Rock 'N Roll Case Study: THE PHLEGMTONES
You ever get sick of watching “Behind The Music”? The problem is after a while they all tend to look the same. That’s because all the bands profiled have one thing in common. From Tony Orlando to Dr. Dre, they’ve all made it big. At least once. At one point or another. But what about everybody else? For every one-hit wonder you can barely remember, there has got to be thousands of no-hit wonders you’ll never even hear about. So instead of the usual band profile, I’ve begun a five part series on a group that never made it out of the garage. Why should you be interested? The story’s every bit as heart-wrenching, dramatic, sad, and most of all funny as anything else out there. Plus you’ll have no pre-conceived notions about the band, because you’ve never heard of these guys before. Only – since nobody’s heard of them, the only people who could tell the story are the people who actually were there – and lived through it. So maybe it’s not the most objective point of view in the world. But until someone else volunteers to tell our story, it’s all there is.
Chapter One-In The Beginning: The Chee-Chee LaRue years
The band was initially formed for one show and one show only. The Arvada West High School Talent Show. It wasn't supposed to go any further than that. The previous year I had performed in the talent show with my usual pick-em-up-at-the-last-minute band, whose musical skills ranged from barely adequate to "I own a guitar". That, however, was beside the point. I was used to jamming with non-musicians. I myself was in a band long before I ever took up the guitar - or any other musical instrument. By this point I had been playing for about five years (this being 1992) so, I knew I was responsible for pretty much the whole sound. That too, was beside the point. I was there to play a musical joke. Part of my "Weird Al", I-really-want-to-be-a-stand-up-comic persona. I played a sort of shuffle version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit". It sounded terrible. I had no equipment - we we're under-rehearsed. But that made it even funnier. And I got a good laugh. Plus we had someone with accordion. Whether or not he could actually play it was moot. It was still an accordion.
We went on second. Before us was a rather goofy outfit equipped with what seemed like several thousand dollars (and pounds) of computer doo-dads. They took more time to set up than the other thirty bands combined. They were dressed (for no apparent reason) as bears or chicken or something... They were called "Prosaic Trenis Pucks". Pretty much everyone said that their set was awful. And I agreed. Horrible Techno-Industrial type crap. Lots of sampling. Not my cup of tea. Later on the bill was a band by the name of the "Hot Bearded Clam Mashers" fronted by the extremely musical Aaron Wheeler. He told me that one of the verses he was singing was based on something I wrote. So I watched them with a bit of anticipation. It still wasn't really my kind of music. More like Funk. But still, I was impressed by Aaron. Definitely one the most naturally groove oriented people I've ever met. When he spoke he would say stuff like "Buffalo Bill in a Beat Box" and it was wonderful. Also, unbeknownst to me at the time, another band signed up, but was bumped. This short-lived conglomeration apparently involved one Avery Rains. According to Ave, there were too many bands on the list as it was, and when one of the organizers overheard him discussing how badly they were going to suck, guess who got pulled from the schedule?
Well, that's what happened last year. I didn't win (obviously). I wasn't expecting to that year or this. But I was planning on doing something similar this year. Namely, a polka version of "Enter Sandman". A friend of mine, named Tomas Fuerte, asked if he could play drums. He had never played before - but he knew where he could get his hands on a kit - so I said yes. He also mentioned that he knew another guitarist and a bass player who might be willing to lend us a hand. The guy with the accordion (that he couldn't really play) was up for it, and so we made a date.
Now, I have often attempted to jam with other people. And I really wanted to be in a real band. Not one of these silly joke bands, but something I could really jam with. The problem was, every time I went over to whomever's garage to practice they were... well... heavy metal. I mean, I tried. That's how I learned the chords to "Enter Sandman" in the first place. For some reason, all high school musicians are metal-heads. I will admit that it's one of the few popular genres to appreciate "chops" more than "looks" (consider how ugly some of those dudes are). But it was just too flashy and fast and soulless. I never got into metal. And they would never listen to my more comical or acoustic/folksy/blues ideas. So none of these combos lasted more than one or two jam sessions. And that's pretty much what I was expecting when I first climbed down the stairs of Avery Rains's basement. He was a skinny, skater/stoner looking punk. As was his companion, the bass player Seth Axelsen. Now, I had a few classes with Seth before, but I never really knew him. He had only taken up the bass about a year before, and sort of looked like he didn't realize there was a difference between the bass and a "real" guitar when he bought it, and now sort of regretted it.
From the beginning we were called "The Phlegmtones". I came up with the name. I got it out of a Dave Barry column, in which he discusses several quote-unquote bands he has played with, including the Phlegmtones. I thought the name was funny. Since we were a joke band - and we weren't going to actually achieve any sort of recognition close to what would be required to have him sue us - the name stuck. So we were the Phlegmtones. Of course, the real problem with the name is that for a fairly simple duo-syllabic word, nobody could ever spell it right. We have at time been called, "The Flemtones", "The Plegmtones", "The Phelm Tones", "The Phlemtones", and "The Phlegmnotes". So, it was never entirely original (of course I never mentioned to the other guys how I swiped the name) - but once when I mentioned the band to a professor of mine, he said that he thought he had heard of us. Well, it turns out that his wife was in another band called The Phlegmtones too. So I didn't feel nearly as bad about the plagiarism. Besides we were THE Phlegmtones. No one ever confused us with anybody else.
Well, that first afternoon, we ran through the song a couple of times. I was not overly impressed with anybody; no one seemed to know even the rudiments of music theory or the names of notes or anything. Tomas was doing ok on the drums. I was never really big percussion aficionado, and pretty much figured anyone could play the drums. We weren't bad. I thought we could be funny. Better than the last talent show. Nothing much. But there was one moment...
Now, I had tried on several occasions to write songs. In fact I had a bit of a catalogue that was chock-full of quote-unquote funny lyrics. But nothing memorable musically. Chords that just sort of laid flat next to each other. No riffs or lines or real melodies or anything. But that was ok - they were just there as props for my "jokes". And I pretty much figured that songwriting - I mean writing of something that moved me musically - was something that was given to a small but special breed of people whom all had record contracts and lived on big mountains. But at one point in the proceedings, Ave busted out into this finger tapping chord sequence. In 3/4 time! In E flat!! It went from a B flat to a B to an A flat. And I thought this guy was an idiot. What was he doing? If he transposed it up a half step he could use some much easier open chords. You can't just descend chromatically on a major chord! Still I was impressed with the finger tapping and thought I might be able to steal it someday.
But something happened... The next day, I still couldn't get that "song" out of my head. So I dashed off some of my supposedly hilarious lyrics for it and brought it to the next rehearsal. It had a sort of demented calliope atmosphere to it - so I wrote "Psycho Clown". By that time Ave had written a chorus for it. He then turned to me and told me to write a riff. Now, I have never "written" a guitar lick before. I was still completely unused to the concept of the electric guitar, and soloed only on blues songs really. But, I came up with something that was, ok... We ended up running through this song at practice more often than "Enter Sandman", the song we were actually going to perform. Which was fine with me, 'cause I figured we'd all be on our separate ways in a week or two. Still we were practicing at a fairly alarming rate. Well, for me anyways, more than once a month is unusual. I had never spent this much time with a group before.
So of course - they canceled the talent show. Apparently only two acts signed up. The “Burlap Band” and us. Now the Burlap Band was one of these ideas that Tomas and I had. We would get everyone we could find with any sort of musical instrument. We'd all pile on stage and just sit there making noise until they physically dragged us off. Now we had about twenty or so people (including everyone else in the band) and we definitely NOT going to practice. But we never got the chance to do it. The show was gone. I had band practice that afternoon (the other band, not Burlap). I figured that I could tell them all there, and then I would have time to rush over to my church, where I was going to perform at their much more subdued, talent show. Trust me no "bands" were going to be performing. More like a piano recital or something along those lines. A barbershop quartet. A dance piece. Violin and flute duets. I was planning on doing a solo acoustic version of the Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer". You know, to sort of startle them a little bit.
Well, I'm sure you can guess what happened next. I told 'em that there was no more reason for us to be. Our lone gig was canceled. They asked, "Since we spent so much time practicing, why don't we play your church show?" I said, "Why not?" And so we started to move. Well, everyone except Rob - the accordionist - who for some reason I can't remember just wasn't there. Now, I had never had to actually play a show with drums or amplifiers or anything before. I had never realized what a pain they are to carry and load in the car. And if I knew how loud they really were, I certainly wouldn't have brought them. Well, it took us forever to set up (at least compared to the piano duets and choral singing that comprised the rest of the show) - so everyone was excited to see us. We were like second or third. Ave's brother Clint came along and agreed to just stand on stage as our "spiritual advisor". Aaron Schilling, a friend of mine from church, who had shown up to play the sax, joined us without ever even hearing the song.
There were a total of about thirty people in this small gymnasium. Just before we went on we had worked up this whole routine. I walked on stage in front of the curtain with just my acoustic guitar, and told the crowd my band has just broken up, and proceeded to start the song solo. And then we opened the curtain and out popped the rest of the group. I strapped on the electric and Ave, who was much better at it, really sang the song. Cute little gimmick. I don't know why we did it. Probably just to justify my bringing the acoustic along. We would've gone great, only this was both Tomas's and Seth's first time on stage ever. And since Tomas wasn't exactly rock-solid rhythmically to begin with, well... we all just got further and further off the beat. We were out of sync, out of tune, and WAY too loud. When the song was over, we got some polite applause, but you could tell they hated us. Now, I had had some mediocre responses before. I've played some cruddy gigs. But I had never bombed before. I mean really BOMBED. And it wasn't half as bad as I feared. In fact, I was kind of glad to have gotten it out of the way. But I was sure the rest of guys would hate me. It could be quite embarrassing. First time on stage, and to go over like that. Well... if this was the end of the Phlegmtones, at least we'd gone out with a blaze of glory. But when I finally slunk off-stage, there they were - laughing themselves silly. At how bad we were. At how shocked the audience was. No one from the crowd would talk to us as we spent the rest of the night hauling junk out to the car. But they all thought it was great. That's when I knew that this was a band I could do something with.
But what, I wasn't sure. I had played talent shows and open stage at the local folk music club (Swallow Hill). But I had no idea how to get gigs. Like a real rock band. Luckily, Ave was already a bit of an old hand at this. Apparently after the last school talent show, Ave had joined the "Prosaic Trenis Pucks". And they had developed a bit of a following. So he knew where to start. And he also knew we weren't ready. This is where I began to see another side of Ave. The overly cautious, perfectionist side. Because we didn't go on stage again for over a year. But in that time we did do some recording. That's an old habit of mine. Since no one showed up for my 12th birthday, every year after that I had my parents foot the bill for some sort of production instead of giving me a party. Some years, I would rent a video camera and make a "movie". And then later, I would put together one of these joke bands. We'd rehearse one day, and then go into the studio, and record a whole quote-unquote album in six hours. No one ever really heard it, much less did we try and sell it, but it made me happy.
We were called "The Bookhouse Boys" - a Twin Peaks reference. Oddly enough an Oregon power trio gain a small measure of notoriety using that moniker long after we had disbanded. Generally the group consisted of me, Rob, who really couldn't play an instrument, my brother, Colin, who didn't really know how to play one either, and my cousin, Josh, who at least OWNED a bass. That was the line-up for our first two yearly sessions. The third one however, Josh had to cancel due to being out of state. Not really a problem, but in our haste to replace him (we were recording in about a week) both Rob and I found ringers. Rob brought in Brit Till (that's his real name), who had been playing classical guitar since he was like a fetus. Extremely talented, but didn't really mesh. And I called up Aaron Schilling, whom I had known from church, to play sax and some guitar. Our temperaments were similar. A goofy, comical approach to music. So the next year, when my birthday rolled around, I turned to him to get a whole new band started.
Well, Rob still had to be in it. Because he was my best friend and it was my birthday. The rest of group I met for the first time at the practice session. Aaron on the sax, naturally. Trent Brown on guitar. Trevor Mariotti on drums. Ken Sabo on bass. We settled on the name "Acme" (which I'm sure was probably used before, but oh well...). These guys were good. Friends of Aaron's from the high school jazz band. I was impressed. Rob even decided not to show up for the recording date because he felt so out-classed. Of course, Alex Farrell - who was a friend of theirs was also invited. He owned a flute, but really didn't know how to play it. So I was surprised when these REAL musicians let him goof around with it on one of the tunes. We went to a different studio than the one I had always used before. We actually did over-dubbing instead of trying to do it all live. And we went back into the control room afterwards and even mixed it. Swanky!
It was, by far, more professional than anything I had ever done before. Everyone I played it for said it sounded good enough to be on the radio. And the other guys in the band would laugh whenever they heard that. "We've only practiced once", they'd say, "Imagine how much better we're going to be." And I did. I was psyched. Finally a real band! So picture my chagrin when, two months later, there was playing at our high school pep rally, "Steve's Facade" - a band that consisted basically of everyone from "Acme" - except ME! I was crushed. Devastated. When I told the Phlegms about the whole story much later they were furious. Since then, they concocted this massive rivalry with "Steve's Facade". Even when Aaron moved on to the much more successful ska sounds of "Furious George & The Monster Groove", they still held a grudge. But I still like Aaron. We were never close, but still... In fact I had once thought about asking him to join the Phlegmtones, when the others politely asked me not to ask him. Now I don't know whether or not these guys were together as a band before I met them, and they just used me for the recording time. Or whether, like Aaron said, they just couldn't use me for the pep rally, because I wasn't in Jazz Showcase or whatever and didn't know the music teacher. I don't know, although they never asked to join them after that pep rally. Still I was hurt.
But that was a long time ago. And now, finally, I had a band worth really recording. One that I felt I belonged to. Granted we weren't as tight or professional as "Acme" (I mean, "Steve's Facade"), but that's ok. This was MY band. So on Labor Day, right before I was to ship out to Olympia WA, to go to college, I scraped together a couple hundred bucks to book a studio. I was also splitting the cost with Aaron Schilling and Trent Brown, who were going to use half of the session (since I couldn't afford nor did I need all day for the Phlegmtones). We went out to Time Capsule Studio. Now I spent all day there, helping out "Steve's Facade" after our half of the session was over. They were finishing up the album they started (I don't know if my birthday recordings were intended for inclusion). Since both Trevor and Ken had gone off to college already, I was in there all day - for both sessions, still not knowing what my status was with THAT band. They even had me playing drums on one track - which I had never done before, but still they felt I was more qualified for than Tomas. Which I'm sure hurt his feelings.
It was the longest I had ever spent consecutively in the studio. I was having a great time. But Seth and Ave had to split when our half was finished. Apparently those two, along with Aaron Wheeler (ex-Hot Bearded Clam Masher) on drums, had formed "Zucchini Repairman" and we're going to play the Mercury Cafe's open stage night that night. This initially made nervous. I didn't want to be betrayed like that again by another band. But really, I didn't care. I was going to school in a couple of days, and figured it was there that I would find my first real real band. Turns out later that they chickened out, but both Aarons were there for these sessions resulting in the tracks, "Headin' Back To Country" (unreleased), "Psycho Clown" (unreleased), "Why Do You Paint Your Face Like A Skull?", "65 Sold (The Cow Song)" featuring Aaron Wheeler on drums, "Questionnaire?", and "Love Me Now, Dammit! (the Jazz Song)" featuring Aaron Schilling's sax solo.
Well, I sang the last two. In fact, Ave and Seth had already left by the time I recorded them. That's probably the only reason why they let me put Schilling on record. That and it was deliberately cheezy lounge song, so they thought his presence was appropriate. I had to (for the first time ever) attempt bass on the Jazz Song. Besides, since I knew chords and they didn't, I could pick up their stuff, but I was totally at a loss as to how to communicate my songs to them. Still it was a fairly even partnership at this point. The night before we had recorded a couple of tunes acoustically (because I knew Time Capsule had sucky acoustic mikes - and besides resetting everything would take time and cost us money) "The Hey Song" and a rare duet between Ave and I, "Serene DiPablo-Pablo". These were recorded into a single microphone upstairs in Ave's house. Ave even played Drums (with brushes) on "The Hey Song". Not the best technically (although we did any number of takes we wanted as opposed to the one-shot we got in the studio). This was o.k. by me. I was leaving for college, and didn't figure the band would last a whole lot longer anyway. Now I was used to being the crazy, creative one, and was unused to playing straight man to Ave. But I began to see myself as Paul McCartney to his John Lennon. Dick to his Tommy Smothers. Silent Bob to his Jay. Which was odd. I was used to being the only one with any musical talent. Still I thought the sessions were ok... So I went to Washington.
Well, when I came back for Christmas break, I was surprised to find that the legend of The Phlegmtones had grown substantially. Even larger than the "Acme" tapes. And all this despite having never really played live or the fact that Ave didn't really let a lot of people listen to the tape. So we practiced some more. We would mail each other tapes of songs we had written. I would learn theirs. They would occasionally listen to mine. But while I was away, Ave was getting more and more frustrated by the inexperience of Seth and Tomas. At one point Ave even called me and said, screw it - let's just be a duo. Now, I needed Seth and Tomas. I knew them, and quite frankly Ave scared me. Besides, this was, in a lot of ways, my first band. This was it. This is what I was dreaming about all these years. And I didn't want to screw it up. And my other attempts at getting started musically in Olympia weren't going so well.
I had answered this one guy's ad. The name's Jason. On his flyer, which just listed his influences and phone number, were The Beatles (my all-time favorite band) and the Talking Heads (whom I didn't mind) and a bunch of other people I had never heard of like Camper Van Beethoven. He was pretty good. A little esoteric for my tastes, but quite skilled. We jammed a bit, but I could tell I wasn't what he was looking for. Not enough equipment, not enough technical know-how, not disciplined in musical theory or world beat rhythms. Didn't do enough drugs. But he was still nice to me. Besides I wanted a creative collaboration, and he - obviously - wanted to be in charge. But we never found a drummer or bass player and called it quits after a couple weeks. Or he just stopped calling me, and I forgot to call him. Whatever.
The other band I tried featured me and some guy named Syllas on acoustic guitars, sharing vocals with a very talented lady, Jessica, (who also played flute, but mostly sang) and my roommate, Ken. Now Ken had never even so much as bought an album in his life, knew nothing about music, and was in the band primarily because he wanted to be my friend. But he creeped me out. He would be up with the lights on at 3 a.m. naked, playing computer games. And when I say he couldn't sing... Now this normally wouldn't bother me too much (after all I can hardly sing), but this was a quote-unquote serious band. Not like the Phlegmtones. Not jokey. Just like I always wanted, but never thought I would be good enough for. Acoustic, folksy, great. And he just sucked. But we couldn't find a way to get rid of him, since he sort of founded the group, so we just went our separate ways. We never quite had a name (or even discussed having a name). We did one open stage and bombed miserably. It just never gelled. I think folk musicians tend to be of the solo singer-songwriter sort. We had a hard time collaborating. Well, maybe just I did. Syllas and Jessica actually had a good time coming up with arrangements and stuff. I just wasn't quite ready to give up my youthful silly goofy stuff yet.
However there was one big improvement to my musical life that came from all this: the four-track recorder. Now I had never used one of those before. Even when I went to the studio I rarely overdubbed. Added the vocals later, at best. Now I could be the whole band. Loved it. I kept borrowing and borrowing it from him. It had everything I loved about going into the studio - only I didn't have to bring anyone else. I was never big on EQ graphic equalizer DAT Dolby tape hiss noise reduction hi-fi whatnot. So to me they sounded just as good as all those 24 channels and $2,000 microphones. I convinced the rest of this "group" to use it to record a Christmas album. (I told them it was an inexpensive way to make gifts). They were unenthusiastic about the project, but I loved it. Not the album, the recorder. It pretty soon became obvious that this musical unit was not going to work out, but still I maintained a friendly relationship with Syllas, just so I could borrow the recorder. I made dozens of demos and mailed them off to what was increasingly becoming my only hope, The Phlegmtones. Our long distance relationship didn’t fall apart. And when I came home for the summer we made plans for our "big debut"...
The Mercury Cafe open stage. One of the few unsolicited venues were you could bring a full electric band. We rehearsed, and rehearsed, and rehearsed. Rob, the accordionist was going to play with us. He wasn't very good, but we all agreed that the sight of an accordion would be worth it. Rob himself, must've gotten over his fear of playing with good musicians, or still didn't believe that we were on the level of "Acme" For some unknown reason, we were all given pseudonyms. Ave became Schmedrick Finkelstein. Seth was Grass McTabernacle for a while before settling on O. Pendtheodore Vaishnervass Ouda Ouda the 3rd. Tomas accidentally gave himself the same stage name as an infamous over-weight cross-dressing gay porn director, Chee-Chee LaRue. And I was given the role of Jon McRamahamasham. I don't know where that came from. It wasn't my idea. I didn't like this; I was proud of the band and wanted people to know I was in it. But Ave was sure we were going to fail, and wanted to disguise himself.
And we began canvassing. Something I'd never done before. We wanted to make sure someone came. We made up hundreds and hundreds of flyers. We went downtown and just gave 'em to people. Well, actually, Tomas did most of the giving. The rest of us were too shy. But we did A LOT of promotion for our big debut, but we didn't know what to expect. Now, by this point in my life, I had seen a couple of big shows - Ringo Starr, Tom Petty... and I've been to a few coffeehouse acoustic open mikes, but I had never really seen a rock club before. I came from a theatre background, where everyone sat down. That's how you could tell if you were good or not - the standing ovation. That's what hooked me on guitar playing in the first place. My teacher didn't believe in recitals. So I had been playing for like three years without anyone ever really hearing me. But, I decided to do some of my Dr. Demento-inspired parodies for the summer camp talent show I decided to accompany myself for the first time. And that's when I got my first standing ovation. For someone as socially awkward and shy, this kind of unqualified show of devotion was intoxicating.
So I walked on stage at the Merc and there they were - already standing... dancing... only inches from my face. I could reach out and touch them. And they were a lot of them. For some reason EVERYONE showed up. Our first real show, and still it's the biggest crowd we've ever had. We were smoking. Everything fell into place. Now, one of the "songs" we had rehearsed was something called the "Mad Audience Guy". Now in this, we all played softly as Ave introduced the band, and then suddenly the music turned heavy, and Ave would jump off the stage into the audience and ... well, yell at himself. And then he'd jump back on, and he'd start apologizing. I was not a big fan of this song. First of all, I've always resented bands that had someone singing without playing an instrument - and obvious Ave could not do this while strapped to a guitar. Second of all, it seemed like the sort of improv music we were doing was secondary to the on-stage antics - which I always hated. You can be crazy, but it's all about the music - in my mind. Now, I was only singing one song that night. The Jazz Song. I had taught Seth (who was rapidly becoming a fairly good bass player) the bass line, but Ave still couldn't play the chords, and he didn't want to do anything at all on the song, but I convinced him to take a deliberately off-key whacked guitar solo where the sax used to be. Seth had one song as well, The Cow Song. He still hadn't mastered the art of playing and singing at the same time, so Ave played the bass on that one. Even Rob got one song, our sole cover of the night, David Byrne's "Buck Naked". It was our concession to him in order to get him to play with us. We were headed in a definite funk, Primus-influenced direction, as evidenced on "Pumpkin Man" (which was our best song at the time). Now, this was o.k. I'm not a big funk fan - but I didn't hate it, and sure we were a little lopsided on-stage - Ave getting more songs than I, but still in the studio we were even. Now on a whim, I decided to wear my good Sunday suit to the show. I'm not sure why. Odd whim. The rest of the band just wore their street clothes. But we were a success. Big time. I had never seen anything like it. The MC, Baggs Patrick, immediately invited back for another show next month, before we even got off-stage. We were rock stars.
The next show a month later, however, didn't go nearly as well. We were under rehearsed. We felt we didn't need to practice anymore. We were rock stars! And then Ave didn't want to do the same set as last time, to give the people something new, and we didn't know the other songs as well. Our expectations were too high, and it just didn't gel for some reason. The crowd wasn't as big, or at least didn't seem as impressive. The crowd still went nuts though, and everyone assured us we were great. And at least Rob was there. He was supposed to go to Chicago for school like three days before the show, but we felt like we needed him there. He was part of our success last time. He was our good luck charm. So we all busted in on him while he was working at Blockbuster and begged him to take a later flight. And somehow we convinced him.
And we got invited to play the last real day that the old Elitch's amusement park would be open at its old location. Kinda cool we thought, but first we wanted to do some more recording. This time at Free Reelin' Studios. Once again on Labor Day. This was going to be a tradition for us. We recorded "Loud Guy/Quiet Guy", "Pumpkin Man", "2-2-0 (Second To None)", "The Mad Audience Guy"(unreleased), "Rotten Egg On A Plastic Spoon", the improvised instrumental "Winking At You", plus a couple of duets between Ave & myself, "Polka Polka Polka" the middle Eastern flavored, "I Know" featuring Aaron Wheeler playing some sort of ceramic hand drum and an accordion solo by Rob. Rob however had left by the time of the Elitch's show. We also attempted a couple of my tunes. The fairly typical (for me) "Cheet-O Story" and "Are We Men Yet?" which was originally intended to a be a slide guitar piece with the feel of a real swamp stomp with three part harmony on the chorus. However by the time the rest of the band had got hold of it, it turned into a fairly standard rah-rah rock number, with me attempting to growl through the whole thing. Not exactly what I had in mind, but at least Ave was playing guitar on both of them. I was slowly learning how to teach Ave how to play my songs - provided they were simple enough. We were already talking about our first album, which Tomas really wanted to call "Tijuana Smut", but first we had the Elitch's show. Once again, the audience was smaller than the last time. We were set up in the gazebo, and at the end of the show, while Seth and I made some random jam, Ave jumped into the moat surrounding us and started splashing and dancing around. Once again I felt this was totally distracting to the music, but the audience ate it up. Also, for this show we all dressed up in some thrift store, ugly plaid and stripes complete with bow ties. Tomas and I weren't really big on this idea either, but we figured it was a special occasion.
But first I had to go back to school. I hated it. I felt we were starting to build a little momentum, and here I had to leave the band for four months. It was terrible. I was bored. All I could think about was the band. The excitement of being on-stage. I wanted to still work on the Phlegmtones, even though I wasn't there. So I took the studio tapes, some of the practice tapes they mailed to me, and some of my four-track demos, and compiled it into an album which I called "BLiSHMA" - which is a word I made up that has absolutely no meaning whatsoever. I mailed the tape off to one of those audio-duplicating services. I spent $50 making fifty copies. Designed some covers and mailed 'em off to the rest of the band. Our first album.
Now, by this point, Ave and Tomas had been having some troubles. They were not getting along. Tomas had not taken to the drums nearly as well as Seth took to the bass. Tomas didn't have the robotic exact tempo of the drum machines Ave was used to playing with. Heck, Tomas didn't even own a set and was just borrowing Ave's. They would get in fights all the time. Ave would throw Tomas out. I would fight to bring him back. We even replaced with a guy named Andy for a while, but that didn't work and after a week Tomas was back. Andy was a much better drummer. He really liked us. But it didn't click. I do remember him once suggesting that we wear dildos on our heads, which Ave and I nixed saying, "we're a kid's show". Andy now plays for one of Colorado's more successful Christian Rock acts. But things were not good with Tomas. Ave would get so frustrated he would quit. And I refused to be stuck with just the other two and so we re-united. Granted Tomas wasn't a great drummer, but I had never worked with any drummer before, so I had no idea how really inadequate he was, so I often stuck my neck out for him. I thought he had potential. Besides, I was really close to him. He and would talk. Long "college bull" type sessions. He took me to the Village People concert. I didn't really feel like I knew the other two as well. But apparently, my failure to name the album "Tijuana Smut" was the last straw for Tomas, by the time I came back for Christmas break, Tomas had quit the band. Or thrown out depending on whom you ask.
Chapter Two-After The Beginning: The Whatshisname McTabernacle years
By this point, between the four of us, we had already given out over half of the copies of the album as free complimentary gifts to friends and family. The other twenty or so we're going to be sold by our local Media Play outlet. Naturally, the store was giving us about three bucks for each tape they sold (which about covered our costs) but they were charging a normal cassette price of like eleven bucks. Now Ave felt this was a rip-off considering the low technical quality of the product, and so he put a little note in each tape that they could receive a free T-Shirt (out of our own pockets). Luckily I don't think anyone ever sent it in. The store wanted us to do an in-store appearance to plug the album. And so with Ave's friend and fellow "Prosaic Trenis Puck" member, Tom Hoover filling in on skins, we went down and played. A large crowd showed up, but none of them were there to shop. They all just sat down in middle of the aisles of merchandise, clogging up the store. Instead of the usual 15 or 30 minute set, were given a full hour and a half to play, which we filled as best we could given constant technical gremlins. Shows where there was house equipment for us to play through (like at the Merc) went o.k. Anything where we had to bring our own bargain basement equipment sucked. At one point we burst into the instrumental "Winking At You" with Ave just grabbing the mike and making up all sort of random weird shit. Now Tom, who had never even heard this song before, started laughing so hard he fell off the drum stool. It was one of those shows. Now, Tom wasn't really a drummer either. In fact, no one in "Prosaic" really played an instrument - it was all programmed. So we had to sit there as he slowly learned all of our old songs, but still I was thankful for his filling in at the last minute. But I didn't for a minute think his position was permanent. I knew he was a good friend of Ave's though. I wanted Aaron Wheeler - who was really a much better trumpeter, and bassist than drummer, but still thoroughly impressed me as an extremely musical personality. I thought I had convinced Ave of this when I left, once again, for Washington.
I simply could not concentrate on school. Everything seemed trivial compared to the band. There was nothing to do. Nothing at all. Ave would call frequently, and tell me about his latest exploits. Open Mike Poetry. Ave would go up and do this large extravagant pieces. More costuming and lights and planted audience members and such than you'd usually expect for this kind of venue. I couldn't stop laughing we he told me of his latest performance. And the stunned re-action of the audience. He even got a show at the performance art space known as "The Bug" that involved a four-foot long paper machè lobster. Too much.
I knew what I had to do. I realized that if I left Evergreen that all my school credits would become virtually worthless. And I realized that this would mean I'd be back in Colorado, a state that I loathed so dearly in high school. Probably attending some sort of boring real school, learning nothing, but I couldn't do it. I couldn't see why I should stay in Washington anymore. So I rented a truck loaded everything up and moved back to Arvada. Ave and I were going to rent an apartment together where would work on music day and night. I was going to stay with my folks until we found a place. Well... one week turned into two turned into three months before I finally got sick of the living at home thing and pretty much got the apartment on my own. Ave and I moved into what were pretty close to the slums of Arvada (that really aren't any - but comparatively it was close). Well, Ave transferred down to the Kings that was merely ten blocks closer, and immediately regretted it. He somehow blamed me for forcing him to live here and work there. The guy was a year older than me, and still living with his folks. I thought he would've been grateful for helping him escape. But instead... When it got cold, well, the furnace conked out. And I was completely unable to rouse the landlord to do anything. Ave, being a skinny type, could not stand the cold. He ended up spending most nights back at his folks' place. And then he wouldn't give me his half of the rent, because he felt he didn't owe since he really didn't live there. The other months, he simply didn't have enough I would lend him whatever he needed. Sometimes he'd pay me back, but not that often. But it was ok. I was living my dream. Pursuing my goal with all might. But not all of his.
It seemed to me that we were practicing about as often as we did when I was living in WA. Ave didn't even mention to Tom that he wasn't really going to be a Phlegmtone, and he had practicing the whole time I was away. Ave and Tom were very close, and I know it broke his heart to tell him such. I don't remember being that persistent about Aaron, but Ave always sort of blamed me throwing Tom out (the first time). We would get gigs and Ave would cancel them. In fact Ave grew to absolutely loathe performing live. He wanted to do nothing but record. Too much work coming up with the costumes and concepts. There was this one show, where, he started the show dressed like an old woman in a neck brace, and several costume changes later ended up half naked and covered in ketchup in mustard. I told him to jettison the extraneous, but he just couldn't do it. One show, he spent several weeks making this giant piñata, which we were going to attach to this crash helmet that Ave was going to wear. He then spent a lot of his own money buying wiffle ball bats for the audience to beat him up with. Silly but it gets us a nice little blurb in Michael Roberts's column in the WestWord ...Overall, the combos chosen for the showcase were also fine - although a number of them were no more than that. No complete washouts occured; throughout the day, the musicians in the spotlight knew how to play their instruments and proved energetic and accomplished. But only one combo - the Phlegmtones, whose wild, mayhem-filled set (which kicked off the Fest) was witnessed by perhaps 25 people - offered up something completely unexpected. Michael Roberts, WestWord, Backbeat Feedback column, September 20-26,1995 Yeah we met Michael Roberts after the show. It may sound cliché, but if there was one music critic who could make or break us in the one-horse town, it was Michael Roberts. We gave him our phone number, and he told us he wanted to do an article about us, but he may be contractually obligated to write something about this other band. But he promised to give us a call. Well, guess what? He didn't. Oh well... After a couple of years I finally got up the nerve to find out what happened. So I anonymously e-mailed him simply asking, "Have you heard of this local band called the Phlegmtones?" To which he replied: jon-- i'm afraid all i can do is add to the confusion. i saw the phlegmtones play at a rocky mountain music association gig and thought they were really good (especially given the fact there were only about thirty people present when they performed). i got the number for one of the guys and said i'd give him a call, then i spaced out for a couple of months -- and by the time i'd followed up, they seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth. since then, i've heard the occasional rumor that they still exist, but have seen no actual confirmation of it. if you find out anything, please pass along the information to me -- i'd definitely be interested. sorry i couldn't be of more assistance. good luck. mr That's the problem with this story. It can only end one of two ways. Either we hit the big time or we break up for good. Well, I hate to give away too much - but this story really doesn't have an ending yet. Actually I never could quite see why we didn't become famous. We had talent. We had originality. (Of course it could be reasonable argued that these are actually impediments to making it in the record biz). But more importantly - we had an attractive front man. I don't know if I mentioned it before but Ave is an extremely handsome man. I'm not saying that I'm gay or anything - it's just that I could easily imagine Ave on the cover of like "Tiger Beat" and "16" and such. Very good-looking and also very thin. Maybe 98 lbs. soaking wet. And he's about as tall as me (his penchant for wearing platform shoes makes him look even more elongated). But unlike most Americans, Ave wanted to gain weight. He hated being so skinny (his nickname at one point was Stick Boy). He used to buy Weight Gainer at GNC in bulk. Once I took him out to an all-you-can-eat buffet. He downed six whole heaping platefuls of food. And right outside he threw it all up. The boy just could not put on weight. Now given Ave's weight and energy and disconnected sense of reality, many people assumed that he was on drugs. Well, let me just clear up that one point. Ave does not use drugs. Ironically, he is highly against them. Why exactly I don't know. Although our stage antics certainly seemed hallucinatory and drugged out.
While it was quite a sight, I didn't see the point. He wanted to do whole shows wearing a paper bag over his head. He was always embarrassed. But with Aaron on drums, we became a whole hell of a lot better. Ave's songwriting, which always depended on his not knowing how to play minor chords, a lot of chromatic runs and flatted fifths, became more complex. Ave's lyrics, which I never really understood, or cared about one way or the other, stayed the same. But he was writing stuff in 7/4 time and really blowing my mind. More and more I began to feel F. Murray Abraham in "Amadeus." I knew what I was doing. I worked on it very hard. I was serious. And yet I couldn't even touch the stuff this guy was writing. It became very frustrating. No longer was I McCartney to his Lennon - I was Garfunkel to his Simon. Messina to his Loggins. Andrew Ridgley to his George Michael. Dave Stewart to his Annie Lennox. --This was also the height of our quote-unquote "Pearl Jams". There's this open air Mall in Boulder called Pearl Street, where they allow all the starving college students to come and busker for spare change. So we'd all grab acoustics (Aaron would take a hand drum or something) and head up. Well, we always stood out - for one thing we were one of the few bands there. Everyone else was solo. Plus, even though these were generally dress-down affairs, Ave would still be a presence that's hard to take your eyes off of. We usually start out with everyone walking by quickly, trying not to look, and by the end we would have a huge old crowd (for a street corner). Sometimes, we'd do these to promote our real shows - we'd have pamphlets to hand out, which the audience would take and use to roll up joints. Right in front of us. Kinda disappointing. Still... It was that summer that Ave got this big idea. A vacation to help us bond. He was always talking about how we were loose, and how we needed to get "tight" musically. Personally, I think he was talking gibberish. Loose? Tight? What did that mean? Exact metronome time? Ugh. At this point I was listening to a lot of Tori Amos, whose live work was filled with pauses, rushes, build-ups and all sorts of "loose" music.
But Ave wanted us to tighten up. Not just musically, but personally. We were all going to drive down to the Great Sand Dunes. Of course, the main reason we were going was because, well - Ave had become obsessed with making Super-8 films. What were supposed to be Practice sessions were often re-scheduled into film shoots. Now, I don't mind acting occasionally, if I know the director and he needs a hand, sure. But it's not something I really wanted to do. In fact, for something I never really wanted to, I've done a lot of it. But Ave... Well, anyway, we all packed into Ave's Mom's car (not a big car) - all four of us, plus two or three girlfriends, I don't remember whose. Definitely not mine. Well, Ave had been up all night working when we left at midnight. We arrived after about five hours of Ave driving the whole way. We goofed around for the camera about an hour or two, when Ave started getting sleepy. Well, since it was his Mom's car, no one else was really allowed to drive it, so we all hoped back in and five hours later arrived home. Not exactly the bonding experience Ave was hoping for.
Ave really wanted to be a filmmaker. I had nothing against that as long as it didn't interfere with the band. So we both decided to take a playwriting class at the local community college (the screenwriting class had too many pre-requisites). Now, I was not looking forward to this. I had given up writing and now saw it as a distasteful waste of my time, but I knew Ave lacked motivation, and if I went with him, it might help. Ave's films were interesting but lack any sort of structure. So Ave went, but he didn't really like the class. I did all his homework for him. But still I figured he'd do the real work for himself. But then I ended up writing the play for him too (alright plagiarizing it for him). And the re-writing. He wasn't interested in learning by doing, and there really isn't much you can teach about that in lecture. Especially since he wasn't paying attention. However one night in class, one of the other students was describing this idea for a play he had. And it was a bad idea. But we were all supposed to comment on it. Everyone said something fairly innocuous. But Ave decided to show his displeasure through a rather abstract and yet non-hurtful way. He starts crying. Something about his brother going to jail. No one could tell exactly what he was saying between sobs. Class was dismissed for a five-minute break so Ave could get himself together. After he left the teacher turned to me to make sure that Ave was alright. I assured the best I could and then went out to find Ave. And when I did, he started laughing. Then I started laughing. And we were laughing and laughing and laughing. I thought for sure someone in the class would overhear us and our cover would be blown. Now that was funny. What happened next was not.
Well, it turns out the head of the department liked the play I wrote and agreed to put it on as a festival of one-acts. Now, I had given up being a writer, but still this was pretty exciting. I even ended up with a small part own play, just so I could watch the rehearsals. But when it opened, well, I had comps, and no one to give 'em to. I didn't know a single person to show my play to. So I gave 'em to Ave and Seth and Seth's girlfriend. They showed up late. But since mine was the last play of the evening, that was o.k. They sat in the front row with a blanket over their heads. And when my show started, Ave - used to the world of rock clubs where you whoop and holler to encourage the act, came off as heckling jackass. Well, the cast wanted to kill him, and I did too - but instead, I snuck out and told them to flee while they got the chance. Of course, they later found out that I was the one who brought them, and so no one else talked to me during the whole rest of the production. Nikki was the only one to apologize to me that night. Back to the band...
I had written this little newsletter/pamphlet type of thing called "Idiot Stick" to try and promote the band. I was hoping to get people to sign up for a subscription and use that as out mailing list type of thing. Of course, only one issue got done, although I was certainly recognized for it. I did most of it being the only one in the band with literary aspirations. It also included a comic strip my brother drew and some poems by Ave, which aren't nearly half as entertaining on paper as they are LIVE. We also asked for submissions to use in further issues. Only one reply came. Although the poems themselves were rather shoddy, it also included our first (and so far only) fan letter ever: Hey Phlegmtones --Whats going on. My name is John. Avery may still remember me from your January performance at Squeaky Wilber's (the show was great.) I just wanted to write and say how great you guy's [sic] are. I also wanted to get a subscription to the Idiot Stick when ever you make one. if it's at all posible [sic] I would love a tape, CD, or what ever parifinalia [sic] you guy's [sic] could hook me up with I' appriciate [sic] whatever you could do. Avery also told me to send in some poetry for the Idiot Stick so hears [sic] a few I read at Black & Read. not exactly literate, but still flattering...
My songs - namely the ones that I wrote and sang by myself - were not being played. Ave couldn't be bothered to learn them and I couldn't be bothered to teach him. It's O.K.; they never worked out real well on stage anyway. Ave didn't know what to do with himself during them. Mostly I played them when Ave needed a break. And recording was all being done at home on the four track. And rather than try and teach my arrangements, I trusted myself more, so they turned out to be little more band-oriented than the demos I was recording in Olympia. By necessity they were all fairly laid back and acoustic. No drums. Very little bass. Very amateurish. But somehow I found it frustrating that MY songs were not getting as much band attention as Ave's far superior ones. I began to really resent Ave. Making me move back here. However...
I began to know Aaron Wheeler a lot better. We had talked occasionally before, during school. But now he would call me up. We'd go hang out. Or sometimes we'd go over to Seth and Nikki's apartment. (Nikki was and still is Seth's girlfriend). We would have mouth jams in their sauna. (Mouth jams are a "Phish" thing apparently - everyone just improvises - only a cappella). Aaron understood my frustration with Ave. We would jam out long free-form style numbers whenever Ave wasn't there. It was a lot of fun. At one point he offered to take me with him to Chicago with him when he was going to see the Phish Halloween show. He didn't know anyone in Chicago. Didn't know where he was going to stay. A real adventure. I almost went with him, but I chickened out. I would always wonder what would have happened to our band if I had gone. Well, it turns out that while he was up there, he happened to meet this wonderful girl, fell in love and decided that he had to move out Chicago to be with her. I was upset... The band wasn't getting anywhere, and the only fun I was having was about to leave. So, I figured this was my last shot.
I ponied up the dough for a recording session for my myself. I may never get another chance to play with Aaron again. My songs were never going to get done unless I did them. Of course, neither Seth or Aaron had seen any of these songs before, but I didn't care. I wrote the notes out for Seth - and even Aaron declined to play on one of them. And you don't even have to know what key it's in to play the drums. But here it was, my songs for the next album (which I kept talking about, but we would make no plans towards). Ave even showed up while we were recording the vocals and did some background singing. All acoustic, all me. It sounded well... pretty bad. But at least I got it done.
Of course, a little over a week later, inspired partially by accordionist Rob's return home for Thanksgiving and partially strong-armed by me, Ave went into the studio and recorded a whole batch of his songs - including another version of "Psycho Clown" which he insisted I sing. We also recorded the somewhat straight forward rock song "Queen Of the Limbo Dance" (which I think Seth actually wrote the main riff for), the fascinating 7/4 "Fresh N' Lemony", "Painted Ladies Don't Dance", "Ten Big Men" on which Ave played a rare guitar solo, "I Hate Grapes" a funky number where everyone, even Aaron got to sing a verse, and the rather odd piano piece "Big Ass Trouble". My favorite of the night was "Ode to the Pedophile" an extremely rare ballad from Ave. It had a rather unique song structure. Instead of the usual verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge type of thing, it went simply from A to B to C to D back to C, B, A. Plus it featured one of Seth most accomplished and melodic bass lines. Fascinating. Ave always hated it. Seth thought it might be because he was uncomfortable because of the child abuser lyrical subject matter. I figured it had to do with the long Aaaaahs he had to sing in the intro and outro. Ave was still uncomfortable about his singing. Now, I had pretty much produced my session by myself, so when it came time to mix Ave's, I literally walked outside and waited in the car for a couple of hours. Of course I ended up paying for both of them, but that was ok. I still had money. And it was worth it. The tapes were wonderful. High quality. Good songs. Terrific stuff. I was psyched for our next album. It was going to be called "Jerk-O-Flux Love Capacitator". At one point we discussed putting all my songs on one side, and all of his on the other - but we ended up deciding it would sound better if we put them on in alphabetical order.
We had just a few gigs left before Aaron went to Chicago. And one of them was at this underage pool hall called "Squeaky Wilbur’s". Well, it went o.k. at first. We were using our own equipment, and as usual now matter how loud I cranked my guitar no one could hear it. Well, I was getting a little frustrated, when, it cam time for my shot. Ave, still in full Kiss regalia, was going to jump off the stage and challenge various members of the audience to fooze-ball while I played two or three tunes from my half of the album. Well, needles to say, once Ave left, everyone else just sort of turned around and walked away. Neither Seth nor Aaron felt confident enough in their knowledge of any of my tunes to play them live, and they chose this exact moment to tell me as such. So there I was alone. I tried to do it by myself. But I messed up. Screwed up. I sounded awful, and after a few minutes of embarrassing myself to no one, I had to plead with the rest of my band to rejoin me on stage. And it ended like that. Well, after it was over, we took our bows, and were still on stage loading equipment, when the other three started congratulating themselves. "Not a bad show really" etc., when they asked me how I thought it went. Well I just sort of exploded. And so Ave grabbed the mike and told the still cheering crowd that "My band just broke up! Yeah!" Well, that wasn't what I wanted at all. This was all I had in life. I had no friends. No other plans or dreams. No hobbies. No girlfriend. I had given up my education of this!?! I rushed over to Ave. "No No No, please at least just think about it".
The next evening Ave cam home to apartment with one of his girlfriends (I never even knew the names of most of Ave's girlfriends - unlike say Nikki, who came to a lot of practices, was pretty friendly, and actually talked to me once and a while). Well, Ave says he thought about it, and he doesn't want to be a musician, but an artist. That was it. The end of the band. He then took his girlfriend to his room, leaving me sitting on the living room floor. I grabbed one of the wiffleball bats and started hitting myself over the head with it. I wanted Ave to come out and see what I was doing and say, "Oh, I didn't realize that it meant so much to you. Things'll go back to the way the were." But the bat didn't make enough noise, and I couldn't sit there forever. I knew what I had to do and I hated doing it. I scribbled a little note, "I want to die!" Emptied some bottle of pills into my hat, left the empty bottles in the sink, went to my room and waited. Sometime later, Ave came in all concerned. I told him not to worry; I didn't actually take the pills. He said he didn't he didn't mean it. The band was still here. As much as I hated doing it, it worked like a charm. But I had lost it. Whatever say I might have once had was gone. I knew Ave was going to do whatever he wanted eventually, so I might as well just shut up and agree. I felt like Esau selling out his birthright for a bowl of porridge.
Aaron's last show with us was supposed to be this open-stage in Boulder at "Penny Lane". Yeah, all these years, and we were still playing open stages. In fact, we still hadn't been paid for playing yet (other then the change we made during our "Pearl Jams". Well, we packed up and - as always - were running late. So by the time we got there all the slots were filled. Luckily one of my friends was there and he had as an improv comedy troupe that had signed up, and they gave us their spot. I still feel bad about that one, but oh well... Of course, in setting up we realized we had forgotten a rather important part of Aaron's drum kit - the snare. Really you don't need all those toms and cymbals to make a drum set work, but the snare is rather important. We all soldiered on despite, but it was kind of a disappointing way to close this chapter.
Chapter Three-In The Middle: The Cleetus Barfmarler years
Well, I had secretly put Ave in charge. And of course, Ave hated taking responsibility. He didn't want to be the leader. We would ask him what he wanted, and he would yell at us, saying you guys decide. So we would start to, but Ave would start going, "No, I'm not going to do that" "I don't like that idea either". And after much arguing, Ave would tell us what he had originally envisioned in the first place. So next time, we though we'll just avoid that whole mess and just ask him what to do - and of course, it would start again. So what I had vowed to do was just pretend to agree with whatever Ave said. First thing he did was move out of the apartment and back in with his folks. Cheaper, and warmer I guess, still I couldn't afford the rent by myself. I could've found another roommate, but Ave had given away his half to this friend I never met, named Brian. Deaf fellow, a real jerk. Ended up leaving me mid-month, with no rent, forcing me to move back in with my parents, something I didn't look forward to half as much as Ave. Ave's next idea was to visit Aaron in Chicago. Ave planned this trip for months. He was sure that this was the moment that would make him a man, or transform him into...I don't know, the way he talked up this trip, what it was going to do for him... I figured he was never coming back. And that was fine by me. I was twenty-one, never been on a date, living with my parents, no real education, working at some fast food joint (I had spent all my money covering everybody’s rent), wasting my life. I was, in short, the most pathetic man in the world.
But he did come back. And nothing happened there, as I guessed wouldn've happened. We still had no drummer, when we did get together it was for one of Ave's movies, and after several months of doing nothing, "Jerk-O-Flux Love Capacitator" was still unreleased. And it was never going to be. Ave hated it and what I thought didn't count. He didn't like the fact that all the songs were done in one take. "I can't get it right with a single brushstroke". Plus he hated all these songs, which I felt represented his pinnacle, probably just because they reminded him of whomever he was dating at the time (I could never keep all that stuff straight). He wanted to do the next album all on the four-track, where he could go over and over and over every little thing. I was not looking forward to that. Plus I didn't think it sounded very professional, but you know... And he wanted to do the whole thing with a drum machine. Now, I personally am opposed ethically to the whole concept of the drum machine. I'm a musician and the thought that a metal box can do my job is frightening. Plus it reminded me of the "Prosaic" session I sat in on. One guy sat at the computer, while the other three sat one the couch with a handheld electronic poker game. They didn't even need to be there. Really creepy. But Ave and I split $400 on a drum machine anyway. The "songs" we were writing were hardly that. He would record his voice and the machine (after about three hundred takes) and then say, put some guitar on this. There were no notes, I had no idea what he wanted, I could play anything, but it wasn't mine... Or sometimes, there wouldn't even be a single instrument on there. And he would make me sing one line - over and over - I never could get whatever it was he was looking for. On the good side however, these recording sessions were fairly random and sporadic. Every now and then, Ave would get on a kick, "We've gotta practice more". You know once we even did two shows in a row (on consecutive nights) - considering the rarity of our performances, that was quite and accomplishment. After the first one Ave vowed to try and keep up this pace, but Seth didn't wear his platform shoes for the second show, and Ave blamed his (in his one mind) lackluster performance on the forgotten footwear.
I hardly ever saw Seth during this time, and never alone, so I couldn't really ask him how he felt. He and Nikki were sharing this house with Ave, so... Well, here I have to introduce a character as real or as important as any of the human members of the band, The Barn. The Barn was this big old house, the kind you're surprised to find running water in. The main source of heat was this wood-burning stove. Kind of like one of those "museums" you find in old mining towns, that's little more than a house with memorabilia and red velvet ropes scattered around. But it was impressive. For one thing, there were really like no neighbors. Which meant that we could jam as late and as loud as we wanted. After years of being confined in Ave's parents' basement, this was a relief. Adjacent to the house itself was what looked like a five car garage. And up a long narrow flight was a room just destined to become the band room. It just had the right atmosphere. The right acoustics. Everything. Of course, being this detached, made it extremely cold during the winter and unbearably hot in the summer. Plus the stairs were difficult to maneuver the amps and drum set up and down for each gig. But still something about that house, and particularly that room, I'm sure was half the reason for Ave's renewed enthusiasm. Shag carpeting. Paintings and Seth's metalworks all over the place.
Of course, the place wasn't really Seth's or Nikki's or Ave's, it was Seth's parents. They were trying to sell it. But they lived in Colorado Springs. And they needed someone to stay there and show it to potential customers. And considering how much they were asking (although it was definitely worth it and more), we figured Seth and Nikki and Ave would be living there forever. And it was on the market for over two and a half years.
Of course at this time, we just never performed in public. Every now and then some band would become infatuated with us, take us under their wings and insist on us opening for them every show. Bands like "Foil Drive" and "Mucis". As much as they loved our performance, they would usually get fed up with our unprofessionalism (and besides being relatively unknown bands, there was only so much the could do for us). So we hardly ever played live. Which was ok with me 'cause I would work all day on one song and then, I'd never hear it again. I don't think I could recreate that on stage. Songs like "I'm The Little Hot Dog Girl", "The Most Magnificent Masturbator", "I Am A Robot", "Big Ass Market" and "I Just Got Robbed" - some of the songs survived to become actual playable tunes, like "Hand On My Crotch It", "At The Moment", "The Barn Melts Away", and "Cookin' Up For A Kick In The Pants" - but I wrote the music for those. Ave had given up guitar. For a while he thought about just playing accordion (which he had recently picked up) and never touching the guitar again. In one of my few exceptions to the "Don't Disagree" rule I pleaded with him not to throw away the guitar entirely.
But he was more concerned with lyrics now. He constantly going, "Aren't my words so much better?” Of course, I never actually heard him talk about any of them in specific. I never know what any of them meant anyway (well, once he told me about "Loud Guy/Quiet Guy" - it's all about the bourgeois and the proletariat and how people move here from California) - but really I couldn't tell the difference from these lyrics and the ones on "Jerk-O-Flux". Ave could though, and took all delight in trashing that album that I had paid for and no one heard. Another thing Ave decided was no more of "my" songs. Which was fine by me, the crowd always waned when I began to sing. But since I was doing all the music, and hated my singing and lyrics, I was never really sure what were my songs anyway. I mostly hated the fact we weren't doing HIS chords....
Every now and then, we would try to get a drummer - or ended up with a show. Once, as a favor to somebody I think, we were hired to play a kids' show. Now Ave was super-psyched about this. We found this really heavy drummer, named Jamie - who happened to be the son of one of the guys from "Firefall" - which is like a real famous one-hit wonder band. And we even broke our "no covers" rule to learn "Shaddly Dum Dee Duty" from the Mr. Roger's record. We practiced for that one for hours. We were going to get paid possibly, which was a first for us. Well, we showed up with puppets and costumes and piñatas and amps and everything. We were supposed to watch the kids in the basement, while some tabla player entertained their folks upstairs at the Temple Events Center. Well, only three or four kids showed up. And we were FAR too loud. The kids started crying and some of the parents showed up. They really should've hired a babysitter, not a band. I don't think we got paid. Now, Jamie wasn't actually asked to join at this point. We didn't say why, but I could've guessed.
We were occasionally looking for a drummer. We did place an ad in WestWord. Got a few responses. There was one guy named Sergei who Ave was real psyched on because he couldn't speak English. I don't understand. There were a few possible prospects. But Ave never followed through on any of them. And I certainly didn't have the authority or the knowledge of percussion to make that decision. But the real reason was Ave wanted Tom back, and now he could probably do it. It's just that he wasn't sure he would come back after they way we treated him. So after a couple more months of milling around - the return of Tom a.k.a. Cleetus Barfmarler. Now I hadn't heard Tom play in like a year and a half, and I wasn't sure if he was practicing (I figured why would he) so I was not looking forward to this. But he had turned into a fairly decent drummer. A lot different from Aaron though. Aaron was very of the moment. He never played a song the same way twice. In fact, he would often switch patterns for each verse. He would never hit the downbeat very hard. In fact he never hit anything hard, and it always sort of flowed. Tom on the other hand, hit them suckers. Bang Bang. And you always played pretty much the same thing for each time. Neither was greatly versatile, but you could tell what song Tom was playing even without the rest of us. Aaron would try anything you threw at him, Tom would make sure he knew the song first, and would almost deliberately write a part to fit. We would move around his fills a bit, but you could tell which ones belonged to what song.
And this was great for Ave, who had strapped his guitar back on and decided that what we need to do was Heavy Metal. He said he wanted to make fun of those cheezy metal bands of the 80's that he grew up on, but still it was Metal, and I hated it. A.) I don't know thing one about it or how to play it. B.) I can't stand listening to it, it's too loud and repetitive. Our practices were becoming less of jam sessions. We would play the song straight through. We wrote actual endings to our songs - something we were never good at. I didn't know what I was doing though. I just put the distortion way up and ignored everything. Ave loved it. Never when I was into the band had I seen him so psyched. We were practicing three or four times a week. I got the feeling Seth wasn't too happy either though. Due to the increased tempo and genre limitations, his bass-lines, which were always a integral and fascinating part of the texture before, had to devolve a bit. And I don't think he was too happy about that.
One the interesting thing about the band was, unlike most groups, when we came together, we didn't have a lot of common influences. We didn't listen to the same types of stuff. While this did lead to some interesting combinations, it also led to a lot of friction in the group. When I was little my parents listen to either a lot of folk from the three big J's - Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, and Joan Baez. Peter, Paul, & Mary - that kind of stuff. Either that or Broadway. "Godspell", "1776", "Evita". This is what I was weaned on. The first album I ever purchase however was "Weird Al" Yankovic's. And when I first started buying records (on vinyl at the time) - it almost exclusively comedy.
I don't know what Seth's earliest musical memories are, but by the time I met him he was listening to groups like Phish, the Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews Band, and Bob Marley (so did Aaron - so when he was with us, we tended to sound a little bit more like them.) very groove-oriented jam bands. Ave on the other hand loved Ween, The Residents, Primus, Jane's Addiction, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, and Mr. Bungle. Pretty much stuff I didn't know. Now we all loved the Beatles. But the Beatles isn't really a good meeting ground. They were so stylistically diverse. We could both love the Beatles, but I find you like their earlier, straightforward pop while I like their more challenging later material. You could worship "Sgt. Pepper" while I find it over-praised and that "Rubber Soul" was their true masterpiece. We could both find the White Album too long, but your favorites are the ones I'd axe. You prefer Paul to John. I think George should've been given as many songs as the other two, you'd rather not hear him at all. So we had a hard time finding a common ground. As long we were creating our own sound it was O.K., but with metal stuff, I don't know.
We were performing live a bit more. Ave still wasn't playing his guitar 100%. A couple of songs featured him on accordion. Other he simply stood there and danced as he sang. Dance, Stage presence, Costumes, Visuals were all big to Ave. He would yell at me for just standing there on stage. Now I have always had a prejudice against bands with lead singers - particularly ones who didn't play an instrument. Ave however finally became assured in his voice. Before, it was a struggle to get him to sing, but now... He'd play guitar on songs like "Hot Roller Mama" and "Thunderpussy No.1" - and while I was grateful that he was writing chords again - these tunes, tended to sound like each other - just like the genre they were satirizing. Other songs - like "You Ruined My Life" and "Woman In A Red Dress" were fun to play, Seth, and Tom and I could work them out ourselves, but not a lot of input from Ave - at least not on the music. One of the few songs through this "metal period" really impressed me musically. "Treat Her Like A Lady" - a song that while retaining the palindrome structure of "Ode To Pedophile" the various sections sounded un-related giving the song a very schizophrenic feel. The sudden break-neck turns were hard to negotiate and thus we only played successfully to completion a handful of times.
On the other hand, we also slowly started introduce covers (songs not written by us) for the first time in our repertoire. First there was a fun, joke-y version of George Thortoughgood's "Bad To The Bone". And sometimes on stage we pulled out a half-assed rendition of Alanis Morisette's "You Ought To Know" - a song we all thoroughly despised. I even learned Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock" for Ave, but we never played it. We tried to do a couple of Pat Benatar tunes, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" and "Heartbreaker", but we never quite got the guts to do them live. Once, while trying to up-stage Phish - whom Ave always hated for some reason, Ave wanted to cover The Beatles' entire White Album. I think we got through two songs ("Helter Skelter" and "Dear Prudence" which was re-named "Dear Cleetus"). Another time Ave nearly got us booked at his company's (King Soopers) employee picnic, telling his manager that we were a covers band. We tried to learn a few golden moldies like "La Bamba" and "Land Of A Thousand Dances" before the gig got cancelled.
There was another gig we had that will be hard for me to forget. We were supposed to go to C.U. and play some sort of celebration for finals being over. We almost had to cancel because it was during the a school night for Tom. We were surprised however to learn that ten o'clock meant ten a.m. We'd never heard of playing that early in the morning before. And obviously no one on campus did either. There was literally no one else in the room when we plugged in to play. Now we had just purchased these rather large, loud new amplifiers, and we're testing them out this show. On the other hand, the entire student body was trying to sleep of a week of cramming. It's the only time I've ever been heckled by people who weren't even in the same building as me.
The music was flowing. Ave was super-psyched. He even started to get away from the films for a while. So I was a little startled when he called me up and asked me to play this role for him. Only he wasn't directing it. Matt, some old friend of Seth's called him and asked him to fill in for this actor who went AWOL. Well, when yet another member of his cast deserted him, Seth suggested Ave, who was now doing Crispin Glover-esque cameos in other people's videos. Usually stealing the whole movie. Well, I don't know where Matt's streak of bad luck with actor came from but I ended up being recruited to play a Security Officer. Oddly enough, even though three Phlegmtones were in this project - all playing Security Officers - none of us had any scenes together. Well, it was easily one of the most disorganized, unprofessional, shoots I'd ever been on. Even stranger was having never met any of these people before, being stuck in a car with them as they drove me out to the middle of nowhere, dressed in a cop uniform and then offered marijuana - was just strange. I could've been a DEA agent for all they knew. Or a serial killer. Matt's partner on this project was a guy named Jeff with long brown hair parted in the middle and a full beard. Months later we saw him dancing at one of our shows and dared him to take his shirt off. Ave then dubbed him "Dancin' Jesus" and invited him on stage with us. Nikki was offended. After this - and forever after - Matt teamed with this guy named Chad. Matt and Chad. Chat 'n Mad. But first it was the "True Stories Of The Security Patrol" I didn't exactly have high hopes for the finished project, so I was quite surprised when much later I saw it and it was easily the finest production I've been involved in.
At this point however I was getting frustrated. And I know it's my own stupid fault for not saying anything, but I felt like MY point of view was not being represented. I thought what I needed was a side project. Something for my acoustic, melodic, pretty much anti-heavy metal antidote to everything we were doing. So I placed an ad around saying guitarist available. I really wanted to put together my own group that I could front, but didn't quite have the guts to do that. I met with a few people. Rachel from "Flowers Of Aphrodite" sent me their CD and asked me to audition. I took one listen and, although impressed, knew that this was not the kind of music I was able to make. One band with the impressive name "Nuerotica" invited me but I never got back to them. Actually my best bet was going to be this polka-jazz band. But in order to try out I had to get my electric guitar - which I didn't keep at home because I didn't own an amplifier because I was trying to rebel against the whole death-metal stage we were going through. So I just thought I'd swing by the Barn when I knew Seth & Ave & Nikki would be out. But of course timing is everything. And Seth and Nikki were home - so I had to make up some excuse why I was there. I just said I was bored, and wanted to practice. Well they offered to take me to the Laundromat with them. Well, I really couldn't turn them down, so I ended up missing my appointment. I always wondered what would've happened had I made it. I didn't really want to quit the Phlegmtones, I just wanted some release - some escape.
We were playing live at a far more frequent rate. Not tremendous, but still... We even got one more show at the old Mercury Cafe. Pulled out all the stops (as usual). Ave bled from his nipples at one point. Later he tore apart an inflatable rubber woman with his teeth. Ave was not using his old guitar at this point. Anything from the 70's was in - anything from our past was out. So he was using this beat-up cheezy metal guitar. Well, Tom and I were the ones packing for the show - and we decided to bring Ave's expensive, graduation present guitar - which he never used anymore - just in case he broke a string. Well Ave got pissed at us for doing that. So of course to make things worse, it got stolen that night. Ave got really depressed for a while, but nothing seemed to be able to dissuade his ardor for the band. He was already talking about selling his car to finance CD distribution for our next album - a full studio realization of our new sound. At that Merc show, Matt had video taped the whole thing and splicing in some of Ave's Super-8 had put together a live videotape, which was copied, but never really sold - but just sort of given away. The same thing went for our rather time consuming but inexpensive 8-track release. In fact you can see us throwing away the cartridges on the videotape. Ave loved that video. We watched it like four times in one afternoon.
It was then, watching myself dressed as a banana standing in the corner, wandering around lost, that I realized this isn't what I want to do. This isn't what I took up the guitar for. All of my favorite musicians used their work to express something personal about themselves. And what was I doing? I don't feel like a giant banana. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't say anything. I couldn't leave. What else was there for me to do? Be a solo folk artist? I tried that. I just couldn't do that. I didn't have the leadership abilities to start my own band. And I certainly wasn't going to subjugate myself to someone else's musical tyranny. The whole idea of a collaborative process seemed impossible. Besides I hadn't written anything new in like six months. I was lost. And then on a completely unrelated note, some guy screwed me over for $4,000. I had to get a job. Something I never really did (except once during the summer). Drop out of school. I had to (gulp) shave and get a haircut. Well, Ave offered to do that for me - so he could goof around with my hair first. I didn't care. Sure. So he ended up making me look like an extremely orthodox Rabbi. Beard, no moustache, long braids of hair on either side. Kinda funny I guess. Ave said I should keep it for the show we had in two weeks. I said I would try, but it was going to be even harder for me to get a job like this, and I could end up sleeping on the streets. Well, I couldn't take it. I needed money. And this wasn't going to help. Days later I cut it off. And Ave yelled at me. Like nothing before. I should've just quit. Then and there. I was trying to keep from starving to death and he was mad at my haircut. But I didn't quit. That's when I realized that I was like some sort of sick co-dependent woman unable to leave her abusive lover.
As plans for the CD progressed, things started to change. While I'm all for striking while the iron is hot, Ave wanted to wait until he was able to (in his own estimation) throw himself completely into the project. More songs were written, the Arabic sounding "Blood (Of The Camel)", the polka "Now", the quasi-flamenco tango "Two Hearts" which eventually became “Piñata!” At one point the possibility of a double CD was discussed. Ave wanted to put some of my songs on the album. Seth was going to sing "Alaska" - and he wanted this to be a real "group" project. I was stricken. I had given up songwriting. While I have a fairly uninteresting, simple voice, I never was big on singing. The problem is that I always enjoyed doing it (in the shower, at home jamming, etc.) to put the effort Ave did into really figuring out how to do it right. Well not exactly "right" but well... I had been pissed all this time, because I wasn't allowed to do my songs, and now that I could, I still couldn't. They just didn't fit with the whole Phlegmtones' image. I couldn't imagine what Tom would do to them. It was always so frustrating trying to explain how I thought they should go. Besides, my songs were so bad. Ave was digging up all those tapes I sent him from Washington. Stuff that hurt me so much when he ignored them the first time. Stuff I had forgotten and disowned. I didn't eve know how to play them anymore. They were just me trying to be clever or silly or whatever. Totally insincere. Unmemorable. I just couldn't do it. Ave was pissed at me for this. However, something else wasn't right. While, Ave had always been super-high on Tom's drumming, something had changed.
Now, before every show Ave goes through this near psychotic episode of stage fright. While Seth and I have always handled it by trying to be out of the room at the time, Tom just wouldn't put up with it. He'd threaten slap him if he didn't calm down. And for a while this worked like a charm. But then little short arguments like that broke out at practice. He started to miss practice occasionally. Of course, aside from drumming, he was also busy studying to be a dentist and playing goalie for this hockey league. We'd occasionally had to turn down gigs because of class - something I had never before done nor relished doing. Of course this was Ave's dream now. He was sure we were going to make it big, and started to see what he called Tom's lack of commitment as hindrance. Ave had claimed to given up girls so he could concentrate on the band. Of course, I've never been able to get a date. So, it looked like I was doing this also. And Seth n' Nikki had been so tight for so long, no one expected anything, but Tom began dating somebody named Shey. Suddenly Ave started bringing in the metronome, claiming we were out of rhythm. This was always a pretty good sign that Ave was pissed - usually at the drummer. Of course, Tom being the out-spoken type wasn't going to put up with this. Things were tense, and then...
Aaron was coming back in town. Just for a week. He wanted to visit. Cool! He was a friend of mine - unlike Tom, who I was having a hard time getting close to, although I shared with him as I did all the previous drummers, my frustrations with Ave. Seth and Ave were looking forward to him coming back and even deliberately scheduled a show on the night when Tom had class so we could play with him just one last time. Aaron came over to the barn to jam and sat down in front of Tom's drums. Big mistake. Next day we got a note on the door to the drum room stating:
To Whom this may concern:
Well, Tom re-arranged his drum set and then his schedule just so he could play that show. Aaron got to sit in the audience to watch. But we were still talking about getting this CD out. Even Ave said he was ready. We were in a rut. We couldn't go on to the next thing until we got this metal stuff out of our system. But Tom wasn't ready to make the commitment. He was talking about getting a ringer drummer for some of the recording sessions and not telling him about it. Just doing the songs Tom was good at - the Metal ones. Tom wouldn't play any of our old tunes, like "Loud Guy/Quiet Guy". For months Ave refused to play this classics, saying we needed to move on - work on our new sound - he hated those songs - etc. So Seth and I were really ecstatic when Ave finally got nostalgic and started playing those oldies again. But Tom would just sit there behind the drums and not do anything. We thought things were tense before, but then...
Shey was with child. Tom was going to be REALLY busy now. Ave wanted to throw him out of the band right then. Tom wanted out. I just wanted to get these songs recorded so we could move on to something else - and I certainly didn't want to spend the time teaching them to a new drummer. I suggested to Tom that we record all the stuff we went spent so much time working on, then he would have a memento of his time with the band and leave on a good note. This is what he e-mailed me back saying: Scot
Yes, there is some tension. It is not from me though, as far as I can tell. Playing in the band is not fun anymore. Ave is always pissed at me and for what reason, I don't know why. I try not to cancel, but as you said, I am really busy all the time. Ave seems to think that school is something I should drop for the band. He is sadly mistaken. I don't think we should record a CD, if everyone is splitting later this year. WASTE OF MONEY! We should play the Roddenberry show, and call it quits on a good note. If Ave wants to replace me, he should, being good friends with you guys is far more important to me than playing in a band. I would far rather front a punk band than drum anyway, I just cannot commit the time to playing the drums. We should throw a cool party at Seth's house and play for all our friends, instead of spending the money on a CD that will get us no where. We should stop the madness before we are unable to talk to each other anymore. Think Fleetwood Mac! Gotta go, See you on Wednesday Night @ 7:00 or so. Cleetus.
Well, we played the show, and considering everything, it went pretty much like any other show. Ave had finished this stop-motion Super 8 film starring his Star Wars action figures. We stood behind the screen with a microphone and tried to give them voices. Most of it was out of focus, but it worked. It was supposed to be a tribute to "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry - but no one seemed to care. Fairly solid stable show. I guess he did go out on a good note. Shortly thereafter he and Shey packed their bags for Minneapolis where he became a dentist. Kinda sad I think, but I could understand why he did it.
And once again we were a trio. Back to square one. All the energy and time Ave had put into the band dried up. He even started dating again. I don't know where we're going from here. Bolstered by our performance in "True Stories Of The Security Patrol" Ave and I wrote a short script for a movie, and he was talking about hocking his car to finance that. But I don't know. At this point we looked like we'd given up being a band in favor of becoming a comedy troupe. So it was odd that it was the filmmakers Matt and Chad who came to our rescue.
Chapter Four-In The End: The Sallyashus Suthrajet years
One drummer was now a father and dentist in Minnesota. Another was working as a yoga instructor in Chicago. The third was rumored to be in Ohio studying to be a monk. I was starting to feel like Spinal Tap. Actually what I felt was that the band was pretty much over. Ave's energy had been drained. I didn't care much one way or the other. I just looked at as my weekly poker game or something. A hobby I shared with a couple of other guys every now and then. In fact it was at this point that I took up pen and paper again to write what was essentially a rough draft of what you're reading now. I figured now that I finally had an ending, this whole experience would make a good novel someday. I even posted this short bitter little history on our web page - figuring no one ever looked at it.
Of course, I was in a bad mood. I didn't mean to be as harsh or condemnatory to Ave as I was. I just wanted to get this all of my chest. Truth is Ave is a great guy to hang around with. The only person who hugs me on a fairly consistent basis. I did bother to write about all the irrational bizarre joy that it is to be around Ave. With antics are not confined to the stage alone, and he like to make the everyday lives of anyone he happens to come in contact with just a little more surreal. Simply listening to him order at the drive-through is an experience. The following series of anecdotes are meant to illustrate this. These stories have become known as "Ave Stories" and my siblings always love to have me pull out and re-tell one or another of these for their friends. While only one of these is apocryphal, it was based on a real incident, and has been thoroughly canonized. And I won't tell you which one.
Ave Story #1: After a late night practice session the whole band heads to Denny's (being the only thing open at 2 a.m.) to get some grub. Seated in the booth next to us is a group of Gothic teenagers. You know the type. White skin, black clothes, green hair. And in the table across from them is a rather inebriated cowboy. Well, the cowboy waves the waitress over and rather loudly demand that she "call the cops. You've got a bunch of freaks in here!! You all should be on Jenny Jones!" Well the gothics try to politely but firmly defend their decision to dress like that, but the situation quickly escalates. Now Ave is not a big fan of that particular clique (note the devastating critique in "Why Do You Paint Your Face Like A Skull?"), but he is even less of a fan of people who judge you based on your physical appearance. But Ave at this point was trying to give up fighting, so he decided to intervene the only way he knew how. He got in the cowboy's face and started flapping his arms squealing, "I can dance. I can dance."
Then there was this other show at Cricket On The Hill. Ave wanted this to be our most visual show ever. I had to wear these inflatable bananas. Now we had done shows with the drum machine before. Some of them went alright - although the always lacked the punch of a live drummer. Well when we got to the bar who should we find there but Jamie (remember? From the kids show). Anyway, we begged him to zip back to Loveland and pick up his set and sit in with us. We offered to buy him beer. Which he proceeded to drink. Making him to sleepy and unmotivated to drive. So we went on without him. And man did we suck! It was easily the most horrific experience I'd ever had on stage. Ave had made this garbage for the audience to throw at us during the show. Now, I don't care if it's deliberate or not, but having people pelt you with trash while you're trying to play is not exactly good on the old self-esteem.
So why were we going through all this? For Matt & Chad. They became our biggest fans. They were filming us that night for some sort of interactive CD-rom they were creating about us. That's why Ave went all out visually, surrounding his guitar with chasing Christmas lights which he could switch on with his foot. I don't know why we we're making a video game when we didn't even have a regular CD out. But they loved us so much it was just impossible to say no to them. Besides we usually got caught up in their excitement. It somehow involved running through the Barn. Getting past the Karate Elvis, Henny Youngman from Hell type stand up comic and Spanking Nun. Shooting these Weebles (who wobble but won't fall down) until the screen is covered with blood. These moving baseball cards of us. Some sort of bang the weasels game only with us. All just to watch our live show. I didn't understand it at all, but they had faith in us.
We weren't even really looking for a drummer at this point. Ave was all keyed up about directing and/or starring in this film we co-wrote called "Hell On Wheels". Ave had bought every cheezy '70s banana seat bicycle he could get his hands on for this film. He must've had like thirty of them. We were talking about getting Jamie to drum for us at one point, but after the Cricket On The Hill debacle, he was definitely out. That's when Matt & Chad told us they had found someone who used to play drums. J.T.
Already I was skeptical. What do you mean he USED to play the drums? We had had bad enough luck with drummers who weren't really drummers. I wanted someone who knew how to play. Someone who liked to play. Someone who wasn't just playing for us. But we agreed to give him a shot. Now J.T. was very enthusiastic. He had been indoctrinated by Matt & Chad and already loved the band. His personality meshed perfectly. But I was not overly impressed with his actual musical abilities. Oh well... here we go again. Trying to teach Tomas ONE two three four One two three four... But without so much as any sort of discussion or agreement. He was in the band. And he tried so hard. He wanted to be all of our friends. No sort of temporary new member stuff at first. He was going to be a full-fledged Phlegmtone. He had big dreams for us. He was sure we were going to make it big. And quite frankly his enthusiasm was contagious. I know Ave certainly was psyched about the band again. First order of business was recording/filming the climatic live show for the CD-rom.
We'd only been practicing with J.T. for a couple of weeks when we decked out the band room with lights and cameras and a mixing board and all sorts of eye candy. I had been fighting with Ave over the necessity of dressing up all the time, but even I tried to look crazy for this shoot. Lots of stripes. When I got there, I was surprised to find Ave had shaved off his eyebrows. Well, he didn't mean to. He just wanted to put little stripes in them ala Vanilla Ice, but he goofed up and... Everyone was there. Ave's girlfriend and her friend who were enlisted to be our back-up singers/go-go dancers. Some guy named Barfman, who apparently is a character in something else Matt & Chad were working on. Some engineer to work the knobs on the mixing board. But something was wrong with Ave.
You know, I should've been worried that Ave would someday read that bitter little biography I had posted on our web page. I don't know why I did it. I had all but forgotten about it by that point. But that day - right before this shoot/session - he found it. Needless to say things were a little chilly between Ave and I. Self-doubt racked his system and ruined his performance. Which is probably for the best considering how shoddily we were recorded. The engineer was used to recording reggae bands, so he drenched us in echo rendering the audio portion unusable. The visuals were pretty interesting and heck some of sound on the videotape had better sound quality than the DAT tape.
Ave and I needed to talk. And that's not something I'm good at. I said them things in there I probably shouldn't have. I should've just talked him directly instead of posting all my grievances, but I hate confrontation. I'm the type of person to just sit and not eat what the waiter brings me rather than complain. And besides Ave and despite all we'd been through together had never been close. I never knew who he was dating, or what he did for fun we he wasn't on-stage, or what his childhood was like, or how was really fling or any of that. Ave liked to think we were friends, but truthfully - if he didn't play guitar - and somehow I still would've meet him, I probably wouldn't have liked him a bit. And if for some reason, we were unable to make music together anymore, I'd probably never hang out with him again. But we talked. And I calmed him a little - although he quite trusted me the same again. Ave is one of those people who just doesn't lie. He's maybe a little honest and open and naive. And quite frankly, I have a tendency to say what people want to hear. Hide certain things. Just in general not talk about anything. Ave made me promise that I'd tell him what I was thinking. I never really did, but after a while things went back to normal.
Things were going better with the band though. J.T. - although not an accomplished percussionist, was certainly adequate. Game to try anything. Versatile enough to try different styles of music. We even dug out "Fresh 'N Lemony" which is in 7/4 time, so it's rather difficult. And he played it o.k. There were no new songs really being written around this time, but we were practicing our older stuff along with the newer older stuff. We didn't want to write anything else until we got this next CD out. And with Matt & Chad this looked a lot more promising than ever before. Thanks to their jobs with the community college's film department they had access to all sorts of microphones and DAT recorders and mixers and such. And instead of bringing someone else in like they did last time they were going to learn (by trial and error) how to do it themselves. So with tons of cables and wires and mics and such, we tromped into the kitchen and began what was known as the "Autonomous Sessions".
These sessions lasted pretty much all day. Ave finally got his wish. We would do dozens of takes of one song. And then he'd decide none of them worked and we'd have to do it all over the next time. We only did like three or four of these sessions. After each session, Matt and Chad would dub us down some of the best takes onto CD. (Finally we were on CD!) J.T. was stoked. He would play these for anyone he could find. But to Ave's overly critical ears they were out of tune and off-rhythm. And Matt & Chad, being overly technical, found dozens of little flaws with they way the drums sounded. The couldn't get a sound they like. Now to me, I don't spend a lot of time fiddling with the knobs on my guitar, I just plug it in. I don't try and go for a certain sound - it all just sounds like a guitar to me. So hours and hours of thud-thud-thud turn the knob down a quarter inch thud-thud-thud was very tedious to me. In fact most of the recording was tedious. But like J.T. I thought the end result was terrific. But not for the rest of them, and the "Autonomous Sessions" were called to a halt.
It was also during these sessions that Nikki was asked to join the band. We were recording and needed someone to so some backing vocals. Well, Nikki's always been with us. Longer than any of our drummers. Sort of the band mom, female voice, resident groupie. Her support did wane during our metal years. Too loud for her taste, but she always there for us. Well, she sang on this one track "When I Go To Town" and just blew Ave away. Now, I had no problems with her being a sort of like auxiliary member - like say, Rob was on the accordion, but I knew if we offered her a real position she would take it seriously. And when Ave changed his mind - as he was inevitably bound to do - it would crush her.
Ave was still on me to start doing more of "my" songs though. It was sad after all those years of being about not being able to do them, when I finally got what I always wanted, now I was fighting with Ave about not having to do them. The way I looked at it - just because I didn't write or sing the lyrics, didn't make it any less of "my" song. I wrote "The Barn Melts Away". He was just singing it. I had finally accepted my place in this band. I was Keith Richards to his Mick Jagger. The Edge to his Bono. Joe Perry to his Steven Tyler. Jimmy Page to his Robert Plant. I mean - I always preferred bands that let all the members share lead vocals responsibilities (ala the Beatles or the Monkees), but I just couldn't sing.
There was however one of my songs, "Bob Buys A Box Of Popsicles". Now this is a piece I had been working on at the piano for well... some bits even date back to my elementary school days. It was at one point a 15 minute long solo quasi-classical piano piece, but during the evolutionary process, I did attempt to make it a pop song. I recorded a demo of it in this state, with piano, guitar and vocals, while I was in Olympia and mailed it out along with my other tapes. While putting it through this transformation certainly did help solidify a lot of the more improvisational aspects of the piece, it wasn't what I wanted. I wanted to write a classical piece. With strings. I just didn't know how to actually notate on paper at that point. But I learned. Now I'm not a big classical music buff. To me, it was always like chess or jazz. One of those things it would be really neat to say I was into, but I lacked the actual discipline to enjoy. Well eventually I did write it down on paper - for String Quartet plus Piano. I chopped it into three movements, to make it much less unwieldy. I learned how to weave previous themes back into the piece and make it all tie together. I was quite proud of myself. There was just one problem. Now that I had it on paper, who would play it?
So I posted flyers around various campuses, hoping someone would call and perform it for free. (Well, I'd buy 'em lunch). And I did actually get one call. From Don Switzer. He said he could approximate the sound for me using his synthesizers. Now me personally, always held that synthesizers were morally and aesthetically wrong. But after working on it for so many years, I just wanted to be able to hear it. To see if what I had in my head is what I was able to transcribe to paper. So he mad a tape of it. Granted the rhythm and tempo would've been a lot more flowing. Slides and dynamics were out of this computer's reach. It certainly would've sounded a lot more warm and alive if it had been performed by humans. But still it sounded like what I intended. I was impressed. I wanted to put it on the album. Playing it for Ave however, he was distraught. "Where were the vocals?" "There are no vocals anymore." "I think you should put some vocals on it. And maybe some guitar and drums." "No. No. No. This is a classical piece now. I am not a tenor. Besides the lyrics are stupid." And so "Bob Buys A Box Popsicles" was forgotten entirely. I would still like to get a real string quartet to perform it. If only for my own amusement. But I don't think it would have fit on the generally under two minute song format of the album anyway.
Funny thing was though, after all this years of thinking about and plotting and wimping out of a solo career, it was Ave who broke out with a side project. Spinny D. Some sort of rapper alter ego that Ave assumed. Completely satirical, of course. His impression of an old school rapper. He had these cheesy old Fisher Price turntables and a drum machine. And he got a lot of work. Mostly house parties and such. Occasionally Seth would do the scratching for him, under the moniker Tiger Steve. I really didn't understand, but it was heartening to see that there were things that Ave wanted to do that didn't fit into the context of the band. That he was compromising too. In fact Spinny D even opened for the Phlegmtones once. That was strange.
We were not playing live that much. We just wanted to get this CD over with. We only did like two real shows with J.T., when we got the news: With no real warning or reason, The Barn was sold. Oh man! That sucks! Ave was having some troubles living with Nikki, mainly regarding her official status in the band. So he was planning on moving back in with his parents anyway (how old is he now?!). And Seth & Nikki had to move to Montana. What?!? Why? To this day, no one able to supply me with an adequate answer to that. This was. I mean really it. We've lost drummers before, but Seth's been with the band since the beginning. He couldn't replace him. They had to move in two weeks - not even enough time to finish the CD. What were we to do? Well, there was one option...
I don't know who came up with the idea. It certainly wasn't me. I don't think it was Seth. So that leaves either Ave or J.T. Well, if Seth can't get out of Montana, then we'll go with him. The house he'll be staying at just coincidentally has four bedrooms. They were all ready to give up jobs and girlfriends and lives and family to move to the middle of nowhere. Even J.T. who had only been with us a few months. But me... When they told me about this idea of course I said, "Sure. I'd love to. Can't wait." Meanwhile inside my head I'm going, "What are you CRAZY?!? Don't most bands move out of the back woods into the big city to make it - not vice versa?" I did not want to go. You've got to understand, I don't like the woods, or the mountains, or the outdoors. Period. I like being in the city. Having restaurants and museums and movie theatres that show art films and somewhere to go and something to do. Granted I don't get out much, but I just like knowing that I'd be able to. We weren't even going to real town in Montana. Some place called Somers. Oh but that's real close to Kalispell! A college town. We'll make it big there. What?!? Plus when I moved to Washington, no one offered come with me. I had to come back down here.
Granted this is what I wanted. The four of us coming together to concentrate on music with nothing to distract us. For a long time. But really...? I had lived with Ave before. It didn't work. Actually, I had just moved into a one-bedroom and was really enjoying not having any roommates at all. Besides, thanks to that guy who screwed me out of $4,000 I was unable to rent anything under my name for the next seven years. So anywhere I moved I was pretty much stuck there. Part of me did want to go. If I didn't take my chance, I could end up like Tom - married, kids, dentist, in the suburbs. You know, it was my dream. But I am also very lazy. Very passive. If fame and fortune come to me, great, but I'm not going to risk my comfortable situation. I really didn't know what to do. I really didn't want to go, but I didn't want to stay here either. Plus, I didn't want to be the one to break up the band. I knew I was at least as important as Seth. Everyone else was going. But if I didn't they wouldn't either. And that would be it. The end of the Phlegmtones. But I also knew Ave. I figured he get up there - hate it - and short thereafter bail out. I would've thrown everything away for nothing. I really didn't know what to do.
So I lied. I told them I was all gung-ho about going. J.T. and Ave were planning on renting a truck in a couple of months and going up together in a couple of months. I told them I had to tie up some loose ends and I'd be up there just a little while later. I wanted to see what it would be like to live without the Phlegmtones. The way I figured, no matter what I did, things would be o.k. - But only o.k. - So I would imagine it would've gone so much better if I had done the other. So I guess I was just deciding which I wanted to regret not doing more. So they left. And they would call. "Hey it's great up here. We can't wait for you. When you coming up?" "Soon. I've already packed. Just need a little more money." I still could not make up my mind. Weeks stretched into months. "Hey man, we want to get started on the album. There's nothing to do here but make music. You'll love it up here." "Sounds terrific. Tori Amos is coming to town next week and I have to see that, but I'll head out as soon as the shows over. Straight from Red Rocks." I was running out of excuses. Oddly enough it was Nikki who was most insistent that I come. She thought it would be good for me. "Hey, it's boring as hell up here without you. Are you coming or not?" "I wish was there right now. But my car's still having problems." Granted my car was having a lot of problems at this time - but not nearly as many as I told them I was having. I made up my mind. There was no way hell I was going. Are you kidding? I just didn't know how to tell them. It was only matter of time before things came to a head.
They were going to wire me money. Ave came back for a week - partially because he hated it up there, but also to check on me. I kept telling them I really really really wanted to go, but after that whole incident, Ave didn't trust me any more. And he really shouldn't have. Well, I couldn't put them off indefinitely, I know. But what to do? I was sure Ave was hating up there, but he wouldn't leave until I got up there and we gave it a real try. The real question was, which would happen first? Would Ave finally get fed up and book - or would I run out of excuses and they finally figure me out. Well, I got caught. I said it hailed one day when it didn't. And they checked. I tried to smooth it over. Just saying I was nervous. I was still coming up. Just give me a few days. But it was too late. Ave was coming home.
I still feel bad. I should’ve said something sooner. I got all their hopes up. They all gave up everything they had here, assuming I was doing the same. Heck, they all had much more to stay here for than I ever did. Ave left a girl he truly and deeply cared about just to go to Montana. And what did I do? I wimped out. I figured they'd hate me. And they did. You should've hurt the verbal lashing they all gave me when they found out. They took turns. I'm glad I wasn't paying the long distance bill for that one. But when Ave returned, he seemed genuinely glad to see me. Apparently Seth and Nikki and J.T. all turned on him when he announced that he was leaving them. His last few weeks there were apparently strained and awkward. He hated Montana and frankly saw me as his life raft out of there. I kept expecting J.T. to come home too. After all he hadn't been with the band as long. There wasn't any real reason for him to be there. But still he stayed.
Who left however was an even bigger surprise. I wasn't there, so I don't know any of the details, but one day coming home from work I found a message on my answering machine from J.T. saying, "I really need someone to talk to. Things are tense here. Nikki's leaving tomorrow." Well, I was in shock. Seth and Nikki were like ... Peanut Butter and Jelly. I don't know. They'd been together since... I don't know. They were really the only couple my age that had anything resembling a long-term relationship. They were my hope. Besides, I liked Nikki. Where was she going? Would I ever hear from her again? Or would that be weird? I didn't really know her THAT well. What happened exactly anyway? I called 'em all back shortly after getting the news, but as usual we didn't talk about our lives. Just the music.
Matt and Chad were overjoyed to at least have half of the Phlegmtones back. They immediately set us about scoring this film they were working on. Soon Ave was talking about (finally) finishing this CD - using left over four-track stuff, demos, jam sessions, etc. Sort of a Phlegmtones Anthology. And that's where we are now. Who knows if it'll happen? Who know what will happen. Hopefully, Seth & co. will return to Colorado after their tenure in Nowheresville is over. We might all be re-uniting for a gig in L.A. in a couple of months. Who knows? All this time, I've been comparing our relationship to various other peoples (a cheap literary gimmick, I know, but what can you do?) but not once have I ever felt like I've played Scot Livingston to his Avery Rains.
Chapter Five-After The End: The Jo-Jo Jerkowitz years
So that’s where I left it off in 1997. I wasn’t sure if we were over or if this was just another temporary hiatus like my years in Olympia. I mean it was reasonable to expect that I’d never see Seth or J.T. again. Or that everyone would come to their senses and things would be just like they were before (which wasn’t perfect). However, what really happened failed to live up to either one of those extremes. This however is the only chapter that doesn’t start with a new drummer…
Mother’s Day, 1999. Somehow, our unofficial managers/cheerleaders, Matt and Chad, had managed to get us gig at the Bluebird Theatre. This was a big deal. Easily the best place we’ve ever played. Period. Only one problem (which didn’t seem to phase Matt or Chad when they got us the gig), half of the band wasn’t here! What to do? We called up to Montana, told them the good news, and then said that they had to get their butts down here. Miraculously, they did. They even arrived a week early so we could practice. After all, we hadn’t played together in over a year. And oddly enough, we sounded better than we ever had before. Or maybe I just missed it so much it SEEMED that way. That - and apparently Seth and J.T. practiced their butts off before they got here. Just in case. Ave and I had been spending more time together than I had expected without the band as a reason. Maybe we really were more than just band mates? Maybe we could be friends? But we didn’t practice. I mean, I knew all the songs cold. And Ave? Well, who knows what Ave was thinking?
There was something else we wanted to do before the band showed up though. Finish “Krudler”. The CD with all the cool interactive CD-Rom stuff that Matt and Chad had finished. Ave picked out the line-up of songs on his own. Pretty much like I did for “BLiSHMA”, so I couldn’t get too mad. But still I was disappointed that he mostly ignored the cool, live rocking band tracks from the Autonomous Sessions, and concentrated more on the more experimental four-track stuff. Most from before J.T. was even in the group (which really didn’t thrill him) so it had no drums or just drum machines (not my favorite either). There was something else different about this one too. Seth actually sang on three songs, (“Alaska”, “The Barn Melts Away” and “Too Hot For The Hot Tub”) which was more than he had sung total with the Phlegmtones, up to that point. I was glad to hear he was stretching out. In fact, it was more songs than I got on “Krudler” (only one). Still I was willing to put up $900 of the $1200 it would take to press 1000 CDs. We settled on Penguin to do the copying. Mostly because they promised they could get it done in time for our show. Only they mostly had done classical music CDs before. And certainly never anything interactive. So every time we would send them a master, their equipment would fritz out, and we’d have to start all over again. Eventually, they acknowledged that it was not going to happen (on time anyway) and we gave up. Still they charged us $300 for their failed efforts. Ave paid me all of my money back. But he got hosed. And was not happy about it. To this day he holds a grudge against Penguin. Understandably.
Ave also plunked down a couple hundred bucks so that we could go into the studio while Seth and J.T. were in town. We chose Audio Park, which is run by some blind guy named Park. We played all the song-songs that didn’t make it onto “Krudler”. Just the backing tracks. Figuring Ave could go in later to overdub his vocals. It was pretty rocking. We played several of the Heavy Metal songs (which I was slowly warming to). And a couple of others too. Sounded great – although during the recording of the power ballad “You’re So Special” we came as close to an actual physical confrontation as we ever have. No one hit anybody. But he did put in his hand on my shoulder in about as harmful way as one could casually. I thought (and still think) the Park Sessions are some of our best work. They still however are unfinished. Ave never came in to do his vocals. I once got Park to mix the whole thing down to a DAT so that Ave could take it and do his vocals over and over again as many times as he wanted – but Ave disliked the mix. Having finally bought all that technology for himself (mixing board, etc.) he felt he could do it better. But he never did. Who knows if Park still has those masters (I hope so)? In fact even the DAT with just the instruments on it has disappeared into the void somewhere.
Still we played the Bluebird Theatre the next day. The Bluebird is the kind of place that say Jill Sobule or Dick Dale would play if the came through town (to give you an idea of the size of the venue). Still it mostly caters to the upper-end local acts. We were like third or fourth on the bill. They were also going to be some local low-budget student films shown in between the bands (which is kinda how Matt at Chad got us in). So we were going on pretty early. A lot of people missed us arriving too late. They had to watch “The Simpsons” even though this was the first Phlegmtones show in almost 2 years. Still – all in all – we kicked ass! If this were being made into a movie, that show would be the big climax/finale. And only after the photo froze would the credits roll by with our sad epilogue. We had costumes – some fairly spectacular ones – but still the music just cooked. Not being confined to any one period we covered the best songs from our entire catalogue. Of course, Matt and Chad, who usually videotape our shows, wanted to sit back, relax and actually enjoy one of our concerts for a change – so we have no record of this. And in usual Phlegmtone fashion, we couldn’t just go out on that high note. We played Herman’s Hideaway a couple of days later. The costuming was a little more laid back. And we weren’t as psyched – or as good. But that was the last time the Phlegmtones ever played together.
Of course we didn’t know it at the time. We wouldn’t have even guessed it. After that Bluebird show, we were are all stoked to be back making music again. I assumed that this would be all the push Seth and J.T. needed to get their asses back in Colorado. But first they’d have to return to the lives in Montana. To pack. And tie up whatever loose ends. And wait for whatever it was that made Seth move there in the first place. Little did we know that Seth had already found himself another girlfriend up in Montana. And bingo-bango: she turned up pregnant.
Actually that wasn’t the last time the Phlegmtones were supposed to play. Ave and I were going to fake it as a duo for some other event that Matt and Chad had pulled together at the Lowry Air Force base. There were going to be eight (!) acts on the bill between another showcasing of student films. And Ave was about six of the eight bands. Different things. Spinny D. The Kooky Spooks. Something called “Mr. Pacman” that was Ave in a blue jumpsuit and a helmet totally spray-painted gold (so he couldn’t see) singing along to music recorded from various video games. Only Ave had left some vital equipment at home. So I offered to fill in for him doing some acoustic weenie songs while he rushed home. The auditorium was big and impressive. And there were only about ten people there, scattered amongst so many seats. It was a depressing sight. Of course, with one extra act added to the bill – well the sound engineer (who was not happy with this turn-out) pulled the plug after the requisite (and he assumed) total eight acts – leaving the us, the headliners, unheard. Sad. But that was really the last Phlegmtones show.
That’s when we got the news about Seth and his girlfriend (whose name apparently is Loony). J.T. did end up leaving Montana – only to move to New Orleans. So that was the end of the Phlegmtones. I put an ad in the WestWord looking for a new band. Cost me $50. I only got one response. From some guy named Jim. Who played bass. Really well. And could harmonize with me almost instantly. And liked all the songs I never got to do with the Phlegmtones. I was psyched. But was it really over? Ave had just met a drummer and was itching to put the ‘Tones back together. Did I even think about whether or not I wanted to squander this resource (Jim) on what had been mostly a bad deal? No. Did I consider how weird it would be to not have Seth there for the first time? Yes, actually. But that didn’t stop me. I called Jim. Told him change of plans. No more my band – did he want to join the Phlegmtones? Jim said yes, and well agreed to meet at Chris, the new drummer’s, place. And when we showed up – well Chris … sucked! Did Ave, Mr. Metronome, really like this guy? He was bad. Worse than Tomas at his worst. You just had to block him out just to keep playing. And Ave pulled some sort of huge prima donna act, and didn’t even show up. Not a good impression was made on Jim, who was already in one band and being courted by another. He said he was too busy, and although I’ve sorta kept in touch, we’ve never played together again.
Oh well – all was forgiven shortly. Ave had made a new resolution with himself. This was at the time when Napster was at its biggest and Ave had a high-speed connection. He was listening to all kinds of new music. And he had decided he was going to start taking music seriously. First step was to join a band in Wyoming (2 ½ hour drive, one-way, to practice) called Monostat … or something. I think. I don’t know. I heard some stuff, but never got a copy. It was really impressive. While I was jealous that I wasn’t the one being utilized to help Avery make the kind of music that I always hoped he would one day make, I still thought this was good sign. A step in the right direction. But very quickly he changed his mind. No more Belle & Sebastian, now it’s Bebe & Serge. Ave decided (realized?) that making music wasn’t his thing – it was making spectacle. That’s what he liked. That’s what he wanted to do. That’s what he was going to do.
And that was it. We tried to get together on this halfway. December 29, 2000, we were recording on his four-track. I was trying to do “In My Room” – but he couldn’t get into it. He was making up his own words and melody. Screaming. Bouncing off the walls. He wanted me to work something of his that just required me to bark like a dog. I just couldn’t do it. It was so frustrating. I remembered trying to get him to go acoustic when he’d only do electric. Then trying to get him to do guitars at all when he’d only play the accordion. Now I was thinking, “I wish he’d go back to the accordion – it’s at least better than these cheesy Casio synthesizers he’s now using”. We went out to an all-you-can-eat sushi place, and on the way we decided that what he wanted to do didn’t have anything to do with guitars – and that’s what I did. For me, that’s the day the Phlegmtones officially stopped. Mutual break-up. About as painless as could be expected. A couple of moths later he called ranting about how he didn’t like the direction our band was going in, but I didn’t pay it much mind. “What band?” I thought.
But that wasn’t quite the end of the Phlegmtones. It never is – is it? A couple years later, Seth called and said he was going to be back in town for a couple of days for his sister’s wedding. J.T. by this point had relocated from the bayou and was back in Denver too. Seth said we should get some gigs. Ave who was just starting to make a name for himself said he could hook us up easy. Of course, it didn’t quite happen that way. But still the four of us decided to get together anyway while Seth was in Town. We met at Ave’s place (which he was sharing with Matt at the time). Seth had brought his dog along for the ride. Well, we played one song (“Hot Roller Mama” of course) while Ave attempted to record us on his computer. Than Ave decided to take Seth’s dog Jake (who was either named after the song that was named after the furniture pitchman – or vice versa) outside. The three of us were hitting up song #2 (“Loud Guy/Quiet Guy”) when Jake rushed away from Ave out into the Street and got ran over. Well – that kinda killed the mood right there. Even though Matt was urging us to continue on. Especially since Seth had to leave the next day. But we couldn’t. We didn’t even have a camera to mark what will most likely be the last time all four Phlegmtones are in the same room at the same time.
Ironically, Ave and I have become much closer since the Phlegmtones ended. Now that it isn’t MY name (or pseudonym) on the project, it’s a lot easier for me to do whatever craziness it is that Ave needs. And he still calls me occasionally do guest vocals or whatever on his projects. I sang back up for Ave’s Teutonic boy band, “The Love Police” while he rather spectacularly set himself on fire. I even attempted singing lead (and not playing any instruments) during the one and only performance of Ave’s “Nerdtallica” – on midi based renditions of Metallica song that I didn’t know (although I did attempt to memorize all the lyrics the day before). And of course, for everything that Matt & Chad made (a short film entitled, “Witchita” and a failed pilot for an animated TV show) they’d rope the two of us in to help them with scoring a soundtrack. But mostly Ave went out on his own. After Spinny D, it was the Kooky Spooks, which featured fellow filmmaker Chris Bagley on the turntables. I enjoyed watching this, because it now looked like Chris was fulfilling my old role in the band. He was being me to Ave’s Ave. The band also featured one Jim Compton on theremin (yeah, the Kooky Spooks had an awful sound: cheap keyboards, bad scratching, random amateur theremin eeps and oops). But eventually Jim Compton came up and took over my role as Ave’s translator of idea into actual music. Together they took Mr. Pacman to heights of local semi-fame and respectability (not to mention press coverage) that the Phlegmtones could only dream about. On one hand it was thrilling and made me touch proud to see that Ave finally getting the recognition that I always felt he deserved (even if it was for stuff I couldn’t really stand). It was also a bit gratifying to know I wasn’t crazy. Ave really was going to be as famous I thought he would one day be. Of course, it was also kind of depressing (and made me jealous as hell) to see that Ave was going to make it big without me, after all the effort and time I had spent. Oh well – what can you do? We’re still pretty close. Maybe he’ll lend me a hand up when he finally makes it.
As for the rest of the band: I still keep in touch with Aaron Wheeler occasionally via e-mail. When Tomas Fuerte came through town a couple of years back we hung out, talked and had lunch, but I haven’t heard from him since. Tom Hoover oddly enough ended up on “Jeopardy!”, losing pretty badly. Still it’s fairly surreal to see someone you used to know talking to Alex Trebek. I don’t hear from Seth as often as I’d like (we’re both too broke). He’s apparently learning to play guitar and several other instruments himself. He’d like for Ave to send him the old four-track so he could start making some sort of music on his own. But Ave’s go some sort of reason that he won’t. Matt and Chad had some sort of falling out, and parted way. I saw Chad a bit ago, and went over to his place to copy all of his old Phlegmtones videos (which Ave immediately borrowed and still hasn’t returned). Matt didn’t turn out so well. Drank too much. One day, he decided “Fight Club” was a good movie to base your life on and punched Ave in the nose. Ave moved out the next day (yes, back in with his parents. But just for a little while). He ended up skipping town due to some legal matters. No one’s quite sure where he is, but we all hope he’s ok.
Me? What did I do after the Phlegmtones? I did manage to get an invitation to premiere “Bob Buys A Box Of Popsicles” from the Colorado Chamber Music Society. That meant I had to find a string quartet. Which is really difficult. I finally had to settle on a group of 14 – 15 year old girls. Not exactly professional – but they did an adequate job. The pianist on the other hand stank. Well – actually I couldn’t find a piano player so I had to do it myself. Which, I’m not very good at. (Plus all that time writing out the piano part was a big old waste of time). So in some ways the synthesizer version of my classical piece was better – but still it was nice to actually hear it live. And to have it finally done, so I didn’t have to worry about it anymore. But really, other than that, I gave up playing for a while. It seemed so close and yet so hopeless. I didn’t see the point. But then I got bored. I don’t want to be a security guard all my life. Right? So I went back and hit the open mic, coffeehouse, folk circuit with a vengeance. That when I discovered something: You need a full band in order to draw people’s attention. So I set out trying to deliberately find musicians. When you’re as shy as me, that’s hard. J.T. and I ended up jamming together again. He then introduced me to some of his other friends, and soon enough we decided to form a band. Despite the fact that I didn’t want to end up in another band with another Phlegmtone – quite frankly I was having no luck finding people on my own. And then J.T. decided to move back to Montana. Not to be with Seth or even in the same town as him, he just wanted to move to Montana. Before he left he even hand selected his own replacement for us. (Which was kind of weird at first, but turned out really well). So I’ve got this new band, currently named the Red Eye Revival. We mostly play my songs. My old songs. I have such a backlog from the Phlegmtones days that I haven’t felt the need to write anything new. We trying to keep it democratic, but I’m usually singing lead the majority of the time. It’s weird. My new band mates are much friendlier and more fun to hang out with. They’re also much better musicians on a technical level. Still however we lack that spark. Whatever chemistry it was that made the Phlegmtones unique. We don’t instantly have our own sound and style. Still I’m happy to be back in the game. Plugging away at it. If Ave could make it (sorta) we can too. I mean anything is possible. But if the giant wish fairy were to come down this moment and give me my own shot at stardom with a major record label deal and all the accoutrements, I’d probably still be wishing that I was back on that bus with those particular three guys. That was magic. I’m sorry you never got a chance to hear it.