Tuesday, July 28, 2009


So let's wind this shit down shall we? Sunday came like a hangover. I couldn't sleep Saturday night, things felt good, outdoors in the middle of a strange town, smoking cigarettes in a parking lot overlooking a dimly lit parking lot. It was a nice scene for some 16 year old over-hormoned and neurotic. I was wired all night, I got home and felt like writing a book or an opera or just doing something, anything to keep the weird rush of energy I had going.
But I eventually just watched the Doors movie on TBS and got really depressed and fell asleep just before the sun came up.
Sunday was a bigger show, the biggest show as far as I was concerned, The St. Joseph's elementary Battle of the Bands.
This event had been going on the last few years and always had a pretty enormous turn out. Some youth organization ran it and did a great job promoting it.
Battle of the bands, if you don't know are pretty much just a bullshit way to get you to beg as many of your friends to come out to a show. Any organized Battle of the Bands I've ever been involved in the organizer has always said: "remember the more people you get out the more likely you are to win" which is kind of a defeatist attitude to go in with; like you won't convert anyone. Everyone is coming here to see their friends bands and even if you whip out some kind of wizardry not yet known to this planet it won't make any difference because they're not here to see you.
This was different. Apparently there were judges. I never figured out who they were and maybe that was the point, but they were the governing body as far as who won.
And what do you win?
Well normally it would be something like a free hour at whatever rehearsal studio was sponsoring the event. Or maybe a free package of Blue Steel guitar strings. Nice, helpful things to have, but not exactly a gold medal.
The St. Joe's thing was giving away $200, which seemed a lot better.

A few years back when I was probably 12 or 13 I remember very vividly being a giddy as a the schoolboy I was when the last band that played finished off with Enter Sandman. By the time the next year rolled around, I was kind off Metallica and got really into the second to last band who looked more like a reality show than a band. One kid had a mohwak and was punked out like it was 1976 London. The singer looked like 90's Bon Jovi. The girl playing bass looked like she probably took piano lessons. The Drummer might have been in Slayer orginally. They even had someone playing trombone.
I'll call them "Daft" for the simple reason that I'm taking a few liberties with their personnel and I don't want to eat shit on the details. So now they've been fictionalized, and with this comes a new name.
So Daft comes out and they are great, for what I knew at that age they were the best thing I ever saw in my life. They were weird and funny and scary and loud it was everything you want when you're wallowing around unfuckable and awkward in the muck of early teen angst. They played for a about a half an hour and every one was stomping around in half assed attempts at mosh pits while getting dirty looks from the off duty police that volunteered to help.
At the end of the night Daft didn't win the competition, that distinction went to a band that did a fairly terrible version of Smells Like Teen Spirit. Well we weren't going to stand for that and we booed those bastards and started a little "Daft" chant. It was a nice little moment.
But fuck them now. They were back, and likely had the biggest audience in the place. There were only four bands this year which was down from the two times I'd already been there.
It was a weird night over all.
I just realized I can't really finish the story.
I fucked up.
I wasn't in this band the day before this show.
I was going to the show to see Zack's band play, and to be honest I was jealous, but as luck would have it Zack's bass player had to study for his SAT's and wasn't allowed to attend the show. This became my short term gain, he eventually went on to a lucrative career and I think lives in Miami, while I sit in a basement and scratch stories off my Swiss cheese memory.
So I was in, but I didn't know any of the songs.
I had to make notes on the back of the setlist so I knew what to play for which songs.
I was learning how to play half the set on the playground in the back while the other bands played or smoked cigarettes with pretty impressionable girls.
So we played.
And I think it went pretty ok.
Zack went nuts, jumped on my back and brought me down.
There was also a guitar swinging incident in which he swung a guitar at someone in one of the other bands.
There is a video of all of this somewhere but I never felt much like watching it because I'd hate to be disappointed if the reality of it wasn't as vivid as I remember it.
So anyway, Daft won.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


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.
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.

Monday, July 13, 2009


I have fond memories of a weekend in 1996, though I kind of prefer to think of it as 1995 so that I'm a little younger when it happened, and to be honest it probably wasn't a weekend, it was probably a few random weekends over the span of a year and half or maybe even more, but for the sake of this nonsense, let's just say it was a weekend in 1995 and let's agree that it happened in a cool autumn setting of early October.
There were shows back then, I mean there are shows now and there have been the whole time, but nobody really gives a fuck anymore. Occasionally you run into a good, or dare I say great one, but for the most part you know what you're going to get, and it's really more about having a night out with some friends as opposed to congregating with a similarly fashioned pack of brats clustering themselves together and seeing no reason why the rest of their lives won't be spent like this.
But to be honest we always hated those people anyway. Anyone who was too up on the idea of a scene, impressed with the numbers of leather jackets and lit Marlboro's dangling out of pierced lips in front of Paramus Park was probably a social class elitist and likely just wasn't any good at sports or else they would have been flipping over cafeteria trays and demanding lunch money. The more people hanging around the more likely little sub-groups of a certain snobbery will pop up dictating who gets to sit at the cool kids table.
Of course I may just be looking back with bitter eyes because no one ever bothered to ask me to sit at said table and thus splintered off into a group of hateful little bastards.

But enough on the evolutionary theory of social groups eating their own, we're back in 1995 and there were shows and they used to feel like a big deal. Even if there was one every week or three crammed into a weekend, they all felt like a big deal and occasionally they were.
Now, to protect the identity of anyone who may not want to associate themselves with my spouting off at the mouth on a late night caffeine fixed tirade I'll take some precautions with bending people's names since I've already decided to cram a few events that I feel very certain did happen, into one little weekend during October 1995 even though I know that's not when they happened. If they even happened, which you know, I'm pretty sure that they did.

So Simon had a car. He was older than us but he was dating a girl we all knew from school, Kelly Foster. (Again not her real name cause God knows what she would think if she was bored at work one day and Googled herself only to find her name tangled up in this mess.) Kelly was the prototypical cool girl, she was so cool in fact that you kind of didn't even realize how pretty she was. She was kind of tomboyish and she hung around all the timeand she was dating Simon for as long as we knew her so maybe that's why it was easy not pay attention to her, because we were all impressed with her boyfriend who was both driving and in a band that actually got shows and had pretty decent equipment. So to a select few of us he might as well have been a rock star.
Simon told us we could open up for him at a showcase his band was having at Backstage Studios.
I should also probably mention since I'm having a little fun with the timeline here that I was in two bands at the time. Sometimes I wasn't but there was definitely a period of overlap. That was the curse of playing the bass. Everyone played guitar, and there were certainly a few drummers out there, but the only bass player I knew when I got to high school kept getting sent to Bergen Pines and eventually got tossed out of school. So there was a void, a vacuum if you will, and I figured that it would be better to suck at something almost nobody else did then suck at something every schmuck was doing.
So there was the metal band and the punk band or at least that's how I categorized it in my early-mid teen ignorance. The metal band included Kevin Riley on guitar and vocals and the great Eliot Krause on drums. Elliot actually was the utility drummer for a while and he and I were the rhythm section for both bands for a few weeks. We played covers; mostly Metallica and Pantera with some Alice in Chains and Nirvana sprinkled in probably to keep me happy. Kevin wrote songs but they were epics and he only brought one song to practice which was about 10 minutes long, so with that pace we stuck mostly to the covers.
And to be honest I didn't know what the fuck I was playing half the time. He had books and magazines with guitar tabs and would lend me them but most of the time I would just try to play what he was playing. I was probably a mile away from the drums and who knows if the notes were right but I thought I knew what I was doing so it all seemed to make sense. I mean we weren't' playing funk, the whole thing probably sounded like a loud glob of unmixed noise but most of your friends at that age don't really have a rigid grading scale. They're just impressed hearing something that sounds like a song they might know coming out something you're doing.
So anyway, Simon got us a show opening for his band in West Paterson at a rehearsal studio in West Paterson.
Elliot's mother drove us to the show because her car was big enough to fit all our stuff. When we got there the usual platoon of smokers were camped outside. We didn't know any of them and immediately nerves crept up our teen aged spines. "What if we really suck? Are these guys going to beat us up?" Kevin was already there with Simon and he was on the stage tuning his guitar.
"You guys are late"
We weren't but we played along.
"Oh sorry". We set up quickly. Simon's bass player was hanging around onstage convinced that there must be an automatic camaraderie between us he asked me a technical question.
"What kind of rig you got man?"
I know nothing about gear, at all. To this day I still know very little. This particular amp I got because it was big and loud and affordable for someone who might just be dabbling in music on his way to a long career in the US Congress.
"Um, a Peavy" I answered somewhat dim-wittedly. He looked at me and immediately sized up that this would not be the tech savvy sparring session he had craved so he just nodded and started scanning the rest of the stage.
"Hey man, you want your amps miked up? Guys? We miking the drums and the amps tonight?" this slick sounding son of a bitch in casual goth regalia jumped up onto the stage with a bunch of laminates dangling from around his neck (just in case anyone doubted his access to all areas) and a white knuckle grip on some cables he was just dying to run into or out of something.
"Sure," I answered but I immediately wasn't so sure "We're miking the drums right?"
Yeah. Sure. We're miking the drums right? Because I've done this a thousand times.
"Yeah," Elliot answered as if he actually had done this a thousand times.
"Cool you got it," he disappeared like a gnome doing invisible silent work.

I plugged in my $10 tuner that very clearly had BASS written on it lest I become confused, and fiddled with my rusting strings until the needle lined up on all them.
Then the most important piece of equipment was the last to add: The Setlist.
We all knew what we were playing, we only had five songs we could do because three of them were 7 minutes but every band has set lists taped down amongst a nest of wires and speakers and why should we be any different, this was after all a professional rehearsal studio.
I carefully wrote out all the songs with a big black marker and handed them out to the other two. While that was going on the room, which if I was any good I would have already described as long and narrow, started filling up. There were couches and a few old upholstered chairs randomly scattered and the lights were down except for a bright red glow that came off a few of the gel lights from the stage.
I felt like an asshole. We were standing there and we could hear everyone talking but could only see a few people and we had no idea if we should just start. We stared at each other for a moment waiting for someone to maybe introduce us, and then decided to just let Elliot count us off. Which he eventually did and BAM the drums were fucking miked. And wow. Miked drums were incredible. Loud. Loud. Loud.
Every hit sounded crisp and perfect. Elliot could have been playing a different song than us but it wouldn't have mattered because the drums sounded so cool to us that we would have taken the blame for not following him.
About half way through the first song the effect kind of wore off on me though and I started getting flushed with nerves. First I thought maybe I was too loud. I couldn't hear Kevin's guitar at all, and what if I was drowning him out, so I turned down a little. But who the hell could hear anything over the drums? Then I started thinking "fuck that I practiced these fucking songs I want to be heard even if I am fucking them up". So I turned up the volume on the bass. Once we got to the Nirvana song, which I think was Drain You, I felt pretty confident and even went over to the amp and turned up, when I swung around with a smirk I caught the face of Simon's bass player huddled in the corner making a face like he just noticed he had shit in his mouth and he made the universal sign for "turn down" while shaking his head "no". But it didn't look he was only saying "no" it looked like he was saying "Oh Lord please destroy whatever that horrible inhuman frequency is at the source".
There is nothing like a disgusted look telling you you're doing something wrong that you thought was right to instantly deflate a freshly ballooned ego. I turned way down and played the rest of the show in full shoe-gazer mode letting my self go deaf at Elliot cracking his China Boy cymbal a dozen or so times.
After we finished the last song a stereo kicked in and Simon's band seemed to jump onstage in unison to get their gear set up. We quickly unplugged and dragged our amps and drums off to the side, occasionally stopping for the ol': "hey you guys were good" slap on the back. At that point I knew it was probably bullshit but at that point in my life self delusion wasn't a problem I realized I had, so I kind of figured these were good honest folk and that we had in fact just rocked.

my eyes are turning to glass and other lines from old Irish ballads

It's kind of quiet outside for all demonic shadows crawling all over the ground.
Oh how I wish it was a decade ago so I could light a cigarette and enjoy this little moment.
But it's not and now I only inhale the warm moisture drenched breeze and listen to some sad Irish bastard sing some ballad about a faraway girl.
And what the hell does he know?
They're all faraway.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I Should Have Met You in Virginia

Yeah it's too bad you're gone now, but I guess it's better than wondering if there'll be any more purple drenched nights waiting to see what you're in the mood to do. Playing around in some speed-driven game of head chess that I'm no good at.
I'm out of motives and other things like sincerity.
But I guess most of all interest.