Battle of the Bands 1987

(Written as a model essay in 2007 for an English III class I was teaching.)

In high school I played guitar in a rock band called New Citizens. We were all Baptists or Catholics, so we mainly did concerts at church retreats and youth meetings. But when the annual Battle of the Bands was announced, we set aside our desire to teach moral messages and signed up in hopes of kicking major musical booty.

The contest was to take place at McAllen Memorial High School’s auditorium late in the spring, toward the end of the school year. It was 1987, and the day of the battle dozens of rockers presented themselves for rehearsal, our mullets teased out in glamorous glory, our jeans perfectly torn, our hi-tops vandalized with precision.

When New Citizens hooked up our gear, we quickly breezed through the sound check, happy at the superior monitors that graced the stage (ours just sucked). I felt pumped: my playing was top-notch, Gustavo’s voice had never sounded better, the bass and drums thudded like some wonderful ancient ritual. I could taste victory… how could any band be better than we were?

The audience started filling in, dozens at first, then hundreds. It seemed that nearly a thousand people were attentively waiting when the first band took the stage. As we had never played in front of such an enormous crowd, we all got a little edgy. Bryce and Steve, the ever-antagonistic bassist and drummer, did their best not to punch each other out. My palms tingled with apprehension. The worst part was that all the bands were SO GOOD….

Finally it was our turn to take the stage. We barreled through our material, three original songs: “America, Wake Up”; “No Surfing in Hell”; and “Gone.” My solos smoked, Gustavo bounded up and down the stage, Steve’s sticks flew back and forth across his drum set, and Bryce laid down rumbling bass riffs as the audience cheered. I had never felt so exhilarated in my life — the energy that flowed from the crowd was palpable, and we were buoyed up on it as though on physical waves.

Our set finished, and we left the stage, glorying in the applause. Nothing existed, it seemed, but the band and the excitement of the crowd. I felt completely different, as if I’d undergone a transformation, a trial by fire that had burned away all impurities. We were gods!

Then next band came on, and they completely demolished us. They played covers, of course, and their version of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” brought the audience to its feet, screaming. Trying to escape the humiliating desire to cheer my opponents on, I slipped outside with some of the other guys. The air was not too humid, and the sweat I’d bled for the traitorous crowd soon dried. A muffled drone was all I could hear of the other bands. Reality reasserted itself, and I was once again a seventeen-year-old nobody, living in government housing and playing on a borrowed guitar.

But for fifteen minutes, I had transcended myself. I had become more than human. Now I only had to figure out how to reach that level again… and make it last forever.

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