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Published: 1999/02/15
by Carol Wade

Playin’ in the Band

Call me a hackneyed and maudlin dribbler, but rock ‘n’ roll is strictly the way to go. If you’re reading this at all, the comment I just made is either shared by you wholeheartedly, or at least agreed upon to some degree. Every once in a while, I try to remember key moments in my life where the concept of rock lit up my mind in milky and paralyzing bursts of brightness, where imagined states of musical grace painted the not-yet-arrived future with Pollock-esque trails of shimmering possibility. Such moments fade quickly into the harder, heavier stuff of reality (such as actually acquiring an instrument, then plodding endlessly away into the dark corridors of just how painful and discouraging teaching oneself a musical skill can be). However, as time passes, the original dividends of envisioning musical flights of fancy restores itself, like a pulsar, oscillating off in deep space, its pulse haunting and unforgettable to those who can comprehend the incomprehensible…

Call me strictly new school; I won’t mind. I was, after all, raised up in the weird armpit of suburban New York City, a half-hour away from the virtual center of the human universe. Shy, odd, and obsessed with the idea of electricity. Imagine me, if you will, salted away in my Long Island bedroom, the large, weighty cube of a nine-volt battery in one hand, some wires in the other, and a few near-dead little lightbulbs in front of me. Sooner or later, even if the sky darkened to black outside the window and dinner came and passed as an unconsidered option, I would get one of those lightbulbs to come on. As some point during the endeavor, I would take a break for only one thing: MTV.

Disregarding the wan “lifestyle” trifle that the network is squeezing out these days, apart from the rich glut of music that my father exposed me to as a kid, MTV was my lifeline of fascination to the world of music. I’d stare, halted and enthralled at the screen, drinking in The Cars, Duran Duran, The Police, Dire Straits, Blondie, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Prince, and all the manifold exploits of television-meets-sound fusionistics. However, when it came to the more esoteric morsels of rock ‘n’ roll, removed from the world of straight-up pop music, MTV had a few memorable gems, which now stand out in my memory like little beacons.

One of these was the so-called “Closet Classics” show which ran in the network’s early days, airing rare, old footage of 1960s and 70s classic rock bands doing live performances. MTV likened it to the older version of what they were pulling off then, in the early 80s: “music video”. But deep down and instinctually, I knew it was something quite different from what the sometimes more polished, produced and proffered bands of the time were doing. The music was, first off, live, as opposed to being stylized and synchronized for artistic effect.

Secondly, and most undoing for me, was the total rawness of the thrust…the bands were (usually) really playing their instruments, and damn…they sang, and CRAP!...they moved, and just plain let it hang out. I then understood the meaning behind the things I heard later from the likes of Tipper Gore and Her Band of Merry Wanksters (i.e. the Parents’ Music Resource Center, or PMRC), attempting to censor music for the sake of “morality” and “good taste”.

I sat with my brother in total awe, watching Blue Cheer do “Summertime Blues”, with big, incomprehensible hair clouding their faces in a way far removed from all that was sensible. We glared grinningly at Robert Plant wailing “Dazed and Confused”, as nebulous shapes of fluorescent- lighted liquid gurgled, superimposed around the seemingly magical and primitive old spectacle. Although I traversed (and still traverse, freely) many musical realms before returning to the world of live music, there is something about PLAYING MUSIC for a willing audience that beats the hell out of basically anything else someone could do in the world. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little...but not much. And I don’t mean digging “the tapes”, as in recorded facsimiles of the show (although this is a whole other discussion unto itself). I mean BEING there. Not to be exclusionary, but I actually mean to be provocative.

I think that everyone should be in a band. Everyone should make music, and everyone CAN MAKE MUSIC. I’ve known people who say, “I can’t hold an instrument without breaking it. They just BREAK, I don’t do anything, and they BREAK.” Okay, whatever, but everyone’s got hands, fingers, feet and toes, and even if those don’t work, there’s the old larynx. And if all else fails, hell…if you can’t exhale some sort of primordial rhythm through your nose, or whatever blowhole you have, you’ve got the interior chambers of your mind, the best composition tool even created.

I’ve been in a few bands, ranging from the earliest, most arbitrary, experimental pop band with the neighborhood kids in the garage (“The Cruisers”, c. 1982), to the strictly ridiculous, waste-of-time bands, fueled by boredom and debauchery, which couldn’t dream of hitting a stage, and were also based in a garage, of course (“SPICER”, c. 1995). Without a doubt, though, the best outfits I’ve been in were the ones that “took it on the road”, so to speak, the ones who had the tools and the talent (and the ability to make it to consecutive Saturday morning rehearsals, veiled with the thick, rancid tonnage of last night’s hangover) to get gigs, play them, then triumph of the sheer spirit of overcoming that such an undertaking evokes.

To avoid sounding like an advertisement, but also getting to the damn point of this month’s column, I’m playing in a band right now, and rediscovering one of the fatter main roots of my existence. As a result of being in the band, too, I’m being forced (as I always am, paradoxical as this managerial nightmare of a dreadlock-covered semi-sphere on top of my neck can be) to fractionate, dissect and revisit old music, new music, live and studio music, the whole nine yards (and soon to be many more miles). Being in a band, as I’ve realized, and keep realizing, is not only a twenty-four hour preoccupation (much like marriage might be, I imagine), but also one of the most graceful, stupid, frank and fulfilling experiences around.

Last Sunday night, I took part in a hilariously satisfying ritual. Launching myself, again, out into whatever weather Lower Manhattan had to offer, I ran out to the moe. show, this time to watch them celebrate the Wetland’s 10th Anniversary. Yes, moe. again. Sorry, but they’re my internal template when it comes to experiencing live music, not only because I’ve bumbled along with them in similar channels throughout their history thus far, but because I’m a little familiar with them as just plain folks, who do a lot of all the regular crap that we all do each day.

Anyways, it’s one thing to hang out with a band, chill, and just dig the scene. But now that I’m IN a band again, chillin’ with a band, especially one with as much DIY (or “Do-It-Yerself!”) clout as moe. has accumulated over their near-decade’s existence, made me feel weird. It was the weird of the best possible kind, though, the kind that wells up something powerful and indescribable, something a lot like pure inspiration. With the mellow, yet unhinged, and spark-throwingly illustrious Drummer Number Two (a/k/a Jim Loughlin) being re-introduced into the moe.fold, I had a jarring vision of my own past and present, recalling shows and bits of life that ticked out stages of my life on some timeline that looks like the New York State Thruway. And this is to say nothing of the music itself. The show was mind-boggling in displaying that the band is turning a whole new page. Call it The New and Improved moe., call it what you want. When it all boils down, it proves everything that you need to know to be in a band: how to move, how to bend, how to transcend, and most of all, how to let it all hang out.

My band, Hieronymus Bosch, is a scrappy little organization, comprised of more reminders of a life I once lived, and obviously enjoy enough to return to, like the bad-so-good 80s movie you love to torture yourself to giggling madness with on a Sunday afternoon. They’re as disjointed, randomly sinister, fertile and colorful as a painting by the band’s namesake, and all are in college, but smart as whips, and pretty damn mature for the 18-20 year-old stretch.

Like all good things, I joined the pack on the whimsical fly of fate and circumstance: the guitar player got a job at the library in the Fall, and spotted a postcard of the Coulter Young drawing of Frank Zappa I have magnet-stuck up next to my desk. With such a girthy inlet into my musical predilections, the guitarist Matt’s curious inquiries thundered one into another, and our friendship expanded. Within weeks, the next thing I knew, I was in the cozy and mildly claustrophobic basement studio-bedroom of James Call, the zany electrophile keyboardist, in Astoria, New York, where the band was setting up shop for the time being. Unshowered and unshaven, James plucked and poked at the multitude of gadgetry lining the walls of the room, as Matt twiddled at his Gibson, peering unseeing and absorbed, yet thoughtful, out into space.

Soon, after a considerable wait, and much phone calling and consternation, a wiry, electrically-propelled blond kid came sauntering down the stairs. It being my first time really checking the band out, I didn’t really know what to expect of the freaks, knowing Matt’s calm and wry exterior could portend nothing of the antics of his bandmates. Not much sooner after we met, Holt, our jet-fueled, Bad Religion-digging, incongruous mod-freak of an atomic drummer, peeped into my face pointedly, eyes blinking like a curious child’s at thirty beats a second, teeth ablaze in an insane version of a welcoming grin, and wheeled back and forth on his heels. I guessed that meant he thought I was okay.

We had our first show (a rousing success, according to popular opinion) about two weeks ago. It was a dollop of forty minutes, plopped right in the middle of a six-band night at the Spiral Lounge, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. We had to play directly after a smokin’ funk-reggae cover band, who did an incendiary James Brown rendition before quickly and deftly loading out, leaving us chump amateurs to ramble our way through our unhinged set of scathing surf-rock. Luckily, though, some things went right The sound was sorta crap, the “soundcheck” having been about three minutes of “tick-tick”, “pop-pop” and “Now you play…good…okay, done? GO!” from the so-called “soundman”. The two tango dancers we shipped in, however, from James and Holt’s New York University acting student contingent, did a superb job cutting a swath in the crowd, to accompany Matt’s sublime bit of surfa-nova, “Blessed Me”. The dancers, Scott and Lisa, are just a few of who we call “The Ocho Eight”, the band’s ever-altering entourage of pals, performers, psychotics, ne’er do-wells, and general comic relief.

We have a (sort-of) manager. He’s called Damian, “The Son of Satan”; an avowed aficionado of bad punk rock, and one of James’s best friends from their native San Francisco, he makes gourmet Sunday dinners in the windowless tank in which they dwell in Queens. We’re working on getting a practice space: a dampish three-car garage in Astoria’s factory district, for $300 a month. And we have four days booked to record our big CD, “Hieronymus Bosch Protects the Women!”, over Spring Break in Matt and Holt’s old home place of Virginia. Saints willing, it should be out by mid-April, if not sooner.

So, to end this silly curriculum vitae of the most current machinations of Hieronymus Bosch, and to sum up why being in a band is the best cure for any ills, I’ll say this: the word “band”, I guess, isn’t the same word used in the case of both rings of betrothal, and something like Lemmy and the rest of the Motorhead crew, for nothing. Both, I’m sure, are labors of love, which emerged throughout time and have left their mark upon the earth in large, sweeping tracts of love, dance, and cohesion. Were wandering packs of Wall Street types, brandishing lutes and piccolos, to burst out onto the streets of the Financial District every rush hour afternoon, calling themselves “The Merry Banksters”, the entire fabric of space-time would rend itself asunder, and the heavens would rain starry oblations. What the Bible left out was that on the eighth day, God made music, and all the creatures said, “What the HELL took you so long?”

__________

Carol A. Wade is slowly wearing herself thin: 9-to-5 drone, musician, actress, student, writer, lover, fighter and loafer. Drop her a line at caw39@columbia.edu, or see her band, HIERONYMUS BOSCH, if you live in NYC. Dig surf-rock? Book shows? E-mail the BOSCH at hbosch@flashmail.com.

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