Fresh Eyes: First job: Band camp

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by Kelly Fahey

People will always remember their first job. It’s a rite of passage. It’s where you learn the “meaning of hard work” or the “feeling of a job well done” or whatever clichéd bit of wisdom your parents bestowed upon you before your first shift.

Something that I’ve learned from my experience interviewing people is that there are a few topics that will make someone open up very quickly. One of these topics is their first job. So, since I’m new here at TCB, I figured a good way to familiarize myself to our lovely readership would be to tell you a story about my first one.

That first job didn’t teach me the meaning of hard work, or the feeling of a job well done. I didn’t spend the summer mowing lawns to save up for a car or flip burgers for minimum wage. I sort of wish that I had done this, actually. There’s some romanticism behind those kinds of things.

Instead I worked behind the desk of a seldom-visited music store outside of Raleigh during my last two years of high school. My duties were answering the occasional phone call, scheduling a lesson or two or and sometimes even selling a guitar to a parent who wanted to give their kid some focus in life, some sort of activity to stay in line.

Really, most of my time was spent watching “South Park” on the computer and playing guitar, all while nervously peering over the counter to make sure that the owner wasn’t going to waltz in and see that he was paying me to screw around.

Every summer we held camps in which kids were split into age groups and formed bands with the other campers. They learned how to play a few songs, and then at the end of the week performed the songs on stage for their parents and friends.

 This was a prime opportunity for me. These camps ran from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. If I worked an entire camp, I got paid time-and-a-half. It should have been a crime. I was raking in cash to watch YouTube videos and point campers in the direction of the restroom. I really had it all figured out.

At the end of one particular camp session between my sophomore and junior year of high school, after a solid week of spending 12 hours a day on the internet, one of the campers approached me. It was about an hour before they were going to perform in front of a crowd of soccer moms. His band had strewn together a set full of covers by bands like the Pixies and Tom Petty, which was admittedly pretty impressive for someone who was only 12 years old. There was one song in particular that required my help.

I figured I couldn’t in all fairness turn him down. After all, I hadn’t really done anything at all to earn my pay.

He asked if I would assume the role of Robert Plant and sing lead vocals to their rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean.”

I was a little bit blown away, partly because I probably hadn’t spoken to anyone all day.

I couldn’t do any justice to Robert Plant, one of the most recognizable and famous voices in music history.

Still, I couldn’t crush the dreams of four 12-year-olds who were dying to play classic rock anthems for their families to hear. I agreed, and hastily took to learning the lyrics.

About 30 minutes later, we took to the stage: a rag-tag group of eager middle schoolers churning out blues riffs with me slaughtering the work of Robert Plant in front of a crowd.

For confident adults generally fueled by alcohol, this would simply be called karaoke. For a 16-year-old, it was social suicide. Talk about your character-building exercises.

The kids did a great job on the song, and I held on until the end. The attendees were too overjoyed with their kids to notice that my modest baritone made Plant’s falsetto sound like a cat being stepped on.

It was a lot of fun, looking back at it, and I think it made for a hell of a first-job story.

So, next time you see my byline, just try and picture an embarrassed 16-year-old kid singing Led Zeppelin with an audience of proud parents looking on.