Zack Thompson knew what he was doing. He still does. He was probably would have been more comfortable a few decades earlier when instead of starting a band he would have been "breaking into show business".
Zack played guitar and piano and dabbled with a few other instruments. He was 'really good' maybe not a virtuoso type, he couldn't break out some solo he'd spent four and a half hours learning like Kevin could, but that was mainly because it wouldn't occur to him to do something like that. He rather spend the time writing new songs.
He also managed to get shows and have decent equipment, he was however one of us, so we'd never let him know any of this was impressive.
We'd rehearse in the music room after school since he was in the good graces with the music director, constantly offering up guitars, piano, or vocals for any school function.
Things were different in Zack's band, the Delinquents, if you didn't know what you were playing he'd tell you, and if you didn't know after that he'd let you know that not only were you playing it wrong but that you were also a fucking asshole.
But the songs were easy, catchy, hook-y, poppy even. They were pop songs drenched in distortion. So sooner or later everyone kind of got everything and it clicked.
Zack got us on a show in Ridgefield Park at the Elks Club.
Now, the Elks shows were a little bit of an institution, or least had the reputation as such probably due to the high volume of fliers that seemed to find their ways into school. There were always stacks of poorly photo-copied pictures on colorful paper going around in the hallways or lunchroom, so this particular show seemed to have some extra prestige attached to it.
Zack told us we had 40 minutes and wanted to throw a few in a cover amongst the originals, but it had to be the perfect cover song. Not something that would be on the radio after you packed up and left the place. No, this had to be something rare, something that the regular bands at this show would hear and go "whoa, who are these guys, how do they know this song?" Or maybe it was to have a song that no one was quite sure was ours or not. Hard to say.
The song we wound up settling on was Spank Thru by Nirvana, which was hardly an unknown song in our little group of friends since it was on an import compilation that Zack started taking orders for every time he went to the Red, White, and Blue in Paterson.
But that was the song. And we were all into it and thought it would probably go over well if these shows were anything like we heard they were.
We pulled into the lot at dusk. Steven,the drummer, convinced his father to let us load everything into his van. His father was an electrician or something of the like and was what can only be described as "super-encouraging".
"Alright right guys, you guys are going to rock tonight right?" he'd say in his smooth jazz radio voice.
"Yes sir, we plan to rock," I didn't know him well so I just kind of mumbled whatever I could get out.
Zack on the other hand had been around the Grace household for a long time had no such hang ups: "That's right Mr. Grace, you bet."
We hopped out and quickly noticed the familiar sight of the pack of smokers, dressed mostly in black, most of them with their heads slung to the ground, and of course some of them, not really smoking at all, just puffing.
It was comforting to know that at least there were some people there already, it was early. Zack's girlfriend Jess (not her actual name yet again, I did know several Jess' in this era, but she wasn't one of them) decked out in her ripped jeans and Doc Marten's was a weird image to adjust to after getting used to seeing her in the standard Catholic school uniform.
We hung out in the front of the place for a few minutes, smoking, I bummed one off of Jess who, unfortunately, only smoked Newports. I could swear I felt the menthol tearing out sections of my throat on the way to my lungs. I figured I had an hour or so before I started coughing up blood.
An hour later there was no blood, and perhaps of more concern, there weren't very many people either. We were ready to go on, second behind some other band we felt very confident we were much better than.
We set our gear up and were pretty much ready to go. The hall was dark, and there were a few regulars of the Club, old grizzled men smoking cigarettes and pipes, looking at the television aggravated they couldn't hear what was going on.
The stage was an empty section of the bar with the dull bluish neon the only thing lighting us besides the TV and whatever glow was coming in through the windows from the flood lights outside.
I was set up right against the deep brown panelling and just below the plaque with gold plastic elk antlers sticking, out for Joe Trulugio, the Elks President from 1973-1975. Old Joe looked uncomfortable in his picture; stuffed into a tuxedo with tinted glasses and oily black hair that was starting to gray a little in the front. He a thick black moustache, and his smile showed off his impressive set of choppers. I wondered if maybe Joe was sitting at the bar smoking a pipe, I played a little scene out in my mind where somehow I wound up knocking off the plaque somehow, violating an ancient Elk law and was beaten unmercifully by a bored group of drunk war vetrans who were pissed off they couldn't listen to the World Series because a bunch of high school brats were giving them a few hundred dollars to rent out the hall on a Saturday Night.
I should also probably mention that we did have a tendency to dabble with some make-up. Nothing serious, I mean we weren't fucking Kiss or anything like that, but it wouldn't be uncommon for some, or all of us, to throw on some eye-liner, or maybe even some nail polish every once in a while. In fact, somewhere in the universe there is a video tape, probably buried in a box in someones garage, or hopefully disintegrating at the bottom of some Bergen dump, that contains footage of Zack, Elliot and I performing for probably close to an hour in dollar store house dresses Zack picked up for us at his beloved Red, White and Blue. If memory serves there was also an impromptu wrestling match that took place afterwards, as well as some bonus footage of Elliot and Zack getting tossed from the Bergen Mall. That will all be on the Special Features section once the tape is recovered and converted for a Fall 2011 DVD release.
Anyway, yeah, so I had some eye liner on. Not much, just enough to look kind of silly. Well, I say silly, I think the guys sitting at the bar had some other words for it, but they, for the most part kept it to themselves.
We started the set, some of the kids from outside started to filter in. Now you had about 25 or 30 kids crowding around us. They started bumping into each other a little, just kind of swaying, and then slowly it started to build until a few kids in the middle were throwing hockey checks. Well that was it for the bartender.
"HEY! YOU TELL THOSE GUYS TO KNOCK THAT SHIT OFF OR YOU'RE ALL OUTTA HERE!" he yelled in our general direction.
We kind of looked up for a minute.
Zack, always the professional took charge; "Hey guys, just be cool, no need to knock each other over or anything let's just have a good time."
Well, the guy freaking out might have startled a few of them and they headed out for another cigarette, since of course they weren't allowed near the bar to smoke, and after that probably wouldn't be interested in going anywhere near it even if they were. So the audience had thinned out a little when we broke into what was supposed to be our show stopper. Zack started the first few chords to Spank Thru, which, is a cute little song about the end of a relationship and the act that the American Heritage Dictionary (Third Edition) describes as "exciting oneself or another's genitals by means other than intercourse".
Needless to say the folks at the bar didn't really take kindly to the song even with Zack warbling up some of the lyrics.
So this on top of the makeup and the junior grade mosh pit did not put us in the best of regards with the proprietors.
We ended the show early, after the Nirvana song, and quickly tore down our gear and stacked it outside. Most of the kids were still there, in fact it looked like more had shown up for the next band. We talked a little while and most of them knew that the guys inside were miserable old codgers, but for some reason they kept agreeing to let them rent the hall out each month. I asked one of them for a cigarette. Another menthol. It was that kind of show.