I Tried Out to be the Lead Singer of a Prog Rock Band

I Tried Out to be the Lead Singer of a Prog Rock Band


People often mistake me for a musician. It’s probably because I’m tall and thin, and have the dark hair/blues eyes combo that makes me look more serious and intelligent than I actually am. Baristas, old guys in thrift shops, and even weirdos on the street are prone to approaching me with the same question loaded up: “Are you in a band?”

I do write songs, and I have a Soundcloud, but it’s mostly just an extension of the seemingly endless capacity I’ve developed for boredom. For me, playing guitar or coming up with lyrics is just something to do during the commercials or when I’m walking home from the grocery store.

I’m not sure what makes people think prog rock is cool. Wikipedia says it’s “an attempt to give greater artistic weight and credibility to rock music”, and that much is apparent, but why does music have to be “credible”? Most of my favorite songs are shit-simple, with maybe three chords overall, but what I like about them is that they have some meaning, something I can connect them to my life with. I like to listen to my CDs in my crap-mobile and think about what would be happening in a movie if this song was the score. That’s pretty much my whole relationship with music.

With prog rock, my style of appreciation does not align. I don’t have vivid sci-fi fantasy sequences playing out in my head. I don’t ride a robot horse into a laser battle against space knights, or whatever image that type of music is trying to conjure. Most importantly though, I’m not impressed with musicians trying to repackage classical music into something that resembles commercial rock. In fact, I’m not impressed with classical music at all. I’m not even impressed by music, or at least conceptual musicianship and technical proficiency, and I don’t really want to be.

I just want to feel something, and that’s something you can’t get from a seven minute guitar solo.

There’s a guy who worked at the liquor store in the Rainbow by my parent’s house who would always try to arrange practices and “studio time” with me when I stopped in after work to pick up booze. I went to his house once or twice and I showed him some of my songs and he showed me some of his. It seemed like a pretty normal music interaction: We always got really baked, and spent more time talking about our “influences” than actually jamming.

There was some slight overlap in our music tastes that I was hoping we could explore more deeply, but like most musicians, the songs he liked weren’t the same as the songs he played. Everything came off as over-polished, glitter-guitar dad rock. And I seriously hate the classic rock station. I’m not even sure if I like rock. Period.

Either way, Liquor Store Guy pressures me into trying out, spur of the moment, on a night where I’d really rather stay in. He uses the hard-sell, even saying that he “really thinks it’d be in my best interest to come.” In spite of my dread, I’d like to give it a try. At least just to say I did it.

I start out towards my car, and thankfully my roommate shows up at the door and agrees to go with me. We hop in my shitty Honda and listen to the sound of the bladeless wiper scratch a ditch into my windshield all across the rainy highway.

Right off the bat they plug in an iPod and start playing me midi versions of the song they want to record. I’m already feeling leery about their process. When I’ve written songs with bands in the past, we usually just bang out something simple but aesthetically pleasing to start with, then play it over and over again until we’re comfortable enough to make it complicated. These guys, on the other hand, had already written their songs (full of time changes and fugues) in Final Touch and wanted me to perform as automatically as possible. Maybe that’s how professional musicians write songs. Maybe that’s why professional music is boring.

They tried to teach me a harmony, but I was never sure which one of them I was supposed to be following, and also I have no idea how to sing on key. I like to just shout and warble and make sexy faces. You know, cool shit not “beautiful melodic legattos.” After I failed their call-and-response a few times, LSG gets frustrated but MMF is more understanding. I’m glad he could realize how absurd it was to ask someone who is openly bad at music to be able to perfectly croon a vocal part he’s just heard that day and had no part in writing.

MMF mentions satanism a lot, and I start to expect that he might be one. They both talk about prog rock bands and jazz artists that are (other than Miles Davis) totally over my head. My roommate has a bunch of his dad’s records so he can follow along well enough, but later he tells me he hasn’t listened to any of the music they talked about since high school.

They pull up some prog rock playlist, and spaz around to it with their tongues out making crazy faces. Eventually, after a bunch of weed and cigarettes, I’m stoned silent and listening to Pink Floyd.

It feels like high school. Like I’m desperately trying to be cool, but instead of deciding what that is for myself I’m using the Baby Boomer ideal as a guideline because I want to present myself as someone who “doesn’t fit in” with the mainstream pop-music audience.

Midnight rolls up and it’s a good enough excuse to blow, since we had to stop playing at 11 anyway when LSG’s dad came home. We slam our car doors and my roommate rolls his head over to look at me and says: “Those guys were total dorks, weren’t they?”

–Beck Kilkenny