See, it's two weeks on now, and it still feels like I just got back. Some things are so incredible in immediate experience that they are intimidating to journalize. This is certainly the most daunting thing I've approached since I started blogging in 2000. But I must, or I face blog-block.
Getting to Portland, and then to Becki's, was a cinch. All airports on this trip were full of people in fatigues heading out or heading back, and it kept choking me up for all kinds of reasons. None of them looked half as nervous as I felt. I needn't have been so worked up about flying, but that is my way. Portland, to its infinite credit, is incredibly easy to get around. Even when I took not one, but two wrong turns between the airport and blessed sleep, I easily got myself back on track. My rented Pontiac Grand Prix (free upgrade, yay for getting in late and having them run out of economy cars!) was pretty fancy and fun to drive. It had heated seats. (zorah: "You mean the kind that make you feel like you wet your pants?" Me: "I'd forgotten about that, but yes.")
Becki is a friend of mine from Virginia Tech. We met working in the shelving department of the library and somehow, through both of our strange hazes of college angst, made friends. Becki rode a motorcycle and tatted lace and to cement her place in the stars for me, played the harp. I admired Becki with a strange intensity that mellowed later into friendship but started as deep, deep crushdom. We parted ways in 1997, her to Ohio and eventually Portland, me to DC. So we wrote each other and called a few times a year (some years, we might have skipped even) so it was about nine years ago we last saw each other. I was a little anxious about reuniting for no less than a five night stay on her floor, but as it turns out, we fell right in to a comfortable thing and all was well. She fed me yogurt and I enthused about the crazy weekend I was about to have.
Portland itself, to my eyes, was absolutely everything everyone ever says it is. Roving bands of hipsters lined the sidewalks, walking everywhere they couldn't bike, biking everywhere they couldn't walk, taking the bus everywhere they couldn't bike or walk, and if absolutely necessary taking their decade-old Subarus. This is something I was flabbergasted by in Portland: every fourth car is a Subaru wagon. I could not drive down a block without seeing at least one amongst the cars parked by the road. I don't know what that means but I found it fascinating.
So Friday morning, I woke up, my stomach knotted so much that a whole troop of girl scouts could never disentangle it. I woke up a tad early for the east coast, which was incredibly early in Oregon. For day one, I chose the armor of my The Musical Box shirt. I pretty much wore jeans and a t-shirt all weekend. I stuffed my trusty backpack full of everything I might need, including my very first drumsticks that midwinter and badapples gave me, and headed off. Oh shit, I can't believe I'm doing this. I found the rock camp pretty easily... no help from mapquest, as usual... parked where the handwritten sign indicated. I didn't see anyone until I came through the front, where the very first person I saw ushered me in with a smile and a welcome and told me to head back to the ‘rock room’ to get my bag. Everyone I met on my way down the long hallway (there's a guitar... wow look at all the keyboards... holy crap this is so awesome!) was smiling and welcoming. A person who I would later discover was Audrey found me my bag (sticks, schedule, and swag) and instructed me to go get a lanyard and make a name tag. Quite a few people were already milling around smiling tentatively at each other and making name tags.
Everyone wanted to get to know me right off the bat, and vice versa. It's unusual when you walk into a situation with a large number of strangers and immediately feel the connections reaching out and linking up, but I did feel that starting to happen. While everyone felt like the wallflower at first (well, at least most of the people I spoke to!) it worked in reverse, with everyone reaching out a hand in welcome, wanting to know what instrument you were lined up for, what kind of music you like, and where you came from. The first woman I remember meeting was Reece, also a drummer. Well, she would be by the end of the weekend. :) I met lots of drummers... hey I was not in the minority! I’d also learn further just how diverse this group was; Women from all kinds of backgrounds, careers, and phases of life. It was not long before it was time to properly begin.
On the brochure for rock camp there's a quote from a girl who attended the girls' rock camp, Emma:
"I fell in love with it right from the start. [The Camp] gave me a sense of acceptance and a feeling of joy, but it gave me something else, the realization of who I am. At the end of the performance of the final night, I wanted to grab every teacher in the room and scream, 'Thank you!!! You don't know what you've done for me!!!'"
That's about right Emma - that's how I felt when I walked in, and how I felt when I stepped off the stage. It was amazing the first day, to see such a panoply of women who, at first glance, look very much like they would not necessarily be all hanging out together. As the weekend progressed and I got to know more people, this feeling of bafflement at the diversity did not cease. There were lots of women at rock camp who, if I saw them in a bookstore or at a party, I would immediately assume that those women would NEVER speak to an enormous dork like me. Yet there they were, asking me what instrument I played and smiling and talking rock. With me. The dork. And I was neither the oldest nor the youngest there; the age span was great and women came from out of every phase of their life to rock out for a weekend. I had this idea in my head that I'd be old and the place would be full of 20-year-olds eyeing me with scorn.
If there is one thing I never felt, not for an instant, from the moment I got off the plane to the moment I stepped back on one, was scorn. (Thank you Portland drivers. I miss you.)
So, the first order of business apart from introductions was to name some genres so they have a vague idea of how to help people form up into bands. People yelled out a few things - metal, punk, country, indie (heh), and of course I yelled out prog. Someone else said "woo!" but I'm not sure who it was. And later on, at band formation, I was really puzzled, because NO ONE knew what progressive rock was. Until I said "Yes" or "Rush" and then they nodded with some recognition. I see there's a lot of work to do there! but I digress. Prog was on the board, and it was time to break up into instrument groups and meet our instructors.
I probably could have spent the entire weekend just hanging out with the drummers and drum instructors and come away with more than I ever hoped for. That was not to be, but what I quickly discovered is that my whole four months of playing the drums placed me in the advanced class! Go me! This put me in with Lauren as instructor and Rebecca (10 months experience) and Audrey. And later Ash, who would blow my mind with her fricking crazy drag-enhanced fills. Anyways, Lauren gave us all cds of drummers she admires, and of course I looked immediately to see if my er, main influence was on there. And he was. So we shared a brief high-five over Brand X and I was jazzed beyond belief because someone understood. We spent an hour on exercises just to see where we were, and I kept up for the most part which was a relief. I still am not using my left foot for much.
Ed. Note: Now we’re a full month on, and still the experience influences me every day. I’ll try to get the rest of this out now…
After drum workshop, we attended a songwriting workshops, which I hate to confess I was not too excited about. I have never been a terrific songwriter (despite some great collaborations in junior high school) and may be indulging myself a bit in drummer-psychology which I gather involves "ugh, me drum, no write song" a lot. A very attractive person named Bob led this discussion and I shamefully admit I was more admiring of Bob’s look than Bob’s songwriting advice. But I was still sucked further into the spirit of the thing and buzzing with eager excitement now that the initial "these people won’t like me" anxiety was starting to wear off. Bob gave a lot of advice which I recognize that writers often give and of course, people need to hear. I was eager to get into a room with my band and find out if we had the magic, which is exactly what happened next.
We’d thrown out a bunch of band names during our initial meeting, but somehow settled on "Fang". Why there isn’t already a famous band named "Fang" I have no idea. I also wish I could remember our rejected names. binkitybonk? Do you happen to recall any? At any rate, we sat down in the quiet practice room to consider our options. Do something from scratch? Use someone’s existing partial composition or scrap of lyrics? This is the point at which it’s helpful to have someone willing to step up and say something, and fortunately we all had initiative in that direction, and some of us even had ideas. We wandered out to the back of the camp where there was a picnic table so that we could compose in a peaceful pastoral setting. And so that Princess could have a cigarette because my stress level was a little high, in addition to my joy level. We got some pieces set in our minds, and possibly a few chords and words. Definitely a foundation. I believe it is during this initial session that the concept of "shit goes bananas" was established. We had to have a section of the song where shit went bananas. This led to innumerable Gwen Stefani references, but I stuck it out. We saw a cute bunny, at least I think it was then that I saw the cute bunny hanging out in the back. Anyways, it was dinnertime! I believe I had a few bites of vegetarian lasagna and some other (very tasty) hippie food. Conversation was plentiful and easy and one of the main camp staff, STS, made announcements. She was a rock and guiding light all weekend. After dinner, loud practice. The song gelled further, but I left that night (without too much socializing, I was exhausted) feeling anxious that we didn’t have all the words. Our guitarist and vocalist promised to work on them overnight, and I know I worked on them subconsciously because I woke up Saturday morning singing our song, or what we had so far. Eek! It was highly amusing that Friday night when I got back to Becki’s, School of Rock was on TV.
This little camper slept passably well, but woke up incredibly early. I don’t think my alarm had to go off once all weekend, partly due to the time difference, and partly because hello, nerves. The morning brought us a lovely breakfast (and 75 jumping jacks, whuf) and a workshop on the history of women in rock by Sarah Dougher who you might know from bands such as Cadallaca. She played many samples from the 20th century of women performing in the roots of rock, and reminded me mercilessly of fancymcsnazsnaz. Even in her body language! It was crazy. It felt like we had barely got started when it was time for round 2 of instrument instruction. LKN challenged us and I had a hard time keeping up and making up fills on the spot, but doing it for 2 straight hours was excellent exercise both mental and physical. I felt like the weakest link but it’s nice to be in a strong chain. The other drummers laughed that I had brought my first sticks. Am I supposed to have broken them by now?? I don’t know!
Lunch was an amazing experience. Not just because I ate and enjoyed quiche for the first time (all the food they provided all weekend was so excellent), but because Blubird played for us. They were a camper band from previous years, and oh my god. I nearly burst into tears twice in the lunch line. To see 12 year olds rocking out, playing some Neil Young, kicking ass. This was a clarifying moment about why we were all here and I think everyone in the room was feeling stuck with the beauty of it. They moved onto "Know Your Rights" by the Clash and oof, it was like a kick in the stomach. And this is to say nothing of their own compositions. Thus begins the ongoing battle between me and my tears over how awesome everything was.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was intensive band practice. Bonk & Teresa had knocked out some fantastic lyrics for us, making the most challenging part, I think, of the songwriting process easy as pie. Emily was swimming right along on bass despite no previous experience. I gave us a drum riff to use when we went bananas and soon we had verse and chorus and hot damn, at some point right before dinner, we played it. The whole song. Together. That, my friends, was a sensation you do not soon forget. And when we were quiet, we could hear other songs – other bands having that moment of playing their song, their whole song, together, for the first or second or third time as the night went on, and it was, to be trite, electric. You walk down the halls of rock camp and here’s 11 groups of people creating and finishing. And rocking, obviously. It was loud, and it was fine.
Mealtimes were always the best time to get to know people outside your band. In fact, I loved lunch and dinner lines because I got to meet everyone who I’d previously seen rocking out and find out a little more about them. It was only halfway through the weekend when I met two ladies who work at the Guardian and had flown all the way from the UK to be there. I met social workers and company owners and techies and students… I did love the lunch lines. And omg can I just say it’s so cool to hear the word 'feminist' dropped into casual conversation without reproach or apology? Yeah. Dinner Saturday was accompanied by a Women in Music panel. There were four panelists, the aforementioned Bob who told a hilarious story about a male sound tech telling a woman to hold the mic like a penis (ugh), one of the guitar teachers, Marisa, a female MC Ms. Su’ad and Mirah, with whose work I was already familiar. I loved her even more after the panel. So obviously a sweet person.
After dinner I snuck up on the vox teacher for some individual instruction, because if nothing else I sure do like to sing. She was very gracious about it and reminded me of some basics I’d forgotten since I was actually singing. Fang finished up our song for the night, tweaked the few things we felt needed tweaking, and smiled a lot. I can say it was because I felt like we had something really solid that I felt we could perform right there if asked, but there’s no question that about ten thousand ways I could screw it all up were constantly running through my head. Getting on stage was another hurdle entirely. I haven’t been on stage to perform, like, formally since, I don’t know, college choral recitals. Anyways we all put that out of our minds because it was partying time. Super badass partying karaoke time, to be specific. I grabbed a Pabst and got down with my bad self. (Thanks to Alexa for also putting a word in for cheap beer!) I did my standard Cher ‘Believe’ to build confidence and Ash awesomely got up there with me to do ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ which uh, was the bomb, if I do say so myself. I didn’t get all touchy like I normally would because uh, her girlfriend was right there and might cut me. ;) I wimped out around midnight (pooped!!) and apparently missed the most amazing performance of the night by one of my very own bandmates to ‘Oops I did it again’. Damn. Honorable mentions: whoever did the incredible Alanis rendition, and the girl from Rhode Island (east coast shoutout!) doing Baby got Back. Aw yeah. I didn’t want to leave, but then, that’s how I felt all weekend.
Sunday morning I found out just how wimpy I was – apparently there were people crashed out all over camp, including on the stage. Hardcore. We had a few hours, which sort of felt like deep gulfs of time, before we all would go over to the showcase. My band felt pretty good about our song but that didn’t stop me from being incredibly anxious. I had to switch from brushes to sticks during the song, and I kept envisioning dropping the sticks all over the place during this relatively easy process. Eek! But I had my lucky Invisible Touch tour shirt on to protect me from such karmic inelegance. I needn't have worried.
Closing assembly was absolutely moving. They opened the mic up for people to talk and everyone had such wonderful things to say about their bandmates and the camp staff. Alexa started us off with talking about the girls’ camp, and how we helped, and the banner quote which keeps coming to mind:
We are them, and they are us.
It was so true, because I know we all felt like we were doing something we wished we’d done when we were kids, and maybe we didn’t have enough money, and there was certainly nothing like rock camp, and while we all agree ABBA and Karen Carpenter are great, we also agree we’d like to see a lot more Joan Jetts out there. I know that we all felt the transition from impossible to possible and then to actual over the course of the weekend and I am guessing we all imagined the power that could have had for us at 13. I was intermittently choking back tears during everyone’s comments and I finally quelled it enough to go up, and naturally fell apart all over again. I can’t exactly remember what I said but I apologized for all the blubbering, it was just that my enthusiasm was too much to contain. I hope I’ve captured a fraction of it here in this post. I’m not the greatest writer and I know that a lot of what’s in my head never makes it out in a way that other people might understand.
Before I could think too hard about it all, I’d grabbed Tera, the other vocal coach, and we were in my car heading to Nocturnal for the showcase. I had a great talk with Tera about stage fright and about how one huge karaoke failure had opened my mind and allowed me to not fear it. Well, okay, to fear it less. Right about then, I was fearing it a whole helluva lot. Originally, we thought we were going to be like next to last in the performance order, but they shoved us into the second spot because we had no keyboards!! Sweet. I peed about seventeen thousand times despite having drunk very little in order to avoid just such a problem, but it was fine and I didn’t pull a Fergie at the drum kit. The first band kicked it with a tasty groove, which I hope to see again on the DVD, but for now my memories of this are mostly blotted out by extreme terror.
Later on, like two minutes after we got offstage, I likened it to standing in line for a roller coaster when you’re not so fond of them in the first place. You stand there for like 45 minutes wondering why the hell you signed on for this and how the hell you can get out of it. You get up to the front of the line and you’re now officially ready to cut back through the line and stay on safe ground. Your friends helpfully encourage you to stick around, and you do, and you go "WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE" and then it’s over in what seems like a split second, and you’re back on solid ground which you thought you would be so happy to see, but instead you are desperate to go AGAIN! NOW!
That’s what it was like. We did the song as well as we had ever done it. Shit went bananas. Hopefully you’ll all see it on DVD, or at least those who can make it to the viewing party. Our song was called "Sophie’s Overture in A Minor" and I swear my proggy ass had nothing to do with it. People cheered. It was one of the absolute best moments of my life. The rest of the performances were kickass. I was so proud of everyone! *sniff* Then it was over.
Pictures of Rock Camp
Well, not quite. I did opt to chill at Doug Fir Lounge afterward. (If you go to Portland, you have to experience this place. There is a giant silver moose head over the fireplaces. Take a guide to the bathroom with you, though.) I connected with Olya, the bassist from DC. I talked to the other drummers about their peformances (shoutout to Reece! Incredible job.). I talked to the ladies from the Guardian about crazy americans and Las Vegas. I talked to Audrey about stuff. I felt… like I really didn’t want it to end. Of course, eventually it was time to retire. My weekend wasn’t over just yet.
Finally after putting up with my ass for three nights, I got to spend some time with Becki! We went to Movie Madness (msteleute, this place will have all the movies you want to see. And I DO mean ALL.) and picked up Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns (fabulous) and Definite Article (also fab). My body was about done with this tension thing and I had killed my throat singing karaoke, so I was dosing myself up with Vitamin C. Monday we traipsed all over Portland; I got to see Powell’s Books and did some shopping there. We drove out to Multnomah Falls so I got some Oregon landscape. We had dinner with gorthx at Salvador Molly’s (Pirate Cookin’!). I wrung all the fun I could out of Portland in my one sightseeing day. Thanks much to DayQuil, ooh yeah.
Pictures of Portland, mostly the Falls
The flight home was fine, despite it being the worst day of my terrible cold. The National rental car people were great, I’d certainly rent from them again in a heartbeat. When I was stuck in Cincinatti for two hours, I had some chili. I also saw a store that was selling a bunch of Kentucky stuff, for whatever reason, and I tried on a hat. Many of you have seen not this hat, but the one I bought the day after I got home at Carol’s Western Wear on 198. So now I’m a cowboy hat girl. Why don’t I have a picture of this? I don’t know, it’s a huge mistake. At any rate, I’m sitting in the gate waiting for the flight to Baltimore and they are pulling the boarding thingy away from the previous flight, which was to go to Paris. A girl comes sprinting up, only to find out she’s missed her flight. She collapses in absolute sobs. I am so utterly sensitive at this point, I am about to do the same, and I feel for this girl. So I go up and hand her one of my many travel Kleenex packs and ask her if I can help. No, she says. She’ll figure it out. She didn’t know you couldn’t wear flip-flops on international flights and had to have someone bring her shoes, making her late. (I’ve never heard of this, sounds ludicrous to me!) But thank you, she said, and smiled. She stopped sobbing. She started calling. I just felt like I could not just sit there. I am sure this sort of thing happens all the time in airports but it was really just too much for me that day. I think she got another flight on another day. I don’t know. It just affected me so much I thought I should note it.
And that’s the story of my trip to rock camp. I can hardly think that anyone will have the time to read all this, but for those that do, thank you. I know I blog about a lot of things that aren’t very important, but this one was very important to me.