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Years from now when I look back on 2006 the most important record for me will be Boys Club’s “This is My Face” 45. This has nothing to do with ego. What it’s about for me is the first time I dropped my stylus on a slab of vinyl and heard a song I wrote emanate from the grooves. In a lot of ways my ten-plus years of obsessing over records culminated in that single moment.
Since I was a teenager my role in relationship to music was one of a passive consumer. For a lot of reasons, I never believed myself capable of being in a band, let alone writing songs. For one, nobody was ever going to confuse my guitar playing ability with that of Ed Kuepper, let alone Billy Childish. Pulling of a reasonable enough Johnny Ramone wasn’t much of a stretch for me, but nor was it for the legion of flaccid pop-punk bands that were such an epidemic throughout the nineties. The last thing anyone wants is to be responsible for creating a modern day Darlington. Figuring out other bands’ songs was also out of the question for my tin ears; I once gave up halfway through trying to figure out how to play “I Broke My Mind” by Supercharger, which for those of you who don’t know, consists of a whopping two chords. Guitar solos? Surely you’re kidding. As if my ability on guitar wasn’t dreadful enough, I went for years thinking my singing voice was akin to a weed whacker hacking and slicing through notes like crabgrass. Songwriting seemed like something best left to those who knew what they were doing. That this complacently defeatist attitude was antithetical to the spirit of punk rock didn’t really register for me at the time.
If it wasn’t for making the acquaintance of two people whose musical sensibilities were a perfect match for mine, I probably never would have started a band, yet that’s exactly the position I found myself in when I met Todd and Eli a little over a year and a half ago. Here were two people interested in the same bands as me, relatively inexperienced with their instruments, and great guys to boot. Taking all of that into account, it seemed like a fun idea to get together and try our hand at playing some songs. The key word here is “try” as our clusterfuck of a first practice bore out: Todd was able to sync in with Eli’s drums with an ease that belied his relative lack of experience, but I, on the other hand, was a total mess. Singing and playing guitar at the same time was as difficult as simultaneously patting my head, rubbing my belly, filling a tax return, achieving peace in the Middle East, and finding a copy of the Shoes “One in Versailles” LP. Making matters worse, I was a one man “no rhythm section.” Syncing up with the drums was impossible for me, so we tried to jam on the three-chord riff that makes up the majority of “Sister Ray.” I couldn’t get it, even though I’ve heard the song at least 100 times. So we tried the two-chord derivative of the “Sister Ray” riff that provides the backbone for “Roadrunner.” It might as well have been a Yngwie Malmsteen composition for how well I was able to play it. Then I tried to “sing” – well if you call yelping random words in Japanese “singing” that is – and that’s when things got really ugly. We’re talking the sonic equivalent of a three way between Nancy Spungen, Joanie “Chyna” Lauer, and an Ebola-infected baboon.
My reservations about my abilities were proven correct by my laughably incompetent performance that day, but unlike every other time something didn’t come easy to me, I kept at it. It took me a couple weeks but I eventually learned how to play along with the beat more often than not. After a couple more practices, and quite a few more beers than that, a switch went off inside me and I was suddenly able to sing and play guitar at the same time. A month or so after first getting together and making a racket so cacophonous it would result in mass incontinence at the Pentagon if Kim Jong iL ever harnessed it as a tool of sonic warfare, I had finally proven myself capable of being in a band. Not only that, I was also doing another thing I never thought I would – writing songs.
Shortly after our first practice I went over to Todd’s place and he played me a bunch of records. It was all great stuff that turned my ear on its side, but the song I remember making the biggest impact on me was the version of the Real Kids’ “Who Needs You” from the “Live at the Rat” LP. Talk about seminal stuff. That song is IT – an arrangement of chords, rhythm, and melody that serve as a perfectly crafted vehicle for John Felice to share a slice of his soul with the world. I couldn’t shake the mood created by the killer refrain of “you ain’t no friend of mine” and the stark honesty with which it was delivered. Upon arriving home I pulled my guitar out and tried to capture what I was feeling. What I ended up with was the first song I wrote in ten-plus years of obsessively listening to music. I put words to it a week later and it became “This is My Face” – the first song on our single.
A lot went on between writing that song and hearing it on record for the first time, and as important as those memories are to me, the best of them rank a distant second behind the experience of hearing a song of mine playing on an actual record while I sat in the very same spot in which I wrote it months earlier. I remember being flush with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction – after years of thinking I was incapable of being in a band, let alone making a record, I had done just that. At that moment I didn’t care if we got savaged in every review we received or if I was left sitting on a box of singles for the next twenty years; all of that was inconsequential next to knowing that the song I was hearing had made the journey from a riff and some words I came up with while sitting on my bed to a real-life seven inches of vinyl I could pull out and listen to for the rest of my life. If you’ve ever made a record before, perhaps you know what I’m talking about. If not, I hope someday you do, because every music fanatic owes it to his or her self to experience the feeling of creating what they love.
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