This coming week the Rock Bottom Remainder—the nation’s foremost all-author garage band—may well be performing in a city near you, especially if Washington DC (4/21), Philadelphia (4/22), New York (4/23), or Boston (4/24) are ”a city near you.”
If you ask the average woman on the street about the Rock Bottom Remainders she is liable to say, “Who?” Or perhaps, “What?” On the other hand, people who have heard about us may have other questions: are we a good enough band to be playing in front of a group of people? Are we, in the final, literary analysis, making complete fools of ourselves? And are we too old to perform rock and roll?
On the last question—well, let’s just say that the Rock Bottom Remainders are, as that rascal Frank Sinatra sang, among the very young at heart. Also, as writers, we are attuned to the nuances of language, especially the latest, “hepcat” lingo. So, one response to this question might be, Hey man, don’t be such a square! Playing music is our bag. It feels groovy, and we really dig it!
As to whether we are good enough to be playing in front of people, you might hear some people say the Rock Bottom Remainders are “not so bad.” With all due respect to James McBride, who is a member and who said this to a reporter, we are, in fact, bad. To be a good band you have to either play or practice a lot, and preferably both. The Remainders only play from time to time, and our rehearsals consist of everyone sitting around one day before we are going to play for the first time in a year, asking questions such as, “What key is this song in?” and “So who’s singing this song?” and “Do you want a beer?”
There should also be a lot of musical talent involved in any given band, but our musical IQs are no higher than what you might find if you randomly selected ten dentists and asked them to play a waltz (with the exception of our ringers Josh Kelly, Erasmo Paolo, Janine Sabino, and rock-stars-in-residence such as Roger McGuinn and the late, great Warren Zevon). I personally watched Stephen King, a longtime member who sadly won’t be with us on this tour, play the same chord through an entire song, while all around him the rest of the band cycled through the various chords required by the tune, more or less at the same time.
If we were playing to make money for ourselves the local authorities would be within their rights to shut us down as a hazard to the local cultural environment. The only justification for what we do on stage is by raising money for a good cause. The Rock Bottom Remainders have raised more than $2 million dollars for charity, primarily for literacy programs.
Finally, on the question of whether or not we are making fools of ourselves: yes. Be there, or be square, man.