FIFTY CRUMMY BANDS
[For several years I wrote a bi-weekly humor column for the Vermont Sunday Magazine, at that time the largest circulation daily in the state. Eventually these were collected into a book called Tales and more Tails of Beyonder, that being the name for this region of Vermont that is “not close to anything, but not far away from anywhere.” Yup, you can still get the book on Amazon. This week will feature a few samples of what Beyonder is all about. SB SM]
(Music is one of the sure-fire antidotes to winter.)
I was offended.
At the recent Muckety-Muck Famous Author’s Convention, someone thought it would be fun to get some well-known writers, including Stephen King and Dave Barry, to perform in an impromptu rock and roll band.
They never asked me.
Not only did they not ask me to be in the band, they didn’t even ask me to attend the convention. Well I don’t care. I’m just as happy being a cult figure among the cognoscenti (which, for all of you morons out there, means anyone who thinks I’m a good writer). I’ll accept my lot as a beloved legend in my Beyonder homeland.
On the literary pecking order I may be strictly bush league, but that’s no excuse to overlook my rock and roll credentials. As a rock and roller, I was awesome. Ask anyone who saw me, if you can find anyone, and if they are still functioning mentally.
Like most males of contemporary Beatle age (40-49), I was in a band. Our music was….simple, rude, loud, stupid-just the way rock and roll is supposed to be. I must have been in fifty crummy bands. If not fifty, then close to it. Well, at least ten (maybe).
The first band was named Iron Cross, because we thought the symbol was neat. We had no idea what it meant. We thought it had something to do with surfing. We changed the name to the Usurpers. Eh-h-h-h. Lacks something. So we became the Eunuchs, but people pronounced it the “yoo-nooches,” so we changed it to the Uniks, then the Unix. When we found out the meaning of eunuch, we immediately changed the name.
Next was the Pop Tops, a cross between “top of the pops” and that which stands between you and a beer. Next we entered the “and the” phase of our careers. There was Randy and the Rangers, Randy and the Rainbows, Randy and the Dakotas.
No one in the group, by the way, was named “Randy.” In fact, no one ever knew where these names came from or how they changed. We tried Billy Joe Steel and the Metallics for a while, just long enough to permanently exit the “and the” phase.
There was a certain ritual and etiquette to the selection of the name. Once selected, the first thing to do was to have it painted on the bass drum. The bass drum, thus, became the band’s most important marketing vehicle, a matter of some delicacy whenever you found a better drummer. Often the decision boiled down to which was more important, keeping the name or keeping on beat.
My next band was the Van Goghs, “the artistic sound in rock and roll.” You know how rock and rollers today have these fancy, dangling earrings? Our gimmick was that we cut off our left ears. (No, not really, check out my picture.)
We wore black and red simu-velveteen v-neck sweaters with white turtleneck dickies. We were, in one word, sharp. The Sixties progressed, however, and so did we. The Beatles expanded our collective consciousness, and we realized that the “Van Goghs” was too limiting for the expanded creative expression of which the band was now capable. (We had now purchased a fuzz-tone distortion device so that we could play the opening notes of “Satisfaction” just like the Rolling Stones.)
We had outgrown the “Van Goghs,” and became the “Van Goes,” which is a good reason to tell your kids never to smoke marijuana. Subsequently, following in the lemming tradition of the day, we named ourselves-for no apparent reason-after an obscure place with no association with the band, its members, or music-Wood River Junction.
Then we signed a record contract, only to discover to our horror that we were slated to become minor players in the musical movement known as “bubble gum.” We were re-named something along the lines of “The Great Bubble Gum Conspiracy of 1829.” I’ve repressed the specifics. And needless to say, there was no bubble conspiracy in 1829. We fully expected to be compensated for our humiliation with large piles of money. Never happened, however. We sold out but were paid with a rubber check.
When it became clear that our fortune in bubble gum was not imminent, we over-reacted in the equal and opposite direction and tried to regain credibility by giving ourselves a name that combined psychedelic depravity with a recognition of our roots. We became Vinny Van Gogh and the Severed Ears. Within weeks we were out of rock and roll and seeking our fortunes as paper salesmen, management trainees, and bookkeepers.
I, of course, set out to become a famous writer, never dreaming that I would someday become the voice of Beyonder.
The reason this has all come to mind is because my thirteen year old son in now starting a band. They are trying to think of a name. Naturally, I have lots of suggestions, but they would rather be gummed to death by toothless frogs than to choose a name of my suggestion. The last thing they need is an old guy preventing them from making their own mistakes. Right now they are calling themselves “Phlegm Cake.”
Maybe they could use my help.
Here’s a sample of the Van Goghs actually playing circa 1965/66:
Do you know that Metallica also recorded a song called “No Remorse.” Yet again, I was ahead of my time.