Thursday, January 26, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 8/20

Engines to Power; Turbines to Speed
Back in Chicago, home again after the Louisville jaunt, we start to pursue more gigs. Full speed ahead. Songs pour out, riffs and titles -- don't look to close, don't stop to figure anything out, don't think. Just do. Somewhere in here Sue at Lounge Axe buys us our first set of matching tux coats, powder blue, prom-date tacky, a little tight in the shoulders, but MAN they go nice with our helmets. Or do they? Skipper finds a fucked-up straw hat in a thrift store, and as much as we love our spelunker look, we love the hayseed look more. Soon we each have one, three matching "hows-about-a-nice-Hawaiian-Punch?" dandies. Those and a few ruffly shirts, a bow-tie apiece, and suddenly we look -- good, sure, but it's more than that, we now look -- alike. The NDI tux-and-hat combo is an unmissable visual symptom of our mutual mind-meld, our shared dementia. We look the same because we are all three clinging to the back of the same rampaging, tacky, loud, irresponsible rodeo bull. We begin giving the same misleading answer to the same dumb question.
A few more gigs, Cubby Bear, the random party, a suburban basement or two, back to Cubby Bear, and sometimes people come and sometimes they don't, but we are having such a surreal good time that we barely notice. It Don't Matter. The second or third time we play Cubby Bear, though, there are maybe fifty people there, loosely gathered on the dance floor, watching us closely. It feels like a lot of people, but maybe that's just because they're all paying attention.
The white trash spectacular, the stage littered with an increasingly bizarre collection of toys and found objects, relics of our childhood obsessions, songs about our love of the awkward and the pretentious and the tacky, it's strumming a chord. Plus we're all more accomplished musicians than we need to be for these songs, and we've played together for years and years, so the blunt force we began with is evolving, without our conscious involvement or guidance, into something that is basically impossible to ignore. The band is coincidentally becoming a force to be reckoned with, heavy in an off-hand way, cycling through regressive riffing and twangy country rips. We're still writing songs without really thinking about it.
And some people, okay plenty of people, absolutely HATE us. But it's part of the deal! What else did we expect? Some of the things a few disgruntled people have said to my face would have sent me into a weeks-long tailspin in a previous life, when peoples' appreciation of my art and my own self-image were basically equivalent. Now? I LOVE it. In the glorious regression that is NDI, this is infancy: for a baby, attention is attention, whether mommy is screaming in anger or playing kissy-poo. Being in the old band was like being invisible. It was one reason we cashed it in: nothing could be worse than being ignored for another show, another album, another minute. TELL ME how much you fucking hate my band, how stupid I look, how you want your money back. Ha haaa! Yes! You get it! We are TRYING to make you mad. The fact that so many people love us is a surprising and unexpected side-effect.
Then Sue Miller leaves Cubby Bear for Lounge Ax, on Lincoln Avenue. So we play there. Sue loves us and she gives us a headline spot on a Friday night. The club has an anarchic air, and Sue and us the people who work there, we all find the same things funny, we're already friends for the most part. Before we even play there it feels like home. So it's Friday, we have the stage set just how we like it, a barely-navigable mess, and we're getting ready to go on, hanging out in the nasty cluttered rooms up on the second floor that used to be someone's apartment and is now the band dressing room, and we are writing the set list and adjusting each other's ties and drinking shots of Jagermeister, bottles of beer, and GT goes down to get another round and he comes back up and there's this look on his face and he says something I've never heard anyone in any other band I've ever been in say, ever:
"Boys," says GT, "There's a line of people out front."
What does that even mean?
The second-floor apartment/dressing room has a big dirty window with no blinds overlooking Lincoln Avenue, and together we look out, the snaggly brims of our straw hats scrabbling against the glass, and yes, it's true. There are at least two dozen people standing along the sidewalk, waiting to get into the club. One of them has on a fucked-up straw hat, so we know they're not lined up for the ATM next door. They're here to see us. Am I nervous? No! I'm Pigtail! I am a loud, strutting, talentless hillbilly with a big heavy Gibson Les Paul and two bandmates who look like my inbred brothers. Together, like He-Man, We Have The Power. Plus, and this is the part that doesn't make sense, the GOOD part: So What? There's a line of people out front? Okay, cool, great, but nothing will change, because nothing matters. We got this far by not giving a shit -- if we start giving a shit now just because we appear to be getting a little bit popular, then we will screw it all up. We tried and tried for ten years and never got popular and finally we woke up to a new world, a new directive -- stop trying -- and now look. Look out the window. See those people?
Try and fail; stop trying and succeed. The American Dream in reverse.
Showtime, bitches, strap on and let's hit the stage. We have begun a policy of coming from the back of the club, handing out toys and food and horns and sparklers and whatever, and we come down the stairs, the door opens out to the bar near the front door, and we're trying to get to the stage in the back, and holy god where did all these people come from? We don't know how to even think about it -- we lack the language. Like Eskimos and their 200 words for "snow," the old band knew a hundred ways to describe empty rooms, flat crowds, pointless shows. But the idea of a packed room is so novel that it might as well be meaningless. We wind through the narrow front room, it's hot and smelly, they take our little gifts, they seem to know us; some faces are familiar, and we squeeze between the bodies and up onto the stage, GT begins the jackhammer intro to "Jackson, Mississippi," and this place has a good P.A. and we are amped and jumping and loud and confident and careless and me and Skip come in together, the stolen riff is beyond simple, and I look down in front of me and something is weird. What is it? Something not right, or inexplicable. One of our old-band buddies, a funny and wise cat in a band a little like ours, once called the empty space in front of the stage at every single gig the "moat of indifference." We had become so used to it that we didn't even mind it anymore. It was just what was. Part of our existence. Sometimes some people ventured into the moat, stood for a while drinking a beer and kind of watching us, and once in a long while some kids got up to dance for a song or two. So this here, this scene before me, not three feet from the toes of my two-toned patent leather slip-ons, this is something that in many years of rock life I have literally never seen before. These people here at Lounge Ax are bouncing, happy, excited. Some of them are even singing along. Dammit! This is how it should have been all along!
Next: Gearing Up.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 7/20

What could be more ridiculous than a bass solo? It sums up everything stupid and self-important about rock bands. So let's have a bass solo! From Skipper, who literally can't play bass! Let's have him just stand there on stage and hit one or two spastic notes, lots of dead air, that ever-present gnarly hum of corroded wires, and here's the thing -- let's act like it's awesome. Because compared to any other rock and roll bass solo ever played by anyone, it is. All bass solos are stupid, and Skipper's is no more or less stupid than the most artistic, studied, accomplished, serious bass solo by any other rock band in this or any other century. We know it, and soon the crowds know it. It's funny because it's true.
What could be more ridiculous than a drum solo? Pretty much nothing. We absolutely love Led Zeppelin, but our love encompasses their stupidity, so we fully appreciate John Bonham playing a drum solo with his hands. So let's get GT up there, and give him not drums but our heads, our mammoth-cave-helmet-wearing heads, to bang on. Listen to the sharp rat-a-tat of wood on safety plastic! It cuts through the smoky club, impossible to ignore. And now that we have your attention, you can't miss GT's true virtuosity -- he's playing the other dudes' heads, good bit, pretty funny, but check it -- he's fucking wailing! Seriously.
What could be more ridiculous than a guitar solo? A fancy, twiddly, spot-lit guitar solo from a wealthy and famous rock god? A long one, too -- so long the other dudes leave the stage for a smoke backstage. A guitar solo that, I don't know, also includes a theremin, or a violin bow, or another guitar you play with your foot, or all three. Glorious! I want in on it! So without thinking it through too much we combine the most blockheaded, and therefore most important, rock riff ever -- the intro to "Smoke on the Water" -- with a feat no rock cretin has ever tried: we'll see your theremin and raise you an oven mitt. Can it be done? Can I play the riff with, as Skipper announces, "a fully functional oven mitt" on my left hand? I don't know. But I do know this: It Don't Matter. Pretty soon it's a regular part of The Show.
Over time our sick and bubbling brains cough up variations on the ridiculosity of the Official Rock Solo. Here are a few:
* Squeaky Balloon. Skipper produces a balloon, blows it up, and does that squeaky air-release thing into the mic, while I instruct the sound man in the correct way to make the innocent little squeal sound like a Concorde jet landing an a sperm whale: "Soundman, please apply 50 dB's of backward reverb and 3 grams of double-sideways echo to the microphone!" Some sound men get it, some don't -- the sound man at Little Brother's, in Columbus Ohio, who is actually a sound woman, is one of the best ever. When it works it's a frightening tempest of feedback and escalating screechy echoes. One of my favorite parts of the show. And even though it's a balloon solo, it's still a bass solo. It's a bass solo.
* Liberal Art. Once the NDI starts blowing minds in college towns, we begin providing the kids with object lessons in what we think of as liberal art -- art we take liberties with. We're getting a little ways away from our bone-headed trailer-trash roots, but a solo is a solo, so I bring out a big thing of orange or green tempura paint; I get a big old mouthful of that salty/nasty/wrong tasting shit, and GT and Skipper unroll a big thing of shiny white paper and I SPIT that shit, the paint and drool and beer and maybe a little vomit, across the virgin white gleaming surface. And then we tear it off and reward it to a random/cute member of the crowd. It slows things down a bit, but we're up for anything. And remember, it's a guitar solo.
* Goodtime Plays the Harmonica and Sings. The NDI begins with a few assumptions, among them that drummers should never sing. Ever. Or write lyrics (see "Rush"). But that doesn't stop GT from bellowing/singing random children's songs and bleating out two notes on a toy harmonica. For money! It's a strange and wonderful world.
* A few more: The raw pig's head I banged on my strings. Skipper singing show tunes in a cracked Bette Davis voice. Goodtime blowing stuff up. Playing the saxophone theme to "My Three Sons." Ummm... There other solos I can't fully remember or have blocked out. If any of you people remember a solo I have forgotten, feel free to share!
That's all for now! The narrative arc returns for part 8. See you soon you big baboons!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 6/20

It's like Christmas, literally like Christmas. We can't wait...

At the club: Load in. One bass amp, one guitar amp. A guitar, a bass, a "drum set," really only enough for one or two trips. That's it. Bare bones. Then comes two big fat garbage bags of yard-sale plunder, hauled in and dumped smack in the middle of the dance floor in front of the stage. Except for the vodka-cranberries in our hands, we could be children on Christmas morning, laughing and playing with our new toys. Who cares if they're all used or broken or stained with something? To us these things are now valuable possessions. How is it that the useless refuse of a road-side Kentucky family can be so precious to us? Well, who's us?

The best part is putting everything up on the stage. Everything, more or less, fits somewhere: The Twister board we tape up behind GT as a kind of a backdrop; the grimy stuffed animals we lovingly array around the amps and drums. Christmas lights, the half that actually work, we drape all over everything. The Halloween masks, broken and too-small, will be worn by GT at random moments behind the kit. The Fashion Barbie head, the one that some child made-up with markers before sawing off the synthetic blond hair with a kitchen knife, is propped up in a place of honor on Skipper's amp. The torn Farrah poster, the big ugly wall clock, the light-up Pabst sign, the scummy blow-up pool toys, the spinning table-top disco light that keeps getting stuck -- it all goes on stage, and holy fuck it all looks SO amazing. Happy in its new home. When we hit the stage, exhausted from spelunking, wobbly from vodka, snazzy in sport coats and helmets, when we start the set amid this debris, somewhere the Rock Gods smile. The thundering rock and the blazing stupidity of the band and its music, the trailer-park-after-the-tornado stage set up; it's senseless, it makes perfect sense. The twenty people there are going bananas. We are beyond thinking; we know. This is it. The Rock Gods have cracked open the door, and we have shoved in a big white patent leather slip-on.

The first set is over, and the room is vibrating, and then one of us, who knows who, has an idea that pretty much guarantees that this show, if it didn't already, will go down in history, or at least our history. "OK!" shouts Skipper, unsteady in the middle of the dance floor. "We're taking you fuckers out for White Castles. Everyone in the van!" Seriously? The crowd wavers. All of us? Yes, all of you. Into the van. We have to get back in time for the next set. Five minutes later and I am heels-over-ass in the back of the van, packed in with over a dozen drunk strangers, laughing, rolling with the turns, GT driving I think, on our way to the White Castle three blocks down the street and around the corner. Now we're there, stop the van, everyone spills out, and Skipper leads us into the ungodly bright fluorescent interior of the restaurant, and at the counter the hopeless dude in the paper hat says "may I help you?" and Skipper says, and I will always love him for this, and it fits him so perfectly: "One slider, please." "One slider?" says the dude. "Yep," says Skipper, and three minutes later we are all back in the van, all of us, the band and its audience, rolling with the turns and passing around that one single slider, that tiny hot package, and everyone takes a little bite and hands it on, all of us brothers, all of us sisters, and the love we have been holding in for years flows between us.
The second set, if indeed we played one, is lost in the fog...

Next: Solos...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 5/20

And now it's time to take our show on the road...


Kenn/Skipper books us a gig at Uncle Pleasant's, a cool little bar run by Uncle Mark, a twisted and friendly southern gentleman who agrees to pay us $100 for an actual headlining gig on a Wednesday night. Pretty much guarantees zero crowd, although the old band did have a good show or two at this place, so why not?
We still have our terminally ill van, so transportation isn't a problem. The problem is more vague than that. How will this trip not feel like just another old-band journey to a familiar town? How do we keep this strange and freaked-out feeling alive? Soon enough we have our answer, found in a crumpled brochure on the floor of our van: we'll go spelunking. Cave exploring! It makes so little sense that it makes perfect sense. The Mammoth Cave "Wild Tour" will take us for six hours through the deepest darkest heart of the earth under central Kentucky, crawling through muck and slime, dangling from ledges. GT is claustrophobic, Skip and I are out-of-shape smokers, we've never done anything remotely like this, ever. We'll have to drive down the night before, spend extra money on a motel, get up, when? Six o-fucking-clock in the morning? Seriously? Yes. Get up and get to the cave and spelunk our brains out, and then afterward drive straight to the club, set up, and play. It's pointless, it's stupid, it's dangerous. It's NDI.

In the cave, half a mile underground, crawling on my belly for two hundred yards through an 18-inch-high crack, getting kicked in the face by GT's big muddy boots, I feel this wave of unreality, an existential loss of control. The fake is overcoming the real. Has the bit gone too far? Down here in the cave for no other reason than "why not?," I wonder if someone shouldn't be watching us, keeping an eye on our stranger impulses. Protecting us from our new selves, our alter egos who are, after all, 100% id. We climb and crawl and slither and finally emerge into reality through a crack in the ground, like demons from hell, the old ladies creeping along the nice paved easy-cave-tour path watching us with slack jaws. A smack on the ass, a big first breath of fresh air and soon we are blinking in the bright sun, covered with mud and muck. We're exhausted but happy, and there's an added bonus: they let you keep the helmet! And guess what, we're wearing our new helmets for the rest of the night. We have already established a group policy of hats-on-stage. Our tacky/classy sport coats and old man shoes will go beautifully with our new matching protective headgear. We climb into the van and set off for Louisville and our first-ever road show.

Drive to the club? Sounds pretty straightforward. The old band has been there before. But NDI, we are learning, never does things the easy way, and so instead of the fast highway we are compelled to follow the twisty blue one that runs through oddly named towns, across rivers. We're trying to find something, not sure what, but it has to do with all the little lives and small worlds that we bypassed for so many years with the other band. Back then we zipped from club to hotel to gas station to club. Now we pull over at the slightest provocation. An American Legion weenie roast in the parking lot of the Bardstown Tru-Value? Sure! A sparsely attended back-country carnival? Ok! A go-cart track, at any place, at any time? Absolutely! A permanent-looking yard sale in front of an abandoned-looking farmhouse that will surely make us late to the gig? YES!

So we pull over and climb out and hike up the steep little embankment to this yard full of -- what. Crap. Beauty. An American history lesson. An archaeological dig. The fossil record of a family, of child-rearing, school projects, momentary passions, spent appliances. Bowling nights, bad novels, outgrown shoes. Twister. Too much to swallow. First, there is a lesson here: pull over, and good things happen. The old band never pulled over. NDI, from this point on, will ALWAYS pull over.

So with our van ticking by the side of this blue highway, we stroll among the offerings in our nice sport coats and matching spelunking helmets, picking out the precious plunder from this road-side museum with a new and wonderful shared sense of what is priceless. And then, wonder of wonders! Skipper/Kenn does the unthinkable: he pulls out the band wad. Skipper/Kenn, the keeper of the cash, the retainer of resources, the doler-outer of per diems! Skipper/Kenn, of all people! Holy fuck but yes, he's taking out the band wad, the motel money, the gas money, and it's like a dream, an underwater dream -- he is actually paying the fat old lady in the print dress, I see a ten dollar bill, and then a five, and then at least two singles, maybe three.... Am I going to faint? Faint and roll down the embankment and into the road?

When I come to, we are in the van again, GT behind the wheel, and next to me on the back seat is not one but two big-ass garbage bags just stuffed with stuff. What's in there? I don't know. It's like Christmas, literally like Christmas. We can't wait.

At the club: Load in...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 4/20

Call Me Pigtail

Repeat after me: stupidity is entertaining, and entertaining is stupid. We are finally ready to do what it takes to be entertaining, to be fun to watch, to make people happy. We're ready because we are now, finally, stupid...

But we are not stupid. Not quite. We are, and have always been, a few steps up the idiot ladder from the dudes in the other bands that we encounter on the road or at local shows. There's proof: somehow we have managed to stay alive for years with virtually no other income than the proceeds from the gigs, albums, and merch sales of a band that nobody truly gives a crap about. We get the shows, hustle promotion, show up on time, leave the club intact. Our press kit is organized and well-written. We can keep a calendar. We understand things. We are not losers. Plus we absolutely love music.
This new thing, THEE New Duncan Imperials, these dudes also love music -- just not the same music as the old band. A side-effect of becoming Skipper and Pigtail and Goodtime appears to be an entirely new idea of what good music is, and what it should be. Our old band listened to and referenced REM, the Smiths, The Replacements, worthy and acceptable artists. But now we are not that band. Not only that -- We have never been that band. We have always been NDI, and we have always loved a very short list of similarly fucked-up artists. We steal blatantly and liberally. No apologies! From the start we refer to our songs as "riffs we stole," and from the start we turned to three, and only three, bands to steal from. So write this down: we steal from Jon Wayne, we steal from The Country Rockers, and we steal from The Mentors. That's the list. That's all. Go look 'em up on-line. As far as contemporary influences on The New Duncan Imperials go, that's them.
So much for the present. But the past? Our non-contemporary influences? Oooh yeah. Foghat, Pablo Cruise, George Jones, Black Sabbath, Chuck Berry, Kool and the Gang, the Sex Pistols, The Action, Motorhead, Blue Oyster Cult, KC and the Sunshine Band, The Osmonds, and on and on. Also: Saturday morning cartoons, go-cart tracks, space food sticks, Which Witch, sibling rivalry, front yards with cars in them, garage sales, grits, the Brady Bunch, Yogi Bear, Spectre Man, NASCAR, camping, minibikes, girly magazines. Lots of girly magazines. But not that newfangled airbrushed Playboy bullshit -- we're mainlining vintage smut. Somewhere along the line we steal/are given a big stack of old 50's and 60's naughty zines with titles like "Men" and "Sir!" and "Rogue." Not sexy at all, really, but flip past the awkward black and white photo spreads of ladies in big ugly underpants and you get to page after page of sleazy, sketchy advertisements, beautiful, nasty, primitive ads for hairpieces, 8mm dirty movie reels and projectors to watch them with, correspondence courses to become a plumber or a private eye, shoes that make you taller, something called "French Ticklers" that they evidently aren't allowed to illustrate, offers to set your poems to music, five adult novels for the price of three, spy kits, x-ray glasses, pinkie rings, on and on. And always at least one full-page thing for Frederick's of Hollywood, with some actually hot ladies in racy brassieres. Somehow this parade of desperation and bad taste nails the NDI state of mind. The fleshing-out of the NDI acquires a layer of slime.
Another bit that we start almost right away is a policy of giving free shit to whoever is standing in front of us. At our first show at the Cubby Bear, a Chicago club booked by Sue Miller, a tolerator of our old band and a true fan of our new one, GT decides to put out little cups of cereal and milk on the tables in front of the stage before the gig. Why not? Like a little reward for our friends. But he puts the cereal in surplus urine sample containers that he found in a corner of his basement. Are they clean? Sure! But there's something about the gesture that fits our new personalities: we're nice and outgoing, but we're also kind of dumb and assholic. We'll give the audience free shit from here on out, even play a variety of "giving out shit theme songs," but the giveaways will almost always be something odd, like raw broccoli, or dangerous, like a lit sparkler. We'll send GT running out from behind his drum kit to hand out whatever he's got -- raw pig ears or chicken feet, handfuls of unwrapped candy, toy soldiers. Sometimes they throw the gifts back at us. Fair enough. The chicken feet hurt, though, so soon we gravitate toward softer items. Marshmallows are popular. But that's still to come.
So we've done a few more Chicago club shows and sometimes twenty people come and sometimes fifty, but no matter what there's a new feeling, a tinge of the manic, people singing along, laughing, sometimes screaming. Also in spite of ourselves we're getting better, or at least better at being NDI. We're benefiting from a kind of hybrid vigor: as stupid and dumb as we now are, there's still the awareness and something like shrewdness that kind of bubbles up through our characters. We're a new and maybe dangerous species: fake hillbillies with real ambition. And now it's time to take our show on the road.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 3/20

We still do not give a shit about anything...

Our first-ever gig is at someone's backyard birthday kegger. We wear our nicest thrift-store sports coats and hats, baseball caps or whatever, pulled low over our eyes. The sound is atrocious and hardly anyone we know is there, but It Don't Matter. The songs are easy and we're hitting the tap. Somehow these alternative identities we have accidentally invented, these entirely new people, have blown up inside us and become almost real, and it's like they're playing and singing and talking between songs while we watch. Also there's this weird contradiction: We're a joke, but we're not a joke band. The difference will forever escape some people, but as time goes by it is maybe the only thing that actually does matter to us: we're a joke, but we're not a joke band, because these songs, funny and stupid though they may be, are not necessarily funny or stupid to the guys playing them. Skipper and Goodtime and Pigtail take this shit seriously, or they might. They would if they were real, put it that way. And are they real? Not yet but soon we will have to wrestle with that idea. Who are we? Where are we? Is it more fun being them than it is being us? Oooh, heavy. And deep. Way too deep for the NDI to take time to figure out.

Call me Pigtail! I am up on the non-stage at this kegger, this non-gig, and we are making a hell of a racket, crude and crass, an insult to our talent and our art, to all talent and art. Booooorrrrrrn, born to be hit! The crowd is not really a crowd, it's a party, assorted types milling around a back yard, but they are tolerating us, and a few are actually curious, that stock-still tilted-head look that we will soon be seeing a lot more of. They drink cold draft beer from big shiny red plastic cups and watch us, then wander away, then come back and watch a little more. Pensacola 99 -- yeeaaah, right! The sound we have unearthed in the basement has been dragged out into the sunshine, but it still sounds dark and heavy. GT hammers that poor snare and Skipper's blister-encrusted fingers are actually starting to find the right string, if not always the right fret. We are very close to sucking, to being bad, but it's like a game of chicken -- the closer to truly bad we get, to real awfulness, the more we rule. It's like a game of chicken. If we actually did hit bad head-on, it would immediately be over. We would be dead, and since this is already our second life, our newborn reincarnation, dead would be truly dead. If we were to miscalculate and hit bad head-on, there would be no second second chance. We would be home with Mom and Dad. Our one golden summer would be over. So we keep veering away at the last minute, blowing right past bad, feeling the hot wind, letting it wash over us. How do we do it? No way to know. How does someone win a game of chicken? We are gambling with our futures, and It Don't Matter.

The first gig shows us that yes, we can play this stuff for other humans. Now load the van and get back in the basement. Another two weeks, another 15 songs created, or stolen -- we don't care: we have another show, this one inside an actual club, Phyllis's Musical Inn on Division Street. Phyllis's is generally known as the easiest gig to get in the entire city, way below our status in the rapidly receding real world, the one where we have a well-known band with five albums out and reviews in the paper and all of that meaningless bullshit. God bless Phyllis's for taking a chance on us! We never tell them our real names or mention our other band, and we wind up with a Wednesday night, opening for some out-of-town band, the poor suckers. The club is echoing and empty, the home of the hands-down worst P.A. in town, an old hang out for hard-drinking laborers from the first Polish immigrant neighborhood in Chicago. But when we climb on stage and strap on and peer out into the gloom, instead of a completely empty bar we see... a not-quite empty bar! There are a few people here, inexplicably. I recognize some close friends, people we kind of had to tell what we were up to, and some faces from the backyard party, fewer than twenty people total, but it's Wednesday, it's 9:30, it's Phyllis's, and they're here. We rip into the set, and it's louder than god in this echoey little dive bar, we're rattling the old joints, overdriving the muffled and distorted sound system. And I know they are our friends, and I know they kind of have to like us, but these kids seem to be having an actual blast, laughing at the funny bits, shouting back at us, singing along here and there. Our stone-ages riffs, choruses, verses, stops, starts, are increasingly looking and sounding like actual songs. Or something. Our little bunch of people whoop it up, holler, laugh. It's hard to miss: why is it that our other band, the one we worried and sweated over for ten years, NEVER got ANYONE to make these noises?
After Phyllis's we are hot to trot baby, thinking more and more about the new band, rolling out ideas, charting courses. The dangling, googly-eyed skeletons, Skipper and GT and Pigtail, start gaining flesh and blood. Are they becoming more real? The confused but competent humans behind the white trash puppets, Kenn and John and Rick, are learning how to stay behind the scenes, how to make their characters dance, sing, talk. In our shared office room in Kenn's Devon-Avenue apartment, I am standing by the desk, Kenn on the phone. He's booking the next NDI gig, at Misfits, and he's referring to the band, of course, in the third person. "Yeah, they'll be there by seven." Soon enough we have the title of what might be the truest NDI song: "I'm Schizophrenic (No I'm Not)," inspiration courtesy of GT but true of all of us.
The Misfits show is a repeat of Phyllis's -- shitty club, shitty P.A., shitty week-night opening slot -- with the same little bunch of people. Maybe a few more, maybe not. But they are here. They came out again. We know better than to ask too many questions. So we play another show, draw a few more people, and after a few weeks a new truth is dawning, a truth built on a lie, maybe, but a truth nonetheless. The idea is so simple that it takes awhile to sink in -- stupidity is entertaining. And entertaining is stupid! Repeat after me: stupidity is entertaining, and entertaining is stupid. We are finally ready to do what it takes to be entertaining, to be fun to watch, to make people happy. We're ready because we are now, finally, stupid!
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