My First Band
I have no musical talent. Despite years of piano lessons, and playing in my school band, I am tone-deaf, and can barely flail around on any instrument. Still, one of the lessons of punk rock, one which I truly took to heart at the time, was that you donÕt need talent to play rock 'n' roll. So it was almost inevitable that, talent or not, my college friends and I would eventually form a band.
nThe first version of this band, as I remember it, had six members. I played keyboards -- which meant I banged on them in some semblance of the rhythm. That version of the band lasted one "rehearsal," a rehearsal consisting primarily in butchering various cover songs, followed by arguing about what song to butcher next. Oh yes, and smoking lots of pot.
Three of us decided maybe we could actually commit to the idea, and we continued as a trio. Out of the three, I was somehow selected to take over the vocals. I absolutely cannot carry a tune. But it was punk rock, so...
In addition we had Jason on drums, and Tom on guitar. Jason had actually played in a band before; Tom was just learning to play guitar. Yay punk rock! We christened ourselves MX and the Cruise Missiles; this was 1980, and these were the latest in missile technology. Also, there was a jazz fusion band on campus called FX, and our name was a dig at them.
After two more rehearsals, slightly more organized than that first one, high on our "genius," we were ready for the big time. The "big time" consisting of playing in one of the dorm lounges. Not surprisingly, we bombed.
But we persevered. Our notion was that we were "applying the improvisational nature of jazz to rock'n' roll. Later, still trying to claim some link to jazz, we called it "atonal rock 'n' roll," which at least had some honesty to it. What we were really doing is floundering around, making an absolute mess of various songs, both classic rock and recent punk.
We did songs by the Ramones, Sex Pistols and, of course, Iggy, plus some horrendous versions of Beatles and Beach Boys, and even "Strangers in the Night." We also had a handful of originals, some left over from Jason's old band, and some new ones which I penned lyrics for. This gave me the chance to explore another creative outlet, writing lyrics (which clearly went with the whole rock star thing). Among my favorites was "Bad Acid Rock," which I thought had "classic" written all over it
Wanted some acid to twist up my mind
I went out shopping, what could I find?
Nothing good, so I bought second rate stock.
I'm gonna do...
The bad acid rock.
It also gave us a chance to indulge our absolutely worst playing. And then there was a rambling, mostly spoken word piece called "I Used to Go to Hampshire," in which I, a recent graduate, bitched about how much life after college sucked, which eventually segued into "No Fun."
The honest truth is, we couldn't play, but we charged ahead anyway. Which gave us a certain perverted charm. Or at least an angle from which to approach the audience.
We did play a couple of shows that actually went well. The most memorable was the night we played two shows. The first was a full set to an empty dining hall. We were even opening for the aforementioned FX, a great irony. We played a decent set, for us. I still have a tape of it -- it's pretty classic in its own way, missed notes and all. Or should I say, all missed notes. I did my best Iggy Pop imitation, running around the empty room during "No Fun."
Then we scooted across the campus to the Tavern (the college bar), where a "Gong Show" was being held. Which was a good part of the reason the dining hall was so empty -- everyone was at the Gong Show, especially anyone who might have been interested in seeing our show. We were supposed to play one song, but....
I should mention one thing at this point. This was in my speed days. I was way wacked out on speed for these two shows. In fact, I think I was speeding for every MX show, but this night I was even higher than usual. With that said, back to the story...
We played one of our originals first (I think it was one called "I Wanna Die"). And then we charged straight into our version of "Puppy Love," during which I would do my dog act. And I do a good dog. We got gonged a couple of seconds in, but kept going. I got down on all fours and crawled out into the audience, eventually gnawing on the lens of someone's video camera (I do wonder where that footage is today). Oh, yeah, and somewhere in there I think I flashed the judges. Obviously, we did not win.
Our fifth, and final, show was at an end of school party in the quad. Probably our largest audience, and our second worst show (after our debut).
The next fall, when Tom and Jason returned to campus (I was living in nearby Northampton), they had both decided they wanted to play real music, with people who could actually play. Thus ended my first stab at rock stardom.