Title: Renée’s Rock Reviews
Author: Renée Westbrook
From: San Diego
Blogging since: May 2011
Post Date: March 22, 2013
One of the coolest things about rock-and-roll music is that it has the ability to make you feel bigger and better than you actually are. Listen to the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” with its chaka-chaka jungle beat and you’re Mick Jagger in his pony dance, purse-lipped prime. Or if you’re really delusional like I was, Pat Benatar could hit you with her best shot and make you believe you’re one band away from becoming a rock star.
Benatar ruled radio in the early ’80s. When I watched her on MTV with that pixie haircut and spandex outfit, I thought, Yeah. Me too. A rock star. Cool. What I should have been thinking about was finding a vocal coach. But, no. Rock-and-roll juju made me believe I was her.
I bought the Crimes of Passion album from a used-record shop and played it until the grooves turned white. Not the whole album, though. Only one song reached out and touched the rock star in me: “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.” It’s less than three minutes long and has maybe four or five chords. Yet with every play, it cast such a spell on me that I couldn’t help but believe I was going to be a rock star like Benatar.
First you need to understand something. Deep down, I’m a shy person. Oh yeah, and I can’t sing either. I can carry a tune, but “interpret melodies and stay-on-pitch” sing? Not a chance. That didn’t stop me, though.
I’d like to think of that era in my life as the tender, naive years, but reality won’t let me. The truth is I was doing some heavy-duty partying back then and I was in a blind stupor almost every day.
So, how does a delusional, alcoholic, twenty-something closeted songwriter with no previous band or singing experience become a rock star in 1980s Southern California? Rock-and-roll wish-craft.
One day I was talking to my friend Chubb, an overweight heavy-metal lead-guitar player whose breath was so bad you didn’t want to face him when he spoke. He also had body odor that fell somewhere between the early stages of decomposition and the smell of rolling out of bed with yesterday’s clothes on.
We talked about starting a band and becoming mega rock stars. We mused over what we’d wear, where we’d play, the millions of dollars we were going to rake in. When Chubb mentioned a rhythm-guitar man and bass player who were looking to start a band, I knew my rock-and-roll wish had been granted.
Chubb and I met with No Hand Gonzalez. Dude was a Santana wannabe, only his style wasn’t even close to Santana’s. In fact, he didn’t have a style. He just kajunk-ajunked his way through riffs. Slink, the geeky bass player with thick glasses, had a short fuse but his skills were well up to par.
At first they weren’t too keen on me being the lead singer because I had never sung in front of an audience. Slink had the most experience and No Hand was in second place. Chubb was neutral on the subject because he knew I’d blow a gasket if he went against me.
The solution? Well, our house had a huge playroom that could be used as a rehearsal space. There was nowhere else to practice, so if they wanted the band to happen they had to let me be the lead singer.
Physically, I was pretty much a mess. About a week before our first rehearsal I had orthoscopic surgery on my knee for torn ligaments. Alcohol was already my magic elixir, since it numbed a spiritual pain that only sobriety could heal. When the doctor gave me some heavy-duty painkillers, I added them to the mix.
Daddy’s playroom was the perfect place for us to rehearse. There was one small problem, though. Daddy didn’t want white folks’ music played in his house. He was a Black Nationalist born in the late 1920s. In his mind there were black folks and there were white folks. There was black folks’ stuff and there was white folks’ stuff. That was that.
[Post edited for length]