Scott has played over 500 concerts at hundreds of venues spanning almost two decades. From performing to the bar staff at strip mall dive bars, to a sold-out show with members of The Misfits and the Ramones, 33 Percent Rockstar: Music, Heartbreak and the Pursuit of Rock Stardom is about the love of music and life as a struggling musician. It is the true story of what happens when you give up everything to follow your dreams—even when they lead to a run-down strip club in a seedy part of Lincoln, Nebraska.
Scott learned how to play the bass guitar, and became a musician. He'd eventually become a damn good one. He fell in love and got his heart broken. Twice. He played in multiple bands, recorded multiple albums, and toured the country.
In the end, Scott never made it big, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. All for the love of music, he toiled in dead-end jobs, drove across the country in dilapidated tour vans, and dealt with the fragile egos and creative differences of a rotating cast of bands and band members.
33 Percent Rockstar: Music, Heartbreak and the Pursuit of Rock Stardom is a Behind the Music for the vast majority of musicians who never achieve rock stardom and offers a glimpse of the everyday lives of those hopeful, possibly deluded souls pursuing the rockstar dream.
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|Publisher:||No Bueno! Publishing|
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About the Author
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Appetite for Destruction
The closest I came to rock stardom was on November 2, 2004. As the night began, I stood alone on a sidewalk across the street from a flashing marquee preparing myself to play a show in front of over a thousand people. I was twenty-nine and played bass guitar in a punk band that was opening for the punk band Agent Orange and the horror-punk legends the Misfits at the Gothic Theatre in Englewood, Colorado. In less than six years I had gone from musical incompetent to playing the biggest show of my life, but I still hadn't accomplished everything on my musical checklist.
I had arrived two hours before the doors officially opened, and there was already a line of about a hundred people stretching down the sidewalk beyond a used car dealership. Everyone was dressed in different attire but was essentially wearing the same uniform: punk band T-shirts, leather jackets with sewn-on patches, and Dr. Martens or Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars. The outfits were completed with piercings, tattoos, and hair colors ranging from black to pink to green to purple.
I walked past the crowd carrying my black guitar case covered in stickers from bands like Pennywise, Rise Against, and blink-182 and momentarily stopped and glanced at the main entrance. There was a piece of paper taped to the glass door.
TONIGHT'S SHOW SOLD OUT
I smiled and nodded with approval. Of course, the show wasn't sold-out because of my band, it was the Misfits that accounted for the majority of ticket sales. But my band was the opener and that was an achievement — even if it was a small one.
"Get me into the show, man!" yelled a guy wearing a Black Flag T-shirt with a two-foot-high liberty spike mohawk.
"Sorry, I don't get a guest list tonight," I replied.
He raised his hand and extended his middle finger.
"Have a good night," I said as I turned away and walked towards the alley and the back entrance of the Gothic.
The Gothic Theatre is located at 3263 South Broadway and about a twenty-minute bus ride from the state capitol. It opened in 1925 as a silent movie theater and was renovated into a music venue in the late 1980s. It's a medium-sized venue, and bands like Nirvana, the Beastie Boys, and Rage Against the Machine played there before achieving mainstream success and moving on to larger venues.
I had played the Gothic at least a dozen times in various bands throughout the years, but all of them were small shows consisting mostly of local bands. At those shows I was lucky to play in front of four or five hundred people. On one occasion, I could count almost everyone in my eyesight while playing. There's a certain level of embarrassment in playing in front of fifty people in a venue with a capacity of 1,100.
Tonight's show was different from the local ones where I had to beg people to take free tickets to see me play. It had been sold-out for weeks. It was for a national band, a touring band — a professional band that earned their income from playing music. For this show I had friends calling me to beg and barter for tickets.
I offered all of them the same response: "I'm lucky that they let me in."
I walked through the parking lot of the Gothic and approached the back door. I was stopped by a security guard, but after a brief conversation he ushered me into the venue and down the staircase that led to the standing-room only general admission floor section.
I'd always admired the architecture of the Gothic, and it reminded me more of a museum than a music venue. The walls are highlighted by a lively blue and green color scheme that flows from the floor to the vaulted ceiling and featured an elegant chandelier that looked like it had hung there since Prohibition. It felt like a disgrace that in a few hours the bathroom floor would be covered in vomit.
The Misfits were performing soundcheck as I walked onto the floor. It was loud, almost deafening, as the sound bounced off the concrete inside the venue. I considered stuffing my ears with toilet paper to construct do-it-yourself earplugs but opted against it.
Jerry Only, the bassist and lead singer of the Misfits, stood at center stage with his signature devilocks, wearing a black hoodie and black sweat pants. Ramones member Marky Ramone was on drums and Dez Cadena from Black Flag was playing guitar. I was starstruck watching thirty years of punk rock history perform a private soundcheck for me and a few Gothic employees.
Jerry looked like a giant standing on stage. He was only 6' 1", but he had an intimidating demeanor and even though he was seventeen years older than me, he probably could have kicked my ass in mere moments. He instructed a sound guy above stage right to adjust monitor levels. This continued until he was satisfied. They then played a song and after each band member gave their approval they exited out of the back door into the alley and onto their tour bus.
I removed my orange Ernie Ball Music Man bass and began the process of tuning the guitar. In the background, bartenders and barbacks were unboxing cases of beer, stocking hard liquor bottles on shelves, and dumping buckets of ice into the ice bin.
The Misfits and the Ramones were punk rock royalty and early pioneers of the genre. They influenced generations of punk, pop-punk, melodic punk, horror punk, hardcore punk, garage punk, emo, and almost every other punk subgenre imaginable. I had seen Misfits and Ramones patches on leather jackets since I went to my first punk rock show, an AFI concert, a decade earlier. The two logos were some of the most recognizable ones in rock and roll history and were printed on T-shirts, patches, jackets, and hoodies across the country and world. The Misfits and the Ramones were on the Mount Rushmore of punk rock, next to the Clash and the Sex Pistols. Playing this show was the equivalent of playing a game of one-on-one with Michael Jordan.
"Hey ho, let's go!" I hummed to myself.
I finished tuning and leaned the bass against the wall. The guitar had numerous dents and scratches and other battle scars from the countless shows I had played with it. The largest blemish was from my attempt to imitate Nirvana's Krist Novoselic's performance at the 1992 MTV Music Awards by tossing my bass into the air and catching it without missing a note. Like Krist, I also failed to perform this feat, and the bass landed on a crash symbol before falling onto the stage, resulting in a half-inch indentation on the second fret of the neck.
Even with the blemishes, it was beautiful. The color, the shape, and the sound it produced were at times breathtaking. I loved that bass, and why not? It had produced better memories than most of my ex-girlfriends. Over the years, I had spent hours upon hours playing it and had even fallen asleep with it in my hands. I never named it though, and always felt guilty about it. It was like not naming the family pet.
I had paid $1,250 for the bass from a Denver Guitar Center, and at the time, it was the second-largest purchase I had ever made. The largest was my second car, a baby blue 1978 Ford Mustang I got while I was still in high school, but that I had to finance.
The rest of my band arrived during Agent Orange's soundcheck, and we patiently waited for them to finish so we could begin our own. They took about an hour, and we finally loaded our equipment onto the stage around 6:25, completing our last soundcheck song at 6:58, two minutes before doors opened.
I pressed the mute button on my amp and leaned my guitar against my Ampeg 8x10 cabinet. Then I jumped off the stage and walked towards the bar.
I sat alone at the bar and watched as the audience trickled in. The crowd was small at first, but within ten minutes it felt like I was surrounded by a hundred people, all of them attempting to get the attention of the bartenders. The sound of countless indiscernible conversations, cans of beer popping open, and shot glasses being slammed down onto the bar top filled the room.
It was close to our set time, and I still had to perform my pre-show exercise routine: which included stretching, jumping jacks, and knee tuck jumps. I started this ritual before the third show I ever played and continued it out of superstition, like I was a baseball player who wouldn't step on the foul line as I came on and off the field. I also wanted to avoid pulling a hamstring in the middle of our set, which would've been embarrassing.
I jumped off my stool and proceeded to the VIP backstage area.
"Where the fuck do you think you're going?" asked a security guard as I approached the backstage doors.
I casually pointed to the backstage sticker affixed to my pants.
"Sorry about that," he responded.
"No problem." It felt good to be a rockstar, even if it was only for a few hours.
I walked through the VIP doors and came to a staircase that led to the backstage area. When I got there, I saw a piece of paper taped to a pole near the entrance to the stage:
8:10 - 8:40: Local Opener
9:00 - 9:45: Agent Orange
10:00 - 11:30: The Misfits
I took my phone out and the time displayed 7:55. I slipped the phone back into my pocket, then peaked out from behind the curtain to the concert floor. It was already filling up with people attempting to claim their spot.
I began to feel a sense of urgency. I still had to do my pre-show exercises, use the bathroom, get two bottles of water, and go back to the bar to purchase two beers, because a set time of thirty-minutes always required at minimum, two alcoholic beverages on stage. I released the curtain and started down the stairs.
Backstage at the Gothic wasn't behind the stage but below it, and it could only be reached by the staircase, a treacherous beast that was difficult to maneuver when sober and near impossible with a mid-level buzz. At the bottom of the stairs were two rooms and two bathrooms that were surprisingly clean and well maintained. The total area probably had a maximum capacity of twenty or thirty, but on multiple occasions I had seen somewhere around fifty people crammed into it.
Each room included two second-hand couches that looked like they had been donated and purchased, and then donated and purchased again until they found a final resting spot in the basement. They were worn and saggy and emitted a foul odor of beer and cigarettes. A few unmatched end tables and other various pieces of furniture completed the décor. A refrigerator in one of the rooms usually contained cases of bottled water, cheap beer, half-eaten meat-and-cheese trays, expired condiments, various fruits, and, on special occasions, turkey and ham sandwiches.
I carefully rushed down the stairs and hurried toward the fridge. As I entered the second room I looked to my left and saw Marky Ramone sitting alone on a couch drumming on a practice pad. Marky was fashioning the signature Ramones look: tight jeans, black T-shirt, leather coat, and the Ramones' signature bowl–style haircut.
I walked to the refrigerator, grabbed two bottles of water and shut the door. Marky didn't acknowledge me, he didn't even look up from the practice pad. This was the closest I had ever been to a celebrity and I couldn't think of what to say. I felt like a kid praying to get an autograph from his favorite football player. Nervously, I decided to sit in the chair across from him. I opened a bottle and quietly took a few sips. After a minute or so, I finally spoke.
"How's it going?" I asked.
He slowly glanced up then spoke, "Good, thanks." Then he returned to his drumming exercises.
The gravity of the situation quickly sank in. I was sitting in front of punk rock royalty and asked, "How's it going?" I felt like an asshole. He was probably harassed every day by fans and there he was, sitting alone without anyone bothering him, and I attempted to make small talk. I felt like a big asshole. I decided to exit as quickly as I entered.
"Have a good show man."
"Thanks," he said, without looking up.
In the adjacent room I ran in place and did jumping jacks until my heart rate was up and I was almost out of breath. I rested momentarily then ran upstairs, placed the water bottles onto the stage, went to the bar, ordered two beers and carefully maneuvered back through the crowd with a can in each hand. I joined the band on the side of the stage and the five of us patiently waited to play.
Minutes later, the PA music stopped and the house lights dimmed. That was our cue, and we walked onstage. The crowd began to cheer and I got goosebumps throughout my entire body. This was the moment I had always dreamed of.
I picked up my bass guitar, spit onto the stage, pressed the unmute button, and plucked the E string. Then I waited for the drummer to count off with his sticks to begin our first song.
I awoke with a pulsating thump of a massive hangover. Warm sunlight beamed onto my face and I quickly shifted my head in an attempt to hide from the light. I was afraid to open my eyes, knowing that would only increase the hangover intensity.
I was a mess. My mouth was dry with the taste of vomit. My neck felt like I had slept with my head at a right angle, and my right hand was wrapped around my penis. I did a quick, silent prayer that I was in my bed and alone. The last thing I wanted was to be naked with vomit on my face in an unknown bed.
I slowly began to open my left eye and the first thing I saw was a black pillow case. This offered no clue as to my location. I decided to go for broke and opened both eyes as wide as possible, temporarily blinding myself in the process.
Once I recovered my vision, I recognized my belongings: my TV, dresser, nightstand, cell phone, and other meager possessions spread throughout the bedroom. The clothing I wore the previous night was scattered on the floor.
I exhaled in relief. I had made it home and was in my own bed. I always considered that a minor victory. I was a little concerned that my guitar and equipment were nowhere in sight, but I would worry about that later.
I glanced down at my mattress and saw Taco Bell hot sauce packets, shredded cheese, lettuce, and a half-eaten taco on my bed. I was uncertain if I should vomit again or finish the taco for breakfast.
I pulled the bedsheet off to reveal that I was naked except for my boxers around my ankles and one sock on my left foot. I never slept naked. I concluded that I didn't bring a girl home and thus must have passed out mid-masturbation session after attempting to eat Taco Bell.
I was naked and hungover. I was unsure where my equipment was or how I got home. I was also unsure if I did anything stupid or embarrassing, but I had a gut feeling that I did at least one idiotic thing. That was usually the case when I was blackout drunk.
"Fuck, I am pathetic," I said as I crawled out of bed.
There I was, at the pinnacle of my musical career — and passed out alone with a taco in my bed and my penis in my hand. I was so drunk I couldn't even masturbate to completion. My career only went downhill from there.CHAPTER 2
It's Only Rock and Roll
July 1998 – January 1999
I was twenty when I purchased my first guitar, a used white Fender Stratocaster I got from a friend for $400. The purchase nearly depleted my savings account, but I didn't care. I owned a guitar, and not just any guitar — it was a replica of the Fender Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock. It was beautiful and I considered it a piece of art.
I returned home after the purchase, removed the Stratocaster from its black nylon gig bag and gently rested it on my bed. I stared at it, unsure what to do. I had seen hundreds of concerts and countless guitar players, and they made it look easy. I thought once I was in possession of the guitar I would instinctively know what to do. That didn't happen.
I stared cluelessly at the rosewood neck and six nickel-wound strings. I didn't know how to play, not one single note. I didn't even know how to tune the guitar properly.
I decided to stall and searched the pockets of the gig bag. The small sleeve contained picks of various colors, shapes, and sizes, a couple individually wrapped guitar strings, and a broken strap. I placed the accessories next to the guitar and continued searching the bag. The larger storage compartment contained a guitar tablature book for the Nirvana album Nevermind, a discovery that caused me to bounce on the bed like a giddy toddler.
Tablature is an alternative to sheet music. It diagrams finger placement on guitar strings and frets, sans any actual musical notation. It's CliffsNotes for musicians who can't read music, and from my experience, the majority of musicians can't. Tablature was going to be my only chance to "read" any form of music, because I had a better chance of learning Russian than reading and writing music.
I thumbed through the book searching for what I deemed the easiest song in the twelve-track, diamond-certified album. I selected track number three, "Come as You Are."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "33 Percent Rockstar"
Copyright © 2019 S. C. Sterling.
Excerpted by permission of S. C. Sterling.
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