No matter how you’ve lived your life … saintly, and with a whiff of heaven in your aura, Dora, or a little naughtily, with a more checkered past than you’d care to admit … you want to be rounding third base and heading into home plate with a fine group of worthy team mates, and a cheering section that still likes you, whether because of, or despite, your resume and reputation.
I must have done something right, because I’m blessed with a lot of wonderful people in my corner. And so many of us share a musical background.
I’m writing this on Friday night, because the weekend kicks off in about an hour, with the arrival of my old friend and band mate, Sharon (Kaid) Kaczmarczyk. We go waaaay back, to the days of Lady, before Lady morphed into Performer with my addition, when she was the haughty, sexy, blonde drummer, and I was the shy and mostly innocent new ‘chick singer’ the group reluctantly admitted to their midst. Where it not for Sharon and Helen Dreyer (on keys,) both far more seasoned and experienced than I was at the time, I’d likely still be wearing my Peter Pan getaway boots with a tie-dyed tunic, and sporting a Cleo Laine ‘fro. Hey, it had worked for me in my pop/jazz quartet, Tangents! 😉
Sharon and Helen taught me how to make up, ‘zizzed’ my hair so that it stood up in a jaunty rock helmet, maintained with a zillion cans of heavy duty hair spray, and encouraged me to experience the joys of spandex, glitter, and six inch spiked heels.
Through my connections with this group, I went on to meet so very many wonderful players, and devotees of the music we created. Sure, some were jerks, but you weed out the losers, and if you’re lucky, you get to know and love a lot of funny, talented, professionals who are experiencing life slightly differently than the average citizen. Not necessarily better lives – but usually a great deal more challenging, and thus, great candidates for long, convoluted, and very interesting tales around the campfire.
So yeah .. Sharon. She didn’t know what to make of me at the beginning. I was Little Suzy Sunshine, the Pollyanna of the group, always chipper, up with the dawn, busily scouring the thrift stores for stage clothes and shoes, doing my daily 500 leg lifts, endlessly practicing scales. I was not rock n roll at all!
(before and after shots of the first Performer band shoot. At some point, our manager said, “Say, I wonder what would happen if we got the girls high enough to take off their tops?” The topless shot went on to be banned at most of the high schools we’d been booked to play.)
But at some point, I must have worn down her resistance to my infernal cheerfulness. Or maybe it was because in most hotels that had band accommodation, there was a minimum of band rooms, and with 2 guys and 3 girls in the band, we had to double up at times. Helen was a Tequila drinker; Sharon and I were fond of the cheap white wine, Colli Albani .. or as we renamed it .. New York Dog. Sharon and I teamed up in many a room to kill a litre or two of the dog, gulped down between sets and daytime drug store forays. Long days and nights on the road turned into long weeks and months of bonding.
Beyond being a powerful drummer and vocalist, Sharon was also a terrific songwriter. I’d know – I vocalised and demoed a lot of her songs. “Blue Eyed Boys,” “Show Me,” “Girls on Top” .. it was the 80’s and the messages were short, sweet and to the point.
While a lot of our Toronto contemporaries were getting media exposure and getting signed to record deals, Performer spent far too much time out of town, and as far out of town and up north as you could go. Kirkland Lake, Kap, Timmins, Chapleau, Thunder Bay … for months at a time we’d be enduring Northern tours that would have crushed the spirits of younger bands. On one famous “Moose Tour,” we narrowly escaped death by Bull Moose three times in three weeks. Bullwinkle was not our friend.
But we were young, enthusiastic, hardy, and possessed – thankfully! – of a good sense of humour. Even our road crew knew enough to temper their grumblings with a heavy dose of levity.
Now, here’s the thing about just about every single female musician I’ve ever known in the last fifty years … none of us ever thought of ourselves as much more than pretty ok looking, and marginally talented. Which is odd, because of nearly every male musician I’ve met in those same five decades, the reverse is true. The guys would generally overestimate their own attractiveness, and were convinced that they were natural born leaders and stars, possessed of legendary talent and ability.
And they had the groupies to prove it. While most female musicians had an entirely different crop of stalkers and weirdos to ward off.
Helen, Sharon and I spent months at a time on the road with nary a beau in sight. It’s an odd thing, being desired while on stage, but being either ignored or feared as being untouchable, off stage. Road time is tough enough; filling the hours between waking up and playing, while living on very little money and with few resources, is challenging. Moreover, it was lonely. And rockers are generally pretty sexualized people – seems to go with the territory – so it wasn’t the best place to be companionless. That’s why you’d see so many hook-ups within bands and crews … a lot of times it was just proximity, a release from the coming down after whipping up the audience, and ourselves in the process. We’d have much preferred to be on home turf, where our own, pre-qualified letches lurked, but when in Collingwood …
Sharon had it worse than Helen or I. Blonde, statuesque, with laser focused blue eyes that could burn a hole into a wannabe suitor at 20 paces, she worked her Amazonic magic from atop a drum riser. On stage or off, she had presence. Although single and looking, few males could see through her powerful appearance to the warm, caring woman within.
And those that did have the guts to approach her tended to either be fuelled by liquid courage, or to be in possession of egos far larger than the sum of their intelligence … I’ll never forgot one road trip that had left us exhausted and fit for nothing more than 48 hours in our own beds. At a truck stop, at about 4 a.m., and about two hours out of Toronto, the band, running on depleted adrenaline and road coffee, and still dressed in our spandex, glitter, and rock and roll hair we’d rocked hours before, ran into another band also heading home from a gig. The male lead singer of the other band went into full peacock mode and approached Sharon. “Hey, blonde,” he said, “You need a lift?”
Sharon kept her cool, but the rest of us were falling about at the very idea that this fellow could actually think that his mere presence (and perhaps the promise of candy,) would lure a blonde rock goddess into his stinky van in the wee hours. Never happen. Trust me. We weren’t that lonely.
But we did live in rarefied air. The images we presented of ourselves took time, money, and considerable energy. Women in rock, especially in the eighties, were expected to look a certain way, and to emphasize their sexuality. When you’re getting up on stage in front of live audiences, night after night, you can never let the mask slip. Your attention is on taking whatever raw material you’ve been given, and shaping it into something worthy of posters and album covers.
Guys in rock, on the other hand, usually had it easier .. and damned if they didn’t often look better in makeup than the women did! Depending on the musical genre they represented, they could get away with a lot less primping. And people rarely commented on them wearing the same outfit, night after night.
Despite our constant vigilance, and belief that we had to keep fine tuning how we looked, Sharon and I were both good eaters and reluctant dieters. Nothing made us happier than a Sunday night on the road that featured an all you can eat pasta buffet! We’d get out the fat pants and have at ‘er. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we diet!”
If only we were as fat today as we thought we were then! We were so very hard on ourselves, firm in our beliefs that it was only by reaching an elusive physical perfection that we could catch life’s brass ring. But sometimes, the ring is elusive, and the grasp just a trick of fate.
Just as the band entity “Lady” had morphed into “Performer”, Performer eventually fell victim to road fatigue and cynicism. A reformed quartet, of Shawn O’Shea, Al Corbeil, Sharon and myself had a brief stint as Foreign Affairs, before taking one last kick at the can, showcasing at the El Mocambo as Ice Age, with the late, and very much missed, Phil Parmentier on bass.
Thirty five years later, Sharon and I remain good friends. We still giggle like teenagers, rejoice at each other’s good news, and mourn each other’s losses. The base of friendship that was formed in proximity and happenstance has widened to include a deep love and commitment to each other that I can’t see ever ending while we can still draw breath. Perhaps for even longer than that.
Addendum: On Saturday we were invited to a BBQ hosted by yet another long-time friend and his family, and attended by still more of our musical comrades-in-arms. Some of us have known each for nearly fifty years. We marveled at how we’ve navigated our lives and careers, celebrated our successes, and commiserated on our war wounds. Pictures of past glories were produced and admired, greeted with gusts of laughter at how dated our band pics, head shots, and press clippings seem today. We’re older and wiser, and there might be a little more of us to love than there was in our heyday, but damn! We’ve made it this far and haven’t lost our sense of humour or our commitment to creating and enjoying music. I’d call that a legacy worth celebrating.
(first published in bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/roxanne-tellier-musical-friends-are-making-me-happy/)