Guest post from Daniel Machado of the The Restoration. The Restoration will be performing at the Girls Rock Columbia benefit taking place this Friday at New Brookland Tavern.
Rose Machado and I shared the planet for 22 years. She was a painter, illustrator, designer and musician despite all odds against her. We shared those interests, a hot Azorean temper, and an affinity for cats, but I didn’t actually meet her until long after she had given most of them up—all except the temper and the cats.
When my family went up to East Boston to bring her down South she was in her 80s. Her sister, May, had passed away suddenly. They had lived together in the slender town house they grew up in for most of the 20th century—built by their father, Zeferino, it was the Machados’ first home in America.
I was in my early teens when we moved Aunt Rose to South Carolina, having only known her before that through letters. I was only half there. Only half-appreciative of the heartbreaking situation she’d found herself in; of my family’s relatively recent immigration; of my aunt’s unusual artistic accomplishments and their overlap with my own aspirations. The other half of me was preoccupied with the unending adolescent misery of being a privileged white male American of comfortable means.
A tried and true cliché of growing older, it was too late before I’d look back, wishing I had spent more time with her, soaked in all I could soak in, and made a real attempt to show her how much I looked up to her.
It was also years later that I would realize that my great aunt Rose lived, for nearly a decade, in a time when women were legally prohibited from voting in the United States. This was a revelation to me.
The life of my aunt, who was once considered inferior to men by law, and my own life had overlapped for 22 years. This was not ancient history. Incredibly—though we love to pretend our species and society have evolved beyond our ugly tendencies to dominate—Rose’s father (my great grandfather) was born in 1865, the year slavery was outlawed in the United States.
Despite the circumstances of her time, through passion and persistence Aunt Rose went to art school and pursued her interests for most of her life. She passed away in 2005 at age 94. Her story, in part, inspired me to write Constance with The Restoration, an album about a fictional musical prodigy held back by the expectations of her family and community.
In 1983, 72 years after Rose’s birth, I was born in Lexington, South Carolina to parents who took an interesting approach to raising my sisters and me. Our parents gave each of us a tiny ukulele with our names painted on the headstocks. When we were older, after we’d shown interest, the instruments were upgraded. I had an electric guitar, my middle sister a bass, my youngest sister an electric guitar as well. Alongside music, my sisters played with Barbies—I joined in. I played Ninja Turtles and Star Trek and they joined in with me. My youngest sister was always Worf.
Admittedly, we were fortunate. All this was only possible because my parents were able to use some of their income to allow us kids to experiment with our interests. But the real takeaway was the philosophical underpinning that strict gender expectations should not limit a child’s choices and that creativity of all kinds should be encouraged. Before long we were putting our own resources into the activities our parents got us started with.
In our late teens, around 2001, my middle sister and I started a band with two good friends. We had no idea what we were doing. For a few months of magical naïve incompetence we wrote and rehearsed our first songs between swims to escape the heavy, damp air of a South Carolina July. We knew of no music scene, no format or protocol, we had no goals beyond simply existing as a band.
After a few shows at the local middle school and a birthday party gig or two we wanted to try out the “big city”. One afternoon, terrified, I entered a dimly lit chamber that we believed could get us there. Press kit in hand, wearing the peppiest outfit imaginable, I tiptoed past the thickly layered remains of what seemed like 300 years worth of show posters. The air was 85% cigarette smoke. In the back of the room, a shadowed figure sat beneath a glowing monument to Budweiser. I handed our press kit to the man, Dave Britt, and walked out, thankful to still have my life. A few weeks later we played our first show at West Columbia, SC’s New Brookland Tavern, which, 12 years later, feels like an extension of my living room. Dave had given us a shot and gotten us into the city.
We started playing a lot of Columbia shows: New Brookland, Art Bar, the local university, and a few venues that no longer exist. We started playing out of town and out of state. Over the years we made a lot of friends, met a lot of bands, and experienced our share of typically egocentric juvenile bullshit—mostly when we ventured into the precarious arena known as the battle of the bands.
We began to realize that my sister was seen as something of an anomaly. Other bands treated her like a novelty. So many times we’d hear “dude, you guys have a girl bass player, sweet.” Or someone would say to me, “your bass player is hot”, to which I’d reply dryly, “she’s my sister.” What had been the norm for us was evidently not the norm for many of the people we interacted with.
Most people seemed to mean well, but that’s the thing about sexism today, it can be very subtle—especially compared to the institutionalized incarnations of Rose Machado’s youth. A well‐meaning comment that a male may even consider a “compliment” is often just a signal that our patriarchal roots are still very much in play in 2013 (on a larger scale, there’s nothing subtle about the male-female income disparity that is still very, very real).
What was the difference between our band and the bands we interacted with? Why was our gender ratio natural for us and not for others? Was it simply unusual that in our family and group of friends young boys and girls were given the opportunity to play in a band? While there were certainly other exceptions, like The Sinators and Danielle Howle, in my experience in Lexington and Columbia it was mostly a boys club, especially in the early 2000s. This ratio seems to be shifting to a more even mix in the years that have followed.
A few months ago I read about Girls Rock Columbia. Their goal is to invite girls ages 8-18 to participate in a summer camp that will give them the opportunity to form bands and encourage confidence and collaboration outside of preconceived gender limitations. Passionate women from the regional music community will serve as mentors, evening the playing field and spreading the opportunity my sisters and I were fortunate enough to share together, that my great aunt Rose pushed so hard to achieve despite the odds.
My life has been incredibly enriched by the experience of community and collaboration I’ve found playing in bands. To see organizers working to bring this experience to everyone is exhilarating. To see folks from all genders and backgrounds volunteering and raising money is also a thrill.
To those who may say, “this is 2013, we’re past sexism—why are you excluding boys from this summer camp?” I say, the world is still mostly a summer camp for boys. We all need good mentors and a strong community but Girls Rock specifically addresses an ongoing gender boundary in rock music. We’ve come a long way, which should be celebrated, but we’ve still got a long way to go. I’m thankful for efforts like Girls Rock Columbia that pave the road ahead.