When I was asked to join the somewhat-successful local band on a short western U.S. tour, I’d recently ended a 5-year relationship, and a band.
It had been a tough year filled with endings, psychological confusion, and finally, a newfound independence I relished. The waters had stilled. I was dating the rebound guy my parents loathed–whom I would quickly learn was as horrible as they imagined–but I’d finally moved on. I was stabilizing.
My apartment was within walking distance of my day job; the isolated guest house behind a larger house. This arrangement allowed me to write songs, play guitar, or play drums whenever I wanted without disturbing neighbors.
I was singing a few times monthly in an ’80s cover band that paid better than all of my original bands combined ever had, and was comfortably making rent and bills. My turbulent life had temporarily achieved a modicum of homeostasis, and I was reluctant to give it up.
My friends wanted an extra guitar player and backing vocals/harmonies to fill out their female-led rock band. We’d played gigs together many times, so they knew what I could do and I liked what they were doing. But there was no pay involved–I’d be giving up my apartment, my job, and my life to go on a 2 month tour. After some practices, they made it clear they’d keep me on beyond the tour if I decided to join.
The obvious and easy choice was to stay and not go on tour. I’d just barely gotten back on my feet as a newly single lady. I had a bearable day job with a kind boss. In the cover band, I had a fun way to make money that felt like karaoke with friends set to live music. But I longed to also be a part of original songs, rather than only singing the hits of others from another era.
I really liked the members of the original rock band. I loved singing harmonies, and my voice complemented the lead singer’s voice. They were a cool hang and genuinely nice people.
Hoping to do both, I asked my ’80s cover band if they’d give me 2 months to go on the original band’s tour, as we already had a natural break in scheduling. I hoped maybe the other cover band members might like a little vacation, too.
I was disappointed when they dug their heels in hard against my leaving for 2 months. The lead guitarist/singer met with me in a bar bearing a spreadsheet of how much we could make if I stayed and we all “took the band seriously,” which I interpreted as everyone giving up our day jobs to only play ’80s hits. This had not been the deal, and had never been discussed before, so I didn’t understand why it was suddenly on the table.
I don’t know if “woman getting uppity” was a factor or what–but it was truly bizarre how angry and resentful the other members became because I wanted to take a short hiatus. I was asking for a bit over 2 months, not a year. They ended up giving me an ultimatum: stay and sing in our cover band, or go on the tour with the original band and be replaced.
Looking back, I wonder if this stubborn moment might have made the decision for me. I’d recently ended a relationship after being told I had to give up music, get married, and start having children because it was time. Those who truly know me understand that the fastest way to make me not want to do something is to tell me I have to do it.
I told the cover band I was going on the original band’s tour, and if they still wanted me after I returned, I’d be thrilled to continue singing with them.
They ended up not only replacing me, but surprised me at one of the last shows we were scheduled to play… with my replacement. They told me she’d be getting on stage to sing a few songs minutes before we were set to go on, and I was furious. Forced to graciously introduce the person taking my spot (and future earnings), I stood awkwardly in the audience while she sang my favorite Pat Benatar song. This was a new low for band mates who were supposed to be my friends.
People in the audience around me could tell I was uncomfortable, looked at me with pity, and said things like “You sing it better than she’s singing it,” trying to make me feel less embarrassed… but it didn’t help. It just felt humiliating. It was a truly shitty position to place me in. All I was asking for was a 2 month break, and I was being treated like some sort of traitor.
Of course I now wish I’d stood up for myself, told them nobody would be getting up to sing my songs while I was there, and walked out if they persisted. But I was taught to be nice from an early age, and unfortunately, what I refer to as my “doormat training” has left me with a lot of resentment when I later realize a boundary should have been placed. It’s okay to say no: I know this now, but I didn’t then.
They played zero shows while I was gone, and after all the fuss, they didn’t play their first show with my replacement until I’d been back from the original band’s tour for nearly a month. So all of their time spent training the new girl to sing my parts was pointless, as they could have gotten back to making money again sooner if they’d simply kept me in the band.
This made the strange ultimatum and kicking me out feel even more personal and sexist. I still don’t really understand why they did it, and it hurts to this day. The girl who took my spot was also a friend, and I never felt the same about her again either. I felt betrayed by all of them.
The western U.S. tour took us to New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, California, and was interesting. I relished not being the center of attention in a band, and backing up the songs of another person. (As a shy person with social anxiety, I always wished I’d pursued drums instead of guitar so I could be in the back.)
I immediately noticed the lead singer/guitarist wasn’t handling alcohol well. I grew up with an alcoholic mother, and was well aware of what an alcohol problem looks like versus typical pleasure-drinking. It was troublesome, but at first, I chalked it up to being on the road, partying, and enjoying the tour. We’ve all had an out-of-control drunk night or six. Alcohol isn’t a science–accidental over-drinking happens.
Our lead singer/guitarist seemed to push herself far beyond the typical level of musician-on-tour drunk most nights, however, becoming belligerent, screaming at us that we weren’t her real friends, yelling obscenities, and storming out of the hotel room at night with her backpack, telling us she was going home. We’d all sigh, shrug sadly, and fall asleep feeling uneasy, only to find her asleep in the room the next morning. She’d sometimes offer a weak apology, or we’d all pretend it didn’t happen and move on. I quickly noticed this was a pattern and not an occasional occurrence.
In Las Vegas, she stayed out all night long, drinking and gambling. When we woke up we all panicked because she usually came back to the room to pass out when she drank too much. We were worried about her safety, plus we needed to get on the road to make the show in Phoenix.
We frantically dressed and raced down to the casino where I’d last seen her to find her still awake, drunk beyond communication, gambling slots with a cup full of quarters. She had dirt from the money all over her hands and face, and was mumbling, combative.
We were going to eat at a breakfast buffet before we hit the road, and we begged her to stop drinking and gambling, to come get some food in her system. She angrily refused, so we ate quickly while trying to keep tabs on her location. We had to drag her to the band van to get to the next gig on time. We then realized she’d spent the night gambling away all of the money we’d made on merch/CD sales. Money we would have used for gas to get to the next town. Luckily our drummer had a credit card and family who cared, or we’d have been out of luck.
As we drove the flat, endless desert from Las Vegas to Phoenix, she told us all we were shitty friends and cursed us out long enough for the bass player in the front seat to put on his headphones, blasting music to drown out her anger. The drummer was driving and just looked really sad and worried. I was sitting next to her in the back, trying to placate her, wanting to wipe all the dirt off her face but afraid she’d become violent. Finally, mercifully, she passed out. Silence. Blessed silence.
The rest of the tour was filled with drunken episodes such as this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t remember them. At one point, I called my recording engineer ex-boyfriend (great human, and friend to this day) crying because I wanted to come home and was so stressed out. My fun 2 month tour had become a nightmare from which I couldn’t escape, and it was throwing me back to being trapped with an alcoholic mother on the isolated farm of my childhood. My ex-boyfriend even gave me his credit card number so I could book a flight home when I reached the point of no longer being able to stand the abuse. I’ve never forgotten this kind gesture.
Because I’d: 1) given up my job of 5 years, 2) given up the best, most musician-friendly apartment I’d ever found, 3) given up the ’80s cover band gig where I made money at music for the first time ever, and 4) had been pressured by them to buy a particular amplifier I didn’t need to match the band’s theme… I stuck it out. I hoped we’d get home and things would be less heightened off the road, less volatile. I planned to stay in the band and make it work.
We played The Spirit Festival in K.C. and another show at the end of the tour at a bar in Lawrence, Kansas called The Bottleneck. We had another show planned after this at The Hurricane in Kansas City, the band’s hometown. Being from Lawrence, I’d played The Bottleneck for years (in 5 different bands!) and it was by far my favorite venue, so I really wanted to impress my hometown friends.
We had a decent show, but the trays of shots from well-meaning fans continued to be brought to the stage, and the drinks were flowing. Our lead singer/guitarist was unfortunately, exceptionally drunk.
We got through the gig and the lights were flashed, as was the customary signal for “wrap it up” at this bar. Everybody in the band kept trying to get off the stage, but the lead singer wouldn’t stop.
Slurring at the audience, asking if they wanted another song, she ignored the bartenders as they continued to flash the lights. In a desperate attempt to end the show without embarrassing her, the drummer, bass player, and I all got off stage, hoping she’d follow.
Instead, she stayed on stage, playing solo and verbally motherfucking us for getting off the stage as we stood trying trying to wave at her to come down. The bar employees were fully annoyed, and it was well past time to get the crowd out of the place, but she wouldn’t stop playing. It was completely humiliating. I think the sound person finally cut the microphone and power to get her to stop.
We all loaded up our gear and went our separate ways. Within days, before the scheduled show at The Hurricane, I got calls from the bass player and the drummer. They explained to me that they were quitting the band because they couldn’t take her toxic drunken behavior anymore. I said, “So the band is breaking up?” and they told me it was over. Oh.
They then shared with me that the lead singer/guitarist had been out of control for a long time, and they’d brought me on as a last ditch effort to try to handle her and save the band. Considering everything I’d given up to play original music with them, I was more than disappointed, I was furious.
I had to live with my parents and the creepy rebound boyfriend who treated me like shit until I could get my job back and find another apartment. It sucked, being brought into a band under false pretenses–under the guise that they were thriving and healthy–when they were actually on their last leg. I definitely deserved full disclosure before making such a life-changing decision.
Not only did I never receive an apology from anyone in the band, an online article about the band’s reunion show less than a decade later described how “too many hours on the road and tension among (the bass player), (myself) and (the lead singer/guitarist) put strain on an ever-weakening core. Not long after Kansas City’s bygone Spirit Festival in 1999, (the band) disbanded. It happened shortly before the band’s last scheduled Hurricane gig, which (the lead singer/guitarist) played — by herself.”
The article gives some props where they’re due and isn’t completely inaccurate, but as I read it, I resented my name being included as part of the “too many hours on the road and tension” cause for the band breaking up, because I had a blast with the guys. They are both sweet and hilarious, and I was in the band for 2 measly months. Not only did I not contribute to the “ever-weakening core”, I was never told it was weak to begin with, and gave up so much to join what I thought was a band with a strong core.
The unhealthy band dynamic had formed long before my 2 month stint with them, and I resent being included in the reasons for its demise. All I did was try to play music with what I thought were cool people… and then I was told it was over. I wasn’t even a part of that decision. I got a fucking phone call. It sucked.
I’m so happy to say the lead singer/guitarist is now sober, married, still playing music, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for her. I genuinely like her, and understand what it is to have problems, as I’m not perfect either. I only wish the truth had been presented in the article; that her alcoholism was the reason for the tension, not “too many hours on the road” or anything else. She has an addiction, she got help, which took strength and bravery, and she should be proud of that–but she should also accept accountability for the demise of the band. She should have made that clear for the writer of the article.
At the very least, as the person brought in completely blind to the personal dynamics happening before I joined–for 2 brief months–I’d really appreciate my name being left out of the blame game in articles, because I had no fucking idea what I’d signed up for, and the guys both apologized to me on the phone for this when they told me the band was over. Not only did I not “add to any tension” in the band, I spent much of the tour trying to placate a belligerent drunk person and smooth things over.
The experience showed me that nobody is really a friend if they can’t get something from you. I was used and discarded once it became clear the addition of me to the band wasn’t going to fix the problem. This sounds jaded, but it’s a very rare person who considers how their choices and actions affect another person, and most humans want your friendship because they want something from you.
It’s somewhat depressing, but if you disagree, think about the people in your life for a moment. What are you getting from them? And what are they getting from you? Do you let go of those who no longer offer anything positive? Because I do. And I don’t blindly jump into much anymore. At least my 2 months aboard a sinking ship taught me a lesson, so that’s something, right?