Not long after I met my husband, a former member of a local rock band, I asked him to teach me to play the drums. I wanted to learn since I was a kid, but when asked what instrument I wanted for fourth grade band, I whispered “clarinet.” That’s what girls in 1981 said when the question was posed.
That rock music was a male-only space was a given. The only women allowed were singers like Debbie Harry, who appeared on the cover of my beloved Best of Blondie record with her boyfriend’s hand on her ass. Girls had to be submissive and feminine; girls couldn’t rock! They couldn’t play instruments or write songs, whole songs, not just the love-obsessed lyrics to boy-written melodies.
Along came “We Got the Beat,” a song written by a woman, performed by women, with lyrics celebrating music, not romance! The Go-Go’s had the beat, and I wanted it too.
Why didn’t I toss the clarinet away and demand to rock? I still knew I didn’t belong: popular music was, and still is, a male-dominated space. Want proof? No other all-woman group that writes its own songs and plays its own instruments has had a million-selling album since Beauty and the Beat 30 years ago.
I was already in my late 20s when Matt taught me what drum skills he could. Though I enjoyed it, I didn’t keep it up. I was busy with a new baby: my space was on a couch with a nursing pillow.
When she grew older, my daughter gravitated to the drum kit, even without my prodding. I sent her to lessons and summer rock camps for girls, wishing that the latter existed when I was young.
To my surprise, I realized that one camp sponsor, She Rock She Rock, actually held a three-day Women’s Rock & Roll Retreat where women-identified people learned instrument basics, formed bands and wrote songs. Faced with the opportunity I craved, I thought: this is it! I have to sign up!
Then I thought: No way! I’m gray-haired and soft
in the middle.
Then I thought: but it would be a lot of fun.
Then I thought: nope, way too scary. I can’t.
Then I thought: uh oh, if this triggers all of my fears, I probably need to do it.
I registered with a bass, an instrument I picked up to form a garage rock combo with Miriam on drums and my husband on guitar. I entered the retreat with as acute a case of impostor syndrome as I’ve ever felt in my life. To their great credit, attacking this disorder was as important to She Rockers as proper tuning. Saying “I’m sorry” was banned—we said “I rock” when mistakes occurred.
Still nothing prepared me like the pep talk given by Lisa Van Ahn, a motivational coach brought in by the She Rock team. “This is my space,” she taught us to say. “I belong here.” Those seven words captivated my imagination. How often do women believe the opposite? Whether in music, politics, business, or even on a city street after dark?
I won’t be a member of the band that matches the Go-Go’s 1982 achievement, but music can produce magic in other, subtler ways. Like when I stepped onstage at a downtown bar at the conclusion of the retreat. There I was, with a bass guitar, not a baby, strapped to my body. I was terrified. I thought I’d throw up.
Then I thought: this is my space.
Then I thought: I belong here.
And I rocked.