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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