“Band for Life” tell the story of the fictional five-piece (initially) noise music Chicago based band Guntit, founded, and led by Linda. Linda’s love for her band runs so deep that she even sells her grandad’s motorbike so her band have a van for gigging.
Dysfunction is both a driving and destructive force for Guntit, who, despite their differences agree on the sacrosanctity of having music as a creative outlet. Whilst Davidson illustrates the charters as quirky and eye-catching “candy-coloured aliens ‘n’ weirdos” (not too dissimilar to John Riordan’s deft illustrations in “Hitsville UK”); the depiction of the band members as outsiders, their creativity challenges, mental health issues, sexuality, alcoholism, low self-esteem, drug and other personal issues are all too human and relatable.
Whilst Guntit aka “The wildest band on earth” ride “the green dragon” (along with some band members also using Adderall and Ambien), they are not in it for the money and their piety lies in being honest in their creativity and “blowing the minds” of the weird kids who don’t fit in. Once upon a time Linda (vocals), Krang aka Kingsley Reginald Anderton-Grier (keyboard), Renato (rhythm guitar), Zot (bass) and Ann aka Animal (drums) were the outsider, weird kids. Whilst Linda has accepted that her “hatred for authority has always limited my options in life”; Linda along with the band always find ways to keep the band going when funds have been tight. At one point they siphon grease from burger and chicken joints, boil and strain it to use as diesel for the tour van.
The story begins with Linda being handed a jail sentence for animal rights activism for releasing horseshoe crabs from a medical research laboratory. In prison, she meets Ann who takes up the drums in prison. Ann is gifted a picture of legendary female jazz drummer Viola Smith by a supportive music teacher for good luck and inspiration.
On release from prison, Linda decides to fulfil her dream by forming a band. This journey begins when she meets up with her old friend, tattooist Renato (who she initially told about her intention to save up and study and start a band as Patti Smith did) and convinces him to join her band as rhythm guitarist despite not having played the guitar before. The funniest introduction is when Linda crashes her bike into Zot’s pizza delivery van and notices he is wearing a “Severed Boner” band t-shirt. It turns out he was the bassist of this band and asks him to be her bassist. They both then meet Krang at a junkyard where they look for replacement parts for the crushed pizza van.
The in-depth research Davidson did into making the band consistently bond over the music they love comes across throughout this graphic novel. One of the earliest moments is when they mourn the death of Tommy Ramone (drummer and last surviving original member of The Ramones) and reminisce on how The Ramones “took all the influences – surf rock, bubble gum pop, proto-metal and make something unique”. Guntit also attempted to use Animal’s Uncle Red’s cabin in Wisconsin in order to live and record together as Captain Beefheart did when they made their third album Trout Mask Replica. The remaining motley of Guntit’s musical influences includes “Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins, Lake of Dracula, Wendy Carlos and Cirith Ungol.
Through humour (whilst at times arousing sympathy and concern), Davidson adroitly explores the philosophy and self-analysis of each individual band member. Some of the thoughts are extremely articulate such as “if someone has an original thought, everyone assumes they’re stoned” and “how can life be simultaneously meaningless and precarious”. At other times one is concerned for the individual member’s mental health and wellbeing such as when Linda confesses that her interests haven’t really changed since she was 12 years old and Zot confessing that “I’m still coming to terms that I’ll live past 30”. A more light-hearted moment is Renato’s abhorrence to wearing earplugs by comparing them to “wearing a hazmat suit to an orgy” or how he will need to move to Alaska and become a crab fisherman if Guntit opens for too many bands like Crystal Coyote who are becoming too commercialised and attracting kids and teenagers from the suburbs to their gigs. After all, as far as Guntit are concerned: “Rock is the devil’s music”.
From starting out as sequential comic strips for VICE.com, Davidson through “Band for Life” not only touches the heart of anyone who is passionate about music; she also reaches out to people who feel like outsiders and individuals dealing with mental health and other personal issues. Davidson also draws attention to the importance of having a creative outlet like music or art as a coping mechanism.
Davidson focuses on the challenges people have in trying to find the time, commitment, space and financial resources to actually have a creative outlet (let alone thrive and develop in their chosen creative channel). The Guntit members are an example of the many people for who the end game for their creative outlets such as music is not fame, recognition or money. Davidson tells us how Guntit, through music, seek honest, creative, inner and collective advancement and peace. “Band for Life” will not only draw one to music-themed graphic novels; it will also bring home the realisation of how important art therapy is along with the need for increased access to the arts throughout health services.
“Band for Life” is available here: https://www.fantagraphics.com/products/band-for-life