Friday, April 22, 2011

The Velvet Papers, Pt. 5

Why, you might be asking yourself, why is this blogger recounting his band days? This shit is boring.

First, I agree with that sentiment, but I hope this shit is not boring. Every musician is more than willing to prat on and on about their gigs. Every one of us musos feels that somehow we have contributed something unique to music, regardless of any supporting evidence. Plus, anybody who has been in a band for any length of time realizes a few things only after time has given them a proper perspective.

That being said, I am compelled to continue because the story only gets more complicated, funnier and I use this tiny Internet space to purge myself of my past and to tell a tale I feel is worth telling. Plus, the VBs dominated my life in a manner that I wasn't expecting and in way, we haven't stopped playing even some 17 years after we hung it up. 

“How can a loser ever win?”

After moving in with CR, I (we) started going to a lot of bars. I was a single man with no girlfriend and so I frequented the local watering holes in search of love (cough cough). Bars are very strange places, very ugly places actually with little or no redeeming value for anyone but the bar owner. They are usually absolutely filthy, filled with “regulars” of questionable character and with noise levels so dangerous that everyone should be wearing hearing protection. That said, it was in a filthy bar, Bentley’s, a shithole on Capitol Street, that I had a revelation.

 I started going on Wednesday night when a local band hosted an open mic night. I watched these guys playing what seemed to be absolutely simple music (compared to the arduous task of say learning a Bach lute suite) all while they were having fun and they drew the attention of the crowd. Me thought, “I want me some of that.”  Why should I play just for blue hairs or for the sole purpose of parental approval? This music which I had studied so diligently and that I loved had a fatal flaw in the Chemical Valley: limited audience and playing opportunities at best. What did locals know of classical guitar? Musicians were among the cognoscenti, but what about general appeal? Fuck, I grew up hearing the songs on the jukebox and The Anchor and the Vets Club and I knew this was a lost cause. Besides, I wanted attention.

Get the Hell Out of the Basement

The Velvet three began getting together on a fairly regular basis and at one rehearsal, Greg said, “Why don’t we play at open mic night at Bentley’s?” The sheer audacity of that idea threw me. Us? Are good enough? Playing in front of people? In public?

Our repertoire was very strange to say the least. Looking back on it now, it was a ballsy move. There was mucho potential to leave the audience silenced. There was piece called Karmic Backlash from the days collaborating with Greg that involved audio snippets (They did not call them samples or sampling yet.) from The Rockford Files (An episode called Nirvana Quickie). The selected episode had a hippie chick that said, “O wow, Alan, I can’t believe your lies. You’ll probably wind up getting squashed from the karmic backlash.” There were other funny phrases as well and while the tape with the voice samples ran, we played this funky tune. One Night Flingo, a rumba with an obvious topic, was another song. The third song I cannot recall. All were originals - another bold move by my estimation.

Addendum: Asking CR and Greg regarding the third tune, the consensus is that it was another original tune. To make your public splash with all originals is still ballsy to me.

We practiced like hell. We especially worked hard to coordinate our parts with the Rockford Files bits. That was tricky on a number of levels. The evening came and we drug our equipment downtown. We asked the house band could we play while they took a break and sure, we could play a few songs. So, three guys and a tape (Drum machine? Can’t recall.) made their informal debut. I have always been a performer who struggles with nerves and at that unseasoned point in my “career,” I must have been a shaky mess.

I was taken back by the absolute power and volume by the Stratocaster and the huge Roland amp the guitarist used. It was the furthest thing possible from the quiet and delicate sound of my acoustic guitar. I felt like I had gotten into the ring with a wild horse and I was supposed act like I was in complete control. Craig had his usual look of sheepish “I shouldn’t be doing this” look, but Greg was in his element. He was talking to the crowd like it had been his band playing all along. He was our liaison; selling us before we played a note.

I remember that things went pretty well; even old Jim Rockford might have smiled. The crowd seemed to follow what we were doing. After what seemed to be only a few seconds, we were done. As I was going for a well-deserved drink, a girl smiled and said, “I liked that. It was different.” Damn. The maiden voyage, with all of its weirdness, was a success. I was surprised as anyone. Greg believed, but CR and I were still doubting Thomases.

Greg was right and if he hadn’t encouraged us to step out of the safety net of the basement, we might have never continued on the path to becoming a real band. I wouldn’t have guessed in a million years it would have worked that night.

Next: Call Him Tito


Al said...

Haven't checking for awhile and was glad to see the Velvet story coming together. Thanks for sharing the backstory with us newbies.


eclectic guy said...

Ha ha. I need everyone's input to truly capture the velvet tale.

Karan said...

Love it; don't stop.

Also, I had (have?) a huge crush on Jim Rockford.

eclectic guy said...

I suspect that Miss Karan has a bit of lounge in her blood.