Hank Morton played guitar and keyboards for four years in the indie band Ilya, which has put out several CDs and was nominated for awards at the 2002 and 2003 San Diego Music Awards, including Best New Artist, Best Alternative Album, and Album of the Year for Poise Is the Greater Architect. Morton also grew up with music, and he tells me stories about jamming with his brother and dad. As he talks, Morton runs his hands through his short blond hair, so that after a few minutes, it sticks up in tufts, much like his infant son’s. It is only after our conversation that I notice the bald spot on the top of his head.
Paul Clark, who plays guitar in the classic rock band Meknes, is modest about his musical accomplishments. A native San Diegan, he speaks with the slow drawl of a surfer, but he becomes animated as he tells me about his first guitar. His parents brought it back from a trip to Tijuana when he was 7 and told him he could take lessons. In 1970, when Clark was 13 and had a paper route, he saved up $300 and bought a one-year-old Martin guitar. “It’s worth $3000 now,” he says, and in the next breath, he mentions that recently he found out that his father used to play jazz on the Santa Cruz pier. “He played every Friday night and sometimes on the radio, until he ran away to join the Navy and his mom sold his sax.”
Richard Fish, a 48-year-old ophthalmologist who plays in the classic rock band Double Vision, can’t remember a time when he didn’t love to play. “I remember as a small kid holding make-believe guitars, pretending to play along with Beatles records with my brother and cousins. Some of us took up an instrument, drums and guitar in my case, started playing a bit, then found other kids to play in a band with. As you get older, if you keep up with it, I guess there is some sense of wanting to go back a bit in time, playing the songs you grew up with and loved.”
“The appeal for getting into music is universal,” says Hank Morton. “You have a message or you want to create something beautiful. It’s a universal thing, and it spans the generations.” To Morton, band culture crosses all barriers, including age, gender, and genre.
Another appeal, apparently, is the chicks. “Even as a happily married guy, it’s fun getting attention from girls,” Matherly tells me. “It’s fun flirting. One thing with older musicians, you could have been the ugly duckling — you could still be the ugly duckling, and you’re skinny and wrinkled — but you’re the man. Girls who would never give you attention outside of a club are throwing themselves at you when you’re onstage.”
Fish of Double Vision tells me by email that his wife doesn’t mind women throwing themselves at her husband. In fact, according to Fish, she still finds drummers irresistible, 22 years after she first saw him play. He adds, “I think that men are just grown-up boys. And to some degree, boys will be boys. Some guys hang at the bar with buddies, some are avid golfers or bowlers, and some are members of service organizations. And some of us are just playing in rock-and-roll bands.”
And yet, all of these reasons don’t explain why these men are onstage. After all, it’s not easy to be in a band while holding a day job and raising kids.
“The hardest part is that I feel guilty when I practice,” Matherly tells me. Illicit Behavior practices from nine until midnight every Tuesday night. On weekends that the band plays, Matherly has to get ready at about four, drop off the equipment, set it up, and then play. On nights his band has gigs, he’s lucky to come home by 3:00 a.m. “The next day, my six-year-old son wants me to get up with him, and I’m exhausted all weekend.”
Hank Morton, who’s in his 30s, left Ilya because the touring became a strain after he got married and bought a fixer-upper house. “I burned out on it. All of a sudden, new stuff was dominating my life — I was building a business, I bought a house, and then my son Seth came along.” Since then, Morton has had another son, Spencer, now six months old.
Phil Beaumont of Maquiladora is the director of the Museum School, where he also teaches. “Our school has been trying to move into the new Children’s Museum,” he says when we talk in September. “I haven’t played a lot this year, and it’s been a heavy weight on my shoulders. For me, just the way our band is set up, and working as a teacher, it’s a matter of when we can tour. It requires planning and flexibility.” On November 30, the board of directors at the Children’s Museum decided that the museum would no longer house the school. Now Beaumont must search for a new facility as well as host “a number of fund-raising events.”
So what keeps these guys practicing, memorizing lyrics, and getting up onstage? It’s not the money — everyone I spoke to said he was lucky to break even playing at bars.
I am reminded of what Joseph Campbell, renowned mythology professor, once referred to as “peak experience” and of what Dr. Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, psychology professor at Claremont Graduate University, calls the “flow state.” In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csíkszentmihályi describes “flow” as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies…your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Matherly says he wouldn’t feel complete unless he was singing. “As a musician, there is nothing more. There is not a greater high than getting up onstage and commanding the crowd. It’s a sense of power. It’s an amazing thing, like surfing a really large wave, but it’s continuous.”