"I'd like to enter my band for consideration to play the school dance."
This is what I said to the receptionist at the administrative office at Bishop Connolly High in December of 1985.
I was told that I had to schedule a meeting with the Student Government's planning committee.
"When is the next time I can do that?"
"They meet once a month", the receptionist said, "But there's one scheduled for this coming week. Mr. Angelo should be there as well."
"Mr. Angelo? Why does he have to be there?"
"Because he has to approve any spending on recreational activities."
"Umm...OK, I guess...umm...well...can I make the appointment?"
"Three thirty on the twelfth...that's a week from tomorrow."
"I'll take it."
Man. Wouldn't you know it. The one guy out of all the teachers who I didn't get along with, the guy who made me remove any and all signs of musical recreation from my garments all year last year is going to be the final word on whether or not my awesome band gets to play the dance.
Sometimes the world just doesn't make sense.
The dances were always a big deal both for the students and for the teachers. Sometimes, half of the fun was getting through the door. There was only one entrance which was the main set of doors near the auditorium. As you approached the school from the parking lot, you would be greeted with the sounds of the bass first; an inscrutable template for a popular song. Then, as you got closer you'd be able to make out the mid range and start to decipher exactly which popular hit of the times was blasting at full volume from the freshly rubber mat covered gymnasium. As you entered the door to the foyer, you were immediately presented with a front line of teachers who were there to say hello and ask you a simple question like, "Have you been drinking?" As you confidently claimed total sobriety, they would casually smell your breath for the trademark scent of vodka which they knew you thought was odorless. A lot of kids never made it past that front door.
It was, of course, the eighties. Songs I remember from those innocent times included "Things Can Only Get Better" by Howard Jones, "I Want a New Drug", by the too cool Huey Lewis and the News, and "Crazy for You" by the increasingly popular new pop phenom, Madonna. I have to admit, even I sported many a thin black rubber bracelet on my adolescent arms. There was nothing in the dress code to stop me from that. Not that year at least.
The recreation committee mostly booked DJ's for the music, but a couple of times a year they would feature a rock band.
I remember a band from Newport, Rhode Island,"The Philters", played one of them. They were amazing, and faithfully recreated all the top forty hits while adding a touch of flair with extended solos and sing alongs. I recall a super long guitar solo during Honeymoon Suite's "I Got a New Girl Now" that made my the hair on my arms stand at attention and my jaw drop to the floor to do fifty.
I remember how the girls at my school would just be in awe of the musicians. The guys in the cover bands must have been at least 25, or thirty, or even older. I realize now, after doing several High School gigs throughout my 30's, that in those situations, at least for me, it makes you feel less like a rock star, and more like a rock fossil. A well paid rock fossil.
The DJ nights were fun too. Because there was less watching and a lot more dancing. But with the DJ's sporting their over sized Radio Shack headphones, and flipping through their thousands of LP's, it seemed that the girls were more interested in hearing "Some Like it Hot" by the Power Station, than having a hot time with a band member in his station wagon.
And so, armed with this observation, I threw my hat in the ring and signed up for the Student Government Committee's meeting and told the receptionist I would bring the demo which we had just painstakingly recorded.
"Better bring something to play it on too." She said.
I showed up at three thirty on the twelfth with a tape of my band, a boom box, and a pen in my pocket to sign any papers which might have to be prepared after all agreed that this would be a great idea.
I came in to the room and the meeting had already begun. 5 students, three from my grade and two upper class men, were there along with one big jerk of a Biology teacher, Mr. Angelo.
They stopped what they were doing and cordially said hello.
I nervously made my way to the nearest wall outlet and put my boom box face down to get the removable cord out from the battery compartment.
The removable cord. The...removable...cord...the...oh...my...god.
It wasn't there. It was at the rehearsal space. I could see it in my head as if I were looking at a full color glossy photo. I had been carefully wrapping the cord up and got distracted somehow and forgot it on the ground. We had just used the boom box to listen a playback of REM's "Can't Get There From Here" which we had added to the demo at the last minute. Now that all important cord was in a rehearsal room in Swansea, and I was stuck in a meeting room in Spindle City. Looking back on that moment I understand exactly how ironic that detail was.
"I...um...I'll be right back." I said as I stumbled out of the meeting and up to the art classroom.
I spent a lot of time in the art room and remember playing record upon record after school while making scenery for the school plays. Mr. Domaine was in charge of things up there and he loved his work. A true bohemian. He, along with Mr. Cheeny, who taught chemistry, were the directors of the school band. The Grateful Dead's Bobby and Jerry if you will. The jam band. The hippies.
The legend in the school was that Mr. Cheeny (who looked exactly like the bassist Leeland Sklar from Phil Collins' amazing Susudio video complete with gigantic brown beard and round Lennon specs.) smoked so much weed that he once returned a chemistry test with resin stains all over it presumably from cleaning his pipe. We all believed it to be true, and we all held him in high regard because of it. He was, in fact, a super guy and a great musician.
Back to the situation at hand.
On a normal day, I would climb the stairs from the first to second floor, two at a time. Like I said earlier, I never was a very patient child.
On this day I jumped three at a time and almost fell face forward, narrowly avoiding smashing my cavity free teeth on the polished slate stair top. I stopped myself short with shaky hands and continued on to room 202.
The room was dark and empty. I went straight for the paint splattered boom box that was sitting near the easels and paint cans; the one I had just yesterday played our new demo on for Mr. Cheeney, and Mr. Domaine. I grabbed the cord from the back of the box and yanked the other end from the wall outlet. I ran back down the stairs jumping them 4 at a time. For a finale, I attempted a six stair jump to the first floor. I rebounded off the right side of the safety glass side windows. I flung the door open and ran down to the Student Government meeting room and entered; huffing, puffing, and sweating profusely.
"Just taking care of some last minute adjustments." I said.
"Can we hear the tape?" Mr. Angelo said. "I've got a meeting with the ski team in twenty minutes."
I grabbed the boom box, inserted the cord in the back, checked to make sure the Certron 90 High Bias 2 tape was properly inserted, and pressed play.
They listened to all five songs. They were quiet for the most part but seemed entertained by the recording of top 10 hits that this fifteen year old had recorded with his band.
The last song was REM's "Can't Get There From Here", from Fables of the Reconstruction.
The song ended and I told them that was it.
"Can we have a few moments alone?" Mr. Angelo said.
I left the room slowly with shaky legs. I paced up and down the hallways nervously spinning the combination lock wheels on several lockers. The door opened and Mr. Angelo asked me to step back inside.
"Alex. Your band sounds good." Mr. Angelo said. "But can you play a whole night's worth of music?"
It was a valid question. But more than that, it wasn't an immediate "no".
"Sure we can. And we even have a light show."
I added this perk because we had just finished assembling a set of lights and control board from several painted coffee tins, colored gels, lamp fixtures, and wall switches. It probably wouldn't pass an inspection by the IBEW, but for us, it was perfect. It lit up, and that's all that counted.
"Well," Mr. Angelo said, we can't offer you a lot of money, but if you can take care of all the details and provide a PA, we'll let you do it."
I signed some paperwork with the pen I brought. This ensured us of making a heretofore unheard of amount of two hundred American dollars; Fifty bucks a man. Unbelievable. I thanked everybody including the head of the ski team, and practically ran home to call the rest of the guys and tell them the great news.
I wish I remembered more about that night. I don't. I remember that we used a Shure Vocal Master PA system which we owned. The two, tall, thin speaker collums filled with 8 and 10 inch speakers, along with the 100 watt head was hardly a match for the gigantic boomy gymnasium. And we couldn't afford monitors because our drummer wouldn't put money up for them seeing as he didn't sing. What did he need monitors for? He could hear himself fine. So the sound left a lot to be desired. All I know is that we played our asses off that night. People danced. We got paid. And we went home feeling like heroes.
Which, as far as I'm concerned, we very much were.
Are you ready for the fun part? Because here comes the fun part.
If you feel so inclined, you may click on the link below to hear the recording of that fated REM song "Can't Get There from Here." The song is sung by Dean. However, the "eek" at the beginning of the tune and the subsequent falsetto "ahhhhh" that precedes each chorus was supplied by yours truly who, once again, came to the rescue with an idea that was sure to enhance an otherwise run of the mill music listening experience.
Thanks for reading,