I am grateful to have friends of all ages. Last week Devin, my teenaged friend, asked me to attend a “Battle of the Bands” at Seminole Ridge High School.
I have known Devin for three years. During that time, he has learned to play guitar, drums and bass. There was a brief time when I knew more about guitar than he did. That time has come and gone.
Devin has played his guitar for me in our quiet times together, but I had never heard him play with a band, or seen him on a stage. “Buddha’s Sister” is the name of Devin’s band. They play old-school blues, along with some reggae. It is amazing to meet modern kids who idolize Jimi Hendrix and Robert Johnson more than Lady Gaga and Katy Perry! Not that there is anything wrong with Gaga or Perry. It is just gratifying to know that there is a generation after mine to carry on loving the guitar gods of yesteryear.
Now it is time for me to confess that I am a bit of a closet “Gleek.” That’s right, I watch Glee on Hulu faithfully each week. As I took my seat in the school auditorium, I couldn’t help but wonder how this real-life presentation of teen musicality would compare with what we see each week on Glee.
Four bands were competing for a grand prize of recording time in a local studio. Each band played two originals, and one cover. Each band had its own style, and its own problems. Immediately one big difference was clear between what we see on Glee and what we see on real school stages. Vocals are tough! Part of that was mic problems; each band struggled with cables and mixing. Part of it, I suspect, was nervousness combined with the changing voices of teenage boys.
Two of the bands were metals acts. They both had charisma, talent, and weak vocals. Then there was Buddha’s Sister, which is a bluesy, hippie sort of band, and Ticket to a Blimp, a Blink-182/Green Day-sounding sort of band.
It was clear to me that the judges would be choosing between Buddha’s Sister and Ticket to a Blimp for the grand prize; but which band would they choose? Would they be impressed that the three guys in Buddha’s Sister exchanged instruments with each song, and clearly had the best vocals? Would they be swayed with Ticket to a Blimp’s cover song “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid,” complete with dancing sea creatures and a ukulele? Would they grasp the depth of Buddha’s Sister’s sophisticated bass lead? Did it matter that Ticket to a Blimp was the only band with more than one vocalist? All loyalties to Devin aside, I was glad I was not on the judge’s panel that night!
In the end, Ticket to a Blimp beat Buddha’s Sister by only one point. For Devin and his band, it was still a personal win. Really, it was a win for all the musicians and their families. In a time when school programs are slashed, it was heartening to see the number of people who came out on a Thursday night at $5 a head to see these four bands. I wonder if the popularity of Glee, High School Musical and shows like The Sing Off might be helping to support local musicians in our schools and communities.
My biggest lasting impression from this event, besides the fact that my boy Devin rocks, was how well the four bands worked together. Even though they were in competition with each other, they supported each other. Each band member was willing to help with set up and tear down, lending cables and fixing microphones. Each band member seemed more concerned with making sure everyone had a great time, rather than worrying about who was going to win.
This made me reflect about the complexity of creative competition. On one hand, each band wanted to win. Rather than sabotaging their competition, they helped each other, perhaps because the music was more important than the competition. Personal best was more important than best in show.
I thought of the Rider Waite Smith Five of Wands. It’s a complex card. I always ask new tarot students what they see in it. Some students see people fighting. Others see people building something.
If we break down the Five of Wands into its element and number, we see passion, creativity, and even anger in the fire of the Wands. The five speaks of the discomfort that can come from growth, and pushing past one’s boundaries.
Five of Wands
Dancing each to our own rhythm
We work to build the temple
No art forms without struggle
No creation process is simple
When love and anger align
Caught in passion and torn
Conflict and chaos circle
In the pains of something being born
They called it a “Battle of the Bands,” and it was a battle. It was also a time for everyone to work together to build something great, just as it is in the Five of Wands.