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Where Did All The Garage Bands Go?

Growing up, everyone in my neighborhood had a band. Most of us were pretty bad. My own band was a good example of that: I was the only one who had taken any music lessons, and I didn't really like those. They were piano lessons, which every music teacher knows is a great way to get started as you get music theory training in both chords and melody. Being a newly-minted geeky teenager, I couldn't care less, I wanted to be a rock star. As we were rebellious suburbanites (a pointless thing, I know) we were going for Doors covers. We specifically rehearsed "Break On Through", as that was pretty much all I could play, and the other band members couldn't play anything. It didn't matter, we had the times of our young lives practicing for months, perfecting our incompetence.

Other local bands had a little more success. One of my older brother's friends had a band that actually played a couple of school dances. Mind you, it was an all-boys school, so there were no girls, but the school referred to them as dances, so I guess that's what they were. The band was named The Spot Watkins Experience, and Spot was the bass player, standing motionless for a whole show. Their song choice was a bit better than ours, and considerably broader. They could play for half an hour before needing to repeat songs. For one show, I was asked to run the light show, but I got a little carried away, changing colors too rapidly and getting them all a little woozy. That was the end of that gig.

Fast forward 20 years or so, and we're living in our own little slice of suburbia, when through the woods comes the sounds of our neighbor's son's garage band. Sweet, I thought, then all of a sudden, they're doing Doors covers, and they too have a very limited repertoire. Before I know it, the strains of "Break On Through" pierce the trees, and continues for months on end. Unbelievable...hasn't there been anything else written in the last 20 years? No worries, another kid down the street is playing drums, though, and doing much better. I don't recognize the songs, but that band is tight. A mile or so away, on a friend's street, some kid's band is working up Beatles covers. The garage band was still alive and well, and they were everywhere.

Fast forward another 20, and they're....gone. The neighborhood is quiet. There are plenty of kids, but there are no bands. I know the kids are out there, I see them drive by, stuffed into the back of enormous SUV's, with faces pasted to the windows, perhaps wondering what's out there. What happened? It's not just music, other activities have lost adherents as well. Scouting is way down, and kids just riding bikes around town have almost disappeared. Organized youth team sports though, are way up. Is it because everyone thinks it's the way to get a scholarship? Is it just peer pressure? Or is it because parents want their kids in scheduled activities in order to "keep them busy and out of trouble?"

I had high hopes when I first heard of the School Of Rock, but then when I heard a performance, the kids were doing an Edgar Winter cover from 50 years ago. There was lots of thrashing, heavy effects pedals on the guitars, and a typical bass beat. Maybe it's true, rock is dead, Maybe it's that older adults are picking the repertoire, when perhaps younger teachers should be out front, heading more towards Americana or a more current pop sound or something, The first thing we all learned about rock was that once you introduced pedals, you didn't have to have much in the way of skills, amplifiers and effects took care of that. The point is, you won't get a modern sound, or modern creativity, when adults introduce the repertoire. The kids have to be in control.

This lack of free time isn't lost on mental health professionals either, with a whole host of studies being done that equate children's mental health decline with the lack of free time, where they can learn social skills, creative thinking and problem solving, as well as develop a sense of drive and dedication to learn activities that they chose. Here's but one study.

There are many professional thinkers and sociologists trying to figure out exactly where the kids went, but one thing we all see is that they're not allowed to be kids. By being stuck in highly organized, adult run (sometimes overbearing adults) sports, they lose out on growing up. Time spent on the athletic field only means a lack of available time discovering new things that might interest them. How many budding artists, musicians or naturalists never get a chance to even know what their true calling is if they need to play 12,634 soccer games before they're 16 years old?

And then there's the injury problem associated with too much of one thing. You would be hard pressed to find a physician who believes concentrating on one sport, year round, for the bulk of adolescence, is a good idea for a developing skeleton. Women's college basketball is filled with injuries to knees and ACL's now, as the kids arrive from high school with severely compromised legs. And then there's the issue with endurance sports, where the twin goals of low weight and long distance are ruining lives, as seen in this article.

Not to mention that organized sports has become overwhelming for many families with huge time commitments and crazy amounts of money. It's a pretty open secret that the high-level travel teams are there for the benefit of two or three "stars", and everyone else is there to pay the bills. As colleges face diminishing enrollment, there will be less funds available for teams and scholarships, so the idea that there's a pot at the end of the rainbow is crazy. The adults are driving the bus, and they're not doing great job. Not helping the matter are all the unruly parents doing their best to wreck youth sports. Videos like this are all over the internet, and news reports abound with tales of cancelled seasons due to adult-initiated fights.

They say youth sports teaches team work, but so does playing in a band. Youth symphonies and marching bands teach all sorts of lessons, and require a lot more brain work, while also avoiding serious injuries. Bit it's not that sports are bad by any means, athletics are crucial to long term health and mental well-being. Physical activity is directly tied to positive mental health.

About the only activity that's not supportive of mental health is social media screen time. I'm sure that's what parents are also worried about if they leave kids to their own devices. Paradoxically, I'm pretty sure that social media is one reason why parents are worried about leaving their kids to learn about life on their own. Stories of the rare kidnapping or assault take up all the air in the social media room. Who ever reads about the normal kid who has a happy life and goes off to college, totally unscathed by violence or harassment? Between stoking parent's paranoia and kid's influencer peer pressure bulls%^t, it's clear the social media thing has become a monster that's sadly out of control. Fortunately, there's an alternative.

We need to encourage garage bands again. It doesn't matter what type of music. Throw a bunch of instruments in the basement or garage, add some kids, and leave them alone for a couple of hours every week. If you're nervous about income potential, well, it's music, so the odds are slim, I'll grant you that. But in all except the upper echelons of classical music, the kids who met in high school, just made music, ended up far more successful in a music carer than those who spent time in a conservatory. Of course there are exceptions, and that's not to bash conservatories, they teach a lot of important stuff, but my favorite bands cut their teeth by busking and basically goofing around. They simply have more personality, their own personality.

Athletically, there's no secret that being active is important for so many reasons.. The problem with anything organized in the traditional sense is that invariably, those who are either on the nerdy side of things, or those who are simply not into competition, don't get the time of day. The endeavor needs to be fun for all, regardless of athletic skill, and reasonably pointless. If it's pointless, adults won't be tempted to wreck it. For this, I nominate the old standby, Capture The Flag. The object is simple: run across an imaginary line, grab the other team's flag, and get back across the line before you get tagged. The rules (and this is the best part) can be changed to accommodate the various players, the landscape of the field, or anything else that might spice the game up. We covered half the town when we played, with the flags almost a full mile apart. Other times, with fewer kids, we played at a local soccer field. Other times, we allowed the teams to hide their flag. It's all irrelevant, which is the best part. There should be the founding of the Young Persons Feral Sports League, and the prime directive be that adults can not organize, attend practices or events, or even know what's happening.

In the end, it's all about leaving the kids alone to be creative and have the time to find themselves. With that, I leave you with this little video of a band that while not founded by, but reached their heights by a couple of classmates who once had a garage band.


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