Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Basements, Displacements

I have a basement again. It is down there, waiting. Waiting for a band to occupy its space or a song to be written far away from the responsibilities that hound me. Yes its been two years since we schlepped here from San Francisco...so why the hell am I writing about basements on a music blog? Well, simply put, basements are like a sanctuary for the soul if you are a musician. And the mind wanders, when I am down there as a laundry doin' zombie, while just behind the adjacent wall is an empty space with an unplugged fridge and a dusty amp.The mics and stands, packed in a closet in the dark,rusting and waiting. I have not yet utilized this wonderful thing right here in my own house except to prime the walls white and set up my thrift store drums to make a place for the spiders to hone their craft....I should be honing mine.

Basements were magic rooms growing up in the suburbs of the Northeast. There were many parts of the country where houses had no basements because of the threat of water or earthquakes...and those kids were shut out or forced into the garage. Those kids joined garage bands..We joined Basement Bands. Anyhow, our garages were always full of cars finding refuge from 6 months of winter and riding lawn mowers waiting for obsessive dads to find refuge from their families by cutting the grass with a beer in hand.

Some of us were graced with enough luck(or torture) to live at home long enough to appreciate this four walled world which had no use to Mom and Dad other than to house your boxes of Christmas decorations, hide a litter box and send you Fisher Price Toys to their own musty corner of toy purgatory. For most families,a basement was a place for their stuff. But if you went away to college, fucked up, failed out and had to come home...a basement was an oasis of isolation for an angsty upstart musician with endless possibility within the knotty pine paneled walls.

Like many of the homes of my friends in upstate New York, my basement was "finished". There were real walls thrown up over the cinder blocks and carpet on the concrete floors. We were always amazed that Mom and Dad would furnish them and never use them. But most basements just sat their lonely and dressed up to compete with the beautiful caves of cul du sac kings up the street like The Kornfelds or the Ryans. The typical suburban basement had ping pong tables, a dehumidifier and a dartboard with no darts. The floor coverings would collect stains from Pepsi fueled foosball marathons, Post-Atari afternoon bean bag chair spillings and later, all kinds of fluids from massive and covert keg party while "the rents" were away.

But this all changed once my misfit youth compadres and I left the backyard Nerf brigades behind and started bands to release subdivision tension or lure in a cheerleader with forbidden love from behind our denim armors. My parents were always the coolest around...hippies without the drugs so to speak, an easy target. My Dad was an artist and Mom was as liberal as they come...somehow we ended up in the middle class suburbs and not in a commune beyond the farmlands. This made things awesomely simple when it came to finding a place to play. Hell, it was right underneath Dad and his morning Danish! Free and easy, man. The mid 80s and a basement full of couches, amps, drums and a dorm room fridge full of Genesee Beer. We spent at least 5 years in the basement, practicing the classic menu of AC to Zep, recording demos, staying glued true to our roots and hosting parties full of nary a cheerleader, but plenty of granola to go around!

My 20s and most of my 30s were spent in big cities far from the restless dreams of youth and chasing an invisible tail, full of false starts and music in bits and pieces...fitting in jams with various musicians in Atlanta living rooms,Yakima crawlspaces, Brooklyn warehouses, and San Francisco practice rooms...The time will get away from you, and like my Dad always said...some years are faster than others..Now I'm a grown man, back in the suburbs with a family, a slightly overgrown yard and a basement of my own....there are ghosts down there, waiting for sound check, getting shocked on a mic with a bad ground,crossing out lines in notebooks... creating in unison. Those ghosts haunt me while I'm sneaking in loud music on an ipod while driving, while I hum in the shower,while I dis all of those horrible false "idol" shows, cantankerous from the couch. I can hear them laughing, those ghosts...and they all have perfect pitch.

I want a basement band again. I have the basement........It's still down there. There must be guys like me around here...with real talent..(not these Craigslist cretins)...... who love their life but are trapped with responsibility and lose the harness grip on creativity...keeping it hidden, not by choice, but because of life's little necessities, like pre school, Whole Foods and hardware. Come all come one you fine un- young fellows! Dust off your amp, come with a song and plug in..but it has to be after nap time...let's ditch these grungy ghosts and find some funk of our own.

I'd love to hear about your own "basements", garages, and rooms that consumed you in music as well.


  1. Dude, we'd have the most killer basement band. Of course growing up in California, I was in the garage every Sunday from 12 to 4 (no basement). One of my best early band memories was my five piece high school rock band Osiris doing No Quarter one Sunday, and it was pouring outside, and the rain on the garage roof was the perfect ambiance for the music we were laying down.

  2. Yes, No Quarter....Close the door, put out the light...you know they won't be home tonight...been there, done that, would do that again..but we need the bass pedals!

  3. 1986, first band. The guy that let us use his garage was in a band in the 60s, kept a canary-yellow, 1970 GTO rag top covered up in the space (in winter) and we played there every weekend, drank, "smoked" and had as much fun as was legally possible.

    The only rule: "Touch the fucking car and you're OUT!"

  4. Back in the day in the winter we practiced in the basement. In the summer we moved it out to the garage. This went on for a few years.
    Three brothers. The Drummer, the guitarist, and hanger-outer. Their mother was very tolerant to say the least.
    The basement was just that. Laundry machines, boxes, stuff, and our dark little corner. The garage was a diffrent scene altogether. You could smoke out there! Their mom only had one car, so we got half of the garage. A couple couches, chairs ,tables, a drum set.. It was like an outdoor living room with an old broken motorcycle in it.

    After that band broke up, i ended up living in my next bands basement practice room for over a year. I'm still trying to wash the smell out of my hair....
    Aaah- the good old days.

    Good luck with your basement band, and since the Sox are out- Go Phillies!