Grendel: A Tale of Old Rockers 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 $0, and used cell phones to record images and sound.
How to Experience Grendel
Grendel is a combination of words, images, and motion. To experience it chronologically, just scroll down the page (as you would read a book.) When you view a video, you are “transported” to another website (YouTube.com). At the conclusion of the video, YouTube tries to keep you on their website by showing you other videos that it thinks might interest you. This can be confusing, but you can continue with Grendel simply by continuing to scroll down the page. Technology … %!!$!**#
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.
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:
And, in case you’d prefer the original, by The Diamonds, here it is, courtesy of the miracle of YouTube.
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.
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.”
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:
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.
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’?
Greg: This song would be lost to history except that one of our rival Rhode Island bands, a wannabe Grendel group called the Van Goghs (stupid name!) covered it and turned it into a video that we discovered on YouTube:
Here’s our first song.
Greg: Ladies and gentlemen … No Remorse.
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.
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: Del and I thought Zimino’s passion was so absurd that the night before graduation we wrote a song about it.
I still live in fear of Zimino showing up at the front door one day, screaming “I told ya to accept widah left!!”
Greg: BUT our plan developed a little glitch about ten minutes after we accepted with the left…
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.
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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END OF PART 1
Del: Once in a while something small brings a very big emotion flooding back in a rush. This song never fails:
It’s summahtime-summahtime-sum-sum-summahtime … suddenly, it’s a spring day in 1957. The last bell is lingering. School’s out for summer, school’s out forever. The hiccups of graduation day, how to pay back Mr. Brewster, my flaky mother are suddenly in the rearview mirror. No test, no college applications, no shitty job. There was the band, the Beatles, the beach, and unfathomed adventures awaiting us. We had enough band jobs lined up that we didn’t need to indenture ourselves to humiliating jobs. It was fun-fun-fun, and no one’s daddy was taking our T-bird away.
Greg: It was many decades later that Del and I turned our musical attentions to this summer of unfettered emancipation and came up with this song. We filmed it on a September weekend in Vermont:
Del: Have you ever had that feeling that something happened to you during the day that would change your life forever? It happened to Greg about two weeks after we graduated from high school.
We had a third Musketeer!
The summer was magic. Days at the beach with Cassandra, then nights playing in clubs. Grendel became a semi-big deal, for Rhode Island, that is.
Then, another twist of fate, but not a cruel one!
The teenybobbers loved it!
One Never Knows
Del: Greg wasn’t just into something good, he was into something fantastic. The three of us hung out every day. She must have read us The Little Prince a dozen times. I started dreaming in French, I mean en Francais. That set the theme of the summer. Greg and I were les petits princes. And Cassandra became our rose.
Who could blame Greg for falling in love? Unfortunately, who could blame me, either?
One day at the beach Cassandra finished up her twelfth reading, and I reached over and grabbed the beater guitar that Greg always brought with him, and said “I’ve written a song …”
That became our summer catch phrase. One never knows …
Gloria … is there mor-i-a?
Writing that Little Prince song, One Never Knows, I see know was a thinly-veiled attempt to worm my way into Cassandra’s Heart, but Greg came back THE VERY NEXT DAY with his own Little Prince song called Six Separate Planets about the asteroids that the Little Prince visits on his way to earth. Drat! Foiled again!
But then, in the spirit of One Never Knows, something very unexpected happened to me. Let me take a step back to explain.
My Mom, Trudy, was 17 when she had me. My dad was 18, but he wasn’t around long. I know his name, and I’ve seen a few pictures, but he’s never been part of my life. It’s always been me and Trudy.
It’s always been up to her to support us and that, I know, has been a grind. Her biggest break was getting a job as an administrative assistant (secretary) at a private girls school that had free tuition benefit for kids of employees. That school had a reciprocal agreement with Obediah Brown, which is how I happened to be there.
It’s was a long slog for Trudy, but with me graduating, the end was in sight, so I can’t blame her for wanting to bust loose and making up for some of the fun she missed over the last 18 years. Shit, she’s only 35, and she’s been chained to me for more than half that. I love her. She loves me. But she needs … she deserves, a new life.
Back in those days in Providence anyway Wednesday nights were Ladies Nights, meaning no cover charge and half-priced drinks. Mom and her best friend, Gloria, always took full advantage. What happened next, however, was totally unexpected.
Now and Again
Greg: Where does the time go? Doesn’t seem that long ago that Cassandra, Del, and I were sitting on Scarborough Beach, and yet when I look in the mirror a lot of water has passed over the dam. Or is it … “passed under the bridge?” I can’t even keep my cliches straight these days.
Jumping ahead a few decades, one of the things I can say for certain is that meeting Cassandra was not only something good, but something forever.
A Man Goes on a Journey …
Del: They say … don’t ask me who the hell “they” are … there are only two stories in life. 1. A man (I know, not appropriate language these days, but I’m not “they”) goes on a journey, 2. A stranger comes to town. I know who I am. Maybe that was the case for my Old Man, too, wherever he is.
Right after Labor Day, the answer became crystal clear to me … I was the one who goes on a journey. It was time for me to go. Clear as my windshield after going through the car wash.
Here’s how I remember it:
Greg: And, poof! There he was … gone … Del … my classmate … my bandmate … my best friend. I was devastated. The plan … over. College starting next week. Leaving home. Moving into a dorm. No Del. Band over. Cassandra back to high school. What the fuck happened?
I tried to put me in his shoes. No place to live? I knew he was envious of what Cassandra and I had found, but hadn’t we always gone out of our way to include him in everything? Could it have been painful for him to see our happiness? Yeah, he owed money to my Dad, but that shouldn’t have been a big deal, not to my Dad, anyway.
The worst part … I felt like Del was moving on without me. He was pursuing a dream. He was going for it. I was being a sheep and just doing what was expected of me. I had never in my life been so depressed.
And here’s how I turned it into song:
Rolling in Dough
Del: Now we’re able to laugh about it, but there was nothing to laugh about then. I felt certain that it was time for me to leave, but there was nothing else certain about my life.
I didn’t know where I would live, where my next meal would come from. Looking back I see a mixed-up kid whose emotions were all over the map. I was scared shitless, but utterly confident that I was doing the right thing. Not surprisingly my music from that period was at both ends of the spectrum.
This is where my head was:
The previous episodes have covered a highly-concentrated, but surprisingly broad spectrum of experiences. Between them our young heroes have fallen in love, experience success on a statewide level, honed their musical craft, become sexually active, gone to the beach (a lot), and made some life-altering decisions. To recap …
Now, the journey begins
Part 3 of Grendel is now Published!
Does Del find fame and fortune in The Big Apple? Does Greg wander astray from The Proven Path? Are you believing Cassandra? These are the questions answered in Part 3. See it, experience in on the Grendel, Part 3 tab on the home page for SilverbackDigest.com.