Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Best Band You'll Never Get To Hear.

In 1989, I was living in the town of Newport,a town whose main claim to fame is the high levels of pollution created by one particular factory ( I'd mention the name, but a lawsuit leveled against me is the last thing I need). This was the main reason I hightailed my butt outta that burg as soon as I found another place to live,albeit,a less polluted place.

It was during this period that I was hell bent on either joining a band or putting one together. And my dream of finding that musical match made in heaven seemed an increasingly impossible task. Every band I'd been in up to that point either broke up for a multitude of reasons or I wound up getting kicked out. The latter example was especially galling in one instance because it was my band. There's nothing as ego crushing as being told by the other band members that they were taking over and that I was history. Talk about a major blow to ones self confidence.

Anyhoo, late one night while I dumped a pocketful of quarters into a video game at the Seven Eleven across the street from my apartment, I made the acquaintance of a fellow named Dan. Dan casually mentioned that he and two other musicians were looking for a rhythm guitarist to round out their band. I casually mentioned that I played rhythm guitar and was looking for a band myself(it's important to be casual when talking about wanting to be in someones band. It's considered uncool to appear anxious.). I found out in short order that he lived one street away from me and told me to show up at his house on Saturday around noon to audition. Outwardly I nodded and said, "Sounds cool. I'll be there." But on the inside I was doing somersaults and cartwheels. Since Dan was an affable guy I assumed the other two musicians would be equally likeable. If only I had a quarter for every time I entertained that thought whenever I approached an audition , I'd have a swell stack of quarters on my dresser drawer by now.

So on Saturday, I marched to Dan's house amp in one hand, my guitar in the other; ready to strut my stuff. After Dan and I shook hands he introduced me to the other band members Rick and Pete. Rick, the lead guitarist, stood six foot five, but came up short in the charm department. His people skills coulda used some fine tuning as well. His idea of impressing me was to say that when he lived in a small town somewhere in the mid west, his band was the most popular band in that town. Now, if I were to tell you that I once played in the most popular band in Delaware City(located here in the great state of DE), it would be great for my ego but that and fifty cents wouldn't buy me a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Next was Pete the bass player. The very first thing out of his mouth was the rather arrogant claim ," I play the bass like Johnny Winters." I certainly didn't score any brownie points with him when I replied, " Doesn't Johnny Winters play the guitar?" Pete stopped speaking to me altogether for the entire audition and considering I found him to be a bore and a braggart, this actually turned out to be a blessing.

Rick let me know in short order that he was in charge of the band and things were to be done his way. He stated that we weren't doing any original songs. Rick felt that our job was to provided the music to get people to dance,get thirsty and buy drinks at the club we'd be playing in.In essence, our function was to be little more than a four piece jukebox. Rick then pulled out a cheap Audition brand cassette and played two poorly recoded songs. He told us we were going to use these songs,two nondescript songs at that,in our set. I immediately piped up," I thought we weren't going to go any original songs, Rick." "Well,these were written by two friends of mine whom I consider great songwriters and we're gonna play 'em."

It seems these two supposed musical geniuses entered their plain,ordinary compositions in several songwriting competitions and never got as much as an honorable mention. Well, by God, Rick would see to it that these unsung talents got their due,that their songs would be heard, if only by a bar full of noisy drunks. I thought this was rather hypocritical, but I managed,just barely,to hold my tongue.

After we jammed for thirty minutes on songs like Cocaine,The Cowboy Song and China Grove,to name a few,Rick can up with a brain storm(or in his case a minor drizzle): before we played the song Cocaine his intro would be," And now, let's do some Cocaine." He thought this was totally original! Now, I've seen my share of bar bands;the good, the bad and the plain awful.And in every band who performed that song always,and I mean always,the lead singer would begin with," Let's do some Cocaine".or "Time to do some Cocaine.",or even ," I'm gonna do some Cocaine and I don't mean the song. Heh.Heh." So much for originality.

Rick's overbearing attitude was demonstrated whenever either Pete, Dan or myself made a mistake during a song. He would wince,shake his head and then say in an extremely frustrated tone of voice," Let's start over again." But, when Rick screwed up,his reaction was totally different. He'd let out a self deprecating chuckle as his face took on a kind of ,"Aw shucks I goofed" expression and the matter was quickly forgotten. Great musicians must be forgiven their mistakes.

To be honest about it, Rick and Pete were decent musicians but I have jammed with better. Much better. But they appeared to have an overinflated opinion of their abilities and I didn't relish the thought of spending any more time with either of them. Dan, on the other hand,was unpretentious and easy to get along with. I simply detested the other two and said as much before going home. I sure as hell couldn't stomach the idea of being in this band of egos and I'm just as sure that Rick and Pete had no use for me either. It was a case of mutual dislike.

Fast forward to four months later. There I was at the Seven Eleven once again,late at night,battling video machine aliens when I bumped into Dan. He told me that his band recruited a rhythm guitarist named Elmo and had been practicing for months. The band,called Second Street, was going to be playing their first gig next week on a Tuesday night at a watering hole called The Prime Times Room. The Prime Times Room,though sounding like a large, popular night club, was actually a very small bar(about the size of a large basement) where if fifty people gathered together it could be considered crowded.Dan invited me to come and check Second Street out that evening. Though I would've preferred to be covered in birdseed and fed to a gaggle of ravenous geese, I thought it would be good for a laugh and I had nothing better to do in any event.

That Tuesday, I showed up at The Prime Times Room and the first person I ran into was Rick who informed me that it was too bad I didn't join his group because they were being paid a nice sum of money by the club owner. His attitude was one of ," Tsk, tsk, you poor sucker. We're getting paid and you're not." Pete ambled over, kind of grunted at me, then walked away. I always thought he had a way with words.

Dan, however, told me an entirely different story. The bands actual payment was in the form of one beer apiece(light beer at that) and a slice of overcooked pizza that came from deep within the bowels of an aging, grimy toaster oven behind the bar. If I had been doing the negotiating,the band would received two light beers each, a slice of the mutant pizza and a pack of snack crackers. Unlike Rick, I don't come cheap!

Second Street took the stage and the audience,who consisted mainly of regulars who went there to drink, was hardly overwhelmed by their performance except for a group of about five people sitting together at a table near the small, makeshift stage. During a break, Dan told me they were Rick's friends and whenever he played at a bar they followed him; his loyal fan base. These people had the annoying habit of coming up to the other band members and critiquing their performance, except for Rick whom they had nothing but praise for.

The band played a second set and although the other patrons in the bar applauded politely, Ricks five loyal fans stood up to give the band thunderous applause and cheers of appreciation(or as thunderous as five people could actually muster). Second Street finished their next set, again to mild applause, while Ricks five fans behaved as if they were at a major rock concert.To watch Rick totally eat this up was fair to bursting with pathetic conceit. I was waiting for his entourage to light matches at any moment and hold them into the air.

After the bands last number(this train wreck was finally over with) Dan came up to me thoroughly disgusted with Rick, Pete and the entire situation. Elmo came over and Dan introduced us. Elmo had had his fill of Rick and Pete as well and the two of them said that before leaving the club, they were going to tell Rick they were quiting the band. During our conversation, one of Ricks fans, an owlish looking fellow with beady eyes and large round glasses came up to us. He pulled out a small notebook and said to Dan," Now, I'm not a drummer, but there were a couple of songs you could have played better on." Mr. Owlface then lectured Elmo on how he could play the guitar better,again beginning with," Now, I'm not a guitar player, but---"

Even Pete, the Johnny Winters of the bass,was not immune to owlboy's criticism. When Dan started grousing about someone who couldn't play a musical instrument giving him drumming tips, Pete overheard these complaints and defended the man stating," He's only trying to help us be better musicians. I guess you don't think you have any room for improvement,do

With that, Pete went over to talk to Rick who at the moment was basking in the glow of the compliments being tossed his way by the five devout fans. A self satisfied expression of ego inflated ecstasy was plastered all over his face. Rick, unbeknownst to him, was going to be minus a band before he left the bar,except for Pete who would probably follow him to the ends of the earth(Talk about a dog like devotion. Put him in front of a Victrola with a label on it that said Rick and you'd have the RCA dog incarnate.). But at least for one night,if only for one night, Rick, in all his self inflated glory, was a rock star.