What’s the No. 1 thing anyone could want for his 50th birthday? Let’s take good health off the table because, of course, that trumps a lot of other wishes. Assuming you’re healthy, the best gift, of course, is friendship.
Ya, it’s corny and sappy and treacly. But it’s also absolutely true. You want to celebrate in some fashion with friends – especially if it’s a ‘milestone’ birthday like 50.
Maybe you’ve already guessed I turned 50 this month. It’s easy to spend a lot of time considering the meaning of your 50 years on earth. But fixating on an arbitrary round number reminds me of all the reflection people undertake at New Year’s, much of it a distant memory by the second weekend in January.
For most of 2015, when people discovered I was turning 50 this year, they wanted to know what I had planned, how I would mark the occasion. For much of the year, I ignored the question and gave it little thought.
When an almost 10-year relationship ended in the spring and I was single again, the prospects – to be honest – didn’t feel all that promising. But that’s where this whole friendship thing kicked in.
Having dinner one night with my tennis pals, someone suggested we organize a music jam for my birthday. It wasn’t just someone who suggested it, but rather Elise Sedgwick, wife of Rick Sedgwick, guitar savant and all-round good dude. Rick plays in a band called Accrued Interest. The name is a nod to the fact that most of the members work in the financial investment world.
I’ve heard them several times and played with them a couple of times, when their regular drummer was unavailable for practice.
I loved the idea of a music jam, the kind of thing that happens organically at clubs and in movies all the time – a bunch of friends get together and start playing. Others join in, singing, playing instruments, whatever. It seemed like the perfect way to celebrate.
So we made tentative plans to do something in December. And that was all we did for most of the summer. By late August, a few things were happening. I booked the big room at the London Music Club. Owner Pete Denomme is a mensch who moved his regular Thursday jam to the basement of the club to give us the largest space: capacity 130.
Booking the room was rather easy. Organizing the music was just a smidge more challenging. And, as I later found out, Rick was literally losing sleep in August wondering what the hell we had gotten ourselves into. I was blissfully unaware of his concerns, confident everything would fall into place. As it turns out, it takes a lot of planning to have a spontaneous music jam.
Rick and I both pulled in some friends who could play or sing and wanted to get up on stage and perform. Some of them had done it before; others had not.
We started practising in October – always at Bill Smyrnios’ home -- working on a hodgepodge list of songs some of us knew or had always wanted to play. We added pieces as we went along, and by mid-November we had a dozen songs nearly ready for public consumption. Then we added another singer and more songs. Then a couple of the Accrued Interest guys dropped in to bolster the whole thing. We had as many as 10 people involved in some songs.
We practised once or twice a week for a month, and it was a blast every single time. Sometimes it went so well we were ready to start planning the tour schedule. Sometimes it went so badly we wondered if we had ever practised before. We were playing Paradise by the Dashboard Light, Sweet Home Chicago, Time Warp, Born to be Wild, Heartbreaker, Hit the Road Jack and several more.
As Dec. 10 approached, we got more serious, as in people started bringing beer to practices and we (and by we, I mean Bill) created a set list. We had 14 songs ready to go.
We set up at the Music Club in the afternoon and ran through a few songs. The empty hall offered no feedback, acoustic or otherwise. We kicked things off at 8:00 with a fantastic performance by my friend Alex Moir on his acoustic guitar. He came from Windsor to get things started and sounded great.
Then it was time for us to go up and do our set. It was a hoot. The place was packed with 130+ people, the drinks were flowing and we played everything more or less as we had practised it. The final song in our set was Moby Dick, an opportunity Rick offered for me to play a birthday drum solo. He played the intro of the Led Zeppelin song, and I did some kind of solo that felt like it lasted 30 seconds but came in around three minutes. At the half-way point, the nut on the top of a cymbal went flying, prompting one of our fabulous singers, Terri Hayes, to launch a fruitless search for it while I continued playing.
And then, just when I was trying to figure out when to wrap things up, a drumstick flew out of my left hand. I took that as a sign to get out. The solo wasn’t perfect, but like the whole evening it was a thrill because so many friends, and friends of friends, were there.
Following our set, Accrued Interest played a dozen of their favorites, including kickass versions of Sweet Mountain River by Monster Truck and El Scorcho by Weezer.
There was no better way to celebrate a birthday, and I am grateful to friends new and old who came out that night.