Apr 10, 2013

Kick out the Jammies

Dear Ask A Punk:
One of the members of my band had a kid last Fall. We're all thrilled for her and it is all wonderful and all of that, but here is the problem: We're all in our mid-to-late 20s. We were all taking this band very seriously, to the point were people, including me, have turned down offers for "real jobs" and other opportunities, all the kinds of things  you can't do when "the band comes first." Last summer we were finally at the point where we were able to play out of town and do some short "van tours" for a 10 days to 2 weeks at a time. So we are, or at least were, all on the same page of building something that might, we hope, get pretty big, not super huge, but at least a real, recognizable band, with fans in other places and maybe some records out, beyond the stuff we put on Soundcloud and on our band pages. We've been working toward all this, together, for a couple of years and 2013 was supposed to be a year that we were going to spend as much time on the road as possible, playing in as many new towns as possible and all that. Like I said - we are serious about this.

So you obviously know what the issue is now. The new mom can't quite commit to any of the usual band requirements. We can understand her not being able to hang out, and go to shows, and be as super active in the "scene" and all that, but she is also missing rehearsals and when we try to talk about our out-of-town scheduling in the future she sort of dodges it by saying things like "It is too soon to be worried about all that stuff" or things like that. I knew her priorities would change, and I am trying to empathize because I'm a girl too, and I hope to have kids of my own someday, but not right now. The truth is, I'm pissed off. I feel like the whole band is being held hostage over this. She won't quit. We don't want to throw her out. But in the meantime nothing is happening for us, and we're probably losing ground, because she isn't as committed as she used to be. As you can imagine, the guys in the band have even less patience, but we are all old friends and stuff so there is a lot of history and it is like no one wants to be "the jerk", or, in my case "the bitch" by bringing up the obvious which is: Her choice to keep/have a kid was hers to make, but now she is expecting us all to alter our lives, and plans, and ambitions because SHE has a kid now. It doesn't seem fair, and we just don't know how to get past all this. Any ideas? - Rock Now. Mom Later.

Dear RN.ML-
If you weren't all such great "old friends," if she was some random musician you met on craigslist and added to your band, how difficult would it be to hash all this out with her and come to a decision? I'm guessing not all that hard... but when real friendship is involved, things get complicated. 

My short, quick answer is to suck it up and have a full-band sit-down for the sole purpose of airing all this out, once and for all, with all interested parties in attendance. It will more-than-likely suck, but it has to be done, otherwise everyone is going to remain polite while internally the seething will only build and build until it turns into some kind of ugly shouting match. 

I'm willing to bet that this is one of those elephant in the room situations where everyone is just dying for someone else to bring it up and start the ball rolling, so it might as well be you. I think you have every right to tell ANY band member that they can't miss rehearsals etc, and if they can't maintain the level of commitment they previously had or the project, for any reason, then the other people involved, who are still fully committed have the right to protect and nurture the thing they've created, ie: The Band. 

Chances are your friend probably harbored some fantasy that she would be able to make motherhood and full-time rock-and-rolling "work," but by now the reality of the situation is likely setting in for her as much as it is for you. Don't get me wrong, it HAS been done, but it does add another layer of difficulty to the already difficult-as-f*ck process of being a successful, real band... and it requires more commitment from her and from all the other band members.

...so you have have to decide, friendship aside, how difficult it would be to replace her. As usual I wish I had more information. Is she a major creative force in the band? Does she write a lot of the songs, and/or sing them? You didn't even say what she plays. Does she have a major impact on the band's overall sound/image/creativity?  If no, then she's replaceable. If yes, well then you've got some serious thinking to do.

Playing in bands can be fun, or it can be worse than dental surgery, and that has less to do with "success" than it has to do with the personalities involved. You said you're all old friends - that usually means that you initially got together out of a combination of convenience and joy at just making some music together. For some people that is enough. For others (like your band) it is just the starting point for more ambitious and professional goals. Those are not dirty words. You're entitled to have and pursue your dreams, just as she was entitled to become the mom she wanted to be... but we all have to face some unpleasant facts as the years stack up and that is this: You can't really "have it all." That hack old saying about "when one door closes, another opens" should be re-written to also include the fact that, sometimes when you open an new door, other doors get slammed shut. That's the reality. 

I want to say again, in an effort to head off a bunch of angry comments & mail: Yes, women and moms can be ferocious, bigger-than-life rock stars... but it isn't easy. I'm sure music still means a lot to her, and I'm sure she would be crushed to be cut loose from the band, but if she is a real friend to all of you then she must know that the changes in her life are negatively effecting all of you. I think that is the unspoken resentment in your email to me: Why the hell won't she just quit so you don't have to be the heavy? A good question. I would like to know the answer to that as well. 

Priorities do have a way of shifting once you have kids. Did you all talk about ANY of this while she was still pregnant? Maybe she's starting to think more pragmatically about how she is going to support and care for her child (ie: where's the $$ going to come from?) You didn't mention anything about her having a partner in all of this either. IF she still cares about music as much as she used to, she'll figure out a way to make it work so she can stay in the band... or she can do the right thing and let you guys find a replacement so all of you can move forward. IF music is still important to her, she'll find other outlets for it - like maybe while you're all on-the-road, sleeping in the van, she'll be at home crafting a mind-blowing solo album on her laptop in between diaper changes.

She made a choice to be a mom. You have to make the next choice.