All right, kids, since we haven't had much of a winter here in the 'Nix (not that we ever do), I've got a cold blast of reality for you. Your rock star aspirations, the getting signed to a major label or even a cool indie, the touring with My Chemical Romance, getting your video on MTV -- I can say with about 95 percent certainty that ain't gonna happen for you. Sorry.
But the last thing I'm suggesting to you is to put down your guitars and spend more time on your homework so you can get your MBA more quickly. What I'm trying to get across doesn't seem to be as common knowledge as it ought to: that playing music is its own recompense. It never hurts to dream, but as popular as your band may be here locally, you're going to be much better off, more artistically balanced, if you accept that playing music, writing great songs with your friends, and documenting it with recordings is rewarding on its own, without the rock star trappings you're probably aspiring to.
To illustrate, let me introduce you to my friend Paul Cardone, better known around Tempe as PC. Now 41 years old, PC is a Tempe rock veteran, having lived here since 1983. Since then, he's spent a great part of his time pursuing his own rock star fantasy as a bass player with several local acts. But he's also looked death in the eyes -- and finally rebounded after about four years of convalescence to get back in the clubs, now as a front man/guitarist for his brand-new hard rock act, PC and the Bad Ass Motherfuckers.
Back in the mid-'80s, PC played bass for a New Wave outfit called Shadow Talk, which he describes as "Duran Duran-ish," and the band started playing Sundays at the late, once-great Long Wong's on Mill Avenue. This was before the Gin Blossoms made the Long Wong's room infamous, before Mill Avenue was the gentrified home to Abercrombie & Fitch.
PC tells me his story over a couple bottles of O'Doul's nonalcoholic beer at Casey Moore's in Tempe, a consequence of the medical problems that have plagued him. But back in the day, alcohol was always a factor. For the Sunday gigs with Shadow Talk, the band would get $160, a bucket of wings, and two pitchers of beer per band member. The way PC retells it, I doubt even the two pitchers sated his thirst back then. PC's subsequent bands, B. Strange and, later, Satellite, continued to hold down Sundays for more than a decade.
PC says that playing with B. Strange was his "little moment in the sun in the early '90s. We got to play Lollapalooza, we got to play with Nirvana, Pearl Jam. We did our little Hollywood showcases, had some labels barking at us. But one night the singer just bailed."
With Satellite, his next project, the band was caught up in the same whirlwind of attention that other Mill Avenue bands like Dead Hot Workshop and Chimeras received when the Gin Blossoms made their splash. I wasn't into the jangly, desert rock scene that those bands were a part of, but I admit those guys had something that's very often missing in the music scene right now: a sense of community. They swapped band members for different projects, brought one another on the road together, and when PC became sick in March of 2000, it was those band members who put together a benefit to help with his medical expenditures.
After a visit to Mexico, PC came home bloated and sick, thinking he ate or drank something foul south of the border. But after an ER visit, he was told he had cirrhosis of the liver. "That figures," he tells me. "I quit doing everything right then." No more drinking, no more drugs; the party was over.
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It wasn't cirrhosis, though; it was a rare blood disease called Budd-Chiari syndrome, where the arteries in the liver are clogged and can't process the poisons in your system. That meant a transplant, but not until he'd spent four years on a waiting list, often bedridden for months at a time. Twenty-one surgeries later, with a new liver, and minus a spleen and gallbladder, PC is spry and healthy, and back on local stages with two bands.
Los Guys, a project he started with Mark Zubia pre-diagnosis, is back on the scene, with PC playing bass for Zubia's sweet compositions. He needed something more, though. "I miss drinking a lot, I miss a good day drunk," he says with a laugh. "I'm overcompensating with everything in my life -- music, bands, relationships."
So, to complement his music with Los Guys, he started PC and the Bad Ass Motherfuckers, fronting a hard rock outfit for the first time, with a backing band composed entirely of members of the Black Moods -- each of whom is about 15 years his junior. "That's why I'm doing this," he tells me. "I love chillin', playing Mark [Zubia's] pretty, cool songs, then I like going and knocking a bunch of shit over. It's like sex -- sometimes there's a good slow groove; sometimes it's like I'm gonna put your head through this goddamn plate glass window. They're both fun; it just depends what you're in the mood for that night."
PC exemplifies the need to appreciate music for its inherent qualities, not the bullshit pipe dreams that many artists have. "Play music for its own sake," he says. "It's a blessing. A lot of people write music to get famous and rich, but they're not sure who they are. If you're playing what you want and you enjoy your guys, then from the living room to a 5,000-seat gig to a 20-seat gig, to acoustic in your backyard drunk, it should always be fun. You write a great song with your friends, that's a cool feeling, whether it's recognized as the Mona Lisa or a piece of graffiti art. I think it's all good art."