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Bringing Back the Band to Beat the Midlife Blues

When life gets you down, the nostalgia and friendships of youth can lift you up

As most of us know, middle age produces a pretty wide range of emotions. Sometimes it’s as thrilling as the car chase in The French Connection. Then there are periods you feel so low and lost, it’s like living in an Ingmar Bergman movie.

This past winter, I found myself in such a Scandinavian emotional state. I stared into space. I used only one-syllable words. My friends say they got worried when I started talking about ‘The silence of God’ — in Swedish!

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I knew I needed a burst of adrenaline. The roller coaster at Six Flags was out; being depressed is still better than experiencing a cardiac episode. What could I do?

Then it hit me. At prep school, I’d been in a rock ‘n’ roll band, playing at bars, dances and, once, a Reagan fundraiser. (Hey, we were desperate.) Why not look up the ‘boys’, play some tunes and rid myself of that Bergman-esque feeling?

Reunited, and It Feels So Achy

It wasn’t hard to do. I was still in touch with our guitarist Kenny and bassist Dave. Ken was playing professionally. The rest of us had moved on to our real careers. I only played occasionally for Sam, my black Lab, who listened raptly I think, because I sang notes only he could hear.

Regardless, I found our drummer, Mike, on Twitter, called everyone and invited them over that Saturday to jam. I’d originally thought about making it Sunday, but I was afraid the sounds we’d make might be considered sacrilegious.

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Two days later, everyone showed as scheduled. I walked stiffly out to meet them. When Kenny, a fine, diminutive player, asked why I was walking funny, I said, “Sports injury.” I was too embarrassed to tell him the truth — that I’d thrown my back out making my bed. Not very rock ‘n’ roll.

Still, we did kind of resemble The Rolling Stones.

Kenny’s curls were thinning like Keith Richards’. Mike, a jolly radiologist, was muscular and gray like Charlie Watts. Dave, a serious, stocky CPA, used as much hair dye as Ronnie Wood. I’d stayed skinny, like Jagger — if Mick walked funny and was on his way to Aquasize class.

We weren’t that old, of course. But after we got all the equipment into my house, I almost suggested we take a nap.

Setting up in the living room, I had a frightening thought. No, it wasn’t that Dave would insist on doing Rush’s Tom Sawyer and sing like Geddy Lee, meaning, a crazed Vienna choirboy, in need of medication. Not that terrifying.

But I watched my middle-aged buddies — they’d kneel down to plug in something, and it would take them forever to stand up again. Had I made a mistake thinking we’d throw off our boomer blues by re-forming? Would we feel even worse when we were done?

It was too late. Kenny called out I Wanna Be Sedated. And we began, with yours truly, singing and playing rhythm guitar. We powered through the Ramones rocker, like a ’77 Ford Fairlane. We might’ve been a vehicle that clunked, rattled and rolled. But we could still get you there.

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The More Things Change…

Finishing, Kenny turned and said to me, “You played an E 7th chord. It’s an E!” Dave yelled at Mike for coming in too soon. Suddenly, everyone was yelling at each other. In other words, it was just like the old days.

As Dave gave me crap about singing flat on the second verse, I told him, “At least I don’t sound like Geddy Lee. Top that!” Everybody got hysterical. Picks and sticks were thrown. We were back. I had worried for nothing.

Mike then told Kenny, if he thought it was an E, he should check out the chords on the Internet but first put on his glasses. “The ones that look like Coke Bottles.”

Dave laughed so hard, his bass fell off. He bent over to grab it, then screamed, “I can’t straighten up!” He was just joking. We were all laughing too hard to notice.

We played for two more hours. Beatles, Sex Pistols, The Beach Boys. And although tempos got lost and singers hit more ‘clams’ than diggers on Cape Cod, it was really fun for everyone but Sam, who’d run upstairs after the first song.

For me, it was much more. I got to see men with mortgages, kids and difficult careers do something magical. They grew young again, right in front of me.

I got to see what music always does, which was getting some very stiff guys (insert Viagra joke here) to become as animated as The Simpsons. Singing, soloing, clapping happily on The Cars’ Let’s Go, they were like teens again.

The living room got trashed. My dog cowered under the bed for days. It was so worth it.

We had such a good time, we vowed to get together again, even to play a gig, if a VFW lodge would have us.

Eventually, the afternoon ended. Cell phones rang. People had to split to have dinner with in-laws. Real life intruded. But our fantasy of putting the band back together had trumped real life. Which made everybody feel, well, wonderful.

Peter Gerstenzang writes about rock, pop culture and humor for Esquire, Spin, MSN and Next Avenue

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