The Dream of Playing in a Rock-and-Roll Band
By Suzanne Cheavens
Photography by Ben Knight
I AM IN A ROCK BAND. I have wanted to say that my entire life. as soon as The Beatles rocked my world, I put aside childish things and took up a guitar and let my dreams run wild. My fascination with rock and roll has been as present in my life as breathing. Music keeps my fires stoked and gives reason to a world that I find verges on insanity most of the time. It soothes, it incites, it rolls, it inspires, it lives. Through all the jobs, the kids, the marriage, the diversions, the busy-ness of life, the constant in me was the desire to play in a rock band.
I am in a rock band. I would not be in a rock band if not for Mark Galbo. The teacher-musician’s wildly successful Rock and Roll Academy has ushered legions of local kids from first chord to playing live before adoring fans since 2004. I covered the Academy on a freelance assignment for this magazine early on and confessed my lifelong wish to him: “How ’bout adults?” He demurred until the fall of 2008.
“It wanted to happen. As a lifelong artist, I am accustomed to welcoming factors outside of my control and going with them, crafting them into things of beauty. When the ladies Rock idea Began to aggregate around me, I sat back and watched. I waited and watched some more. it became quickly apparent that it wanted to happen and that I would be fortunate to be in the position of guiding this moment. it was an easy decision.”
We’re the Monday-night girls. That first Monday night in October, we gathered in the Academy’s soundproof studio within the Telluride Mountain school. We took in our surroundings, feasting our eyes on the array of guitars, the drum kit, the keyboard, the posters of Hendrix, Dylan and the Rolling stones, and the concert flyers for the kids’ bands. The walls are painted a warm red, and little white lights are draped around the room. It’s cozy and dimly lit and reminds me of the various lairs of my youth, where I burned incense and taught myself songs on my cheap acoustic guitar and dreamed of escape.
And we eyed each other. Some of the girls I knew already; some I’d never seen before in my life. Six women, each with her own aspirations for what Galbo calls his “experiment.”
Allow me to introduce the band.
Cindy Carver has always wanted to play bass. She’s a petite blond with a radiant smile and a fierce work ethic. Her determination and innate musicality rocketed her to bass competence in no time. In a song, if I find myself at sea, I listen for her bass line and can always find my way home. She does not suffer fools lightly and can be brutally honest.
Bärbel Hacke is our front woman. She hails from Germany and gives our band a dose of euro-cool. She is confident and loose onstage, though you’d never know it from the intense preshow angst she suffers backstage. She has actually sung in rock bands before, both in Germany and here in her adopted home, but never on equal footing with the boys. She seeks redemption and creative freedom with us. She digs deep in her soul when she sings and is game for sitting in on drums when Molly plays guitar. Bärbel, too, is very direct. she likes to get right to the point—and in a band setting, this quality is important, though it can be unnerving if you are on the receiving end of her exhortations.
Theresa Imparato, “T,” is our youngest member and an aspiring singer. She loves dressing the part of rock star chick and pulls it off beautifully. From the beginning, Theresa had a hard time finding her place in the band. Perhaps it is her youth—she’s not even 30, while the rest of us are 40 and up—but sometimes it’s as if she’s reading from a different book. T doesn’t want to play keys—she’d rather play guitar—but she has a deft touch and a good sense of timing. We want her dream to come true, too, but there’s a disconnect, and we struggle to work it out.
Molly Papier is a tall, easy-going Midwesterner with a fondness for indie rock. I think she is just about the hippest cat I’ve ever known. She came in with a little guitar experience but was open to most anything. The first time she sat at the drum kit, her playing stopped us all in our tracks. Mark muttered “genius” under his breath. I am not kidding. She’s so damned good—already. She goes with the flow and is open-minded but would love to play something written sometime in the last decade, like by The Breeders or Ryan Adams. I love working with her. She makes me laugh.
And me? As a guitarist, I went in thinking it would be cool to learn drums or bass, but with Cindy and Molly so perfectly locked in those positions, I have stayed at guitar. I am immensely glad for that because, under Mark’s insightful guidance, I have soared to new heights. I have offered to play keys if need be, so Theresa could try her hand at guitar, but Teach put the kibosh on that notion. I guess he likes what he hears. I sing, too, but really I just want to learn to make my strat sing. Ask the other girls, but I think I am easy to get along with, a smoother of ruffled feathers and a needed touch of irreverence. I mean, it’s only rock and roll, people. I want to play out and maybe one day sing for my supper. I want to be a rock star.
We are called “Machschau.” it’s a Beatles’ anecdote from their days of playing in seedy dives in Hamburg before they became The Best Band ever. Drunken bar patrons and Machiavellian club owners screamed at the young rockers to “Mach Schau!” Make show.
Most of us like the name, but some of us weren’t at practice the night we decided on it. The poster deadline was fast approaching, and we had to pick something. I don’t know which I dislike more—picking songs or picking band names. Trying to get six people with varying tastes, abilities and backgrounds to decide on four songs and one band name is beyond difficult: it is a process rife with conflict, and I abhor conflict. But the chasm between the power ballad “every Rose has its Thorn” and the stones’ classic rocker “Tumbling dice” is a wide one. Somebody will end up disappointed.
The longer I’m in this, the more I understand why bands break apart. Mainly it’s because of the people. The music is just waiting to be played.
I live for the practices when we’re all connected: when the bass throbs like a heartbeat, when the drums pound as consistently as a super-charged metronome, and when the keyboard swells and washes over everything. When the vocals are moving and heartfelt and on key. And when the guitars wind together and push against one another, and when Bärbel whoops with joy as a lead crescendos. The first time it happened, we were missing Theresa and Kathleen. We were working on “Addicted to love” when it clicked. Molly and Cindy homed in on the rhythm, and my guitar part suddenly came easily. Bärbel growled out the vocals like she owned the song. We grooved. I’ve never felt so high.
There is a singular oneness to being in a band. It’s like being in the coolest club on earth. There is a sense of accomplishment so profound as to defy description. When a disparate group of people combines forces in the quest of a shared vision, magic happens. I’ve experienced it in the numerous theater productions I’ve been in, and I’ve felt it in the course of casual living room jams. We become greater than the sum of our parts, if only for a while. Music is powerful stuff. When you’re making it, it’s like handling a holy writ. It’s righteous. It’s real. It’s what I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I almost can’t believe this is happening.
The DVD from our ladies night out Concert in January is still sitting on the kitchen counter. I can’t watch it, though Cindy and Bärbel tell me it’s something I can live through. It was one of the most amazing nights of my life. The whole day was astounding, really. A mild crisis of not being able to wash my jeans that morning gave way to not caring what I wore. That was intensely liberating. I settled on a comfortable and familiar outfit of jeans, boots, jacket and shirt. I was the only one who didn’t wear black. We had a photo shoot scheduled for just before sound check. We turned heads when we walked down Main Street. We looked damned good. The rock-star thing was taking hold.
At sound check, I reveled in the monitors, the big sound and—sweet glory be—a guitar tech. I laughed and told Molly, “I could get used to this!” Cindy and I sat for a taping with plum TV, further adding to the dizzying sensation of actually being a big deal. We convened for a light supper and cocktails and talked about the butterflies. Bärbel was close to going into her preshow, sweaty-palm anxiety state and assured us that once she hit the stage, she would be fine. I felt oddly loose and present and very, very ready. In the green room before Mark introduced us, we huddled. We could have powered a city with the energy exuding from our pores.
At last our moment was upon us. Molly clacked out the time on her sticks and we launched into “Girls Just Want to have Fun” with T on vocals. Next up, we played Tom petty’s nugget, “Breakdown,” with me on lead guitar and vocals. A friend held a flaming lighter aloft during my solo, but all I saw was the six strings beneath my fingers. Bärbel’s great rendition of the 4 non Blondes’ song, “What’s up?”, was next. We closed with “Addicted to love.” I never wanted it to end. The appreciative crowd—loving, supportive and forgiving—went wild, as they had for Mark’s other band, untracked.
But I can’t watch the DVD. Not yet.
In German slang, it’s called a schrotzen—a clearing of the air, a bitch session. Bands have them all the time. I—little Miss Peace, love and understanding—hate them. But I am learning that they are absolutely necessary in a band. Several sessions into our second semester, we had a powwow. Theresa was wildly frustrated and unclear about her role with the band. Several of us countered that she had never worked as hard on the songs as we had and didn’t seem to click with the other five. It was tense and emotional. I cradled my guitar and kneeled on the floor but said very little.
By next practice, Mark informed us T had left the band. We all quietly considered this development. There was no rejoicing, even though it felt right. It would be better for T to be in a different band and better for us to move forward at our own pace. We found ourselves in the midst of a common band scenario: peter Gabriel and his former band, Genesis, comes to mind. Each enjoyed tremendous commercial and artistic success after Gabriel left to pursue his own creative muse. I wish great things for us, too—all of us.
At that night’s practice, it all came together. Five people. Five different personalities. One vision.
I am in a rock band.