By CLAY TARVER
Published: August 18, 2011
Clay Tarver, and his Les Paul, playing with Chavez at the Matador Records 21st-anniversary show in Las Vegas in 2010. More Photos »
“Your husband’s a guitarist, right? Does he want to play in the Dad Band for the Spring Faire?” That’s verbatim what a father from our preschool asked my wife. She and I shared a big, long laugh. Until I noticed she wasn’t laughing. In fact, she seemed hurt. “You wouldn’t even do that for your own kids,” she said, “would you?”
It’s just that I had sworn I wouldn’t be one of those parents. The kind who dress their kids in AC/DC onesies. The kind who send their kids to rock schools. But, as my wife pointed out, maybe I took it all too far the other way. You see, I’d never told my kids about my music life. Ever.
I was in two definitively obscure bands. The first was Bullet LaVolta. But in the second one — Chavez — I really found my vibe. I started it in New York in 1992 with Matt Sweeney, who sang and played guitar, and then later we added James Lo on drums and Scott Marshall on bass. We put out two albums on Matador Records that we’re still really proud of.
For me, Chavez was this perfect creative beast. We had all these annoyingly strong ideas about what we wanted to do, and we did them. We did them exactly. But eventually, life pulled us apart. I found work as a screenwriter, married and had kids. Scott had kids, too. James returned to composing for modern-dance pieces. Matt kept making great music with other people.
I didn’t just have kids, actually. I had twin boys, then a third boy. That was a disorienting plunge. And my career didn’t make it any easier. Screenwriting pays, but it’s lonely and anonymous. I’ve worked steadily for 15 years and logged one actual credit to my name. Being in a band? It becomes your name. It’s as if you’re married or something. You become Clay From Chavez or Stephen From Pavement.
Anyway, the more I missed it, the weirder I got. I stopped playing music around the house. I never played guitar for my kids. When the Dad Band proposal came up, my wife finally said: “Know who you need to rock with? A therapist.”
The shrink made me identify the person I was when I was happiest. I talked. She wrote. The name on her notepad was literally Clay From Chavez. Great. She said I had to find a way to be a dad and be that guy. She even threw Carl Jung at me: “Nothing has a stronger influence . . . on their children than the unlived life of the parents.”
Instead, I quit therapy and went back to pretending music didn’t exist. And it almost worked. Until Matador asked Chavez to play its big 21st-anniversary party in Las Vegas.
Our show went shockingly well. But midway through, Matt said into the mike: “Wanna know something? Clay’s kids don’t even know he’s in a band.” As the audience laughed, I forced a smile and made a mental note to yell at him later. But when we came offstage, I ran into Stephen From Pavement. Know what we talked about? Our kids. Then Bob From Guided by Voices told me his son was offered a golf scholarship to college. I looked over to see the band playing after us, whose name is so punk this magazine won’t even print it. The singer brought his toddler son onstage with him.
That’s when I realized I’m an idiot. Yes, the band was really important to me. Yes, I’m still a conflicted mess about it. And that’s what I didn’t want my kids to see. But enough. It was time to come clean.
A few days later, I was back home at a stoplight with my 7-year-olds, Lewis and Augie. They asked the question every father has to answer sooner or later: “Dad, did you know there’s a band called the Butthole Surfers?”
As they laughed, I got all serious: “Believe it or not, your dad played with the Butthole Surfers. Back in 1989. I — ”
Twins: “You were a Butthole Surfer?!”
Me: “No. I was in a band that opened for — ”
Twins: “Were you famous?”
Me: “No. We were not famous. We were good, though. I — ”
Twins: “Are the Butthole Surfers good?”
Me: “Eh, overrated. I mean, ‘Another Man’s Sac’ has a few moments, but — ”
Twins: “Wait, what?”
Me: “Never mind. Just listen. That band was Bullet LaVolta. But you know last weekend? When Mom and I went to Las Vegas? I went to play with another band. It’s called — ”
Twins: “Yeah, yeah. Chavez.”
As the light went green, I turned around in my seat: “How’d you know about Chavez?”
Twins: “We’re 7. Not stupid.”