My dad was a pretty big influence on me. Musically and otherwise. He wasn’t my real father. I had a really good relationship with my real father too, and I’m totally influenced by that as well. I call my step dad my dad and my biological father my father, so hopefully that will be easy to follow. My dad was always the smartest guy in the room, because if he wasn’t, he left the room. He was a fuckin pain in my ass, but he was a good dad. He was very loving, and kind. He had a huge heart. He had an amazing, very sick sense of humor. He had a great imagination and an endless sense of adventure. He was incredibly spontaneous. He once told me he was so cool, he could shit into a coke bottle with his legs crossed. I mean, who the fuck says something like that?
He turned me on to a lot of music. He made me listen to The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars. He tried to get me to listen to the bass, but I didn’t know what he was talking about. He told me of the existence of Iggy Pop (who he referred to as “Iggy Stooge”) and that there was an album called Raw Power that we would have to find and buy. I did, about a half dozen years later. (remember when you had to track shit down in the real world? It used to take a while, didn’t it?) In the meantime, we acquired and listened to Iggy’s current release, Blah Blah Blah, which despite terrible 1986 production, (by Bowie) still had some great tunes on it. He told me about The Fugs, who sounded filthy to me. Most importantly, however, he taught me to love The Beatles.
For the preceding couple of years, I was on a Motley Crue kick. I loved Shout At The Devil and Too Fast For Love which I was listening to a lot with my friends in grade school. We were all into Crue and were psyched that they were finally on the radio thanks to their 2 recent hits, Smokin In The Boy’s Room, (a cover of a 70s Detroit hit by a band called Brownsville Station) and their chart topping power ballad, Home Sweet Home, both from the 1985 album Theater Of Pain which we were all still pretending wasn’t terrible. Motley Crue fucking blow. I know that now. My dad knew it then. He told me all the time. I had a satin pillow with the Crue all pouting in front of the masks of comedy and tragedy that I bought with my christmas money at a store at the local mall called Way Out that specialized in embroidered patches of hard rock and metal bands as well as large silky tapestries. Every time my dad laid eyes on this pillow, he’d say, “I didn’t know Suzanne Summers was in Motley Crue. Every time he cracked himself up.
Motley Crue covered Helter Skelter on their 2nd album. That’s where I first heard the song. Once I found out it was a Beatles tune, I was willing to give the Fabulous 4 a chance. My mom had Rubber Soul and Abby Road and I started adding them to the rotation. Abby Road went well with the Led Zeppelin 4 and Aerosmith Rocks I had started to drift into. Rubber Soul was still a little wishy washy and old fashioned sounding to me at the time. We rented a Beatles documentary at the video store(!) called The Compleat Beatles. It was really cool. It fostered what became an obsession with the band. By the time the film got to The White Album and Revolution #9 and Helter Skelter and The Manson Family, I was on a mission to get my hands on this gatefold gem and go deep.
When I started playing the saxophone it was 1986. 1986 might be the single worst year for popular (and unpopular) music of any 30 year period. I just did a youtube search for the top 100 songs of 1986 and the results were dreadful. There are a few good tunes in there, Live To Tell by Madonna, Sweetest Taboo by Sade, What You Need by INXS, Something About You by Level 42, West End Girls by Pet Shop Boys, but that’s pretty slim pickins. The charts were totally dominated by the Yamaha DX7, a keyboard that had been invented 3 or 4 years earlier and had absolutely engulfed the shit out of everything by ’86. Just listen to all the hits from that year. They all have the same awful piano, string, and synth sounds. The wretched What About Love by Heart, I Miss You, by Klymaxx, That’s What Friends Are For by Dionne, Stevie, Elton, & Gladys, On My Own by Patti LaBelle & Michael McDonald, Broken Wings by Mister Mister. Listen to all these songs and you’ll hear the same garbagey sounds on all of them. Horrible. How Will I Know? by the crackhead witch Whitney Houston, Party All The Time by Eddie Murphy and the otherwise always excellent Rick James. Burning Heart, the attempted Eye Of The Tiger follow up by Survivor, When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going by Billy fucking Ocean. So much awful music! so many dreadful tones, all courtesy of Yamaha.
I can’t quite recall when this happened, but my saxophone lessons became group lessons. They may have been from the start. Like I said, my memory is hazy on this detail, but I do know that by the time I’d been at it for a while, I was not one on one with my teacher, Alice. Saturday mornings now included John Coyle, a kid I had gone to school with for the last 8 years with and was very friendly with. We were also joined by another little fella who we called Chicken Jim, because his nose was a beak. Both of these dudes seemed to have the same half assed, bullshit approach to music that I had. I don’t know if they were also not practicing, like me, but I do know that we all played about as well as one another, that is, not very well. I also know that none of us could site read. Perhaps Alice had grown tired of our nonsense and decided to consolidate all of our time wasting into 1 of her hours instead of 3. I had heard the kids who came in before and after us and they were doing their work. They were playing well, and moving on to other, more complex musical pieces. They were staying after and participating in junior band, an option that was open to me and my hapless cohorts, but that we completely ignored.
Every week after our lesson, instead of practicing with the other students who would gather in wait for a junior band session, we’d go across the street and hang at the taco bell. Me, John, and Jim had formed this strange breakfast club. We’d eat cinnamon crispas and burritos supreme. We’d challenge one another to greater and greater levels of heat from the hot sauce envelopes. We’d have the whole place to ourselves because who the christ wants to eat tacos at 10:15 on a saturday morning? It was a lot of fun. I think at one of these Taco Bell hang sessions, I told my friends just how cool my dad said he was. We all exploded laughing.
One of these weeks in our group lesson, Alice left the room for some reason and she was gone for a long time. During her absence, we decided to write our own song. I don’t know how, but we were all ready and just spontaneously composed this gross little ditty for saxophone and vocal. It was called, “If You Shit In A Coke Bottle”. It was our manifesto. It had references to The Beatles, to Taco Bell, even something in praise of Alice. We played it for her when she got back. She was impressed that we had “composed” something, but she let us know that she thought we were 3 crude apes and an even bigger waste of her time than she had ever imagined.