She’s With the Band

Sometimes when I’m driving, I crack my windows open and crank the music way up. Recently, while singing a Rolling Stones lyric loudly and with feeling, I stopped at a red light. In the next lane, a teen behind the wheel did a double take, seeing someone old enough to be his mother rocking her heart out in a minivan.

It used to be that parents shouted at their kids to keep the music down. But these days it’s just as likely to be the kids shouting at their parents. My New Jersey town boasts more than just singalong drivers like myself—it’s alive with garage-band dads. On every corner, at every bus stop, and in every supermarket line lurks a garage-band member or wannabe.

“I love bald rockers,” a friend said recently at a battle of the bands. For five hours, local bands—with names like the Logistical Nightmares, Emotional Rex, Walk the Dog, Big Train, and 3rd Gear—played and the audience, made up of baby boomers and post–baby boomers, went wild. They were playing our music: the music I listened to through high school and college, jobs and more jobs, loves and losses, cramped apartments, marriage, and the birth of my children. It’s the music I made love to and rocked my children to sleep to, the music even my ten-year-old son is starting to play.

But as I sat back, I realized what was bothering me. Where were the women?
Where were the garage-band moms, wailing, “You can’t always get what you wa-aa-ant”?

To be fair, there were some women sprinkled throughout the bands that night. There was vocalist Ruthanna Graves Morton of the Nightmares, who was fabulous but clearly outnumbered. There were two couples in Emotional Rex, and there was Judy Starger of Walk the Dog, who took up the sax at 37. But they were playing amid a sea of guys.

This past spring, I ducked into a local coffeehouse, where the Mood Swings were setting up in the corner. As I sipped my cappuccino, it hit me: Here were the garage-band moms I’d been searching for! The Mood Swings members were Millburn, Short Hills, and Summit women in their late thirties and forties, juggling complex lives. Regardless of work or family obligations, during the day on most Mondays and Fridays they jam together for the sheer fun of it.

Watching them, I realized that they shared with garage-band dads an infectious pleasure in creating music together. As Nightmares guitarist Jonathan Glasser said to me at the battle of the bands, “There’s something that happens when you play music with a bunch of people. It doesn’t happen every time, but when it is does, it’s almost transcendental.”

After meeting the Mood Swings, I couldn’t stop smiling. I knew I’d found what I was looking for—role models who reassure me that our music will never die. I’ve been working to embrace the Mood Swings’ joy and self-confidence. I’ve also taken to singing even louder, and I don’t care who hears me.

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