There comes a time in the life of any fledgling musician when he or she must put up or shut up. Luckily, I’m pleased to report, that hasn’t yet applied to me.
My career as a shameless self-promoter began in 1971, at sunny Miami Norland Senior High School–where in my senior year I edited the school newspaper, wrote music reviews, and played in a rather odd band called the Intergalactic Space Force.
Our music reflected our favorite bands of the time–Ummagumma-era Floyd, Captain Beefheart, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Velvet Underground, Love, and Soft Machine–but, of course, we were horrible. No matter. There were occasional paying gigs to be had, oddly enough, but forget them. What counts is our all-time premier performance: at the Senior Class Assembly, when, to paraphrase a certain Kink, all of our friends were there–watching in a mixture of fascination, horror, and, finally, disgust.
Oh, we were ambitious. To display our intricate musical talents before all 991 members of our graduating class–a hefty lot, no?–was our longtime dream. Lord knows how we got the gig, but it was ours, and we made ample preparations.
How did it begin? The five members of the IGSF walked onstage individually–drummer first, bassist next, I to my Lowrey organ, then two more guitarists–and began playing one note, repeatedly, until we stood boldly onstage, majestically assembled and owing Terry Riley’s “In C” bigtime. The previous night we had taped the extremely lengthy applause segment from the Woodstock album on my Wollensak reel-to-reel; instantly following the conclusion of our opening number “Autumn Winds,” we cranked that applause over the auditorium’s public address system at a deafening level. We were hot!
As our hundreds of fellow students looked all around them, and at each other warily, we moved into our memorable composition “D”–which cleverly remained in only one key (can you guess which?) and sounded very much like “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” before it gets weird. A few people, we noticed, didn’t like it much and left. It was their loss. For they missed perhaps our most famous number, “Felix”–which, we announced, was a tribute to a feline cartoon character we all deeply respected.
We lied. For in fact, the song was really called “Phallus.” And it would be that word we chanted into the microphones after our affable bassist Bud first wheeled onstage an electric fan that had had its grills removed…and then began inserting fresh frankfurters into its whirling blades. Curiously, when you do that, meat spews out into your often-aghast audience.
It would be nice to say the crowd was thrilled, but why lie? As more than one disgusted 17-year-old schoolgirl departed in a huff, we began our acapella segment as the “Hardhats”–which, in Miami in 1971, was codeword for either “moron” or “idiot.” That delightful segment included three peculiar cover songs–the Beach Boys “I Get Around,” the Mothers of Invention’s “Cheap Thrills,” and the Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says” (I swear I’m not making this up)–and featured the five of us in full hardhat regalia.
It was at that point that the remaining attendees of the 1971 Senior Class Assembly began throwing food at the stage, and, indeed, at the members of the Intergalactic Space Force themselves. More than one bagel was hurled, I remember–and even more suspiciously, several tomatoes, one of which broke the exposed paper cone of our bassist’s prized Kustom speaker cabinet. To add insult to injury, our drummer, shamed beyond belief, then walked offstage, leaving our energetic finale–an attempt at the Nice’s “Rondo”–a shadow of the masterpiece it might have been.
Ironically, however, the show was later termed a great success by our school newspaper. Which, you’ll remember, I edited. And the rave review–penned, without a byline, by me–told it precisely the way it was: “The band’s now famous version of âDâ put the audience in quite a frenzy,” I wrote. “Many seniors thought the band to be so fantastic they reportedly left to tell their friends of the cataclysmic event.” To ensure that my many classmates would read the review, I then placed a photo of myself on the paper’s front page. There I stood onstage, grinning, next to the fan with its grills removed, its blades now stained the color of frankfurter. The caption, surely representing the peak of my career in journalism: “Editor beams while receiving thunderous applause (see Senior Assembly, page 3).”
There would be other bands for me later, including a punk-inspired, late-’70s outfit in Michigan called Your Mother. Ever press-conscious, I chose the name because I envisioned two possible review headlines–“Your Mother Sucks” or “Your Mother Was Great”–which would be equally charming. We did originals, we did covers–you/should have heard our version of Amon Duul II’s “Mozambique“–and we got great press coverage in the college newpaper. At which, coincidentally, I then worked as entertainment editor.
Still, who can earn a living being a musician? When I finally entered the high-paying world of professional rock journalism in 1979, I put aside whatever ambitions I had at musical superstardom and instead decided to make an honest living pointing out the flaws of others.
But some of my old Miami friends never quite gave up that life. One of them–a member of my pre-IGSF unit Dave & The Spiffy People–has since gone on to a life of quiet musical respectability. He was music director for a little-known 1991 film called Paradise Park, which starred Porter Wagoner, Johnny Paycheck, and Webb Wilder, and bore a soundtrack featuring Paycheck, T. Graham Brown, Razzy Bailey…and, somewhere in there, Dave & The Spiffy People. Imagine! See it, and you’ll hear our 1985 remake of my much-loved Your Mother tune, “Dog ‘N’ Suds.”
I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you it’s the best song I ever heard.
(MOJO magazine, 1995)