BABYLON DANCE BAND
by Marc Zakem
During my time in the Babylon Dance Band, I was also writing as a music critic for the local newspaper of record. Lyrically, I wrote like a critic, and stopped trying after one or two songs, most notably “Rock Class” which we might have actually performed once or twice. Musically, I did somewhat better, contributing to some, if not the majority of music to songs such as “Jumpin’ Suburbs,” “Will It Be Today,” “Cemetery Rock,” “Chemically Fueled Silence,” “Keep Those Orphans Rockin’” and “East End Girls.” I’m especially proud of my one attempt at a well thought-out solo on “Love Canal.” What’s most instructive about these early days is the critical mass of creativity that was attained within the band. Before and after my time in the band, I couldn’t write a song to save my soul, and I wouldn’t be able to play most of those songs now (‘cept for Cemetery and Today). During that time in the band I could also sound some covers out by ear. Since then, zilch.
Besides the band being a personal high point creatively, I’d say I was in the best physical shape of my life. I think all of us, except maybe for Tim, could say the same. Rehearsing every night and playing four or five sets at gigs can do that for you, especially at the speed and intensity we played. Sometimes things were too fast and intense. I remember playing a show at our apartment (our gig got cancelled) before Tara was on board, with the drummer from No Fun. The tape of the set was subsequently dubbed “The Ramones Take Speed and Throw a Party.” And there’s the time in Cincy, with Tara and yet another drummer, during which we hit the nadir of our musical odyssey: playing “Wild Thing” in at least three different keys and four different tempos. Friends there later described the audience during the opening notes: stunned and staring, with jaws agape.
If life as a critic didn’t contribute to my life as an artiste, I can’t say the same about the opposite. You learn first hand all those things a music writer should know: You have twenty years to write your first album, and six months to write the second. Not literally true in our case, but a point well taken. Whether it was the abundance of ideas or the creative rush, we had no problem putting together a passable set of songs in the early days. This was followed by a slow period, which for me is typified by “Living at Home,” which I always found contrived and ugh! After that, a good band settles into sort of a rhythm and comes out with some of its best stuff, which for the Babs was after my departure, but is illustrated on Four on One. Such an experience in “real life” led me to make similar observations in print about our “contemporaries” such as Blondie and the Clash (intense if over-thought first album, disappointing second, remarkable and seamless third).
Speaking of contemporaries, a final point I’ll make is the way in which I believe Louisville attempted to replicate the perceived scene in New York. I think we all saw New York not only as our musical Mecca, but a Utopia for like minded freethinkers full of good will. Chip had actually spent time there [and Tara too -ed.], but not until the rest of us saw it did I understand that we were idealizing and mimicking a place that no longer existed, if indeed it ever had. Louisville had camaraderie, Kenny Ogle and the Sanders sisters. New York had sniping burnouts, druggies and Suicide. In Louisville, performer and audience were really one and the same (we regularly danced to whomever was on before we took the stage; sooner or later, everyone who had come to see us had his or her own band). By the time we got to New York, the line between the two, if indeed it had ever been erased, had been redrawn. Louisville had the Babylon Dance Band. New York had the Heartbreakers. I mean, really, is it even a choice?