Have you ever told yourself that the thing you wish most for in life is too far fetched to ever become reality? Have you wondered if you are sitting still, getting older, just watching life go by without you being an active participant? Have you ever struggled to silence that very loud voice in your head that is doing its best to convince you that dreams coming true only happen to others, and not to you?
This story is about my landlord Fred. He’s 62 years old and like most of us, he likely thought all of those things at one point or another…until everything changed overnight. This is a story that seems like it should have been crafted by a Hollywood screenwriter. But it wasn’t. It’s real life.
Fred is a talented musician. But like most artists, he hasn’t been successful at consistently earning a living with his craft. In his heart, his real life’s work is his music. But his day job, the one that pays the bills, is working for a courier service.
Fred’s all-time favorite band is The 13th Floor Elevators. The Elevators are often credited with coining the term “psychedelic rock.” Formed in 1965 by vocalist Roky Erickson, electric jug player Tommy Hall, guitarist Stacy Sutherland and drummer John Ike Walton, they played together until 1969. They made a short, but lasting impression on the music world. When the band broke up Roky Erickson was admitted to a mental hospital, and years later Stacy Sutherland was shot and killed by his wife.
It seemed the world would never again hear from The 13th Floor Elevators. Fred wanted to ensure that would never happen because, as I mentioned, The 13th Floor Elevators are his all-time favorite band. So to keep the legacy alive, Fred formed a popular 13th Floor Elevator tribute band called The Tommy Hall Schedule. Google them and you’ll find a couple videos out there of Fred fronting the band.
A few months ago I ran into Fred, who was basically jumping out of his skin with shock and excitement. The 13th Floor Elevators were reuniting and headlining the Austin Psych Fest, which in honor of the unexpected reunion, was even changing the musical festival’s name this year to Levitation, a track from the Elevators’ second album.
Even better, not only were the Elevators reuniting, but they had just asked Fred to join the band to replace deceased guitarist Stacy Sutherland.
“Things like this don’t happen in real life!” said Fred.
“They just did and I’m so happy for you,” I exclaimed with complete joy for him.
The next couple of months involved a flurry of rehearsals leading up to last Sunday’s performance. Fred’s wife Jill and I attended, joking that we were his first real groupies. We stood backstage before the performance looking out in awe at the crowd of ten thousand people (yes TEN THOUSAND people) who cheered in expectation of the band taking the main stage.
When The 13th Floor Elevators started playing, the crowd completely lost its mind for the next 50 minutes. Jill and I danced while I simultaneously tried without much success to get some good behind-the-scenes photos on my iPhone. Eventually I gave up trying and instead watched Fred jam on his guitar as I shook my head in wonder about how life really can sometimes sneak up on you and make your wildest dreams come true.
After the show Fred emerged from the stage sweaty and happy as he hugged Jill. In the days that followed his photo has appeared in countless magazines and websites, including the granddaddy of all music magazines, Rolling Stone.
It’s still up in the air about when and if the Elevators will ever play again. But for now, on one incredible night last week, I watched Fred become a piece of music history. That’s enough to convince me to keep striving, wishing and believing, because dreams really can come true.