The Anatomy of Rockstardom: Diary of a Once-Musician.

When I was fairly young, my brother Jason - older than me by an impressive thirteen years - had a drumset situated in our basement. I don't remember much about it other than that it stood where there is now a giant file cabinet, and that it was loud. And that my brother was good. Really, really good. Throughout college he was in various garage bands and is now the drummer for Calumet-Hecla, along with my sister-in-law as their bassist. In 2008 they participated in the Goiania Noise Festival all through Brazil and had the privilege of opening for bands such as Helmet. They still record albums on small-scale labels today, and are very well known and received in many areas.


All throughout her high school career, my sister Melissa was a part of marching band. She played percussion, and even today at age thirty-one, she is a part of a local concert band as a percussionist.

Between the ages of six and ten I took piano lessons. I never practiced. At this point in time, I can play about three songs. Maybe four.

When I was in the seventh and eighth grades, my best friend was a guy named Lucas. He and I lost touch (translation: while in high school, he stopped responding to any contact I made with him), but during those years, he taught me everything I know about drums. We'd go into the music room during recess and he'd drum for me, and tell me everything he himself knew. He'd call me on the phone and play for me. And no, we weren't romantically involved in any way. He was just something of a teacher for me. I can't play drums at all - truthfully, I never tried. But I can name all of the parts for you.

When I was fourteen, I had boyfriend named Charles who began to teach me how to play the guitar. He'd come over to my place and play the acoustic my sister handed down to me, showing me chords and strum patterns. He took me to my first Green Day concert in 2004, which changed my life, and even bought me a Fender Squier Strat as a Christmas present, which I still have. All through high school, I taught myself how to play the guitar with vigor. I wore picks around my neck, I kept a binder of chords, and I even started playing with my choir. I was never great, but I loved it.



Since the third grade, I was enrolled in vocal lessons. The choir which I was a member of from the third grade until the eighth (2007) went to Europe for a choral festival in 2000, in which we sang in some of the most famous cathedrals in the entire world. I became a cantor. Once in high school, I was the first freshman to be placed in an advanced choir program. I started studying privately. My brother invited me to sing at his wedding. I was getting solos, appreciation, and music awards. I participated in talent contests at school. I attended Solo and Ensemble Festivals each year I was elligible, and I won high marks in almost every competition, advancing to State-wide levels. I received many medals; I have no idea where they are now. Hope paid for my first year of vocal study at the collegiate level. I was often told that I had a "gift," a "natural talent," etc.

And then I quit.

Just like that, no questions asked. Somehow, once in college, my guitars and pedals sat together in my room, carefully gathering dust. My books of arias were put away on some shelf. I told my vocal professor that I would be "taking a break," a break from which I have not yet returned. I ceased singing in church all together. I quit the Hope general choir and never went back. When people would ask for me to sing on the spot, I would sheepishly decline.

My friends, family, and peers once knew me as a professed and talented musician. They understood the picks I wore at my neck. They were pleased to ask me to sing. That isn't the case any longer. Rarely, people ask me why I quit, and the only answer I can come up with is that music stopped being enjoyable for me. It became a chore, a requirement, and a burden.

In my high school, music theory was not taught well, if taught at all. Once at the collegiate level of voice, I realized that I had no f#?!$ing idea what I was doing. I could barely read music anymore. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and I felt like I was an imposter, someone hiding inside a place they don't belong. In a similar vein, I slowly started to realize that I was not a true guitarist. Self-taught and clumsy, and with naturally very, very small hands, there were some things that I simply could not play. My callouses deteriorated along with my self-esteem, and I played only when very bored. I began chasing rockstars (I'm looking at you, Tyler Glenn) to take place of wanting to become one. And for quite some time - about three years - I was fine with this. I was tired of music, tired of attempting to be a music student, tired of feeling obligated to use a "gift" I didn't understand or embrace.

Not long ago, I picked up my Epiphone for the first time in what felt like years. Fumbling around, I tried to remember songs I had taught myself back in high school. I couldn't remember many; I awkwardly picked my way through Green Day's "Good Riddance," becoming increasingly frusrated with myself for becoming so bad. Bored and looking for something new, I looked up simple, cheat chords to The Beatles' "Hey Jude." I read and I strummed. It sounded normal, flowing, like a novice afraid to spread their wings.

And I began to cry.

I cried, and cried, and cried a little more. I could not believe the overwhelming sense of lost shame, rediscovery, and elation I felt, all from an easy four or five-chord song. I could still play guitar. I wasn't an imposter anymore. I sought something out, and I succeeded in actually producing the sound it called for. I didn't feel like a liar; I was telling my instrument the truth.

What is found within the physical and mental makeup of a rockstar? What drives a garage musician or a scholarship-endowed student of voice? Drive, definitely. Passion. Heart. Vision. All of these abstractions that we're all familiar with, but don't always allow to flourish. Why did I want to be a rockstar all throughout my adolescent years, only to give it all up when it got too hard? What changed my mind? I am no longer a self-professed and talented musician. I once was.

I cried about that.

I think I'm going to try to start playing the guitar again. I think I owe it to myself, the self I lost a few years ago. Rockstardom appears to be in my blood; after a long break and a good amount of denial, I think I'm comfortable enough to tap into it.

-amk.