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Steve-O and Mike start playing in seventh grade because Mike’s stepbrother is in a band called Valium Rescue and sometimes the stepbrother gets laid so why not? But mostly they drink and wear tube socks and have a van. It’s fun. They come up with a name, The Torrentials, and play hardcore, which is not punk and so involves constantly correcting people. Mike says, “hardcore is to a pickaxe what punk is to lipstick.”
There are some fights.
By high school they play crappy clubs – mosh pits and straight edge and trying to sound even a tiny bit like Minor Threat while pretending not to. Mike wears an earring, a Gibson SG, and a Clash City Rockers T-shirt. Steve-O buys an off-brand bass for eighty dollars. It’s called, like, “Bass.” The case is lined with fake pink fur that Mike says smells like pussy which make Steve-O think Mike was lying about all those cheerleaders because it smells nothing like pussy, and Steve-O would know since been hanging out at Dana Crane’s for months, the Sunday nights when both her parents are at work and they can raid the liquor cabinet and listen to Murphy’s Law on her futon. [private]
Mike suddenly decides he doesn’t like The Torrentials any more. He wants to change the name to November Regions. Steve-O thinks November Regions is the lamest name he’s ever heard. It sounds like a song from the last U2 demo that even U2 thought sucked too hard to actually put on the album.
There’s a fight, Steve-O wins.
Mike spray-paints a bed sheet and hangs it in his parent’s garage. There is, of course, an anarchy circle around the A. Mike has no idea what anarchy is, or even wants to be. Something about wallet chains and waiters getting more per hour plus tips. This older dude named Drew plays drums. He’s so good that he doesn’t bother playing what they play. He looks like Iggy Pop and does roll after roll across the roto-toms. Ray Skal, already graduated, sings. He’s balding and brings his own little cooler full of Bud Lite and refuses to share. He looks sort of like Brian Eno. Steve-O knows that because he just bought a Brian Eno album, Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy, from the Imports section at Record World.
The Torrentials have four songs. One original, a cover of Black Flag’s ‘TV Party,’ plus sarcastic covers of Berlin’s ‘The Metro’ and The Thompson Twins’ ‘Hold Me Now.’ Andy rolls blunts and keeps saying “they’re not even really twins!”
Here’s one problem: Gary Skal can’t sing. He’s horrible. They play a couple parties and then a battle of the bands. Mike smashes his guitar at the end of the last song on a cinder block in the middle of the stage, because he’s scared if he smashes it on the floor they’ll make him pay for the damage.
The summer after high school, Steve-O and Mike do the backpack routine in Europe. Steve-O can’t cram Bass into his ancient Jansport, so he takes up the harmonica. It’s easy to hit the three notes that matter, and they mostly do blues in E. Any other key and he’s pretty much lost, drowning in that lame Dylan-ish chordy thing. Somewhere on the streets of Stockholm, a guy in a business suit stops, watches them for a minute, and then says with a heavy Swede accent “you know nothing about the blues! Find another hobby!”
In college, Steve-O decides to try saxophone. He goes to the local music store the summer before his first semester and buys a 1941 Conn alto for a hundred bucks. He takes it home and squonks away in the back yard for a few weeks before producing the first pure note. When he gets to school there’s a tiny index card on the dorm chalkboard that advertises cheap lessons. The dude is called Tumast. No last name. Tumast doesn’t want to come on campus. He says he’s “had some trouble there” before. Steve-O goes to his house. It’s sort of a barn/shack thing. Tumast has three enormous gleaming tenors lined against the wall. He takes off his shirt and pulls yards of Saran Wrap around his plump waist. He says it helps him sweat and “tighten his shit up.” Tumast shows Steve-O how to play a C scale. It sounds awful. The neighbours must hate it. Steve-O is embarrassed and has his asshole puckered the entire lesson, a look on Tumast’s face like he can hear it in every note.
Steve-O moves to Columbus and works in a hotel. He and Hank from college play saxophone and guitar on the street for change. Hank also sells his hand-painted T-shirts. The T-shirts all have screaming faces on them. They’re cool theoretically, but only someone insane would want one of those faces on their chest. People stop, look at them, walk away. Hank knows two songs, ‘Lover Man’ and ‘Mr. Porkpie Hat.’
Steve-O buys an acoustic guitar and tablature for the requisite Neil Young. He starts jamming with other acoustic dudes, learning little runs and rhythm tricks. No one expects much from an acoustic guitar, as opposed to a sax or an electric, so he figures he’s always sort of a step ahead. That’s good for about a year, sitting in the OSU quad in the sun, as girls hang around to listen. Then a dude named King Ink asks Steve-O if he wants to be in a band called Scrofula. King Ink insists they’ll be the Guns n’ Roses of the greater Ohio Valley area. Steve-O agrees. They are not the Guns n’ Roses of the greater Ohio Valley area. After a lot of pizza boxes and four bar gigs, King Ink splits with the panel van and half the band’s equipment in the middle of the night.
The four of them stop in Columbus to stretch. Steve-O, Robot, Marcellus, and Gay Don. It’s hot and Steve-O’s shirt is wet. Somehow they end up near OSU. There’s a strip of bars to be visited. Beer-soaked carpet, specials in the windows, Jaeger Tuesdays. Go Buckeyes!
“Frat, date-rape, vomit,” Robot says.
“Huh?” Marcellus says.
“These places. Depressing.”
They shrug, walk towards the closest door. Steve-O brings his guitar case, not wanting to leave it in Gay Don’s de-commissioned taxi, which doesn’t lock.
By the fourth bar, they’re shitfaced. Gay Don starts telling everyone who’ll listen how they’re in a band. He’s telling them that they’re gonna play The Attic at midnight. Most people are nursing hangovers and ignoring him. A couple girls are like Oh, really? but not putting much heart into it. The bartender rolls his eyes, cutting limes.
The next place, they sort of get into the spirit and take turns adding details, Marcellus going on about how they’ll leave tickets at will call for anyone who buys a round. Robot runs down the set-list, how they do Bon Jovi covers and Ratt covers and John Cage covers. As the guitar player, Steve-O knows his role is to hang back and be silent and cool and superior, one foot on the rail. It’s worthy of some sort of paper, sociology or physics, how easily everyone falls into their unspoken role. Marcellus is the lead singer, Robot the drummer, Gay Don plays bass.
From bar to bar the story gets more honed, more believable, less believable. Robot and Gay Don are trying to outdo each other, talking about the Japanese tour, groupie orgies, drummer explosions, failed label deals, letting people listen in, move closer, buy a round, get involved. A lie stumbled upon is infinitely more believable than a lie presented. Steve-O concludes that being a fool allows others to reveal themselves. He concludes that the power of belief is redemptive, and carries a special allure for the perpetually bored. On the other hand, he feels half-guilty, each lie like a wet dime slid into his pocket.
He barely even knows these guys.
Steve-O needed a ride to Kentucky and back. There was a flier in the Laundromat, Want to Split Gas???? Steve-O met them in the parking lot while they loaded a cooler and duffels of socks into the taxi, making jokes. They drove straight through. Steve-O spent the weekend with his girlfriend, and then Gay Don picked him up at some mall on Sunday, all “good timing, dude, we almost left,”and they headed back.
Gay Don was pretty, long hair and skinny rocker’s legs and that natural eyeliner thing. Robot had a Billy Idol white buzz and a leather jacket. Marcellus had a denim shirt with no sleeves, tatted from neck to wrist, scripture in between the bats and skulls and leopards. None of them played an instrument as far as Steve-O could tell.
“We don’t get some back-up singers on our rider, it’s like, shit, we’re getting a new manager,” Robot was telling some underage girl who professed to sing.
“Yeah, and what’s the name of this band?” asks a blonde waitress, stopping in the middle of the room with the edge of a tray against her hip. She looks tired, like she’s been dropped by nine too many football players and a semester full of afternoon tips.
Gay Don looks at Steve-O, mouthing an Oh Shit, amazed it hadn’t come up yet.
“Yeah, man, what is your name?” says a bushy-haired dude in a Doors shirt who bought the last round. Doubt flares, undeniable, people stopping their conversations and listening in. It’s about to topple under its own ugly gravity, the whole thing. Steve-O can feel it. There are maybe twenty people in the bar, sun coming in the half-door that causes the rubber floor mats to steam. There are a group of sports guys with backward caps and team sweatshirts. There are a few townies and metal guys wristing foosball. Steve-O can feel an undertow, an inexorable tug, an inevitable beat-down. For some reason, the entire room turns to him, feet crossed, leaning on his guitar case with a glass half-full of someone else’s beer.
“We are Crustimony Proseedcake,” he says, the first thing that pops in his head.
A few people blink.
“Crust-imony Pro-Seed-Cake,” he says again, with inflection. The Tao of Pooh had been on his girlfriend’s nightstand. He read a few pages while she was taking a shower.
There’s a beat. A one and a two and a three and…
Robot hold up his glass and yells, “PROSEEDCAKE! WHOOH!”
And that was it. Out came the vodka shots. Out came the backslaps and the air-jamming. Every ten minutes someone new would walk in and yell, “ProSEEDcake!”
Crustimony hits two more bars, picks up friends and groupies and acolytes and believers and sceptics and chemistry majors and homeless artists and lacrosse team wingers, until they have a huge crowd. It’s late afternoon and everyone is very drunk. Steve-O has just been in the bathroom with a woman who has horrible breath and after a minute says, no no no, my breath and pushes him away, stumbling back to where her friends sit on a broken ping-pong table. The music pounds and people are dancing and then it’s time to leave, everyone promising to come see them that night at The Attic, a bar they made up, Robot saying over and over, Sound-check at ten sharp, y’all!
Back at the car they start laughing, doing one of those guy-hugs, a shoulder-squeezing, unbalanced affair. They punch and slap each other, running down a giggling checklist of the afternoon’s triumphs.
“And can you believe this character?” Gay Don asks, trying for a half hug, settling for an arm on Steve-O’s shoulder. “Pro-Seed-Cake? That was, like, a stroke of genius.”
“You gotta ride the wave ‘til it hits shore, man,” Robot says.
“This was some top notch human fucking performance art,” Marcellus says.
“I dunno,” Steve-O says. “You can only fuck with people so long, you know?”
“No,” Robot says, “you can fuck with them forever.
They get back in the taxi and drive home.
Steve-O is thirty and he’s never going to be as good as the guy from The Strokes, let alone Charlie Parker, so what’s the point? He sells his electric guitars, a beautiful ‘85 Les Paul Custom and a ‘73 Strat Thinline for next to nothing. He sells his amps and pedals for even less. He has one acoustic now. He mostly uses it to sing songs to his two year-old daughter, who doesn’t seem bothered by his suspect pitch. She smiles at Steve-O and tries to touch the strings, dampening them. It’s a cool effect.
She likes to start a question, but never knows how to finish it.
He can tell just by looking in her eyes that when she’s fourteen she’ll cut her hair at an odd angle across her jaw, dye it purple, get a nose ring, and teach herself to play Siouxsie by ear.
It could be worse. [/private]