by Wolf Knapp
Walking into the rehearsal space in JC Heights through crumbling concrete rooms, spiral steel stairs and heavy metal doors. Kind of cozy in the room with Mike's kit on the left. Shoving my SVT in there. Getting it in and out for gigs. Of course it really was Dave Schramm's coffee table for years before I bought it. Sounded fucking great though. What strange music to imagine, in retrospect. The double-thick low end, Tara's LP/Marshall/JC120 screaming over the top of it. The time-sig suites that put Rush to shame. Gary or was it Hope from Fetchin' Bones said, What is that music you play? I don't know we just thought of it. Well I don't know what you guys are doing but it sure ain't Rock and Roll. Ouch. Who says? Don't get me started about the love of my 19 year-old life either. What a painful weekend. Got a decent song out of it though; I played Tara's awesome Schecter Tele on it, oh then I had a red Semi-hollow though what the hell was that? I want it back. Forgot about that guitar completely. Too late to record before I abandoned the crusade though.
But a count-in for any of those songs whether epic maelstrom or blinkered pop folk could end in a train wreck at any second. Walking on stage countless times with the same possibility. 4 punks marching North, South, East, West 30 seconds into the tune, and there was no way to recover. Mostly we made it through though and the added desperation I think contributed to a palpable enthusiasm.
The month of Maxwell's Yo La Tengos whipped us into shape. Padding back and forth from front bar to back bar to sound booth to stage, usually no one to impede my path. Anton Fier outpacing my John Courage with Cognac and philosophizing for broke -- I couldn't imagine going to a little room to practice with a metronome for hours on end for months on end. Until I did it too. Somehow the vision made manifest at New Year's 84/85 opening for the Huskers, who were to play such a role three years later.
The first album; what was the motto? Look, Ma No Hands? No that wasn't it, though it should have been. Composing on marimba and leaving it for the percussionist to perform. Attempting to sing as the talking started to sound corny. Making an attempt at pitch only after living the lyric Beer Beer Bourbon Beer.
Logical progression to Long Player #2 -- more refined and even more ambitious. But still the album take of "Rocky Face" was the first time we'd completed the song. On reflection it is damn fine to have captured that -- you know when you've brought songs into the band that you are eternally aspiring to that first version. As a composer that's it -- the imagined is palpable. Ah and Lennon/McCartney's "Rain" B-side from those sessions. As I remember it, kicking and screaming to get the double reverse guitar solos done right. Was that digital? Somehow I remember it that way, but it doesn't seem possible.
When drummer Steve Crowley joined the band, it wasn't trial and error anymore --we had *something.* It still confused a lot of people. I treasure DeRogatis' pithy The World Really Doesn't Need Another Quicksilver Messenger. And the accusations of ripping off Jefferson Airplane led to a surprising shock of recognition, not to mention one of the handful of cases in which my dad and I are on the same planet. Really, walking on stage in Philly at that old bank building (were we opening for a hardcore band? Ruins?) and just owning it. Singing "Pocket Full of Change' and the guitar fury ensuing the little bass break, that was the best.
Of course that was my last gig. At least I went out on a roll. I could see how that wouldn't make much sense to the principals. I'd guess that the same joie de vivre, the life of the mind that enabled the fairly crazy stuff I badged us with -- what was it? Confidence I guess, matched only by Tara's, the imagined stakes involved pushed me to strike out and self-validate the hard way. Couple decades on, and an awe-inspiring posse of musical partners would trump those demons, but then I'd be old, wouldn’t I?