“How would you like to be closer to Eddie Vedder?”
Honestly, I thought Jeremy was going to tell me he had tickets and backstage pass for a Pearl Jam concert. Credit where it’s due, he chose the exact right thing to say to pique my interest.
Twenty-five years ago today, when high school let out for the weekend, my friend Brett and I went to a house on the other side of town, walked down into the basement, and met Jeremy and the three other members of a then unnamed band. Brett had brought his guitar because he wanted to jam with them. I was there to audition as the lead singer.
That is ultimately hilarious because a) it sounds like they were a big time band looking to replace a member and b) I couldn’t really sing.
Jeremy was the drummer. He was a junior like I was and I would have considered him a friend even then. I recognized the other three — they’d all gone to the same elementary school as me. Tony was the bass player. Matt played one guitar. Rob, whose dad’s basement we were in, played the other guitar.
I was a tall, skinny, socially awkward soccer player who was obsessed with grunge and alternative music. They were of various sizes, engaged in various activities at school, were obsessed with Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, and were, I think they’ll agree, nearly as socially awkward.
My audition consisted of singing “Somebody to Shove” by Soul Asylum. It had to have been awful, but I’m going to guess that the PA system we were using wasn’t good enough for them to notice. And so, Rob stuck his hand out and asked me if I wanted to be in the band. And we shook on it.
Up until that point, high school was not particularly fun or easy for me. It would not have been a stretch to say that Brett was the only constant friend I had. I played soccer and I was pretty good, but I was too weird to really be a part of that social group. I was smart, but I was far too lazy and unfocused to be in any academic groups or cliques. I spent most of my time in my room reading and writing fantasy fiction.
To say that I was unsure of my place in the world would have been an understatement.
In no time at all, the band, Oral Groove (usually written in all lower case letters ala e.e. cummings), became almost everything to me. It set me on a path that I’m still on, one that I never would have started along if it weren’t for that band.
It wasn’t just the band that changed me, it was the friends that suffered through every show. We jokingly referred to them as the Oral Groupies (Anne and J-Sully, in particular, deserve a special shout-out here), but they weren’t really there for the music so much as to support us.
We were in the trenches of adolescence and we did everything you would imagine high school kids would do. We formed our own clique. I had a few other friends and I did a few other things, but in the end everything revolved around the band.
A lot has changed over the last twenty-five years. The band members themselves are scattered across four separate states. Our large, extended family has created larger, extended families. Some of us kept playing, some of moved on, but eventually each of us set on to our individual paths. That didn’t involve being rock stars, but that was never really the point.
I would be a very different person today if I hadn’t joined Oral Groove. I don’t know, exactly, who that person would have been, but I can guarantee that I would not have liked him as much.
And I guarantee you he wouldn’t have been as happy.