Fast Times: The Long Goodbye

This Friday, November 7, is my last gig with Fast Times. I thought about it a lot before deciding to go, and since I announced I was leaving about six weeks ago (giving five gigs’ notice), I have thought about it even more. Is this something I really want to do? Am I making a mistake? Will I miss it when it’s gone? What’s worse, abandoning my bandmates or staying and phoning it in? But these past five gigs have really represented the best and worst of what my time with the band has been about, and I feel I’m making the right decision for several right reasons — and one really big one.

On one hand, we played Black Oak Casino and I think it was one of my best shows ever. The energy was very high, I was in good voice, the audience was totally into it, and the mistakes were minimal and trivial. I had friends in the audience and I felt it was a pretty impressive show for what we have to offer. I love being on stage and playing songs with talented musicians; we really do complement each other well in the band and I trust my bandmates. If you’ve ever been in a really good band or a great sports team or some other group effort where everybody pulled their weight and relied on each other to take care of their part of the deal, then you know what it feels like. It feels kind of like invinicibility, like this is the way the universe is supposed to work.

On the other hand, I immediately realized…there’s nowhere to go after that show. I wish Black Oak had been my last gig. That’s as good as it gets, and in terms of my singing, there are no more goals in Fast Times. I can do all those songs again, but I doubt I can do any of them significantly or noticably better than I’ve done them in the past five years.

What’s more, this weekend largely illustrated some of the things I won’t miss. We played back-to-back shows on Friday and Saturday nights, which is something I’ve repeatedly said I do not want to do, because it’s murder on my voice and I usually can’t sing as well on the second night — I lose entire chunks of my range because I’m not singing from the diaphragm when I’m mimicking the original singers, I’m singing out of my throat, and I growl it up and belt and push and all that stuff, without properly training or warming up. That may not be the right way to do it, but it’s one of the reasons people like our band — “he sounds like the record.”

We played a Halloween show at a venue not known for live music; fearing that nobody would come and it would not help the band’s visibility in the long run, I voted against taking the gig at all. (I would rather stay home and watch horror movies with Kat on Halloween, or walk around the neighborhood dressed as a Ghostbuster). I was outvoted so we took the gig. About 25 people showed up to see us, 11 of which were friends of mine. It was embarrassing as well as stressful, having to load gear into the city on a busy street with cops everywhere and an active campaign by the city of San Francisco urging people to stay home for Halloween and not cause trouble in the city. This was successful, which means we played to an even smaller potential audience than on any other given night. We were effectively penalized for taking a holiday gig.

We then played a wedding in Palo Alto the next day. I couldn’t sleep the night before because I was uncomfortable/exhausted and stressed. We were all tired, I was congested and my range was not complete, and it was raining all night. I wound up slipping in the rain and wiping out on the cement driveway. I narrowly avoiding hitting my head, but went down flat on my back. It’s hard not to think “I didn’t want to do back-to-back gigs” when random, painful misfortune like that hits, even if it’s not logical or fair. I found out when we got there that I had to play emcee after we’d specifically asked and had it in the contract that I would not need to do that. It all turned out okay, but…extra drama, extra stuff I don’t want to do, extra stuff that isn’t showing up and singing. And even that’s lost its luster.

Both nights we used different substitute keyboard players; this is a change from when we used to have a “no subs” policy in the band. In many bands, subs are common, so maybe it was only a matter of time before our rules changed. But I know from experience that if you want to be a tight band, you have to play with the same people. When you start using subs, it’s less about performance and more about survival on a gig-to-gig basis. Working with subs also adds rehearsal time as you train and retrain new people for one-off performances; I’ve always felt you should only use subs as a CYA move for gigs you’ve already booked where scheduling conflicts with the main players arose after it was too late. So naturally, I don’t think taking a gig where you know you’re going to need to hire a sub to complete that gig are worth it. It makes the band money — and I do like money — but gig money is a nice by-product of that band dynamic thing, and while it became a motivator, it was never my goal when I joined. It’s nothing against the individual players who sub in; it’s just counterproductive to me, and actually makes it less fun and more work.

“Less fun and more work” is pretty much the key phrase. I have been in this band for five years or so, on and off. I joined to have fun, and I accepted the work as a necessary part of having it. But when I started wanting to say “no” to all potential gigs, I realized the whole thing was work to me now, and the fun was increasingly minor. I’d gotten super picky to the point of no longer really being a team player. I wanted to do what I wanted to do. So I’m gonna go and do that and not inconvenience, hassle, or restrict anybody else.

But things like “no more subs” and “no Friday night shows” and “no more lugging heavy gear” and “no more not seeing Kat on weekends” are all small perks of leaving rather than reasons to leave. The main reason to go is that I feel like I just want to spend my energy somewhere else. The core truth is that I have nothing else to prove to myself in FT, and six weeks of ruminating has only solidified that belief. Failing on an original musical idea is way more interesting than succeeding at “You Spin Me Round” yet again. I proved to myself that I am a singer; now can I be a musician?

It sounds horrible to say, but I don’t think I will miss Fast Times. I do not say that out of bitterness at all. I could not have asked for a better cover band. But I’ve got a bunch of songwriting ideas that interest me, I have bought the URL paletteswapninja.com as part of a renewed commitment to that, I have a long-suffering personal project that is tantalizingly close to completion, a new business idea to explore with Kat, and I am trying to put in more creative effort at work. A lot of things are asking for my attention and they are all inspiring me more right now.

I left the band once before out of panic, and then I came back when invited because it felt right. I am in a very different mindframe this time, and leaving feels right instead. So, if it feels right to you, come see Friday’s show in San Francisco and help me close the book. No cover. Last call.