Living the musician’s life

My daughter is where I wanted to be at 17 – with my bass, in a van, eating a donut

I’ve always been acutely aware of not living vicariously through my child, but she’s making it very difficult.

My daughter is a senior at a high school with an outstanding music program. She plays in orchestras and rock bands and musicals and jazz ensembles. Most of the time she’s packing her red Rickenbacker up, putting on her boots and London Calling T-shirt and heading out to yet another gig or rehearsal.

She’s much cooler than her dad was at 17. Back then, I was convinced I was meant to be standing on-stage, my fist wind-milling in the air and swinging my low-slung bass around aggressively while shaking stadiums with unrelenting volume. I had visions of becoming a cross between Lemmy and a handsomer Lemmy.

But I’m pretty short, my red hair grew up and out (more Bozo than Bonzo) and I wasn’t, you know, good. So I put down the bass, picked up an AP Stylebook and went down another road.

But here’s the thing: Kurt Vonnegut was right when he said, “Virtually every writer I know would rather be a musician.” The urge to jam never went away. I own too many guitars and basses and mandolins and bouzoukis. (Seriously, I own a bouzouki. It’s actually a thing.) None of these things are getting me a fill-in gig at the Enormo-dome, but it is fun.

Enter a musically inclined child. She’s been working hard for a very long time on her chops and theory and ear. She’ll rise up like the sun and labor ‘til the work is done. It just never occurred to me that all those hard-earned skills put her where I would’ve loved to have been at her age.

Until the donut.

She was recently playing in the pit orchestra for a short run of “Cabaret,” which means I saw her for a total of about 15 minutes over 10 days. I’d text her to see how things were going and to see if she made time for dinner before rehearsals. She assured me she did.

“We stopped at Dunkin’s. I had a donut.”

A donut. Packed into a car with a few other kids, their instruments and her bass. On the way to a gig at a theater.

“So you haven’t slept much, you’re eating garbage and you’re constantly on the go.”


“Listen, I think you’ve become a musician.”

Granted, there are countless hours of study ahead with years of woodshedding and learning, but she’s on her way. My job is to get out of the way. I’m watching her head down the road to her future, and at this point it seems like it’s going to be in a van with a few other kids, a bunch of instruments and a donut.

All I have to do is step back and let her live it.

Bill “Atomsmasher” Burke is a writer (face melting guitar solo goes here) who lives in southern New Hampshire with his wife and musician daughter. He is also managing editor of Custom Publications for McLean Communications.

Categories: Dad on Board