In Seattle, Washington, that green, but oh-so-rainy town situated in the upper-left-hand corner of these great United States, it was just another day at Experience Music Project. In other words, the day was a blank canvas, waiting to be filled-in with wondrous colors, beautiful designs, bold lines — figuratively speaking. You see, at EMP, every day had the potential of being “golden”. Spontaneous fun could break out anywhere, at any moment. And more often than not, it did.
I was stationed in the wonderland known as Sound Lab, the ingeniously-designed space where visitors could come in, pick up and play real rock n’ roll instruments – basses, guitars or mics. — Where they could sit or stand behind a set of drums, or pound away on an electronic keyboard. Sound Lab was a popular attraction for those who were either good on an instrument, or not shy about learning how to play one. But some folks were very shy. They didn’t want to touch a guitar, even if they went behind a sound-proof door to play it. They’d ask, when we’d encourage them to give it a shot, “Are you positive no one can hear me?” We’d say, “Positive!” And still they wouldn’t give it a try. I got accustomed to meeting and greeting people who fell into both camps. They either were rarin’ to go, or totally opposed. Having a lot of experience working with Sound Lab visitors, I never tried to force a guitar into anyone’s hand. I never pressured anyone to tackle a keyboard or vocal booth if they didn’t want to. Now, with the ones who did want to, there was no stopping them. Just get out of the way and let them do their thing!
On this particular afternoon, Sound Lab was fairly deserted. Not a lot was going on. Not yet. I was busying myself with fine-tuning the axes, coiling cords, setting all the knobs on the amps, leaving EMP picks at the various guitar stations. – Just taking care of the little things that visitors would probably never notice; but they would if we let them slide….
Suddenly, about a dozen elderly women came in, all in a group. As they surged through the door, you could feel their energy level, and sense their excitement when they stopped for a moment and looked around at all the “toys” which were just waiting to be played with. And before we VSR’s had a chance to say anything, these old ladies just naturally broke up into groups, walked into the various “Trios”, cranked up, and started jamming! Trios were booth-like compartments, configured to hold three instruments, such as one guitar, one bass, and a set of drums. Or, a keyboard, guitar and drums. By simply hitting a switch, the trio of players could hook up together and jam – even though they were separated by wooden partitions. By hitting that switch, they could hear each other through speakers, and they could jam.
And, these women were just jamming away like there was no tomorrow! They seemed to need neither encouragement nor assistance from any of us VSR’s – Visitor Services Representatives.
Most people who walk into Sound Lab for the first time require at least a short orientation or walk-through, so they understand what’s going on in the place. They may have questions about the various jam rooms, vocal booths, or the scratching turntable exhibit. But these ladies dispensed with all of the formalities, and happily played away. It was great to see and hear. I mean, it was. I was about 52 or so when this happened. I felt (and feel) pretty young – relatively speaking. And to see these much older people – women who were old enough to be my mother – engaging each other musically, amid much laughter and shouting, caused a lot of joy to well up in my heart. I think one of the reasons I was assigned to Sound Lab so often was because I was not afraid to feel, acknowledge and spread the joy. That what the place was created for! On this day, the joy was overflowing.
[Let me insert a note here: I’d love to be able to tell you some of the songs I heard these wonderful, grey-haired ladies playing; but I honestly don’t remember. Maybe I was so bowled over (to use a vintage figure of speech) by the spunkiness of the group, their verve, that I’ve just plain forgotten what they played. I’d love to say they played something from the day, such as Glen Miller’s “In The Mood”, or “Smarty Pants”, by Dolly Dawn and her Dawn Patrol. — I simply don’t remember!]
Well, this little party had been going on for about 20 minutes or so. Everyone had switched around and tried the various instruments. They’d gathered around the Jam-o-drum to pound out rhythms – they’d harmonized in the vocal booths. Suddenly one of the ladies looked at her watch and shouted, “OK, everybody! It’s time to go over to On Stage”. Meaning they were going to give a fantasy concert, have their photo taken, and have that converted into a poster. Well, everyone stopped playing, and started to hit the door.
Now, other than saying, “Hi”, or giving one of us a big smile, these women had totally ignored my co-workers and me. So, with a big grin on face, I blurted out, “Now just a minute! Who are you?” And their “leader” said, “We’re Rosie the Riveters. We worked for Boeing during World War II, and we’re having a reunion.” Well, we younger folks were flabbergasted. It’s one thing to see the famed image, which I’d say we’ve all come to know and love – at least those of us who were raised by strong mothers, who taught us that women can do anything a man can do, and maybe even do it better. But to see a dozen real-life Rosie the Riveters, laughing and playing, in their supposed “old age”, was just something! Speaking for myself, I can say this: it was one of the best days of my life. I’m so less fearful of growing older. If they can do it, I can do it!