Grendel: The Four-Chord Opera, Part 1

[This is a daily post that will take you through two cups of coffee. Relax, scroll down, watch all the video, then give us some feedback. We’ve never done anything like this either. SB SM]

person playing brown guitar

Grendel: The Four-Chord Opera is a collaboration of two guys who played together in a Rhode Island garage band in the 1960s. This is a fictionalized account of lives that took different paths, but always remained connected by strands of shared music. These are not professional musicians or performers, just two guys who still play. They are novices in technology, playing by ear. They set a budget of $0, and used cell phones to record images and sound.

singer singing on stage beside guitar player and bass player

How to Experience Grendel

Grendel is a combination of words, images, and motion. To experience it chronologically, just scroll down the page (as you would read a book.) When you view a video, you are “transported” to another website (YouTube.com). At the conclusion of the video, YouTube tries to keep you on their website by showing you other videos that it thinks might interest you. This can be confusing, but you can continue with Grendel simply by continuing to scroll down the page. Technology … %!!$!**#

Ladie-e-eze and Gennulmunn … this is what you’ve been waiting for since 1966, which was the last time these two lads performed together in public. The world has changed greatly, and these two have changed a bit, but in great ways. Without further adieu, we bring you GRENDEL!


It’s About Time

There’s lost time, overtime, Island time, too much time, Hammer time, crunch time, maritime … the list could go on forever. The Rolling Stones may think that time is on their side, but try telling that to Charlie Watts. In this clip Greg, with a studio assist from Nashville, waxes lyrical about Time, and makes it so special, especially as you look back on it.

Don’t get accustomed to these slick production values. Soon enough we’ll be back to the realities of cell phones a zero budget.


Throat Clearing

Editors have a term for the portion of a story, article, or manuscript, usually at the beginning, that wanders aimlessly before the author gets down to the business of storytelling. They call it “throat clearing.” It’s the speaker tapping the microphone and saying “Is this on? Can you hear me? Test … one, two …” It can go on interminably, or it can be as short as “ahem.”

In this case it goes on for one minute and eleven seconds. Here are the Grendel lads some 50 years later:

Playing together for the first time in more than a half century.

And, in case you’d prefer the original, by The Diamonds, here it is, courtesy of the miracle of YouTube.

A-goopa-goopa-goopa-goopa …


The Boys Meet on the Field of Dreams

The Boys Meet

Del: We went to a private boys school called Obediah Brown. It was a very elite, expensive school. Greg was there because his father was a big shot attorney and the family had tons of money. I was there because my mom worked at an affiliated girls school that had an affiliation agreement with our school that allowed the children of employees to attend tuition-free.

Greg: Even though we went all through high school, we didn’t know each other well.

Del: That’s because you were in all the honors classes, while I was with the rank and file.

Greg: The first time I remember anything about you was on the first day of baseball practice, freshman year.

Del: Even though we were on the same team, we still didn’t talk much. But then I heard that Greg was learning to play the guitar, which I was, too.

Del Watson on left, Greg Brewster on right, circa 2022.

Let’s wrap this by having Frank and Gene take us all out to the ball game.


Grendel … C, Am, F, and G

Greg: We started getting together to practice, almost always at Del’s house. His mother (“Just call me Trudy”) was cool and casual, more a contemporary than a parent. She was always charging around, putting on make-up and getting ready to go out.

Del: That’s probably why your Dad (always Mr. Brewster) called her The Floozie.

Greg: But Trudy had a good name for him, too.

Del: Mr. Rod-up-his-ass.

Greg: Eventually, our noise started forming itself into songs. I think the first song we actually played through was Take Her Out of Pity. Here’s the version done by the Kingston Trio. They claim authorship, although what they really did was to take a traditional tavern song and make the lyrics even more sexist.

Del: You know, someone once accused Leonard Cohen of knowing only three chords. “That’s not true,” Leonard said, “I know five.”


Roots

Greg: After a year of practicing we had our first foray into the public. We put on our berets (seriously, we did) and played our first gig at an open mike at the Tete a Tete coffee house. It was absurd … two white kids who went to private school, singing about their roots. And that’s the truth. Looking back we were mud puddles … all surface and no depth. Roots? Don’t make me laugh.

Here are our musical roots:

Two guys with the depth of a mud puddle.

Lyrics to First Gig

We played an open mike at The Tête-a-Tête. It’s a coffee house for the beatnik set

The guys all smoked and the girls were hairy. We were Peter and Paul, minus Mary

Greg and I were shaking in our boots as we showed our our Americana roots.

Here’s a story ’bout a man named Jed just a poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed,

then one day he was shooting for some food and out from the ground came a’bubblin’ crude. (riff)

There’s hold-up in the Bronx, Brooklyn’s broken out in fights. There’s a traffic jam in Harlem, that’s backed up to Jackson Heights. Car 54 … where are you?

The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was lost, if not for the courage of the fearless crew

the Minnow would be lost, the Minnow would be lost (riff)

Greg and I were shaking in our boots as we showed off our Americana roots.

We looked like twerps, we didn’t give a bleep. The truth is our roots didn’t run very deep.


February 9, 1964

We kept doing the open mike for almost a year. We’d watch Hootenany, then obsessively learn a new song for the next week. But our little world flipped upside down on February 9, 1964.

Grendel wannabees.

It took about a nano-second for us to transition. Goodbye berets, goodbye acoustic guitars … hello electricity. We found a drummer and singer from Cra-a-a-anston who were looking for guitarists. We were still Grendel, but we were now American outposts of the British Invasion!


No Remorse … Our First Original Song

Del: Then, the inevitable happened … we wrote a song. It was mostly mine, but Greg contributed, so we created an official songwriting partnership (Brewster and Watson), just like Lennon and McCartney. We even got Greg’s dad to write up an official agreement.

Greg: And we have stayed true to that agreement to this day, splitting all royalties 50/50.

Del: What’s 50 percent of nuthin’? Here’s our first song.

Greg: Ladies and gentlemen … No Remorse.

Del Watson in 1966.

Del: That song still rocks!

Greg: And it’s still moronic. Not only did you steal the opening riff, but the lyrics were all false, just pure adolescent posturing.

Del: I’m hurt …

Greg: Get real … you’re singing about lovin’ and leavin’ them. Had you ever been with a girl?

Del: As in “had sex?” No.

Greg: Not even close. Had you even kissed a girl?

Del: Do cousins count?

Greg: No … I’ll say now what I told you then … you’ve got to stay within your own experience to create good music. Dig deep. Get below that pimply surface.

Del: Dig deep huh?


I Think I’m in Love

Greg: I told him. You’ve got to write the truth. Stay within your own experience, no matter how limited that is, just stay within your own experience. Be honest.

Del Watson these days.

Accept with the Left

Here’s Grendel from the 1966 Obediah Brown yearbook (to see individual images click on slider in middle and move left or right:

Greg: And we were rock stars, at least on our own little stage of garage bands in Rhode Island. We were getting gigs playing fraternity parties at Brown. Plus we already had some bookings for over the summer, a couple of weddings and a regular gig at a little club in Pawtucket.

Del: We planned our work and worked our plan, hit the beach all day, get the perfect tan.

Then nighttime comes, get the guitars out, make a lot of noise, make ’em twist and shout

Greg: All that was left was graduation day. The day before we were rehearsed by the football coach, Umberto “Bertie” Zimino. Tough guy. Kindof talked like a gangstuh, but he did tell us something we never forgot.

“Youse guys gotta remembuh one ting tomorruh. When your name is called, walk toda stage and accept your diploma wid your LEFT HAND and shake wid da RIGHT. Sum dumfuk always messes it up, you’re dat dumfuk, they’ll tink Zimino didn’t do his job and I will track you down and I will make you pay.”

Scared the shit out of us, but we didn’t forget to accept with the left and shake with the right.

Del: That advice has stood me in good stead for all those trips to the podium I’ve made.

Greg: Took us forty-five years, but eventually it inspired us to write this song.

Alway Remember to accept with the left and shake with the right.

I still live in fear of Zimino showing up at the front door one day, screaming “I told ya to accept widah left!!”


Accept with the Left

I want to thank my Mama
I want to thank my Pa
I want to thank the little people
For making me a star.
I believe in God and country
I hope you’re suitably impressed
That I remember as I reach the stage
To accept with the left.

I want to thank the Mayor
For giving me the key.
I want to thank the members
Of the whole academy.
And to the faceless voters,
On the Internet.
I will remember as I reach the stage
To accept with the left.

Oscar, Tony, Pulitzer Prize
My future never seemed so bright.
But on my mind as I walk down the aisle
I remind myself to shake with the right
.

I’ve prepared a couple comments
That I hope you’ll like,
But there is no other option,
I’m the one who has the mike.
For the moment please indulge me
Be like monkeys in a cage
‘Cuz my message is short and sweet …
Life is but a stage.

I thank you all for coming,
but it’s time for me to go.
Rest assured another player
Will continue with the show.
What it really all comes down to,
Yeah, the litmus test
Will you remember when you reach the stage
To accept with the left?

Oscar, Tony, Pulitzer Prize
They all seem to come my way.
Nobel, Clio, and People’s Choice
This dog’s really having his day.

I want to thank my Mama
I want to thank my PA
And my friends up in the cheap seats
You know exactly who you are.
I will share with you my mantra
Then I’ll quickly turn the page
It’s “Play loud! Play fast!
Then get the hell off the stage!”
 (repeat, add spoken, thank ya very much, drive safely)


Two Paths

Greg: BUT our plan developed a little glitch about ten minutes after we accepted with the left…

photo of person holding graduation cap and diploma
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

Del: After the ceremony, everyone was milling around, shaking hands, and inevitably, there’s that moment when you open up your diploma to admire your name in fancy calligraphy … but mine was blank, with a little note telling me to see the principal, the beloved Mr Stinchfield. I track down Stinchie and learn that it’s school policy not to award diplomas or release transcripts unless a student’s account is completely up-to-date. I was a scholarship student, so tuition was not an issue, but that my mother, good ol’ Mom, had not paid my bursar’s bill, for books, cafeteria, sports equipment, and incidentals for more that two years! Moreover, she’s been aware of the situation for over a year and has done nothing about it.

Greg: You looked like you had seen a ghost when you came back from that meeting.

Del: Money was always tight at our house, but we just lived with it. I hadn’t now how bad the situation was until now. I was hoping the earth would just swallow me whole. Trudd-dd-yy!! No wonder she didn’t come to the graduation.

Greg: Del just drifted off. I tried to get him to stay for the reception, but he was inconsolable. I told my Dad about the situation. He liked Del and understood the situation with his Mom, The Tart. He assured me that something could be worked out. Later, I saw him talking to Mr. Stinchfield. It took a few weeks, but Del eventually got his diploma in the mail.

Del: Looking back with a half century of hindsight. That’s when I first had a hint that our two roads were diverging, although not in a snowy wood, but on a perfect spring day in Providence, RI. Greg’s path through life would be different from mine. We might be best friends. We might be in a band together. We might be making music, but we were on different paths. He always had a safety net, always would. I would spend my life skating on thin ice.

Well, here the story of my state; it looked like I won’t graduate.

Mr. Brewster had my back, but it’s a loan that I’ll pay back

Don’t know how I’ll get the dough but I sure don’t like this taste of crow.

It seems it all comes down to bucks, I guess it’s fair, but I think it sucks.

Grendel: The Four-Chord Opera … END OF PART 1(of 4)

close up photo of black gorilla

What Will Happen to These Two Lads?

Are they destined for fame and fortune? Will they out-Beatle the Beatles? Or, are they destined for oblivion like so many other boys-making-noise in the late 1960s. You’ve completed part 1 (of 4). Stay tuned to silverbackdigest.com to be the first one on your block to view and listen to Grendel: The Four-Chord Opera, Part 2.

for updates on Part 2 of Grendel:The Four-Chord Opera

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