Thursday, June 13, 2013

Call Me Pigtail 21/40

Recording Hymns...

A new album! Somehow we’ve managed to steal almost twenty new riffs, and thinking up titles is as easy as falling off the wagon, so we’re optimistic about this hot new project. We enlist the services of our primo engineer and fourth Imperial, Philip “Christian Shoulders” Bonnet [RIP, brother], and start recording our thunderous follow-up to Hanky Panky Parley Voo. At first we planned on calling the album “The Hymns of Artimus Pyle,” because it sounded so grand and also stupid (Artimus Pyle being the drummer for Lynnrd Skynnrd). But it was hard to remember and even harder to spell. We wanted to keep the word “Hymns,” so we added our hometown, Bucksnort, and away we went. 
This was the summer of the killer heatwave in Chicago. Our Zebra van looked boss but had the weakest air conditioner ever put in a vehicle, and we baked our brains out driving back and forth up the Kennedy to Solid Sound Studios in Hoffman Estates. It didn’t help that we had to wear our heavy tux coats throughout the entire drive.
It was a little different, recording this one. After the hot lava of inspiration that blew out of our volcano brains and became the giant rock formation of Hanky Panky Parley Voo, Hymns felt a little more like something we were doing, instead of something that was happening to us. But the riffs and titles were still cooking. Here’s a little breakdown of a few of the “songs” on Hymns of Bucksnort:

Mystery Date — inspired by the board game, okay, but it’s really more about the awesome TV ads, where the little girls are playing this game and they open the little cardboard door and a little cardboard dude is standing there, and depending on how the dude looks, the girls all shout “dreamy!” or “dud!” The Dud dude was a kind of a mangy hippy, and I remember identifying with that poor sucker way more than with the tennis-racket-holding “dreamy” guy. It was pretty funny to picture the NDI showing up at that cardboard door — imagine if the girl opens it up and finds GT leaning there, wearing his straw hat and no pants. 
An awesome lyric needs an awesome riff, so I stole “Misty Mountain Hop” from Led Zeppelin and changed the beat a little. Presto!

$65 an Hour — We were in Fort Wayne, I think, and there was this guy dancing all sexy, and we asked him what his deal was, and he started talking about his job as a male stripper. The title is how much he said he made stripping at bachelorette parties. In our live shows Skipper is the guy with the stripper history. Pretty hot stuff! Stripper Zwackinov!

White Trash Boogie — Kind of like “Mystery Date.” Once we had a title we all liked, it was time to steal a riff. I was on a roll after swiping the Led Zep bit for “Mystery Date,” so for “White Trash Boogie” I went straight for the big dog: “Smoke On the Water.” I put the chords in slightly different order and sped them up, because those Deep Purple fuckers were into some pretty lead-ass tempos.

Chili Pie — We were really into writing songs about food at this point. This outstanding dish — Fritos, chili, cheese — needed its own song, and I needed to steal the riff from Black Sabbath’s “The Mob Rules.”

Overserved — Well, obviously that’s ”Hamocks” played on the A string instead of E string, and the lyrics were improvised as we recorded. See how easy rock is?

Chef of the Future — We saw that episode of The Honeymooners where Ed and Ralph have to do that TV commercial, and Ralph freezes up. Ed saying, “Can it core a apple, oh chef of the future?” is just about the funniest moment in all of western culture. Also a pretty good fit for a kick-ass Bo Diddley riff. 

Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin — We got this from the Country Rockers. Lord only knows where those chicken-scratchers got it. A straight-up backbeat song that you can play no matter how inebriated you are.

There Stand the Glass — Another one from the Country Rockers. Maybe the first song we recorded that we took seriously. Jeezus, what a beautiful song.

Wing Dosso — We were getting tired of thinking up riffs and titles, so we decided to redo “Pool Bully” from Hanky Panky, only in a different language. Skipper claimed to have looked up “pool bully” and translated it into Sanskrit: “wing dosso.” But later we found out that Sanskrit’s a dead language and probably didn’t have a word for “pool,” let alone “bully.” It's most likely that Skip just made up random words. So “Wing Dosso” may or may not mean something, but "meaning something" was never all that high on our list of priorities. 

Once Hymns is in the can, it’s time for a little break. So we take the afternoon off to go bowling, and then immediately return to the attack. This time, the object of our affection is the frozen North — on to Winnipeg!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Call Me Pigtail 20/20

Okay folks, this here is number 20 out of 20. That means that we've come to the end of the first part, which was going to be the only part, but now I have a bunch more stories and kind-of true events to talk about, so now we need a second part. I guess that'll start with 21/40 at some point.

Before we start the second part, I intend to put all of the first 20 bits together, along with some extra weirdness like lyrics and secret bits, and make it into a book you can read on your Kindle and Kindle-type luxury reading device. So the next time I post will be to tell you more about that.

For now, though, here's the last bit of the first part: Motel 666!

We’re home, still covered in New York grime and glitter, not even unpacked, and already our sick brains are boiling with a new obsession — we absolutely, no question, right now need a video for our hit song “Motel 666.” This is the 1990’s, and people still watch videos of bands doing songs, and we’re excited to get the sparkling, sputtering, rip-roaring NDI madness forever committed to whatever it is you record videos on. So where do you start?
Fortunately, right about this time we get a call from a group of sharp young video people who had seen the NDI in full effect at a gig at Lounge Axe and were already chomping at the bit. They want us to make a video with them for free! This is for purposes of promotion of their video business. As usual, the NDI had fallen face-first into a sweet situation.
We put together a sophisticated high-concept plan for the video: since the song is about us sneaking our entire band and crew into one motel room, the video will be about sneaking our entire band and crew into one motel room. Only we’ll take it a step or two further: we’ll sneak an entire gig into one motel room. Gear, crowd, mayhem — everything into one cramped trashy little room. And then at the end, when the cranky manager comes to bust down the door and kick us out, all he’ll find is Skipper, chilling on the bed and watching TV. Ok? Ok! Let’s record our video!
First, though, we need a good place to film this monster. Being good Chicago boys, we immediately think of the strip of amazing tacky motels along Lincoln Avenue. This road, also known as highway 41, used to be the main route from Chicago to Milwaukee, and all kinds of little funky-butt businesses popped up to cater to the traveling salesmen and families in Ramblers. Then the big ugly Edens expressway opened up, and this slice of Americana withered on the vine. There are only a few of the cool old places left, but one of them, the Spa Motel, is still in business, and still as tacky as one of Goodtime’s suitcoats. We scout out the location, as the movie-types say, talk to the cooperative desk girl, and set up a day to shoot our video.
To fully re-create the NDI live experience, we start by calling various fans and freaks to crawl in through a window into the room and join the party. Ultimately we get about thirty people to commit. But we still need a grumpy old guy to be the front-desk dude. Where will we find a patient, funny, yet age-appropriate actor? The answer: Skipper’s dad! He’s perfect for the role, a born actor, and funny as hell. Once Mr. Zwakinov is on board, the project shifts into high gear.
What do the good people staying at the Spa Motel on the night of the NDI “Motel 666” video shoot think is going on in room 144? We don’t know, but no one complains. As the filming picks up steam we add more and more people to the chaos. They’re jumping on the bed, pounding the floor and the ceiling, shouting, wrestling. Monk the Wand’Ring Wizard, a genuinely strange cat who has begun opening shows for us, is dressed up as the devil and is producing flames from his fingertips, so the place is smoky and smells like burning sulfur. We also have a gorilla, a girl from the “Addicted to Love” video, a clown, a witch, an old lady, and lots of other people even we don’t know who they are. The ending, when Skipper’s dad comes to investigate the noisy guests at his hotel and bursts in, expecting to find a party, is my favorite moment in our existence so far. The song ends, ka-pow!, and he unlocks the door, and there’s Skipper (his kid, remember), lounging peacefully on the bed in tux coat and snazzy shoes, watching “I Dream of Jeannie.” Skipper’s dad backs out of the room and rubs his chin, “hmm, that’s strange, I coulda sworn there was a party in there,” he’s thinking. He cruises, and then the camera moves into the room to show me and GT hiding behind the wall. It’s funny because it’s true! Plenty of times we had to hide from hotel managers coming to try to bust us for having too many people in one room. “Defrauding an Innkeeper,” it’s called, and it’s a misdemeanor, and we’re guilty of that crime in pretty much every state in union. 
The video-maker people intercut, all of this motel mayhem with scenes from a recent show we did at Metro, one of the best places in Chicago to play. We sold it out, 1200 people, and this time we didn’t need the googoo dolls to help us. Between the mess in motel room and the rock scene at Metro, we have a pretty sharp little video, and we proudly send it everywhere we can think of, along with a few broken TV’s and handfuls of confetti. It gets pretty decent airplay, including late-night MTV and other outlets. To this day the “Motel 666” video will put a smile on your face.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Call Me Pigtail 19/20

CBGBs with The New York (googoo) Dolls

Clanky loud stairs and harsh sun wake us up in the cruddy New Jersey motel room where the three of us are crashed out on the single bed mattress, box spring, and chair cushions. The NDI delivered the magic to a club called Rocky’s in Patterson, NJ last night — another strange gig, this one opening for a hair-metal cover band called Roxx, and oh my did their crowd not know what to make of us. On the one hand, we rock in a most serious and heavy way, but on the other hand we look like a fucking Vegas lounge act. Also we handed out raw chicken feet that we bought at the Centrella before the gig. We would later agree that not everyone in the crowd understood where we were coming from, and that getting nailed in the face with a thrown chicken foot hurt more than you would expect, and that we needed something softer to hand out — that’s why we decided in the future to go with marshmallows, which don’t hurt. They are also delicious, easy to throw, and cheap. 
On the road, high-level decision such as these are typically made over breakfast, which in Patterson is at the “FOOD” restaurant next to the gas station where we stop to fill up the Zebra. We’ve been out for over a week now, and the sense of unreality is only getting deeper. Out here no one knows us, no one cares about or as even heard of our previous band, and yet we still ALWAYS call each other by our new names. Why not? Our real selves are of no use to us here. We are who we say we are, so last night when an earnest heavy metal squid came up to me after the show and said, “Dude, I thought you guys rocked,” and asked me where we’re from, I leaned in and said, “Bucksnort, Tennessee! You ever been there?” Getting paid our measly $50 at the end of the night, Skipper agreed with the owner that it was ridiculous to put our band on stage with Roxx, and told him that Kenn, the fucker who booked the show, was “a total weasel.” The only time we actually do use a real name is when Goodtime signs the register at whatever dumpy motel we’re checking into: John Smith.
Gobble up the pancakes and fake syrup, drain the coffee cup, tip the ass-dragging waitress, and haul our sore corpses back into the van. Jesus we spend a lot of time in this van. For whatever reason we no longer call anything by its real name: the map is called a crab, and the squeeze-toy crab that announces each new state is “the map;” the radio is the heater, the heater is the dome light, and so on.  We are also accumulating random souvenirs. Hopelessly lost in Albany, we had to turn around in the parking lot of a recycling center, so our front dashboard now sports a big sign that says “Please Crush Jugs.” This is our universe, our clubhouse, our R-and-D control center. Sometimes we play a song on a messed up acoustic guitar that we found in the garbage behind the club in Cleveland, but most of our time is spent sleeping or laughing.
The last stop on the tour before we arrive in NY to play at the legendary CBGB’s is at another great venue, Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ. It’s Wednesday night and we’re opening for a cool band for once, the first time on this tour that it seems like the other band is even from the same planet as we are, although we’re from Bucksnort, so go figure. But the NDI’s brutal trash-fest mixes real well with this bunch of rock kids called the Spinning Wighats, and the night turns into a meeting of the Mutual Admiration Society. It turns out one thing we have in common with the Wighats is that neither of us draw. But we rock hard for the handful of bystanders, shower them with marshmallows and breakfast cereal, and make ourselves another little passel of fans. That’s how it’s been this whole trip — in every town a few people come up to us wide-eyed after the show, asking for a guitar pick or an autograph, or just looking to tell us how hard we rocked. It’s lovely, it gets us through the night. 
The Wighats are kind enough to let us crash at their band apartment in Hoboken, and the next day we hang out for a while and then say our goodbyes and pile into the Zebra and head for NYC. We’re pretty amped. For once our hick schtick isn’t totally schtick — we’ve never played here before, and to be landing at CBGBs the first time out is a real kick for the NDI, who are after all really just a bunch of midwestern punks who grew up listening to the Ramones. Goodtime steers us into the Holland Tunnel, pretty amazing in itself, and then we pop out the other end and and boom — it’s New York City. We feel the immediate need to own this place. It is our destiny! Take us straight to CBGBs!
So we get lost for about an hour and a half, thanks to our hard-to-understand New York city crab. Traffic is a mess of course, although it is pretty cool to watch the reflection of our un-missable Zebra van in the swanky store-front windows. GT is driving and he’s keeping it together pretty well, and then he finds a street we need, and then he wheels the Zebra over to the curb, and there, framed in the windshield, is the big black-and-white sign that graces the front of the greatest punk club in the world. It’s a real holy moment, and then honest to god this happens: a bum walking by in front of the club stops to rummage through one of those big steel wire trash cans by the street, and comes up empty handed. Then he turns around, drops his filthy trousers, hoists his pale white ass over the edge, and starts to shit into the can. Directly in front of us, in the middle of the afternoon. To this day I don’t know if it’s horrifying or awesome, but it is surely a sign of some kind. It takes forever, long enough for Skipper to find his little camera and take a bunch of pictures. At one point it seems like an obvious cover for our next album, but that weasel Kenn talks us out of it.
Anyway fuck that, let’s move the show into the club, in through the pitch-black front doors, picturing how many other bands, how many of our idols, have rolled through here. This place is as narrow as a bowling lane and dark as a cave, and the stage at the far end is small and high, and there are drums sets and random gear on a big shelf/loft behind the stage, and beer bottles underfoot, and of course graffiti of the gods all over everything. We get our own little closet dressing room behind the stage. We’re playing with the Googoo Dolls, who have recently changed from being a thrashy punk-pop band to a strummy FM radio hits band, and although it doesn’t really make sense to put us on the bill with them, at least it’s better than opening for Roxx. Hilly, the booker and a rock god himself whose vision for the club made it what is was, tells us the place will be packed. Fuck yeah! The NDI is truly sprinkled with fairy dust. 
There’s no free beer but there’s also no shortage of liquor stores on Bowery Street, so our smuggled fifth of vodka has us pretty well lubed up by show time. The place is packed to the rafters, thanks entirely to the Googoo Dolls and not at all to us, but forever after the NDI will tell interviewers, and anyone else who cares to listen, all about the time the New Duncan Imperials sold out CBGBs. We’re second on the three-band bill, and the first band plays, and our world is swirling a little, and then the first band finishes, fine, fine, can we get up there now? We have two amps and two drums and a truckload of random yard-sale shit to get on the stage. So what’s the hold up? And then the bass player dude from Googoo Dolls comes strolling up in his choo-choo Charlie overalls and bare feet, and tells us that actually no, we’re not on next. There’s this other band that has been touring with the Googoo Dolls, and they’re on next. The NDI will not be opening for the Googoo Dolls, but instead will actually be playing AFTER the Googoo Dolls. He’s being a lot nicer than he has to be, and I can tell he feels bad, but ultimately it’s just “sorry dudes.” And away he goes.
This news does not go down well with approximately 100% of the membership of the New Duncan Imperials, and if our CBGBs dressing room hadn’t already spent the last two decades being trashed by everyone from the Deadboys to Devo, at that moment we would have done the job ourselves. We’re nice, dumb hicks from Bucksnort, but there’s a limit. But barefoot dude is gone and that’s it — there’s no discussion. The crystal wave of blessed stardom we have been riding sets us down with a thump on the scabby floor of the most famous rock club in the world, and we sit there in our fucked-up little dressing room, gloomy and drunk, without a friend in the world, and wait for the Googoo Dolls to finish their third encore and finally take down their gear. Then we rush like madmen to get our shit up on the stage, but by the time they clear out and we set up, CBGBs is completely, thoroughly, historically, empty.
Time to rock!
And rock we do. The intro tape blasts “No Business Like Show Business,” and we leap onto the stage in our snazzy tux and hat ensembles with the exact same energy and power and joy that we have radiated at every stop on this tour. The first song, “Jackson, MS,” sounds amazing up here on this loud little stage, and it’s just too bad there’s no one here to hear it. The song ends and Skipper and I strike a heroic rock pose, guitars high, heads thrown back.  The echoes fade, and then instead of a dead silence we hear wild cheering! A little crowd, just a few people, loud and proud, are going bonkers and shouting our name! Who’s here? Peering into the darkness, we see our crowd: it’s the Spinning Wighats. They drove in from Hoboken to see us, and now here they are, going bananas, rocking with the NDI. We love them, each and every one of them, and we still do. Rock moments don’t have to be big to be epic.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Call Me Pigtail 18/20

On the Road Again, Again, Part 2

Youngstown is next, not so far away, and we pull into town about 5, before the club is open. Sitting in the van, looking at the grimy little closed bar, we realize we have some time on our hands. What to do, what to do... There's a hard-drinking little dive bar across the street, and it’s open, so that was easy. The last time we walked into a random across-the-street-bar we wound up, open-mouthed, in front of the Country Rockers. This time we wind up in a regular dim beer-light smokey bar with a juke box and a dozen John Deer hats drinking Budweiser bottles. No band, no stage, just a cruddy-looking Rockola in the corner playing country music, the sanitized kind, miles away from the weird, off-key yodeling of the Country Rockers, or the demented mess kicked up by Jon Wayne. So we kind of stand there a minute, wondering.  Do we want to hang out here and put up with the mainstream country and the John Deer hats staring at the Hawaiian Punch hats? The answer is of course YES, let’s have a cocktail and settle in with our soon-to-be best friends!
We order some drinks and see what can be done with the juke box. Well, it's all country, mostly the cheesy stuff, but lookie here, they have "You Never Called Me By My Name" by David Allen Coe, and some George Jones, he always gets it right, and a few one-off random or local items, placed here either by a local radio station or by the bands themselves -- this one here, "Walleye" by a bunch of up-and-comers called the Hula Poppers, this one could be good.  All told the NDI invests close to three dollars in quarters and retires to the bar for a well-deserved round of Rusty Nails, the official cocktail of the East Coast Trip.
Of course the bartender, a wiry old dude with a one of those long braided Vietnam veteran beards, of course he says "So what's with the hats?" and we tell him we're a band, being truthful for no good reason, and he goes "What kind of music do y'all play?" and we all go "Woo!"  Another running joke, the best way so far to describe our act, always shouted in unison. Half of the words out of our mouths lately are in unison, or a lie, or a lie in unison. Bartender dude takes that at face value, he’s a little hyper, but we are free to hang out at this increasingly comfortable bar, bullshitting with the locals. 
We learn that Youngstown, Ohio, is "Murder City, USA." The bartender tells us this with pride. This neighborhood looks pretty calm, but according to him it's a war zone. “Wanna see my insurance policy?” he asks us. He seems a bit mental. Then suddenly he’s got a fucking Uzi in his hand. He’s waving it around the bar. “Motherfuckers come in here, Murder City motherfuckers, we’ll see who lives in Murder City!” Not making sense. “Cool gun,” we say, and eventually he calms down and puts it away. 
We order another round of Rusty Nails and listen to some too-smooth country, and then the Hula Poppers song comes on, "Walleye."  It's actually "Rawhide," only with new lyrics about fishing: "Trollin' trollin trollin', walleye!"  "Don't try to understand 'em, just reel em in and land em," and so on.  Pretty funny, at least to us, but then in the middle of a verse the song begins to die.  The Rockola has lost power and the turntable is stopping, but for unknown reasons the speakers still work. The song slows down comically, trollin  trollinn trollllinnnnn... and stops. An odd silence descends upon the bar. "Goddammit" says the bartender. He lurches out from behind the bar to the jukebox, and exactly like the Fonz on Happy Days he smacks the jukebox on the side, and it starts playing again, revving up from zero, woarwoarwoar… and now it's playing the "Walleye" song again, only backwards. It sounds like Satan’s jug band. Everyone stops talking for a moment, and then the room kind of shrugs and goes back to its drinking. So we sit there in Murder City USA, Skipper, Pigtail, Goodtime, sipping our Rusty Nails while everyone else drinks beer, listening to "Walleye" by the Hula Poppers playing backwards, and it doesn't even feel all that strange. Everything was already strange enough. 
Presently it grows dark. We watch the club across the street for signs of life, for a light going on or a car in the parking lot, but evidently this is a late-minded place. When the boogers finally do show up we have to hurry to get the entire NDI stage extravaganza loaded in and set up and ready to go, and we blast through a pretty pyroclastic set for 35 people, knock ‘em back on their heels, overpowered by the NDI tidal wave of entertainment. They're here for the headlining band, but the headlining band is an all-cover deal called The Dive Kings and oh my lord, they're old, but not in a good Country Rockers kind of way, just five balding dudes with big bellies, wearing jeans and t-shirts, playing “Mustang Sally” and “Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and assorted other tired old shit. When the show is over people wander out into the night, clutching the plastic skeleton hand necklaces GT handed them during the set, or an NDI record they just bought, or wearing a "Pigtail's Pig Parts" t-shirt. We make $75, most of which we immediately give back for the bar tab, but it feels like success. There's a nice live feeling in the place. We steam away, laughing and full of power.  
The next day, before we are on the road for even an hour, a deer hits our van. GT is driving, and in the misty morning, in the endless hills of Pennsylvania, a doe emerges from the brush, ignores the warning signs, and bolts into the 70-mph highway traffic. It runs full force into the side of our vehicle. It's disturbing and violent and not at all funny: the cars behind us trample the doomed animal and we cruise on, sober and reflective. The highway is no joke.  

Monday, May 20, 2013

Call Me Pigtail 17/20

On the Road Again,  Again 

That old rambling feeling is creeping around again, poking its pokey nose into our business, telling us to take it on the road, to go show people in other lands exactly what we are up to.  Our local gigs have been getting pretty hot and heavy, the crowd jammed against the stage every night, the new CD selling like hotcakes, and us not even a year old yet.  So Let's Go!  It sounds so simple: pack up our minimal gear and our Maximus Circus, coerce Tiggr into dropping everything he's doing so he can come with, check out of our own real-world obligations (rent and relationship upkeep), throw a few basics into a bag, and go.  Ok — where?  We did the South, and we did the West with our other band, and North is cold and far away (later we’ll discover Winnipeg, and then look out), so as far as we can tell the only direction left is East. Time to bring New York City under our power.  
Skipper/Kenn gets on the phone and works that old magic, and hey-ho here we go, NDI has got a show — Thursday night at fucking CBGB’s. Is this really how it works? Maybe, maybe not, but the NDI don’t ask questions. Score a few gigs out and back, Cleveland-Youngstown-Buffalo-Albany-Toledo-Dayton. Load the van, stock up on Aquavelva and MD 20/20 (the same stuff, basically), and boogie on out of town. Our future just keeps getting brighter.
But there’s a small problem — our van.  It's a shambly little Ford with blue and white side panels and round googly headlights and although it has always gotten us where we needed to be, lately there is something in its eyes, a rattle in its breath, something that whispers, "I am dying."  Like some people know horses, we have come to know vans, and this one is about to go down.  It will be awhile before other people can tell, though.  It is still possible to sell it, for maybe another month or two.  We have another few hundred miles before the fatal grinding begins to seize the transmission.  What can we get, maybe $500?  Skipper reckons twice that, and he's pretty much always right about this kind of thing, and sure enough we collect $950 from a couple of tough-looking south side dudes, their check clears, and now we need a new vehicle for the East Coast Trip.  
There's a string of used car lots down Irving Park Road, not far from GT's apartment, and driving past them one day he notices a zebra sitting in a lot among the cars.  It's a beautiful black and white striped Dodge Ram van, and it still has the name of the pet store painted on the side: Bernie Hoffman's Animal Kingdom.  This van was the official limo of the legendary Garfield Goose, the WGN superstar from the Ray Raynor show!  We need this un-ignorable van. 
But unfortunately this van is good.  It was built in the past ten years, and has fewer than 100,000 miles on it, so it's going to cost us.   The foam is still in the seat cushions.  But we arrived sold on it, and we stay that way even when the sketchy salesman tells us the price: $3,500, waaaaay more than we have.  It's time to talk financing.  It's time for Skipper to turn into Kenn.
After an hour of serious negotiations, we walk out of the place with a little booklet of payment slips -- $135 a month for years to come -- and the keys to The Zebra.  The NDI now has a vehicle worthy of its growing legend.

Pack and shave and withdraw funds and buy strings and picks and lock the door and get in the zebra van and head down 90/94, past the projects, past Comisky, to where the highway splits, right goes to Memphis, we've been down that road before, stay left this time, onto the Bishop Ford cruising due east, and then we're in another state, and after a long fucking drive we are in Toledo.  Toledo, Ohio.  No-one knows us.  The opening band is called Pornflakes, a crazed punk rock outfit fronted by twin Native American brothers, big dudes with wild hair, they don't draw and neither do we, a dim empty bar, but we rock and do all the bits anyway, just as if there were people clawing at our feet.  We collect $200 from the grumpy owner, $200 for passing Go, and little else; make it to the hotel, crash, and wake up the next day in the harsh cold December sunlight.  This is the grind that took the old band apart piece by piece, but now it's just background noise, a dull moment in an otherwise wild ride, a pause at the top of the roller coaster.  We're going to NY to play CBGB's!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 16/20

Props Dept, Part 2

Tiggr's true genius is revealed when he produces his masterpiece, the Velourabeast, inspired by our "song" "Velour." A prop inspired by a novelty song -- why hadn't anyone thought of that before? Two essential elements of rock and roll in one nutritionally worthless package, like a Reese's cup of pop culture. Like many of our songs, "Velour" is becoming a focus of frenzy and fanaticism among some of the less-stable members of our crowd. A song about those brutally ugly shirts we wore in high school? Yes! The idea that when you feel your sexiest you are also at your most ridiculous is one of our more meaningful discoveries. It doesn't appear to us to be a contradiction at all. Sexy, like rock and roll, is stupid. The three of them, in fact, Sexy, Stupid, and Rock, are just different sides of the same big phallus-shaped monument.

So our song, "Velour," just a riff and a word, basically a less-literate version of "Tequila," if that's possible, is a big hit. One of our sicker fans sends us a genuine velour shirt from his closet. Later in time velour, like everything else, will be revived and mined for cash by the mainstream fashion industry, but at the time this gift is a real oddity, a real find. A treasure. So we give it away at our next show. It inspires an on-stage dance contest, the kids trying to mimic Skipper's spastic squirming as he shows the crowd how velour made him feel as a horny adolescent. That was fun, right? Let's do it again!

We need a new shirt, though, so GT hits the thrifts and buys up a dozen or so atrocious unwanted velour shirts, a smelly pile of tacky garments with zipper fronts and wide elastic cuffs, in noxious shades of orange and green. The pile is so old and jizzed-on that it makes the inside of our van smell like a mushroom cellar. No one in their right mind would ever want one of these, unless there was a story to go along with it. So that's what we give them, the story of the great herds of wild Velourabeasts that in days past roamed the American West, huge animals, "like a buffalo, only in worse taste," their valuable pelts the texture and color of the velour shirts they inspired. the whole ridiculous tale takes several minutes to deliver, with the band vamping ineptly in the background, and only about half of the maniacs packing the clubs know what the hell the singer's talking about up there. But a bit's a bit, and THEE NDI never let the music get in the way of the props and the jokes.

Then one night, as we are loading in to a club in Chicago, Tiggr walks in carrying something draped in red velvet. It's BIG, he can barely walk with it, and he sets it down in front of the stage with a thump and gives us a shit-eating grin. He pulls an extension cord out from under the drape and plugs it in. By now we know what this dude is capable of, but nothing prepares us for the unveiling, a dramatic swoop of the cover that reveals... what. What is it? A giant plush head, a kind of a bull-like thing, with googly glass eyes and a wide mouth full of nasty teeth. It's mounted like a trophy on a hunk of 3/4'' plywood, and Tiggr props it up, and hits a foot switch, and the thing comes alive -- holy fuck, look at this! The eyes light up and push in and out of the sockets, insane and glowing red, and the jaw drops open, revealing rows of sharp teeth, gleaming fangs. Tiggr hits another switch and there's a rasping sound and fog comes rolling out of the thing's gaping mouth. All three of us look up at Tiggr, who is so happy he can barely stand up straight. "It's a Velourabeast!" he says. "I made it in shop!"

That night we have the monster on the wall behind us, draped until the crucial moment when I get to a point in the story and the band grinds to a halt and I say, "and the Velourabeast... Came! Back! To! LIIIIIFE!" And GT pulls off the cover and Skipper stomps the switches and the monster springs into action and I'm watching the crowd's faces and it's that look we will soon learn to expect, that slack-jawed hillbilly look, simple life-forms confronted with the unexplainable, baffled brains stopped for a moment in their tracks. Fog pours from the beast onto the stage and in the relative quiet you can hear the gears grinding and the hinges creaking as the big jaw raises and lowers. It's not like the crowd thinks it's real, at least not most of them, but there's a kind of drunken, hushed appreciation for our effort. Who on earth puts this much effort into something this pointless? Thee NDI, that's who. The monster wheezes and thumps, the fog billows out with a hiss, and and we have never been prouder to be in a fucking prop band.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 15/20

Props Dept.

We are coming to a critical juncture in the evolution of our art, and the question demands to be answered: Is it enough to just dump a trunk-load of stuffed animals and used toxic waste containers onto the floor and wade through it for an hour and a half, pounding out rock power genius? Yes, absolutely, but looking at things from a cock-eyed and probably slightly drunk point of view, we see how it could be better. For one thing, why do bands always have their amps and speakers in neat little stacks? We take nothing for granted. I have a nice set-up, a battered Fender Bassman 50 through a 4 x 10 Marshall stack, with a Ratt pedal supplying the distortion (but don't ask me about it, because Pigtail has no idea what any of those brand names mean or what those knobs do). It sounds pretty heavy, but it looks stupid and obvious, sitting there on the stage like everyone else's gear. So we start tilting. A small working television goes under one corner of the speaker cabinet, lifting it at roughly a 45 degree angle. Great! But now the amp head is sliding off. So we attach a good-sized mars light, a twirly red deal like they have on the police cars in The Andy Griffith Show, to the downhill end of the top, and prop the amp head on that. Cool, but now the top of the amp head is on an angle in the opposite direction. We could leave it like that, but I want to add a big old hollowed-out TV on top. So a life-sized Barbie head, put sideways, brings things more or less level. The big empty TV is filled with rotating lights and other odds and ends -- pretty distracting! On top of that goes a beer case box, sturdy cardboard, with the word "CLAP" cut out of the front and a blinking colored light inside. The entire mess is well over six feet tall, bright as a Christmas tree, and murderously unstable. It tends to collapse during moments of high excitement. Kind of like Skipper. Speaking of Skipper, his rig gets more or less the same treatment, only his beer box sign says "FUN."

Goodtime's kit is another story. He can fix or improve anything, and he gets it into his head that his kick drum should light up every time he hits it. I can't begin to comprehend the mechanics and electronics behind this arrangement, even though he explains it to me at length on several occasions, but I do know that the effect is pretty cool and definitely NDI, low rent and entertaining at the same time. But GT is just getting started! At some point he sees on TV some circus act, a clown, who inspires him. We already proudly steal songs and riffs -- why not steal props, too? So he sequesters himself in the basement of his apartment building, working feverishly through the night, through several nights, no sleep, showers of sparks flying around his shoulders, wiping sweat away from his red-rimmed eyes, until he emerges, holding high his crowning achievement: a leaf-blower with a toilet paper holder duct-taped to the end. It's a toilet-paper cannon, and yes, it works. And yes, we are a "prop band." Like everything else dubious and corrupt about this new venture, we embrace it whole-heartedly. Stick a fresh roll on the holder, flip the switch, and a jet of TP shoots about twenty feet into the atmosphere. A double roll just about covers the entire crowd at our next gig. Quite a spectacle. Just keep it away from the ceiling fans.

Soon GT returns to the laboratory, this time with our new roadie, a tall, long-haired young man we call Tiggr, a stage-design lunatic who is far and away the most talented person we have ever met, waaaaay more talented than we are. For unknown reasons he decides to throw in with us, and he and GT set out to build a confetti cannon, which is much more dangerous than it sounds. They use converted industrial air tanks, each about the size of a pony keg, heavy steel, with touchy valves that Tiggr actually welds in such a way as to work with a foot switch. He also uses some kind of serious construction-guy tool to put threads on a couple of 5-inch-wide steel pipes, each about three feet long. These screw onto the tanks and work with the valves in some official way. Each tube holds about a cubic yard of confetti. Take the tanks to gas station, use the air hose and a gauge to get them up to about 50 psi, toss them very carefully into the back of the van, set them up at the edge of the stage, give Skipper the foot switch, and at a critical and/or random part of the show he stomps on that switch and PHLEH!!! A cubic yard of confetti shoots about twenty feet into the air, coming down to coat fans, float in open beers, infiltrate the monitor wedges, and work into our shoes. Confetti starts turning up in every arena of our lives, from bathroom to bedroom. GT swears he poops confetti.

Tiggr soon shows us this confetti shooter thingie was no fluke. He re-jiggers a cheap, nasty looking guitar I buy at a garage sale to do, kind, of, what Ace Frehley's does during his solo with Kiss: light up and smoke. It involves a block of LED lights jammed in where one of the pick-ups used to be, and he also fits a little smoke bomb with a spark-fired fuse in the back of the body. The guitar sounds atrocious, unplayable even by Pigtail's standards, but for a solo I make a bunch of noise sawing across the strings for a few seconds and then I hold my breath and close my eyes and flip the switch. Blinding light blinds me, and a foul billowing cloud of sulphury smoke pours out, so thick I can't breathe for at least a minute. An awesome spectacle.

His next idea is to cast our faces in resin, and use the molds to make plastic Halloween masks, complete with strings and painted features. At our first ever show at the Avalon nightclub, by now a pretty hot ticket, we gather a dozen or so friends and girlfriends backstage and put these cool NDI plastic masks on them. We dress them up in surplus tux coats and hats and give them a guitar or two, some extra drumsticks, party horns to hand out, and when it's time to go on all twenty of us pour out onto the stage, milling and jumping around, a totally surreal swarm of Pigtails, Skippers, and Goodtimes. It's pretty fucking freaky, even from our point of view, but not as freaky as it was to a bunch of our die-hard fans in the front row, who had chosen that night to do mushrooms before the show.

But Tiggr's true genius is revealed when he produces his masterpiece, the Velourabeast...

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