When I was riding on a dingy school bus, squeezed three in a seat on a bumpy, 45-minute ride (one way) to my middle school, Hanson was riding in style (and smoothly) on a brand new, luxuriously spacious our bus.
Hanson, a pop band comprised of three brothers from Tulsa, became my role models when I was 13. At the time of their world-wide introduction unto the global music scene in 1997, Isaac was 16, Taylor was 13, and Zac was merely 11. Although all are masters of various instruments, they are best known for playing guitar, keyboards, and drums respectively. Their contagious youthful energy and the fact that they were conquering the music world at such young ages rocked my world, literally. Their brotherly harmonies resonated in my teenage soul. Impressively, they wrote or co-wrote every song on their 1997 platinum album, “Middle of Nowhere”. And, hey: they weren’t bad-looking either.
The point about Hanson that really sparked my interest was that they epitomized the American Dream. My American Dream was to be famous at a young age so I could break out of my dull childhood on a hobby farm in, you guessed it — the middle of nowhere. Being determined and mature for my age, I figured that possessing extreme talent and the affection of many people would make my life worthwhile. I began to plot how my childhood could become just like the Hanson brothers’.
In the evenings after school, I ran to the Internet to check up on their latest progress. One day their website announced they were on tour around New York. The next day they were flying to Tokyo. I had barely been one hundred miles away from my home in my lifetime, so my mind vicariously traveled with them, every single mile. Learning about the world’s geography was thrilling this way. I was certain that if I followed the steps that Hanson had to stardom, I, too, could change my life. My juvenile brain concocted a few simple requirements for doing so successfully…
The first step on my list was to dye my hair. (Yes, if you’ve ever heard anything about Hanson it’s probably that they were ushered into the music scene donning long, blonde locks.) A white-blonde in my youth, the quick aging process had already robbed me. The dreaded dishwater blonde shade had already set in. After pleading with my mother for permission, I picked up a $5 box of Clairol from Wal-mart. Forty-five nerve-wracking minutes after slathering some kind of sludgy, purple-like mixture on my virgin hair, I was a bona-fide blonde. Blondes do have more fun, I reasoned. I felt inspired toward stardom. So far, my plan was turning out precisely as I had planned; stardom was within reach! Pretty easy, right?
The second step was more of a challenge. My mom, sisters and I were well-known around our small (yes, very small) community for our voices. But if I was going to make it to the big-time, I would have to get serious with my vocals. I called dibs on our family’s karaoke machine, and I started to save up my hard-earned babysitting money to buy karaoke music to practice and blank audio-tapes. After countless hours of recording and re-recording myself singing karaoke, audio tapes marked with my autograph were strewn across my room. I would make notes about what was wrong with my singing and re-record, re-record, re-record! After a while, I pretended that I was a radio deejay introducing Hanson’s song, “MmmBop” on the radio. “You’re listening to KISS FM, and up next we’re interviewing Hanson. These guys are on their first big tour right now, and they’ve got a bright future ahead of them. Now, let’s listen to their smash hit “MmmBop.” Then, we’ll catch up with Ike, Tay and Zac after the break.” I thought if I practiced “talking” on the radio with no script that one day when people were conducting interviews with me, I would be totally prepared.
Next was step three: Learn to play an instrument. (My clarinet knowledge would get me nowhere in the pop music business.) At least I knew how to read music, and that was most certainly a step in the right direction. My lucky break came when a five-octave keyboard went on sale for Christmas at Fleet Farm. After saving up more babysitting money (one hundred dollars specifically), I had the instrument. But after a few lessons, my progress was scant, and my instructor’s sighs led me to believe she was unimpressed. There was certainly no way I’d be hitting the six- and eight-finger chords that Taylor could. So, after even more baby-sitting money was obtained, I bought a sweet, candy-apple red Fender knock-off. With no guitar teacher anywhere in the vicinity of our town, I went to strumming the strings by my lonesome. I found there was not enough information available between the easy beginning learner’s level and the intermediate books and websites I perused. Crap, this wasn’t going as planned… Plan 3C: I bought a drum pad (my parents would’ve never let me have a drum set; that was not even an option) at the local music store with a pair of sticks. But, come on, I was a teenager, and the little “pit-pit-pat” of wooden sticks on the rubber pad was completely lame.
After abandoning learning the keyboard, guitar and drums, I decided my best bet would be to keep working on my vocals. After another trip to the store for blank audio tapes, some of my disappointment attributed to my lack of instrumental skills subsided.
I decided the fourth step would be to sharpen my song-writing skills. This was definitely a skill I enjoyed more than trying to decode the mysteries of instruments. Writing had always been my passion, and while lyrics didn’t always come easily to me, I would get an idea from time to time. But without knowing a viable instrument to play though, it was near impossible to create a viable tune. Lyrics would pop into my head in algebra class, and I would be psyched. I knew they could be shaped into a Billboard Charts hit! But, as soon as I got home, the talent-less one-fingered keyboard melody I tapped out with my words wasn’t so cool. I resorted to writing poems and hoped that one day, when I met Hanson, perhaps they could give me some pointers.
“Wow, Amy,” Taylor would stutter, looking at my handwritten lyrics in delightful disbelief, “These are awesome.”
Of course, Isaac and Zac would agree as they peeked over his shoulder and admired my chicken-scratching adorning the page he held. “Can we use these for one of our songs? In fact, why don’t you help us write all of our songs from now on?”
As you may have guessed, my four-step plan didn’t work. Mainly, my plan was a bust because my talent wasn’t impressive enough. Behind my rose-colored glasses, I didn’t have an intelligent plan of how to be “discovered”. Somehow, my teenage brain told me that the fame would come one day – that it could and was going to happen – no matter what. With impending adulthood, reality set in, and it was a real bummer.
I’m now three decades old, and I have never met Hanson. Nonetheless, living through their glorious triumphs as a teenager was quite an interesting experience. They’re still making music. If they ever do look for a fourth member to sing and write lyrics, perhaps my previous “training” will make me the obvious choice. I mean, in my defense, some of the steps I took did lead to small-town fame — err, at least recognition. My vocal skills certainly improved, and I sang at countless non-profit events with and without my family. At 19 years old, I joined a short-lived, rag-tag rock band. Our practices along with our live shows were reminiscent of train-wrecks, and most of the people in our audience were drunk or perhaps overly positive and optimistic (or all of the above)…
However, I married our drummer, and one of my other band-mates became by brother-in-law. I guess – even in the middle of nowhere – I had finally gotten the family band I had always envied in my childhood.