jeudi, juin 12, 2008

Bands I've Been In, Part the First

It all started in 4th grade, with a band called Northern Lights. We never played any music*, but we designed a ton of really great album covers, all of which vaguely resembled the bizarre space-agey artwork featured on some of the Journey albums of the time. We also did a lot of lip-syncing, at first with no instruments at all, then with tennis rackets, and finally with "guitars" we made out of plywood and painted to resemble Eddie Van Halen's ax. The presentation got pretty professional, as we supplemented with a spray bottle when unable work up a real sweat. Even so, Northern Lights broke up within a year over disputes about who had to be the drummer--a position of extreme disadvantage, as being the drummer pinned you at the back of the stage, thus preventing you from accomplishing the main goal of singing to/flirting with your imaginary Girlfriend who always cheered adoringly in the first row.

(*Editor's Note: the claim that no music was played is not entirely true, as Northern Lights did indeed attempt to record some romantic love ballads into a hand held tape recorder, accompanied with whatever musical pseudo-instruments the house could provide, which may have even included a rubber band. The result was so embarrassing that the memory was blocked until the composition of the above paragraph.)

. . .

The next band was an unofficial hip hop conglomerate of rapping break dancers in the 6th grade. We didn't have a group name, but, per the protocols laid out in the movie Breakin' we all had street names. Mine was Dr. Rock (a name you can still read in spray paint on the back of my old garage). The beats were laid down by a Casio keyboard, and we all took turns laying down some sweet-ass lyrics. Unfortunately, none of our efforts were preserved, and the only rap that remains in the honeyed halls of memory is the following gem by one Ryan Tominaga, a good friend who happened to be Japanese. Said he: "This jap can rap--just look on the map! Look at Japan, its cool man!"

. . .

There was a drought during the junior high and early high school years, partially explained by an initially painful move to California my Sophomore year, but more fully explained by the fact that puberty turned off my brain, and I spent several years trying to snare the opposite sex with mere poetry. To list the other mistakes made during this period--and right up until the age of now--would take a wing in the Library of Congress. Suffice it to say that the musical drought ended when in my senior year I made the acquaintance of one Scott Leftridge, an absolute musical genius and, for a sadly brief period, the best friend a guy could have. The addition of Troy Morgan (a genius on many levels) sealed the deal: together we formed the Phillip Smooot Orchestra (so named in tribute to a lonely projectionist who killed himself by running a tube from his exhaust into his window and driving around until coasting to a peaceful stop in the Newcastle tunnel at 3 AM), and recorded what I still consider to be some damn fine songs. Unfortunately, our technical acumen did not match our musical inspiration and the recordings (a self-made EP entitled "Small Room Music,") do no justice to the material, to which I still pay secret tribute with an occasional listening in my truck--the only place I can still play cassette tapes.

*Note: The History of the PSO is marred by our horrid experience at the Placer High School battle of the bands. The fact that we were desperately out of place in that setting (we were not exactly a party band) had made us nervous and uncomfortable enough. Any hope of confidence was destroyed when we loaned our PA to an abjectly ridiculous all-girl grunge metal act called Lunatic Fringe, who blew the thing up and left us to play a muted set through a patchwork network of amplification apparatus. The subsequent anxiety helped us to suck worse than any other band in the history of Placer County. All our elaborate staging and high hopes turned to instant mush. I get tightness in my chest thinking about it even now. Every moment of every song found me begging for a merciful death, and when it was over we fled with our tails between our legs to an all night diner where we longed to go back in time and convince ourselves to withdraw from the contest.

Years later, we went on to make an attempt at re-recording the good stuff. But the original fervor was gone. Of all the multitude of my regrets, not pursuing music with Scott Leftridge and Troy Morgan glows with a flame that seems only to increase with the years. Curse you, Lunatic Fringe! May you burn in the hell conjured by your useless cacophony!

. . .

When High School ended, I found myself drawn into the perverse circle of one Jason Adair, who worked in a cinema. We watched private screenings in our underwear. Late one night, he pulled out a guitar and for some reason, we began composing songs "to, for, and about Pirates." Still stuck on poor Phillip, we christened ourselves Cap'n Smooot, gave each other names (Cotton Swab, and Acting Captain Blood Pudding, respectively) and brought in the cripplingly underrated Brian Pine (Strawberry Blonde Beard) to play the bass. We didn't think we needed a drummer. We recorded an album, "Pirate Songs in G," and reveled at the cheeky jokes in songs like Pirate Christmas, and Klingons, the Pirates of the Final Frontier. We developed a thickly detailed mythos. At our first gig, at the legendary Cattle Club, the pierced girl taking tickets sarcastically noted, "You know what you guys need? A gimmick." I guess there isn't much else to say to adults wearing eye patches and frilly shirts. But dammit, we rocked that heazy. And that was long before the word heazy was even coined. We brazenly commemorated rape and pillage (most notably in a song called the Hokey Pokey Pirate). We claimed that pirates invented surfing, (AND the melon baller). We closed with the theme song from the Jeffersons. People laughed until sore, and bought our T-shirts. It was my first taste of the possibilities inherent in a musical comedy act. Management invited us back to open for the Cadillac Tramps. But as I was on the verge of serving a 2 year mission in Quebec, the band was put on hiatus. Upon my return, we opened up the old can of worms and played in a couple of clubs (this time with Scott Legend, or Leftridge, on drums) and KILLED. Alas, there are also limitations to a gimmicky musical comedy act, and we fizzled, but not before putting in a performance at a Prince cover show charity benefit that people still talk about--and not just because we didn't use any of Prince's music, and were the only band on the bill NOT covering Erotic City.
There was a moment at the end of the show that still gives me the good chills, where Prince, Gwar, U2, and Neil Diamond overlapped, as Sheila E was "pulling of those fishnet stockings . . laying 'em down . . .100! (boom!), 200! (boom!), and I can see those fighter planes. I can see those fighter planes . . . rum, pouring through a gaping wound . . . outside is America . . . outside is America! . . . they're coming to America, TODAY!!"

. . .

Next I got married, which didn't stop the formation of SMOOOT VALLEY HIGH. But more on that later.

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