My first real band after college was called, “Mahatma Randy’s Horror Show.” It was pretty much a disaster in every regard.
One day in 1992 or 1993 I was wandering through the Tarpon Springs Crappy Amateur Art Festival when, suddenly, a song struck me fully formed in my head. It was called, “My Baby’s the Last of the Communists,” which, only a year or two after the end of the cold war, seemed topical and funny. I quickly abandoned the poorly-soldered windchimes and ran back to my car to write the words down before I forgot ’em.
It was a pretty good song. Well, good lyrics. Not a song yet.
That motivated me to form a band. My previous (And first) one was “Technicolor Yawn,” which was also a disaster, but for more typical college band reasons. The good thing about a band, though, was that it gives you something to do, people to bond with, and hot-and-cold running chicks. All of that appealed to me as I was bored, lonely, and going through the worst breakup of my life at the time.
I put an ad in the personals section of Creative Loafing, a weekend entertainment paper or tabloid or supplement or whatever you call it. Eventually the phone started to ring.
Now the important thing to remember here is that I am not now, nor have I ever been a musician. I’m a slightly-better-than-average singer, and that is it. There endeth my list of talents. I had no idea what this song would sound like, but I intended to put together as large a band as I could with a horn section. I was going for something like Oingo Boingo or Bad Manners or something like that. As to how to write the music, I figured I’d just hum or whistle melodies, and have the other guys jam something together. (I can’t read music. I should probably mention that)
Recruiting was easy. Super-easy. I got a drummer in no time. As anyone will tell you, drummers are the hardest thing to get. Keyboardists? Dime a dozen. Gutarists?There’s so many of them you actually have to pay to keep them away from you. Everyone goes through that “I wanna be a rock star” phase. Bassists? Well, every guitarist can be a frustrated bassist if you ask ’em nicely enough. Drums, though? Drums are hard. There aren’t a lot of drummers, given the expense and size and noise of the kits, and such as there are are always in demand. They have bands lined up waiting for them, so they’re not gonna put up with my crap.
But, nope, I got a drummer. I bought him some Mexican food and he told me about his weird love life, and I listened patiently and said some up-with-people crap of some sort, and – bang – he was in.
Thus I ended up with a nine-piece band, including a four-piece horn section. Ten piece band, if you count me, which you probably shouldn’t do as I’m not a musician. I’m just a singer.
The first problem was how to explain the sound I was looking for to these fine folks, and that just didn’t go well. I lacked the vocabulary to explain it, so all I could do was play them songs and say, ‘like that,’ which went over worse than you’d imagine because either the couldn’t copy the style, or didn’t understand it, or simply didn’t wanna do it. They wanted to play stuff that sounded like Thelonius Monk or Skynyrd.
Now, that would actually be pretty awesome, and I’d jump at the chance nowadays, but back then I didn’t know a lucky break when I saw it.
The second most obvious problem was scheduling. Most bands are 3 or 4 or 5 people, tops. This makes scheduling easy. Show up at the garage and we’ll jam. We can take my car! With each person you add, however, it gets more and more complicated. An order of magnitude more complicated.
One of the horn players was a doctor. Initially we met at his house. I had to go to the bathroom once, and there were needles all over the place. I don’t know if he was diabetic, or a drug addict, or very sick in some way that required him to treat it at home, but he was definitely a dangerously negligent housekeeper, so we decided to meet somewhere else from then on out.
And he stopped coming.
My drummer volunteered his place, so we met there and jammed in his living room.
You know what? I’d forgotten about it until this moment, but I don’t think we initially had a bassist. I think I tried to play bass. Honestly, my memories are fuzzy, but I know I took a turn at it. I couldn’t do it (Because I’m not a musician) but everyone liked my voice, so we kept meeting.
Well, I say we kept meeting, but the horn section evaporated quickly. Horn players get excited about playing with other horn players because they never get to. There just aren’t many bands with a horn section, though a lot used to have a sax or (Less commonly) a trumpet. Those guys were invariably the first ones to get kicked off the bus, so to speak, when the money doesn’t roll in. And the money never rolls in. So once we were down to just one horn guy, what point was there? He was more interested in playing with the others than with us, now we were just another band, so…gone.
The thing is, I really only had one song. I mean, I had a bunch of songs left over from my previous band, but never recorded any, so I didn’t have anything I could convey to these guys, so there was really just “My Baby’s the Last of the Communists,” which I wanted to be short and punchy and funny, but they were thinking long, serious, dramatic rock ballad. I can’t recall if I ever played any of ’em any They Might Be Giants, but I imagine if I did they probably told me to go straight to hell.
Our drummer had issues. He’d told over dinner one time that he’d been married up until recently. Then he was driving home from work one night and saw this hooker. Then he took the hooker home and threw his wife out, and now the hooker was his girlfriend.
Drummers, right? Amiright?
What can you say to that? “Gee, that’s keen.” I didn’t want to ask any questions because honestly no answer would be a good one. I mean, was she still hooking? Is it possible that I misunderstood her and she just made those hook rugs that were popular in the early ’80s? He never actually said hooker, exactly. Maybe I misunderstood? And he’s a drummer…I mean, I had to keep him, right? And we were practicing in his house. I just resigned myself to avoiding touching anything in his house, and compulsively washing my hands.
Since I wasn’t a bassist (And I can’t remember if we had one before me or not), Tom, the guitarist (And the only guy who’s name I can remember) brought in a friend of his. They’d played together in a band in the past. Power trio. On the surface this seemed like a good idea, as he was a really good bassist, and Tom was a really good guitarist. As one might imagine of a prostitution-enthusiast, our drummer had good rhythm. So: Power trio + me as singer. I could work with that.
But by this point we still didn’t have any music written out, and the bassist flat out didn’t like my songs, so they took to playing their originals from back in the day. And as I didn’t know their songs, the bassist took to singing them.
I’m gonna be honest: He probably had a better voice than me. So in essence I’d gotten their old band back together.
Nowadays, this wouldn’t present a problem. A decade ago it wouldn’t have presented a problem. Twenty years ago it wouldn’t have presented a problem. Right then, though…well, nowadays I can talk anyone into anything by charm, bluster, or some humorous combination of thereof. Back then, though, I was in my mid-20s, and I just lacked the confidence – no, wrong word – arrogance to step in and force these guys to do my will. I didn’t even know how to explain my will, honestly.
It went downhill from there. The hooker had a serious conversation with her boyfriend about taking over “Some” of the singing duties, by which she meant all. Even then, I would have said, ‘yeah, sure, you can do harmonies and backing vocals and I’ll give you one song to a set,’ but, well, hooker. I honestly didn’t want her around.
The only thing that kept me from being forced out was that the Bassist didn’t want her singing, which was lucky as I didn’t have to get into it with the drummer. As a result she just became the worst cliche of local-band-girlfriend, hanging around all the time, banging a damn tambourine at random intervals and…well, to her credit, she didn’t warble much. Generally local-band-girlfriends who want to be in the band just spontaneously sing along.
The downside, of course, was that I was basically the second vocalist in my own band, and tended to be ignored at my own practices. I *did* manage to spruce up a song that Tom had played with an earlier band. It was called “Spot.” We recorded a demo of it. Well, half a demo. The drummer kept spontaneously stopping after the bridge. We could never explain to him that wasn’t the end of the song.
I don’t know where the demo went, but years later I recorded a version of it with another band, “Mahatma Randy and the Randy Mahatmas.” You can listen to it here. It’s not bad.
The bassist couldn’t make it to practice one day, so I decided to stage a reverse-coup. I brought Dave Teach along to play bass. That would shift things in my direction somewhat. When we got to my drummer’s house, however, he wasn’t there. He’d forgotten. Tom was there, as were Dave and I, but the drummer didn’t show.
We plugged in our instruments on his front porch and jammed there for a bit. I’d like to say we played really loudly until the neighbors came out and drove us off, but we didn’t. We intended to, mind you but, again, I was going through the worst breakup of my life at the time, and just lacked the needed arrogance to front a band, much less that needed for a good pranking.
So we just noodled around for a few minutes, and then Tom left and then Dave and I thought, “This is stupid,” (Given that there was only a bass there now), so we left too. I wanna say Tom was kind of souring on the drummer by this point.
Later on I called up and asked the drummer where he’d been. He’d spaced on the whole thing. I told him, “It’s ok, we plugged in and practiced on your yard for a while, so it worked out fine.” He got upset at that. “You did what? That’s not cool at all.”
“It’s ok, the neighbors only complained a few times,” I lied.
“Look, it’s ok, we were gone long before the cops got there.”
“Cops?” He got weirdly quietly upset over the phone. By this point the silent spaces between his words were almost audibly announcing ‘crazy-crazy-crazy.’
He started in on wanting his girlfriend to sing, and at that moment I just gave up. “You know what? That’s a good idea. We could use a female vocalist to compliment my lack of vocals. I think that’d be a good sound.” He didn’t get it. He didn’t even notice it.
“Ok, well, I’ll see you next week,” I said, with no intention of ever going there again, and I never called him back. Never heard from Tom again, either, which is the real shame of the whole thing, as he was really good.
What brings all this up is that I’ve been converting old video and audio tapes to digital, and hear the one practice we recorded, which consisted of, basically, me sitting in the corner while my band ignored me and played their own stuff.
Good times. Good times.