Wednesday, December 13, 2006

map of july (part 3)

I approached an actor friend who said he was a drummer, to see if he'd be interested in filling out our line-up.

"What're you guys?" he asked in his Boston accent. "Straightforward like the Foo Fighters?"

Jeff came to his first rehearsal with a full drum kit, and a notion of rock bands that came out of "Hammer of the Gods." None of us drank much at the time, but Jeff downed a whole bottle of wine that he found in my fridge to "warm up," while the rest of us exchanged nervous glances.

Jeff was at his best with some of our jazzier songs. He liked to have room to play with things. He tended to get lost in a standard pop song. We noticed quickly that the cool thing he played on the chorus of one song, he might not recall even the next time the chorus came up during that same run through the song.

Jeff tended to bring his girlfriend Kate to rehearsals, and she had some things in common with Nathan. She didn't think twice before offerings suggestions that we change this or that, that I sing this song an octave higher.

She was our photographer for the first set of band pictures. We had vetoed Jeff's suggestion that we all "dress up and hang around in the cemetery" which bordered my apartment, on the grounds that such behavior had nothing to do with the music we made, and ended up taking a series of pictures on old bridges and some fun ones in a scale-model town the local police had built for the teaching of traffic safety. By the end of the day we were exhausted as much by Kate as anything. Even Jeff, who clearly loved her, didn't seem to like her very much.

It was nice to have a drummer, though. It made things feel more real somehow. And Jeff was certainly fun to have around most of the time. And with this core group in place, we set out to play our first legitimate show, an Earth Day 1997 celebration downstate.

We had gotten the gig through an ex of mine (who would later adorn the cover of our first record), who had some connections as a student down there. We were to play for 45 minutes.

I doubt we played well, but it felt great to be on a stage singing the songs we had made, taking our first steps towards something. Marc and I, at least, were already pouring a lot of time into discussions of what we'd do when we got big. We divided potential royalties, weighed the pros and cons of signing to a label. Ian was a little more reluctant in these conversations. He worked in the music industry and had an idea of how difficult it can be to make a living at music.

We actually had a "band rule" that said we wouldn't do a stadium tour until we had crossed the country at least once playing clubs. The rules were designed as a statement about who we were, as well. We didn't want to be famous so much as we wanted to be good at what we did, and respected for it. It's fair to say that the most any of us hoped for was to make a living doing this.

But the show was fairly well-received. The students seemed to like us. We got our first press as well, the above pic running in the local paper the next day, spelling both my name and the name of the band correctly, which we decided was a good sign.

A friend of mine, with whom I was very close in high school, came up as we were tearing down and asked when I was gonna write a song about him. A few months later I angrily obliged, coming up with "The Ballad of Wolfgang Grimm." The song was written to be a throwaway we could play once at some show he attended, but it remained in the set lists for years.

Within a couple of months, Jeff's inconsistent drumming and his sporadic rehearsal attendance, coupled with some differing views as to what the band should be, led to his dismissal. We had already found a new drummer, Greg, during a time when Jeff was not around, and circumstances ended up so that Greg was present when we let Jeff go.

We were at a screening of the film Jeff and I had completed the previous Spring, held at the Art Institute. I had tried to reach Jeff by phone before the screening, but couldn't, so I had to do the job at what would otherwise have been a purely celebrational experience for us both. The other band members seemed to literally dematerialize as I approached him.

He laughed it off, but I could see that it bothered him. I felt terrible, firing an old friend like that, especially given where we were. It's definitely a low point for me. I thought about the story of John Lennon firing Pete Shotton, his best friend, from the Quarrymen by breaking a washboard over his head. I reconciled myself with the knowledge that, while we were never going to be the Beatles, at least I hadn't fired Jeff violently. Shotton at least got a supermarket out of the deal, though.

But the first time Greg played with us, his very first rehearsal, he brought something I hadn't yet experienced in music. He played solidly, and some little part of me relaxed more than I had been able to previously. The song was going to be there, and I could concentrate on singing. The songs sounded better with Greg, and he helped me to sing better as well. I could trust him.

Even with the Jeff situation as yet unresolved, we offered him the job before he even left my house for the first time.

And with his acceptance the "classic" map of july line-up was formed.

1 comment:

Liz said...

Oh, breaking up is so hard to do, especially when it's with a friend who's not cutting it. And, why does someone in the band always have to have a Kate around them?