end of the day we knew, we always knew, It’s Just How It Is. You’ll ask me in the drum store, “Is that kick pedal for your boyfriend?” I forgive you, you just don’t know, but I know. It’s Just How It Is.

So we figured we’d work harder, that maybe work was the way in. We took it all on, three of us, driving and loading and selling and playing, every day another city. For six weeks we drove overnight, loading into the festival at 11 AM, sleeping in Texas Summer heat in the concrete shade near the toilets, playing drums so hot that my calf had burns on it from the floor tom legs, carrying the equipment back out through 20,000 people, over grass and trash and through rain storms, driving four hours, loading gear into the venue as the band before us finished their set, leaving nearly every ounce of sweat left in our bodies on stage, loading back into the van, and then driving all night to do it again. I did that. I did the driving for that tour and I will always marvel at my stamina as if it were someone else’s. I don’t know how I did that. All the other bands on the tour in your busses with the after-show barbecues, well we were never a part of that. We weren’t in your club. We finally missed one show, because when I started to hallucinate highway frogs racing the van I pulled over to sleep for an hour, and we woke up five hours later, sitting straight up, drooling in our seats while the world of the gas station went on around us. I don’t know anyone who could do that and I don’t know anyone who would be asked. I did it for the sake of getting on stage very night, which was all I wanted, profoundly.

You don’t know how I loved this music. I loved this band. I loved this instrument and I still do and this is what you know the least, that it was all because playing these drums opened a channel to bliss for sometimes just forty-five minutes a night. You’ll never understand the joy of it. How being carried away by the music and watching it move my limbs in this ability for rhythm is a glory unto God. The wild nights were a prize that came with the appreciation; drums beat open the party with the silly antics and the liquor and the gorgeous combining of bodies that happened in the dark hours after the show. I get to live in bliss when I am on stage. I imagine you get to feel this too, with your children or your work or your church of choice, but this is mine, and I want this bliss every night and I want to prolong it with people who share it and feel it too.

You don’t know how sweet and in love we were with all of them, one in every town and yet you don’t know how much we truly cared and loved them even just for one night, and how it felt to hold the cards because of talent and joy on stage. You don’t know what it’s like to finally be the chooser. You don’t know what it’s like to see yourself in the mirror of the club and have the other two stand beside you and see how you become infinitely more beautiful because you are together, the light of the three shining grace onto you, sexual and creative and loving power. You don’t understand this kind of morality, gorgeous nights of music and love that you can detract forever, but you will never know the vast and infinite joy we shared. We lay on lawns talking about the construction of the universe and every dream in it. We watched the moon rise over a field of bison in a pickup truck that sailed in stars. We fell together in the middle of a sweaty discotheque that signaled the end of our music and in that moment, we stopped caring.

This was our version of a girls’ club, not the one you know. You’re in stiletto heels going into the DJ club, and we’re carrying an 8×10 bass cabinet down steep, concrete stairs, into the studio next door to the building super’s hidden bordello. You’ll never guess how funny it was, sweating and straining and watching those gorgeous clothes and bodies and the guitarist said, “This is what we decided to do to get laid? What morons we are…” and almost dropping the cabinet down the stairs in convulsive laughter. You’ll never see there was no other choice for us. We were never a part of it, and trying to be like you never worked.

You don’t know what it was like to find each other. We were built to carry gear. No epic story of a journey of women could we cling to; there is no female Odysseus. We forged our own saga, and somewhere in our limited little story a new archetype was being written. We weren’t warriors, we weren’t princesses, we weren’t damaged or raging or crazy or searching for shelter. But we were born for this.

I guess it was so precious because it was never easy, and we thrived on difficulty. We were smart and strong and kind and funny and just never fit in. So when we found our instruments we just said yes. Yes to driving, yes to loading, yes to playing, yes to getting dressed in truck stops or on people’s front lawns, yes to living on $5 a day and to being so close with two other people all day and all night. No number of miles was too much, no show too far, no schedule too rigorous. This is what you’ll never know, what it’s like to have three people agree to it all, no matter how hard and how high. The body gets beat and bloody and we learn how to just keep moving forward, through injury and illness and insult and argument. You don’t know how to wear your pain like a badge of honor.

We fought once in the redwood forest of California, a yelling, deep, and excruciating argument that widened all the cracks that would eventually end the band. We fought right up until the time we had to get in the van and drive 2,000 miles to Minneapolis, and not a word was said for the whole drive. We didn’t stop to sleep, just silently rotated drivers. We stopped at gas stations and once at a Chinese restaurant in Montana. We were the only three people in the restaurant, sitting at different tables in the dining room. When we arrived at the venue we took the stage in front of more people than we had ever played for, and in the middle of the first song the guitar stopped working. It took her seven minutes of scrambling around like a rat on stage to get it running. For seven minutes the bass and I just kept playing, as was our protocol, kept playing the same part over and over and over waiting for the guitar, waiting for the guitar to jump back in, which eventually it did in a roaring climactic moment. In those seven minutes, all the anger dissipated. My heart went out to her, watching her on-stage panic. We fused again. At the end of the show we were speaking, same as always. You’ll never see how words were of so little use in the communication.

Some of you got it, some of the promoters and musicians and soundmen understood. There is a network of brother bands I still to this day love like family. You made it easy to keep going. You respected it. You respected the three, and you loved the power and recognized this was not your saga, but you wanted to see us succeed. Your respect meant so much. You knew the struggle we had before us. You saw the power of it. The bouncer said, “You are One with the drums,” and the whole thing was worth it, that the man who saw every drummer, every night, chose to say that to me. You will never know how small moments like these kept us going.

People brought us to their homes and set us up to sleep and made us food and invited us into their lives and made the journey a magic ride into the heart of humanity. You can’t see how it was all because they loved music. You think there was some ulterior motive but it was never that way; it was because I played my drums that I got to taste such spirit and generosity. You’ll never know the openness of the American heart and the beauty of people who love heavy rock and roll. How hungry they were for this new female story. You’ll never appreciate how strange and wonderful people can be, and how the fringes are where the spark of hope lies.

Only now when I look back I see so clearly we never had a chance for anything more than what we got. We worked like an explosion instead of a slow burn because we were creating it and that was the only way we knew. The cracks of course deepened when we stopped traveling so much, when all of the issues we never dealt with personally or together just got wider and harder and one day we were broken with no way of repairing it. Once in Iowa we cancelled a show; we drove up to the venue and were just too tired and we just cancelled the show.

That was when I knew the band would end soon, that’s when we stopped accepting what we had been dealt, and there was no other place for us. You’ll never know the drama of the end of a girl band. You’ll never know the incriminations and the psychological torture and the black heartache that comes from realizing we were never going to be more than this. We were shortsighted to never plan for more. You’ll never know the fiery explosion of such an ending.

Often while I was driving, the yellow line would lend itself to fantasy. I would think about what I would say on the podium if I won a Grammy. In my mind, it was always the three standing there, the power of three shining on the screen, for the first time winning. It would be the same thing I would say now:

Somewhere across the country, a group of musicians are carrying their equipment up metal stairs to the back door of a club, past the dumpsters and out of a beat-up Econoline van. They’re grabbing a beer, setting up the gear, asking around for a place to stay after the show, laying out their CDs and t-shirts in hope of gas money. They’re rocking it, and they have no idea the Grammys are happening. They are in love with the journey. I’m in love with the journey.

I’m in love with the journey. I’m in love with playing my drums, with playing in a band, with musicians and girl bands and touring and all of it. You’ll never know what happens in there, but what happens in the van is sacred. What happens on stage is sacred. What happens over years of playing an instrument, that progress is sacred. You ask, are you still playing? You have no idea how short-sighted that question is. If you had just a taste of it, you could never give it up.

19 thoughts on “Girl Bands: What You’ll Never Know”

  1. I tried to write something that conveyed how much I really love reading these each week and to show my appreciation. So this is just a heart felt:

    Thank you, ClemTheGreat!!!!!!

    PS I accidentally kicked the power supply to my pedal board out of the socket and off the stage whilst halfway thru a song at my last gig a few weeks ago. Your description “scrambling around like a rat on stage to get it running” summed up my 5 or 6 minutes. And yes, the bass player and drummer played the same bit over and over until I was up and running. And then I did it again!!!!
    I cursed the first time and they laughed (not at me, just at what I did). I laughed the second time and they tried to.
    Those bits are the “remember whens” that we will recount with laughter in years to come. At least I will.

  2. I am so glad that the Girl bands kept rocking no matter what. Girl bands are some of my favorite and probably always will be. There is just something about them. Keep Rockin!

  3. You’re right. I’ll never understand the joy of it, but it’s still a wonder to behold! Maybe the reason nobody could ever fit you inside one of their cute little preconceived boxes is because boxes have limits and you don’t.

  4. I saw that raw power and energy the first few times I saw you play many months before I met you. I saw your smile and towering statute when you bowed at the end – after the encore on the stage.

    I’ve always loved the drums and you exemplified my love for the drummer’s role even more in your “girl band” story. Thanks for sharing these special road warrior moments with all of us.

    The dedication and hard work you put into what you love is beautiful and mesmerizing.

  5. Clementine… Your writing is in a category all of its own, as is your drumming. They’re both your own style, and yours alone!! I can’t get enough of either one!! You already know how I feel about your drumming…don’t get me started, I’ll never stop typing!! As for your writing… I simply love the way you write. Your choice of words, your word usage, your work placement… The way you describe your experiences makes me feel that I was right there with you, in your El Camino van… Your own Pandora’s Box!! No one else but the three of you could ever crack it, or know the genius, as well as the ups and downs that were going on inside. But once opened, it spewed greatness and wonder!! I love how you expressed that you wore your pain as a badge of honor!! I truly felt that before even finishing the sentence!! Thank you so much for allowing me to travel with you on your awesome journey!! I’ll be right here, eagerly waiting for next week’s blog… Until then, my dear friend… Love and music always, Clem!! xoxo

  6. dear Clementine I love your great stories and your great drumming
    keep up the great beautiful drumming you are very special dear Clem your stories has tuched my heart keep on rocking my dear friend Clementine ?✌✌??????☀☀☀☀

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