Editorial by Jake Goodman
Thirteen years old, freshly Bar-Mitzvahed, scrawny, and a budding rock n’ roll lover; that’s when I started playing gigs. I wasn’t necessarily a Jack Black School of Rock disciple or an AC/DC fanboy, namely because I still pridefully wore basketball shorts daily. My adventures in rock started even early than that. I started playing guitar at 10--my first cherry Silvertone Angus Young-style guitar purchased from the one and the only……Costco. At first, I just wanted to be better than the few friends I knew who also played guitar; I just wanted to play “Stairway to Heaven” cleaner than them or play the howling solo faster. Alas, the calluses formed; I praised the tough bulges on my throbbing fingertips after a hard day of practice. The list of songs I could play grew to include Beatles staples and “Free Bird”, and I smugly impressed my family at our Hanukkah celebration or whatever Jewish holiday happened to call for a half-drunk crowd at my house.
As I was saying, it was at the fortunate of 13 that I found that primitive musical itch that drives one to sonically create art from the labor of one’s hands. I wrote crappy little ditties--mostly ballads of yearning for vague middle school crushes. Doctor-like scribbles morphed into lyrics, and I promptly declared myself a songwriter, or more appropriately for the time, an awful storyteller. So I did the stereotypical thing and formed a garage band with my drummer neighbor. That band expanded as I reached into the network of musicians at my middle school. And voilà! A band was formed--a four-piece awkward teenage machine of clunky Mexican-made Fenders and a Mapex drumset. Of course, at this point, I was feeling a mix of Joyce and Zeppelin churning through me like a passionate geyser. I wanted desperately to “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”, yet this had to be done with Marshall half stacks and power chords and ripped jeans and pizzazz!
As the lead songwriter, my band started making our own music, and I tried to craft Dylan-esque lyrics that appealed to what my generation had to say about the world, even if it was through very simple vocabulary. I started playing shows all around my home in South Florida--from dingy, beachside Ft. Lauderdale clubs to outdoor, beer-littered venues in downtown Miami. Yet, a young, teenage musician runs into various difficulties upon his daring, noble quest to rock stardom. Many clubs or bars did not allow “kids” our age to play there (21+ bars specifically). Even if we were allowed, our consistent crowd of 10 friends/groupies could not always get in to see us. When we were able to play at these venues, I always suffered from some variation of half-drunk ridicule. Some guy at the bar would shout “Get the damn Jonas Brothers off the stage!” or “We want rock, not Kidz Bop!” Not to say this was the exclusive opinion expressed toward us; some locals appreciated that young people still love rock n’ roll in an age dominated by EDM and hip-hop (mostly they wanted anything to mosh to, even if the music wasn’t technically “moshable”). Anytime I was performing I always felt compelled to project a resolute attitude that age made no difference in music, that music is and remains blind to the circumstances of youth.
Now, 18 years old and still a lover of rock, I have reached the age where I am not treated as a Jonas Brothers knock-off anymore. Different standards of professionalism are attached to my band’s performances now; I can actually play in 18+ bars (still not 21+ though). And when I listen to the album that my band released three years ago, I’m reminded of the raw, visceral youth contained in that album and the various performances associated with it. I recognize that I suffered from grandiose ideas about just how metaphorical and “deep” my songwriting was, but the metaphors were simple and true. Even though my songwriting has clearly developed since that time, I listen to that album with a nostalgia proportional to its youthful simplicity—my personal portrait of an artist as a young man; that simplicity can’t be replicated in my current songwriting.
Collectively, we often try to judge music from an objective standard. Music is either good or not. We like a song, or we do not like a song. Logically, most adolescents do not possess the skill and experience to produce a song that is objectively good because they lack the experience and musical prowess of mature musicians. Yet, I’m sure most people fall prey to YouTube videos claiming some child can play some obscenely hard song (6 year old girls plays Eruption! Awesome!) but fail to care about any song those “virtuosos” write themselves. I’m sure most people also fall prey to dismissing the next big boy band, as the NEWEST group inevitably fade as pop culture fads tend to do (Remember the Naked Brothers Band?). But youth can have subjective value in music and often does. There will continue to be a soft, idealistic grace in the music of adolescent bands. Maybe the Jonas Brothers remind us of what it’s like to be grappling with our innocence and of the struggle to define ourselves during adolescence. Their struggles were never met with defeat; instead, they embraced the promise and freedom of rock. Maybe they found themselves a bit through music. Obviously, I never made it big with my band like the Jonas Brothers did with theirs. But, next time I’m at a battle of the bands and I see a group of lanky, nervous teenagers sporting jeans and Nirvana t-shirts, I’ll be sure to listen carefully to their music, searching for that same hopeful idealism I knew so well, and knowing those kids on stage may be discovering themselves for what truly feels like the first time.