“Crap, that’s a lot of people.”
My friend Heather and I were staring down a suburban street on a glorious September afternoon, watching a few hundred locals assemble in front of a beige stucco house. It was just before 4 p.m. at Milton Porchfest, a good-vibes neighborhood music festival, and Heather and I were sharing a beer to steel our nerves. We’d been part of these crowds for years, cheering on our husbands and friends. But this time, we were the ones getting ready to step on the porch and play: five suburban moms — gone electric.
Nobody expects a bunch of women in their 40s and 50s to start a rock band — especially if most of them have never played music before. But then, nobody expected a pandemic. We started The Lazy Susans in those oddly quiet days in the summer of 2021, when we had sudden space in our schedules and a serious case of carpe diem. We’d fantasized at times about being in a band, crooning into karaoke machines and playing air drums in the bathroom mirror, but there was always something more important to do. Now, knocked out of our routines, reminded of life’s fragility, our mindset shifted from “Why would we do that?” to “Why wouldn’t we do that?”
And so, to the raised eyebrows of our husbands and the quizzical glances of our kids, the five of us went to my basement, where my husband — a true musician — had a collection of equipment. I picked up one of his old guitars. Heather brought the bass her husband bought her for Christmas. Martha sat down at the drum set, Imge at the electric piano, and Leila grabbed a tambourine. We called ourselves The Lazy Susans because we wanted to rotate turns at the microphone. And we set ourselves a deadline to play at that year’s Porchfest, in September — because we knew from working-mom experience, if you put something on the calendar it will happen.
We played seven rock covers at Porchfest 2021, from a White Stripes song to a Pat Benatar anthem to The Go-Gos’ “We Got the Beat.” A crowd assembled and cheered. And then, some even stranger things happened. A Boston Magazine article about our experience caught the attention of people in Hollywood. We flew to Los Angeles to appear on “The Kelly Clarkson Show” (on “Rad Moms Week”) and had talks with movie producers. We were acutely aware that, as band trajectories go, we were skipping the line. “You’re supposed to start by playing for the bartender on a Tuesday night,” was how Heather’s husband put it. But we had gotten into this late, and we didn’t have time to waste.
Now, a year after we started, we were back at Porchfest, our home base. I was wearing a neon pink mesh shirt I’d picked up at a surf shop on the Jersey Shore — “This would be good for a rock show,” I said, and I think I caught my daughter rolling her eyes — and I’d scrawled some song lyrics on my forearm, because you can never be too ready. Hundreds of people were gathering: some friends, some relatives, some people who might have come to see what the fuss was about. The last time around, we could get away with good will and generous condescension: “Aren’t they cute, moms in a band.” This time, we wanted to exceed expectations. We wanted it to be perfect.
So we lugged our instruments onto the porch, plugged in our amps, and flipped the switches. What came out of the speakers was the screeching howl of feedback. I figured the rock and roll gods would come to bite us at some point.
If you’re a working mother — any kind of mother — you know that things are going to go wrong from time to time. That’s why you need a solid group of friends. Long before we were a band, Heather, Imge, Leila, Martha and I were a surrogate family. We met when our oldest kids were babies, and we started getting together for pizza every Friday night — weekly gatherings that evolved into holiday meals and joint vacations and the knowledge that we could count on each other for anything. These were the friends I’d call in desperation to pick up the kids if traffic was a nightmare. The friends who would show up in a pinch with a bottle of wine to talk out a bad day, or instantly set up a meal chain if somebody fell ill.
Now, we’ve applied that support system to music. In the beginning, we talked each other through chord changes and made sure we were counting to four at the same time (it’s tougher than it sounds). We swapped reading glasses so we could decipher lyrics on our phones. We apologized to each other so much for messing up that we had to set a rule: no apologies allowed. And we cheered each other on as we slowly improved.
More recently, we’ve been building songs together. Heather wrote a song about a dead relative’s ashes that sat on her kitchen counter — though it’s really a song about living your life without regret — and a song for her 25th wedding anniversary, which she describes as what would happen if Sid Vicious wrote a love song. Leila wrote a song about watching her daughter face the challenges of teenage-hood, and how she once went through it all too. I learned that if you have an argument with someone you love, you can quietly seethe in a corner, or you can barricade yourself on the front porch with your guitar and write a song about it. (I have two of those.) I started a song called “Sugar Drop” at the suggestion of my husband who saw the words on the back of a package of grapes. I won’t tell you exactly what it’s about, but it’s dirty.
The rock gods care about attitude, not perfection.
A song changes when it meets a band: new lyrics, new voicings, new hooks, new ideas. Imge writes a driving keyboard line that propels the music forward; Martha comes up with a drumbeat that makes it pop. It grows and moves into unexpected places, just like a friendship. And it always gets better.
The trick to making music, it turns out, is starting — and sticking with it. That’s tougher than it sounds. But we declared The Lazy Susans a priority and forced ourselves to make it happen, even once normal life and packed schedules resumed. That might be the most rock-and-roll thing we’ve done.
Well, that and figuring out how to keep rocking when something goes south. The feedback was just the beginning of our technical woes on that Porchfest porch. Some of the mics weren’t working at all. One of my guitar strings wouldn’t stay in tune. But hell, at LiveAid, Paul McCartney sang into a mic that wasn’t turned on. The Edge once walked off the side of a stage in Vancouver, and Bono kept singing. The rock gods care about attitude, not perfection.
Besides, we’re moms; we come prepared. I brought a spare guitar. And when a few lines of lyrics escaped my head in the confusion — despite those scribbles on my forearm — I garbled out some substitutions. The nice thing about singing an original song is that no one knows if you’ve messed up the words. You just smile and make some more noise with your friends.