A life in rock bands

In 399 BC, when philosopher Socrates stood accused of corrupting the youth of Athens as a result of his teachings, he suggested that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology 38a). Indeed, philosophers, artists and musicians have spent the centuries that followed espousing the same thing. All of us could benefit from a more examined life, an attempt to find patterns and meaning in the choices we’ve made up until now. For my money, what better way to do so than through the music that surrounds us?

On some level, all of us strive to follow the life arc of The Beatles. In their “She Loves You” period, they were young, incredibly cute and insanely popular. Their adolescence was marked by their Rubber Soul and Revolver albums, and Sgt. Pepper crowned them Homecoming King. They struggled to find their purpose on The White Album, then truly discovered themselves on Abbey Road. By the time they released Let It Be, they’d accomplished everything they’d ever dreamed. They went out on top, then embarked on separate solo careers that have gone down as the most amazing second chapters in rock history.

Many would be happy with a Rolling Stones journey through life; not quite the depth or breadth of life experience, but one marked by a kind of hedonistic joy and unrivaled longevity (some might even call it an unending adolescence). Still others would rather follow a path akin to The Grateful Dead, where decisions are left up to the universe and life is simply the act of letting go.

My life has followed the trajectory of The Kinks more than anything. Pale imitation of The Beatles, nowhere near as fun as The Rolling Stones, too uptight to remind anyone of The Grateful Dead. It’s been marked by passable singing and somewhat witty lyrics but fraught with inner turmoil that keeps breaking up the band.

I had such high hopes when I was young, the same way Carl Douglas must have felt about his career when “Kung Foo Fighting” was still topping the charts. I turned out to be more Charlie Daniels than Charlie Parker. I always thought I presented to the world as witty and unique, like the Mountain Goats or even They Might Be Giants. Instead, I was operating more at the level of a Gary Numan or Al Yankovic.

Puberty hit hard, and I spent most of my high school years in a Starland Vocal Band (“Afternoon Delight”) awkwardness from which I never really recovered. My college years were marked by a Creed-like earnestness presented with Hanson-esque shallowness. It’s all resulted in a sort of Nickelback existence (mostly because the lead singer married the talented and lovely Avril Lavigne), marked by moments of modest success and embarrassing bouts of sappiness.

I’ll never stop striving to reach for The Beatles, of course.

Failing that, I’m hoping I’ll still fall amid the Pink Floyds or Led Zeppelins up there.

At the very least, I’m hoping to avoid the very Kurt Cobain ending that Socrates endured after being found guilty of all charges: he was forced to act as his own executioner by drinking a cup of poison.

Yes, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” but Poison is truly a bad way to go.

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