My favorite part of This Is Spinal Tap ties into my own experience as a band wife. Spinal Tap is in the middle of their U.S. tour when David’s girlfriend Jeanine shows up, interrupting rehearsal. She turns out to be a meddling wench who makes trouble for the band members, derailing the David/Nigel bromance and forcing them to wear ridiculous outfits on stage. Jeanine, in my mind, is perfect.

This is one silly illustration of a few gender motifs that have emerged since the beginning of rock ‘n roll began. We women unfortunately have a long way to go before the complicit fangirl image can replace the traditional lineup oozing with creative male mojo. It’s the magnetic aura that resonates with the masses and draws rock worshipers from all ends of the earth.

Then there’s the women. A nameless pack of chicks. We swoon and scream and hang around long after the last song to catch a whiff of the glory — part of the spectacle but only by association. For some band members, being on stage is part of the tease. But behind a lot of good music men are girlfriends who decided to stay home and watch movies under a blanket.

Truly no girl who falls into the latter category wants to be Jeanine, or “The Yoko.” How stark the contrast between them and the fangirl. As band wives, will we ever strike a balance between supporting our rockstars and feeding our inner warrior goddesses? Spending a decade somewhere in the middle has been a sort of trek toward self realization.

I should mention that there are tons of badass female musicians whom I know to have committed and longsuffering boyfriends and partners (I use the term “wife” interchangeably for them, too). And at the risk of making sweeping generalizations, I can only speak of my own decade-long periodic frustration and inadvertent humor.

I was 19 when I met my future husband, Joe. We were college kids who struck up a summer romance when he was starting to become involved with a new Americana band in our beloved hometown of Rochester, NY. Following the band first turned me into a fangirl and, sort of by default, a band girlfriend.

Maybe it was fate. Lord knows that since the beginning I have been a tour nanny, a background singer and the haggler behind the merch table. I have quietly sat in radio studios to snap photos of the band when they were interviewed live on air.

One summer I can remember us both riding in a white 10-passenger van full of boys, a girl, and one baby. I had just finished school and had no job. It was a breath of fresh air to get away and spend a few weeks in July traveling through New England, sleeping on rooftops, in tents and on strange floors.

We saw the towering mountains of Brattleboro, VT and made friends in Cambridge, Mass. who kindly let us stay longer than planned. We would return there for subsequent trips and sleep on their roof again. At that time in my life, the carefree trip made for one of the most fun summers I can remember (Endless Summer anyone?).

Seven years later, we were traveling again with a different band (with some of the same people). The entourage was driving caravan style through Big Sur, awestruck by the natural beauty of northern California. On that trip I got to hike through a redwood forest for the first time and visit the Bigfoot Museum and its quirky curator. I also may have peed on a residential street when there were no public restrooms in the vicinity, but I digress.

On that trip I watched a patrol car stop the band in its tracks before it could play the first note on the Venice Beach boardwalk (turns out you need a permit for that). Other gigs were more successful, especially one in a San Francisco art gallery where at some point, someone in the crowd launched hundreds of white drinking straws onstage while we grasped and threw them into the air. I look back and remember having pizza in a loud goth bar and camping in the middle of a minor dust storm on a campground near the ocean. Like years before, there were few showers and many late nights.

There have been many short trips along the way, too. I have tagged along from our beloved hometown of Rochester, NY to Brooklyn or our sister cities of Buffalo and Syracuse. My husband has performed on longer tours that have taken him across the U.S. and back again. One time I went to an out of town show and was the only fan there and still refused to sit down. I know which local venues treat bands well and which to avoid. I know how long after the “start time” on Facebook that I can walk through the door without missing a beat.

Being older, the west coast tour showed me that even if my husband isn’t yet too old for touring, I totally am. And that’s okay. I can accept that certain things that were fun when I was 21 don’t exactly catch fire for me at 30.

But the traveling is only part of the band wife experience. You have to live with him. For me this means an endless stream of guitar picks that appear in the laundry and coils of long black cords in any given corner of the apartment. Yesterday I also tripped on a tambourine in the living room — again. There is recording equipment everywhere. Our vinyl collection would put that of my parents (teens of the ‘70s) to shame.

Joe’s band recently won an award for album of the year and all I could think about was how the cassettes are taking up space in our bedroom and how we spent hours folding the artwork, also made in our living room. This all sounds like whining, but the album is really good and I can send you a tape for the small cost of shipping!

Lord knows the internet doesn’t need another expose about what makes for a good relationship, but I can’t write about being a band wife without putting a few things out there. The corniest experts will tell you that marriage (or any committed relationship) is about supporting each other and encouraging your partner to do the “thing” that lets him or her preserve their sanity in the wake of pending adulthood. We all need a thing that gives us a break from the routine.

The thing I have learned about being a band wife is this: I am a participant by default. I have come to realize that I am associated with the spectacle because I decided to attach myself to the person who’s directly involved. I have been along for the ride. Does this mean I can take ownership of his experience? Am I part of the band?

The shared experience is solely deliberate. There are days when I go see the band and dance in the front row. Other times, I hang in the back of the room nursing a gin and tonic. And more and more recently, I choose to stay behind altogether and hear about how it went the next morning. Key word here is “choose.”

Joe was the first one to tell me I get a free pass if I want to skip shows. He knows I am there for him the other 6 days of the week and that’s been a relief for both of us. At any given time, one of us is the active player in a given context, band or otherwise, while the other falls into a supporting role. He may need encouragement for this particular endeavor. I need it to foster my own creativity and personal growth in other areas. But without mutual support, how can we be our best selves?

So in closing, I encourage musicians: Please don’t forget about your partners. Dedicate a song to us once in awhile. Give us a shout-out on stage when it’s our birthday even when you think it’s lame. And don’t be surprised or angry if we need to take a step back from being active participants.

The music is cool and all, but at the end of the day we really just care about you.

 

Follow Behind the Setlist

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram