"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Saturday, September 19, 2015


When I was in junior high I was in a band for about fifteen minutes. My friend Jim (who later became a very fine professional musician; owned his own recording studio and has put out CDs) played guitar; a big kid named Matty played bass, and our drummer's name escapes me but he looked a lot like Justin Bieber circa age twelve. We rehearsed in my living room twice, once without the drummer and once without Matty, in preparation for our first (and only) paying gig at a church youth group dance.

We had a repertoire of exactly four songs:

  1. Tuesday Afternoon
  2. Your Momma Don't Dance (And Your Daddy Don't Rock and Roll)
  3. Ohio
  4. After Midnight
Based on our set list, you can see we struck that delicate balance between being pop-oriented and socially conscious.

It took us about eighteen minutes to run through everything we knew how to play together, so we reprised Nos. 2 and 4 to stretch out our set to the contractually-obligated thirty minutes. For this, the four of us were paid $10. Not per person, but for the group. We'd agreed at one of our two band meetings that Jim's friend Chip, who was our manager (he landed us the church gig and then I believe was indicted for tax fraud, as all first managers end up being) and also our sound tech, would keep the $10 to use toward the awesome custom sound system he was going to build for us. I remember how adamant Chip was that it would be "double-mono" versus a stereo system. I guess that meant that we would sound equally bad emanating from both the left and right speaker columns. We never played another gig nor saw the ten-spot again (see earlier reference to "tax fraud").

I don't recall the band name we decided upon, or at least how we billed ourselves for that one illustrious evening. Among names under consideration were "Band of Gold" and "Cracker Jack and the Shasternasters" (that last one was my suggestion). We may have gone with "The Grateful Bread" that night, or perhaps "The Rolling Clones". As I reflect, I think it should have been "A-Band-Done".

Jim sang lead along with axe duties. Matty plunked his bass in a key and time signature that didn't necessarily sync up with what we were playing. When we threw to the drummer for his big solo, he hollered at us to all stop playing before he could get started. I played piano and it was enough for me to focus on setting the correct tempo as I played intros to each tune; although I was a decent singer as a youth I didn't contribute any vocals for this quartet outside of my part in "Ohio", where it was my responsibility to call out "Four!" and "How many more?"

Now, in the interest of full disclosure I should say I was part of -- but didn't actually play in -- another band some years later. My then-piano teacher Mr. Chambers formed the Chambers School of Music Rock and Roll Ensemble (we were not nearly as good as that name promised, and only slightly less pretentious). I was supposed to play organ in the line-up, but at that group's one and only gig my instrument shorted out as we took the stage and I ended up miming all of my parts. It proved to be quite liberating. Rather than having to focus on playing the right notes, I was able to adopt an unencumbered stage persona and bounce around with slick moves copped from Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. I jumped up onto my bench; I pounded the keyboard with my foot; I made wild, sweeping glissandos that were never off-key since I wasn't producing any sound at all. As a result of my "performance" I was, for the first and only time in my life and for all of five minutes, perceived as cool. Mr. Chambers had booked us as part of an assembly at a local Catholic girl's school -- no doubt his co-producer was Chip, who seemed to have an in for these kinds of gigs -- and I knew one girl at that school, named Christine. She came up to the stage afterwards with several of her alluring classmates in tow and seemed to take some pride in introducing me to them. This is why most guys play in bands, right? To meet girls. Catholic school girls. In uniforms! It was a true rock 'n' roll fantasy, and now it was becoming my reality. But as I just mentioned, my moment of cool ended quickly -- Christine and her posse quickly passed over the chubby, bespectacled and blushing keyboardist in favor of our two long-haired guitarists. Both guys were really ugly as sin -- but they: 1) played guitar and 2) had long hair, so game over for me. Plus I'm sure the undercurrent of the "sin" element had something to do with their allure in this particular environment.

Despite many years of piano lessons I never really mastered the instrument. On those rare occasions where I'm near a keyboard, I can still eke out most of "The Spinning Song". I suppose if I shook off the rust I could get into one of those older guy bands like you see playing at town fairs and grocery store openings. And if I could track down Chip, maybe we'd get booked at a local convent and once I whipped out my electrifying version of "The Spinning Song", I'd have to beat the nuns off with a stick. They wouldn't have to know I'm Jewish.

No comments:

Post a Comment