To my amazement, I’m with the band

As the wife of a rock drummer, I lead a fantasy life at night. 

Photo illustration by John Kehe

It’s 10 o’clock on a Tuesday night. Everyone sensible I know is home, either already in bed or about to be. But I’m hurrying down a quiet street, balancing a 40-pound cymbal bag on my shoulder. Aiming at the one illuminated building on an otherwise dark block, I slip down a small alley and pound on an unmarked door.

The pierced and tattooed bouncer who opens it gives me a once-over. I look more like someone going to a “Downton Abbey”-watching party than the kind of hipster patron he’s used to seeing at his bar. But he’s not surprised. He’s seen me before.

“It’s the drummer’s wife,” he says with a smile, swinging the door open wide. 

How did I get here? How did I – the daughter of two English teachers, who grew up in a household mostly excited about fat Victorian novels and Broadway show tunes – end up attached to a rock band?

Blame it on love, dear reader. I well remember the first time I met John. I knew he was a graphic designer with lots of good ideas. I’d also heard that he was a rock musician who lived with 20-plus guitars and three drum sets.

He wore op-art glasses and spiky silver jewelry. I immediately filed him under the mental heading of Way Too Cool for Me. So when he asked me out I was flattered but bemused. Total mistake on his part, I figured. 

Turns out, I was the one who was wrong. We started smiling at each other that afternoon and somehow never stopped. A few months later, we were married.

Which leads us to tonight, to this bar in Cambridge, Mass., where my husband is setting up his drum kit and I’ve got a job to do. 

I leap onto the crowded stage and unzip the cymbal bag. I’ve learned how to screw and unscrew the wing nuts that hold the large metal disks in place, how to cushion them with small rounds of black felt, and how to fit it all together just loosely enough. I know which is the crash cymbal and which is the ride, and I give each a final adjustment as I go.

I drop to the floor and they’re ready. “One, two, three, four,” John calls out in his slightly hoarse rock-drummer-voice. And they’re off. 

I have a fierce maternal passion for each of this band’s tunes. After all, they were all more or less born and bred in my basement (aka the band’s studio). I’ve heard them rehearsed, revised, and re-rehearsed until I find myself humming them on and off throughout most of my waking hours. They have become part of the very rhythm of my life.

I’m not alone in my intense, insider passion for this band. I’ve got two fellow band spouses. Billy is a researcher at a major pharmaceutical company and Lynn a history professor at a prestigious New England university. All three of us have PhDs – a first in rock history? – and we would probably make a heck of a “Jeopardy!” team.

But tonight such things are not significant. What matters right now is the music. It’s filling the tiny bar and we’re swaying, we’re clapping, we’re calling out between songs. I’m singing all the lyrics at the top of my lungs – only the band members know them better than I do – and fighting a powerful desire to play air guitar. 

It’s strange because everything about this moment undermines some of the things that I think I know best about myself: I hate staying up late. I don’t like loud music. Grunge bars creep me out. And yet somehow, right here and right now, in this most wildly unlikely of settings, I am deeply and profoundly happy.

Only too soon, the set is over. I wish for an encore, but it’s not going to happen tonight. I’m back onstage again, unscrewing the wing nuts, easing all the Zildjians back into their traveling bag, helping to break down the drum kit, corralling the various mikes and cords that will come home with us.

In an incredibly short time John and I are back in our car, beginning the moonlit trip home.

As we glide through sleepy streets, we’re slowly transitioning back into a very different place – a place in which we will ask each other such questions as: “Who’s going to walk the dog?” and “How early must we set the alarm?” 

But I’m not quite ready for that yet. For just a few minutes more, I want to inhabit this dreamy rock ’n’ roll adventure.

It’s been one of the best – and certainly the most unexpected – gifts of all my life.

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