October 30, 2006

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today (or Yesterday), Part XXXVI

It was Wednesday, October 29, 1986. It was time to become a rock star.

After a manic blast of auditioning for bands when I'd first moved to the Cities - in the winter and spring of '85-'86 - I figured I'd take some time off, concentrate on work (which needed quite a bit of concentration, at the time), and work on music in my spare time.

Given my intermittently obsessive nature, that involved getting home from work much of the summer and curling up in front of my Fostex X-15 four-track cassette player (it looked a lot like this), a drum machine, an electronic organ (which when miked properly did a passable Farfisa impression, and after a couple of beers sounded more and more like a Hammond B3), and my guitars and bass, and cutting demo tapes).

And cutting. And cutting.

Over the summer - starting in May, running through September - I must have recorded 60 or 70 songs; a few were covers (I was unaccountably proud of my version of "Skateaway"), most were things I'd written. Of the stuff I wrote, most was crap, and I knew it even then. I'd exhumed a few things I'd jotted down in college (bathetic crap mixed with derivative crap), and wrote tons more crap (a combination of contrived crap and slapdash crap) after I moved to the Cities.

But in and among the crap were a few bits and pieces, maybe five songs, that I was fairly proud of, and that I'd done some decent demos for.

So I took out an ad in the City Pages' "Musicians Wanted" section.

"Musicians Wanted" was pretty much where the whole lower range of the Twin Cities' music scene vented its hopes, desires and fears in those days. Ads from brash bands of teenagers pulsed with desire to rock the entire world; fatigue and smoke wafted from bar-band guitarists looking for a paying gig; synth-pop artistes oozed bemused contempt for whatever mainstream they recognized; punks' ads read like old Replacements records sounded. There was one ad that must have run for two years; I still remember it well enough to paraphrase closely:

NuDu Seeks Keyboardist

NuDu; pure wave, pure noise, pure attitude. Do you DARE? Call 612-555-5555

I don't know if NuDu ever found their keyboard player. I'm loathe to say they passed into unknown band history, keyboardless, and are all working as mortgage underwriters and school principals; I remember reading a listing in New Yorker when I was in high school, in about 1980, for a group playing at CBGB. The name struck me as so relentlessly dumb, I figured they could never make it big.

My prediction was, unfortunately, wrong.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. City Pages.

Me? I'd wanted something different. The previous week, I wrote an ad and carried it down to the City Pages' office.

The actual ad is long lost to history, but I remember trying to write it. The key point to writing a "Musicians Wanted" ad was not so much to say what you were about, it seemed (at least, if you wanted to do your own music); rather, you were about your "influences". Since nobody knew you (or your music, if you were trying to write your own), then "Influences" were sort of a lingua franca; if you listed Brian Ferry as an influence, you were likely not going to joining a bunch of New York Dolls fans in a band. T

Of course, interpretations of influences varied widely. Listing "Bono", for example, might mean you were into raw, passionate delivery, or it could imply artiness (especially if you listed Echo and the Bunnymen or The Cure along with Bono), or perhaps an interest in gleefully bombastic music. And of course, listing any big name - Prince, Springsteen, Paul Westerberg, Bob Mould - was a kid's desperately-uncool mistake, unless you were starting a straight-up cover band (playing nothing but stuff off the radio to, y'know, make real money or something).

Me? I had to be crafty. I took the oblique route. I listed "Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, the Iron City Houserockers, Richard Thompson and Hemingway". My strategy was ingeniously clever; the Jukes and Houserockers would show that I was a Springsteen buff, but knew the genre better than most (or was merely cooler than the average fan); the Thompson reference was a back-door reference to the bombastic Celtic/Gaelic revisionism of U2, the Alarm and Big Country; Hemingway just showed how dang cool I was. And above all - if I found someone out there who'd heard of the Houserockers or the Jukes, I'd be most likely among friends.

That was the theory.

And today - Wednesday - the ad came out.

I stopped at the record store on the way home to see if the ad made it in; it had. I read it dozens of times as I walked back to the jeep and sped home.

I got into the house, and rolled tape on the answering machine.

Posted by Mitch at October 30, 2006 05:39 AM | TrackBack
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