Johnathan Bane used to play in a band before they kicked him out for being an asshole. He reflects on the failed relationship and what he has learned.
Today I stumbled across a few recordings of Countenance, my old band from high school (and a bit beyond). I’m still a bit bothered by the fact that I sound so young. Nothing really bothers me about the performances or anything, and after all these years (it’s been the better part of 15 years since I last appeared on stage with Countenance) I can now look back on my time with the band without a sense of sadness, given the manner in which I left.
Back in my junior year of high school, I met Cookie DeCicco (who is now Cookie Velasquez). Her boyfriend (now husband) was a drummer looking for a guitar player (which I was, and still am) and later that week she introduced us. Soon, we gathered a few other musicians to our sides, Tom Harrison and Ray Meade among them, and started writing material. We ended up writing the first two songs, “Deliverance” and “Colosseum Del Torro” for the Battle of the Bands at Hammonton High School in 1997. We won that competition and also the BotB the following year. We also did a Loud and Local WYSP event (around 1998) that got a pretty decent reception. (Although the disgusted look on Donny’s face when he had to play on the drumkit from fellow band “Mail Order Bride”, made the entire night worth it…)
Donny and I practiced just about every other day for about four hours. We literally became as tight as two people could musically be. It was my life. It was something I took so seriously, that it blinded me to so many things going on around me. Thought: perhaps it didn’t blind me, maybe I used my band as a distraction to deal with the crap going on around me. I wouldn’t give odds either way. Eventually, we ended up breaking up (as all high school bands eventually do) and went our separate ways.
We got back together at some point. I don’t really remember when. I suppose it’s not even really important. Eventually we hooked up with James Howell, Jeff Steele and Mike Portale. I called this “Countenance, Version 3.5”. I suppose a bit of explanation is in order…
When we first hooked up, we had myself, Tom Harrison, Donny and Ray Meade. (1.0) Then Tom left, Ray left, and we got Jon Wilson to fill in on bass. (2.0). Then we broke up. When we got back together, it was just Donny and I (3.0), then we hooked up with Jim, Jeff and Mike. (3.5). (Not really interesting, I know. But, this is actually the first time I’m writing it all down. Scream therapy, you know? Besides, I might have gotten it wrong.
This new version started playing out at bars and clubs, namely the Egg Harbor City Tavern, in Egg Harbor City, NJ. We had quite a little cult following. We were essentially Metallica minus the whining and notoriety. I looked at those years as the best in my life up to that point. Eventually, I got booted from the band. I was so butt hurt about being kicked out, that to this day, I have no memory as to why it happened. It’s only recently I thought about it enough to know that I’m SURE I fucking deserved it. I was quite a dickhead back then. I kind of still am to a degree.
My last article was about how selfish I was. This article continues the trend in my writing towards self-reflection and the wholesale exposure of my flaws. I don’t know why I feel this urge, only that I do, I’m writing it, and now you’re reading it. *sticks tongue out* Feel free to click the back arrow on your browser. None of this is important to the world at large anyway. It’s really only important to me. It might be of note to the rest of my former band members, too. But, I doubt it.
Anyway, I really was a selfish bastard back then. After the gigs, I simply left. I put my shit in my car and just bailed. I didn’t stay to hang out, I didn’t mingle with the fans. I just left. I don’t know why I always did this. I simply did. There were a bunch of other things that I did to earn my exodus, believe me. I was just a raging dickhead and had it in my head that I was more important than I was. I wasn’t Dave Mustaine, though I’m sure I thought I was. (There might be something to that since we both got booted unceremoniously from our respective bands for being jackasses) I just did whatever I wanted without regard of anyone else and expected my fellow band members to just go along with it, or at the very least to not give a shit.
Later, I acted like a spoiled infant and posted shit on their message board. I look back at it now and think, “What the absolute fuck was I trying to accomplish?” I harbored resentment to a bunch of people who didn’t deserve it. I lashed out because of my hurt. My girlfriend at the time knew I was acting like an asshole and said nothing about it. To be fair, I’m sure I would have just broken up with her for going against me. Yes, I was that kind of asshole. Side note, she’s now happily married. Good for her. I really mean that.
For example, I insinuated that Jeff was using during our gigs. No such thing happened that I knew of, I simply lashed out. That’s just an example of how deluded I was. It’s the only thing that stands out for me, as far as a quotable example. I just fucking said whatever I wanted about whomever I wanted. I’m curious as to why someone didn’t kick my ass. I seriously would have deserved it. That period of my life was very blurry, my parents were going through a divorce (or separation, I don’t really know which. Nor did I bother asking) so the reality is I don’t remember much, only that I deserved what I got.
I miss those guys so very much.
Donny was quite possibly one of the most talented people I’ve ever known, and just about everything I know about music, I learned from him.
Ray and I were friends even after the dissolution of Countenance, we even went on to play with a progressive metal band together which imploded just as soon as it began. The guy is quite simply super-talented.
Tom has always marched to beat of his own drummer, and the amount of respect he has coming from me is something he’ll never begin to understand.
Jon was a good friend of mine, as well. One of the most solidly loyal people I have ever met.
Mike is still at it, singing in a few bands, keeping local music alive. I always respected him for being exactly what you see.
Jeff has always been Jeff, and my only regrets about him were that he never really understood how much I admired him and his sense of humor. At the time, I wasn’t aware of it either.
Jim has his own pub now, where music can still be played and heard. The degree to which this dude had his shit together has always amazed me.
I never deserved to be friends with any of these guys. I never deserved the honor of playing with them on an almost daily basis.
I miss these guys on a level that even I’ll never be able to understand. I was a complete asshole and squandered the most important thing in my life, because I thought I was more important than I was. I didn’t realize that I was *part* of something, not the very thing itself.
Everyone from the band has moved on to other things, some musical, others not. I’m sure they don’t give a shit about what I went through, nor do I blame them. I never gave them a reason to care. Which is just as well, because they shouldn’t have.
I know that one of the most dangerous things to do as a human being is to say to yourself, “If I only had it to do again…” But, I do.
Every god-damned day.
My biggest issue with myself is that I take every failure or purposeful fuck-up with me. I wear it like clothing and I never let myself forget it. I realize that I should probably let it go and move beyond it, but truth is I never will. Donny, Ray, Tom, Jon, Jeff, Jim and Mike, I am so very sorry. It may mean nothing to you after all these years, but I am deeply, truly sorry.
I know everyone who was in a “band” around or in high school has those occasional nostalgic fits of sadness and thinks, “Fuck dude, we could have been something.” I don’t think anything is as magical to someone as the maybes or the what-ifs emanating from a basement practice room, among dirty drums and loud amplifiers. I don’t think there is anything as powerful or as formative than passion leaked out of the pregnant air when you pick up an instrument. To me, the very act of picking up a guitar, a bass or a pair of drumsticks and playing rock is a sinfully beautiful act of establishment defiance. I truly believe that.
I also believe that something magical happens when you play music, in general. You become part of the lyrical zeitgeist that echoes through the universe. You become legend, even if only in your mind. For a second, you can see the screaming crowds, you can see the sweat and feel the heat of the stage lights. I’ll always remember the time I shared on stage and in the practice room with those guys, even if I never lay eyes on them again. I will remember those times as the most awesome and saddest, biggest and smallest, most bittersweet times in my life. If I only had realized how important those guys were to me, before I went and pulled an Axl Rose…
Photos courtesy of author