This, my friends, is for real.
This is my photo from picture day, sometime in September 1984.
I most assuredly have an unbreakable comb in my back pocket, and I can guarantee that it had just been put to use touching up this marvelous new haircut I had received only days prior.
I also have a small pin on my lapel; a guitar pin. A beautiful, blue Fender Telecaster in highly detailed pin form.
It was my thing.
See, I got my first guitar at age 10 or so, and I was instantly hooked. I had to have everything guitar related. This applied to birthday cakes, decals, skinny ties, alarm clocks, key chains, etc. My family happily complied. Not every teenager is easy to please, but I knew what I liked. Thankfully for them, guitar oriented items are as common as guitar players.
I bought a guitar pin one day from Fereirra's music store in the Flint section of Fall River where I took lessons. I put it on my black leather vest and checked myself in the mirror.
Now I had a niche. Some people collect thimbles; some collect snow globes; I collected guitar pins. I had Fenders, Gibsons, electrics, acoustics, every color of the rainbow. I even had a freaking double neck. I would be given a new one for every celebratory occasion. By the beginning of September 1984, I had amassed somewhere close to 30 or so guitar pins and I wore one every day.
Every day, that is, until I stepped into Mr. Angelo's classroom.
Mr. Angelo taught biology. He was the head of the Ski team as well (bunch of rich pricks). He was also my freshman year home room teacher. He was in his early 30's and in decent physical shape. On his round head sat equally round tortoise shell glasses. He wasn't bald, but there wasn't much hair on his head either. What was there was short, dark and mossy. He had brown, greasy skin and on that greasy skin was perpetual stubble. He stood all of 5'5, had a raspy sarcastic voice, and, despite his stature, could stare you down with beady eyed rapaciousness. He favored Sperry Topsiders on his feet (sans socks) and was otherwise swathed in Izod or Le Tigre. His bloated sense of self-importance was superseded only by his daily, noisy arrival in an antique Karmann Ghia ragtop.
His ilk was the jock crowd. I think he coached track too. His preferred students were the rich, young girls from the Highland section of Fall River. They'd giggle endlessly and exchange coy looks during class while fiddling with their still affixed ski passes. When the girls playful fidgeting started to reach a crescendo, Mr. Angelo would mention them by name and play-scold them until they'd almost explode in their seat from the precious attention.
Silly, catty, superficial, and utterly forgettable. All of them.
Needless to say, he had no use for a sensitive, would-be artist type like myself.
He took one look at me-one look-and he had my number.
"Mr. Johnson is it?"
"I don't allow jewelry on boys in my class. You'll have to take that pin off."
"But it's not..."
"You are familiar with the principal's office, aren't you Mr. Johnson?"
"Well, actually, this is my first day and..."
"Off, I said!"
Why are some people such assholes? I mean really.
So, every day, I'd have to take off the god damn pin, put it in my collared shirt pocket, and put up with Mr. Angelo for 45 minutes. Mr. George Angelo, king of the pricks.
I found out recently from an old High School friend that Mr. George Angelo is now married to a girl 15 years younger than him. And she was 15 years younger than him when she sat next to me in home room in 1984.
Yeah, that's what I said.
So, not to veer too far off the subject, I was in this band. We were called Atria. It was my first rock band which I started with my friend Dean.
Dean was a very nice guy of Portugese ancestry who studied hard and got good grades. He was in MENSA, as were a lot of the folks I hung around with. I was a freshman and they were all seniors. They were all in honors classes; they were all into Dungeons and Dragons, and they quoted Monty Python verbatim-whole 8 minute skits-endlessly. Yes, they were all geeks- supergeeks you might say-and they accepted me instantly.
One of the supergeeks was named Bob. He played keyboards. More importantly, he had a keyboard. And he heard Dean and me talking about the band incessantly. He wanted in. We told him to bring his keyboard (a Roland, even) over to Dave's house and we'd try him out.
What I meant to say was, I encouraged him to memorize how to get to Dave's house so he could subsequently pick my 14 year old ass up for practice every week. But to Bob, he thought of it as an audition.
He arrived early and was dressed for the occasion. He was wearing the style of the time: Gaudy.
He was into prints and luckily it was the eighties. I think it was some sort of dark blue linen jobber with lightning bolts and spaceships on it. I was jealous.
He set up his keyboard and amp and mussed up his hair.
He checked the sound patch to make sure it was set on "organ."
And he was off. He launched into Johann Sebastian Bach's "Toccata en Fugue in Dm." The one from the Phantom of the Opera. The organ song. That mother-fucker. How could anyone dispute the Toccata. It was the money shot.
He played it flawlessly and he played it with panache. He wanted in bad.
And so he was.
We immediately put together a song list that featured keyboards. As it was the eighties, this was an easy task.
"Shout" by Tears for Fears; "Save a Prayer" by Duran Duran; "In the Flesh" by Floyd; "Money for Nothin" by the used-to-be great Dire Straits and of course, "Axel F." from the Beverly Hills Soundtrack. This was hot stuff; this was on every radio station; this was what people wanted.
It was an accurate reflection of the times; not unlike staring into a Def Leppard mirror from the fair.
OK. So now we have a complete band. What next?
A promo shot of course. Now, if I only had a copy of that great picture of us from way back when.
Hey, wait a minute...
Just let me rummage around in this pile of junk over here...
I'll give you a minute to take it all in. Go ahead. Stare. It's OK, I won't bite.
But our mean, jerk of a drummer Dave might. I know, it's magnificent isn't it? Just look at these guys. What are they thinking?
Let's start with Bob. Like I said, the kid liked prints. Who didn't? And he just has to be playing an imaginary chord so you won't confuse him with Dean, the bass player.
Dean brought his bass as you can see. That's what he plays; bass.
All the way to the right is the meanest man in the world; Dave. He looks like he might just take those drumsticks and jam each one in your eyes if you dared to say hello. No belt on that guy. He left it wherever he last beat up a hobo.
And then there's yours truly. I can't, of course, recall my exact thoughts as the shutter mercilessly opened, but I bet it was something along the lines of:
"Hey baby, how's it goin? My name's Alex, and I play guitar. This, coincidentally, is the guitar I play. I also do my hair up special for no reason at all. Wouldn't you like to be that reason?"
And so it was; my first non school related photo shoot.
The picture is dated June 18th, 1985. I had turned 15 a month before. Not a freshman, not yet a sophomore. That would have to wait a couple of months.
So more about Bob. He plays keyboards. He also comes from a very Christian family. He actually went to Bishop Connolly High because it was a Catholic school, not just because it was the lesser of two evils (the other worse evil was B.M.C. Durfee High, where everyone else went).
Bob's parents weren't exactly thrilled with his decision to join up with a bunch of roustabouts like us, but they went along. They let him use the Olds to get to my house and then to rehearsal. And they put up with him learning all manner of heretic rock and/or roll.
Until we went too far.
One night Bob showed up for practice with his head hung low. We, of course, were concerned.
"What gives, Bobby boy?"
"Well, it looks like I...I mean we have a problem."
"OK. Spit it out, what's up?"
"Well...my Mom and Dad heard me learning one of the songs we picked and freaked out. They said they wouldn't allow me to learn it."
"Was it the Bryan Adams song? It wasn't "Heaven" was it? Because that song is very spiritual."
"No...it was...it was... "Burnin' for You."
"You're kidding me."
"I wish I was...they heard the line about "living for giving the devil his due", and said no way."
"That stinks Bob."
"It sure does."
And that was that. We never learned one of the greatest songs ever. I think we learned Golden Earring's "Twilight Zone" instead. It proved to be a showstopper.
That was a busy summer. The summer of 1985. Some horrible music was released and promoted that year and I'm not going to rehash it here. But the point is that we painstakingly learned a lot of that horrible music and we were unbelievably psyched to play it.
So, the band has a new name, a new member, a rockin' glossy press photo. What we need now is a new logo. Hmm...I wonder who is going to design that?
If I only had a copy...
Get it?...The band name looks like an EKG...Atria...the heart...get it?
I made about 300 of these scribbily little kid- "Lemonade .50 cent"- style posters and put them all around school. Notice we include some original material. I can barely remember the songs but there was a song Dave wrote called "Rebel Song" which I remember hating. And there was a song I had written called "Too Late For Dreaming." That one I liked.
I also bastardized and lifted a lyric from a popular song of the time for the catch line. Wow!
So, we needed a gig. A big gig. A gig that would break us.
How about the school dance? They have bands sometimes. We could charge them $50 and have a great time.
But first we'd have to get it by the Student Government. And the Student Government has an important overseer who also happens to be a teacher at Bishop Connolly High School.
A biology teacher; the head of the ski team...
...and he just hates guitar pins.
To be continued...
Coming soon: Two words- one life changing event: Talent Contest. Oh boy!
If you've made it this far, thanks for reading. If you haven't made it this far, you may never will.