Brother, Sweat, and Tears


Roseland Theater, Portland, OregonWhen the band rolls into town, they arrive late at night, driving straight through from the last gig, appearing wearily on my doorstep with heavy luggage and soft pillowcases in hand. They are exhausted and plagued by coughs and aches developed only after weeks on the road. Dirty laundry is loaded into the middle of my hardwood floor before being piled into the washer, and within moments, each member of the four-man crew – the merch guy, the sound guy, two rockstars – is either gnawing away at the pile of food I’ve gathered for their arrival or making a spot on the floor comfortable enough for a long-needed, proper rest.

My little brother, guitarist and lead singer, towering over me at six foot, offers a warm hug and a thanks for a place to stay as the others head in their opposite directions. He is fatigued, but content. It has its ups and downs, but this is the life he has worked so hard to create. A musician is the only thing he’s ever wanted to be.

The way I remember…

He is six years old, running frantically around the house before we depart for school. Just a minute, Mom, he yells as he’s rushing about. Full sprint to the bathroom, where he leans over the white Formica counter top, the rushing water of the sink collecting in his small hands before he flips it back onto his hair, adjusting his now-saturated blond spikes just so. The star is starting to shine.

He is eleven, strumming an acoustic guitar in his room. Picking at the chords, one by one, trying to read the book in front of him before the pages turn. The books start to pile up, from guitar basics to sheet music of his favorite bands. Formal lessons with a guitar teacher are on his ‘to do’ list, but for now he waits at the ready for the next ‘family band’ rehearsal.

He is seventeen, standing nervously on the wooden stage just outside our Midwest town fair. It is early evening, and only his second public debut, a band comprised of a handful of musically-inclined high school friends. The rickety metal bleachers are half full with our family and friends, my Mom sitting next to me, beaming with pride. The first few chords of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ flows through his fingers and the small crowd goes wild.

He is twenty-five and now a guitar instructor of his own, waking at noon each day to teach kids though the afternoon as they arrive home from school. The bills are just barely paid, but he’s happy despite prodding from his father to find a real job. It is Christmas, and we stand together on the balcony of a Caribbean hotel during a rare family holiday together, discussing our life plans and desires – him to succeed in music, me to publish a book. We shake hands, promising ourselves and each other that we will do everything within our power to make our dreams come true.

Now, he is thirty-one, and stands at the front of the stage, a room full of screaming fans with their hands in the air. He kids with the crowd about the lights and giving it all behind the mic. We’ll be giving away free sweaty hugs after this, he jokes. The crowd erupts when the set is over, and a line forms behind the t-shirt table, girls in their teens asking them to sign everything from shoes to CDs, guys shaking hands and mumbling about a “f*cking awesome” show. There are radio interviews, acoustic performances, and tour offers from here to Germany, but the next day’s drive is already on his mind. Alongside an equally talented drummer – his best friend since childhood – they are road warriors of a different kind, indeed a dynamite duo, and my brother is the rockstar I always knew he would be.


~Jennifer Heigl

1 Comment

  • Anonymous says:

    I hope your little brother knows how blessed he is to have you for a sister, and an obvious die hard fan!!!!

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