Ask Exene: Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Rockstar? Probably Not

Categories: Ask Exene
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Exene Cervenka
Exene Cervenka is a writer, visual artist and punk rock pioneer. The OC transplant is the lead singer for X, the Knitters and Original Sinners. 
If you want to ask the legendary vocalist for advice, send an email to


I'm 50 years old, and I have been playing guitar for a couple of years and going to rock school, where I play, sing and write a little bit. I totally love rock school; it's really fun, I've learned a lot, and the people are awesomely supportive. But it's expensive, we play mostly covers, and what I really want is to be in a real band doing originals. I'm not brimming with confidence. I'm an okay singer--better than most people I've met, but not stellar--and my guitar skills are still pretty beginner-ish, which makes me really hesitant to audition for established bands. Still, what I lack in skill I make up for in enthusiasm and creativity. How do I make this happen? 

 Love, Lisa

Here's a handful of questions to ask yourself before you even think about doing this. . . . What do you imagine would happen if you do get a band together to play your original songs? How much does a rehearsal space cost? Who would pay for that? Who would pay for your recordings? What clubs would you play? How would you go on tour? Could you give up your day job to go? What would you do for income when you got home? Do you own a reliable van and trailer? Any experience backing up a trailer? What if you leave your gear in the trailer overnight, and it gets broken into, and everything gets stolen? Do you mind loading out after a gig into the van, then unloading everything into your hotel room every night, then doing it again night after night? Do you have money to invest upfront in merchandise? Do you have money for a press agent? If not, how would you promote your band? 

You say you are not brimming with confidence, are an okay singer, guitar beginner-ish. If you were 21 years old, I'd still ask you this: Why do you desire to make this happen? Why don't you find something you are great at, something you can do that brings you a feeling of accomplishment, something you have some control over, and be creative that way? Hey, I wish I could take a spaceship to a different planet before the death squad comes to my door, but--oh, well. We just have to accept disappointment and go on to the next adventure. 


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Wow, I'm pretty disappointed by Exene's response to Lisa (Lisa, if you're reading, I hope you're not discouraged by this). 

Clearly, Lisa is not necessarily seeking to become a touring musician or arena rockstar anytime soon, so why is she being blasted with all these intimidating scenarios that touring musicians encounter? She's is sharing her passion for music and being vulnerable enough to express her insecurities about it -- in public -- and for all that, she's being told, basically, "you don't have what it takes to pursue music." It's not impossible for a person to feel creatively and emotionally fulfilled by simply playing in a local band on Friday nights. That's pretty fucking cool if you ask me -- and I know musicians on major labels that are touring their brains out right now. 

Lisa, if I were to give you advice, this is what it'd be: start your own band. Find like-minded people. You're definitely not the only one out there that is passionate about music yet not incredibly confident about her abilities. Find others in the same boat, people who just want to be incredibly creative and perform to their hearts content. You will find them. 

Punk rock, by the way, is about not giving a shit what other people think. It's about doing your own thing and not needing to be Jimmy Page-status on your instrument.

Do your own thing, Lisa. Follow what you love. 


I agree mont_bust! Find like minded people. People you like to hang out with. People who have similar tastes in music. (I think only one of the Go Go's knew how to play an instrument when they started.) It's not rocket science. Just about anyone can learn to play an instrument.

I saw this band on the LA Holiday Program 2012. Las Cafeteras. They were a blast! They haven't been playing for very long and one of the girls plays a jaw bone. If they can do it so can you!

It's funny, one of the best memories I have playing wasn't a big gig. It was at a BBQ in a park with friends. A guy came up while I was playing my guitar and started rapping to my song. It was awesome! I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

Good luck Lisa and have fun!

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