By Dom Cioffi
Music has the uncanny ability to transport us back in time.
For example, just the other day, Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town” came on the radio and I was immediately jettisoned back to my older brother’s bedroom, circa 1976.
There I was sitting on the edge of his bed staring up at him while he stood shirtless in the middle of the room, mirrored sunglasses high atop his nose, semi-long ’70s hair flowing over his face.
He had bought the 45 of Thin Lizzy’s hit single and would play it over and over during that summer, each time assuming an exaggerated rock ’n’ roll posture that either emulated the lead singer or lead guitarist.
My brother had many talents as a youngster, but his foremost schtick was the ability to accurately lip sync and play air guitar to classic rock standards. This unique skill emerged during his formidable teenage years after countless hours of practice. I used to sit on that bed and watch in awe as he unleashed a barrage of faux guitar riffs, nailing the subtle nuances of a slow bended note like Clapton or perfectly-timed arm swing of a Townsend power chord.
He was completely uninhibited by my presence during these performances, so it would not have been odd for him to get right up in my face while holding a hairbrush and mouthing the words to Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” And when the song reached its crescendo, he would lean back, point a finger to the sky, and deliver an epic finish in the vein of an amped-up Freddy Mercury.
I don’t know how he did it, but every song he lip-synced and every lead solo he air-guitared looked dead perfect.
The irony, of course, is that my brother was (and still is) completely inept in the presence of a real musical instrument. And if anyone other than family were in close proximity, his ability to channel Mick Jagger or Keith Richards would suddenly dissipate.
I hate to admit it, but my brother was a musical poser before the term was ever coined. Nevertheless, I always enjoyed watching him act out his rock and roll fantasies. And if I was completely honest, I’d also have to admit that my brother’s antics were one of the main reasons I started to play guitar.
Like him, I developed a fairly polished air guitar act that was apparently impressive to the few friends or family who were allowed to bear witness. But unlike my brother (who seemed completely at peace with his inability to actually play), I was desperate to make a real instrument produce real sounds.
After some prodding, my mother bought me a cheap acoustic guitar and some beginner songbooks. I muddled through versions of “Camptown Races” and “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” for several years but was never able to recreate the majesty or command that I seem to have while playing thin air.
Several years later, my high school girlfriend surprised me at Christmas by buying me an electric guitar and amp. The ability to make really loud noises reinvigorated my desire to play. Before long I was hammering out chords and playing simple songs.
After high school I joined a few friends in a disorganized garage band. We were lackluster at best, but on the rare occasion when we nailed a song, I did experience profound joy. I realized then that playing an instrument and making music with other people could be a truly magical experience.
I continued to play in college, albeit sporadically and only alone in the confines of my dorm room. I was, however, lucky enough to be a “roadie” for my suitemate’s cover band.
He and a few other more accomplished musicians used to play weekend gigs around campus. I secretly dreamed of being onstage with them, but I knew it was out of my league. Watching them practice and play live, however, was invaluable in teaching me about musical theory and song construction.
As life has progressed, I’ve continued to play. I now own several nice guitars, a few effects pedals, and a passable sound system. When the weekends arrive, I’ll wander up to my little studio above the garage and make some noise for an hour or two.
I have fantasies about joining another garage band, but it’s tough to find 50-year-old guys with that kind of time or energy.
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Grohl took his love of the garage band scene and parlayed it into one of the most successful careers in rock history. In fact, he’s so successful that he was able to convince his band to make a horror/comedy movie about the recording of their next album.
“Studio 666” finds the Foo Fighters recording songs in a haunted mansion that ultimately turns Grohl into a possessed demon who turns his murderous attention directly onto his bandmates.
Fans of the Foo Fighters and schlock horror will enjoy this gluttonous ride. But while the whole thing is oddly endearing in its campiness, it does get a bit monotonous over time.
A hacky “C+” for “Studio 666,” now playing in theaters everywhere.
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]