Please read this post first so you understand why I’m doing this. And please feel free to reach out to me either on the blog for some fun group chatting or at my personal email: firstname.lastname@example.org. FYI–If you view me on your computer instead of your phone, a menu of about 50 stories (and increasing!) will appear on the right. They are in no particular order, so please select whatever looks most interesting to you! And feel free to share with whoever you like. My life is a (mostly!) open book…
Friends (and even “Enemies”—Hahahaha!)
Thank you so much for checking out my blog!! Yeah, it’s kind of a weird idea I guess, but I think you all know that I’ve been a bit “outside the box” in life, and I’m sure as hell not going to change now! I’ll get the bad shit out of the way first, and then we can have some fun reminiscing and ruminating on the meaning of life! To be very clear up front—Other than this opening essay and one other post so far, my blog is not about the medical technicalities and torture of my illness (there are already a TON of books and blogs about the torture of ALS by other victims)—On the contrary, it is an expression of gratitude and a celebration of the awesome life I’ve been privileged to live before my health went south.
As a lot of
you know, I’ve been diagnosed with some form of ALS, PLS, or cerebellar
degeneration (depending on which doctor you ask), but the sad reality is that
all these motor neuron diseases (MND) of the brain are debilitating,
degenerative, and ultimately deadly. ALS
is the most common form (about 80% of cases, I think) and is the one you know
as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” I’ll let all
you Dr. Google types check stuff out on the web if you want all the gory
details, but I’ll give you a brief synopsis of where I am and how I got here
over the past 18 months or so.
The gist of it is that the motor neurons in the brain (the ones that control movement in the body) gradually die off, and it becomes increasingly difficult to walk, talk, write, get dressed, brush your teeth, eat, swallow, or move any part of your body in any way at all. These symptoms affect each patient at different rates and in a different order, but it’s definitely a torturous way to go that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy (or even on Donald Trumpf or Hitlery Clinton—Hahahaha!). The sensory and autonomic portions of the victim’s nervous system aren’t affected much and dementia usually isn’t involved, so you are fully aware and can see, hear and feel every bit of the physical degeneration as it happens day-by-day. You slowly become a prisoner in your own body, and what eventually kills you is that your diaphragm muscles become detached from the motor nerves in the brain to the point that your lungs won’t expand enough to breathe, and you suffocate. I just read another victim’s blog who described having ALS as the feeling of “being slowly buried alive,” and as time marches on I can appreciate this truth more and more. Damn—The Marquis de Sade couldn’t have dreamed up something worse than ALS!!
On a personal level, I’ve gone from a gym rat and 10K trail runner to a homebound cripple in about 18 months. I first noticed I was losing my balance after having a few beers, but I was nowhere near inebriated enough for this to be happening (just ask anyone who really knows me!). I honestly thought I’d been “roofied” at the concert I was attending that night (an awesome Rolling Stones cover band with my awesome friend April!). A few weeks later I started having trouble maintaining a running gait while perfectly sober out on my favorite South Mountain trail. I was having increasing low back pain at the same time near the L5 disc I herniated five years earlier, so I assumed it was a back problem and was pretty bummed out thinking I might need back surgery or something. (Ha—If only!) I’d honestly be better off with Parkinson’s, MS, HIV, cancer or a toasted spine and at various points in my the testing process I was indeed hoping I would test positive for one of these things. Can you imagine HOPING you had cancer or HIV?!! Talk about the ultimate irony!
After seeing a dozen doctors and spending $30K on tests, I got my official bad news of a motor neuron disease in January 2019. By then, I could no longer play the guitar, was having considerable trouble writing, some trouble speaking, was walking with a cane, and starting to have a tight feeling in my chest more often. Things have since degenerated to the point that I use a walker around the house and a wheelchair everywhere else. My level of fatigue is extreme, but it’s important to me to focus what little energy I have left on the awesome life I’ve been lucky enough to have. Nobody is safe as long as I can still type in the age of the internet!
Life is short (apparently sometimes shorter than we expect!), and I want you guys to laugh at some of the funny pics and stories you may not have known about me; tell your own stories (email a Word doc and I’ll do the rest); correct, criticize and give me shit about my stories, and maybe even learn something about life or yourselves in the process. (Okay—that’s a pretty lofty goal, but what the hell…I’m trying my best as either a very crippled dude or a dude from some other universe, depending on when you are reading this page—Hahahaha!!! Or not—Maybe the Zen Buddhists are right and life simply begins and ends with nothing… I’ll try to let you know what to expect if “The Force” allows it! BOO!)
You all know me from a variety of places, activities, and the stuff of life, but I’d like to think I always enjoyed my family, my friends, and my life regardless of the reason we were hanging out. As my friend Ernie once said: “If you can’t have fun doing this, you’re doing it wrong!” He was referring to libertarian political activism (which I enjoyed immensely), but I realized that his philosophy applied toward pretty much everything in life. I honestly feel that I’ve had what I’m calling “55 rock star years” on planet Earth, and I’m soooooooo lucky to have had that. I’m crying as I write this, but many of the tears are tears of joy because I love life so much and am simply missing the awesome life I once had.
At the same time, I’m experiencing new tears of joy as my illness made me realize how many real friends I truly have, and that I wasn’t even aware of how much love and respect my friends had for me. I am truly grateful for all your love and support. I’ve tried hard to earn some of it by living a good and honest life, but you guys are way more than I deserve. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart! I love you too; I loved my life before, and I’m doing my best to love it now and take full advantage of the time I have left to be grateful for everything I had.
Eric (and many more nicknames to come…)
think of a few more as the stories evolve…
P. S. I was never a big movie buff, but if I had to choose I’d say my favorite movie was “This is Spinal Tap,” because of my intense love of music, sarcasm, absurdity, and irony. In a lot of ways, my life has been like that. And a hell of a lot of fun!!!
I graduated from ASU in August of 1987, and after working full time during my last two years of college, I decided I deserved a short break. I had money in the bank and rent in 1987 was only $275/month for a decent one-bedroom apartment in Tempe! I had earned a degree with honors in journalism with a marketing minor, but there were really no decent jobs to be had back then. An entry level journalism job paid about $12K/year, and the only business careers available to me were commission sales type gigs that would require me to get a haircut and wear a suit and tie. Pardon my French, but fuck that shit!
College had taught me one valuable skill though, and that was how to research and write “A” papers. I actually learned this skill at Marquette High School in Milwaukee (it was identical to Brophy here in Phoenix), so just for the hell of it I decided to post the ad as an editor/tutor on the old-school kiosks at ASU in 1989 or so. I figured I could show other kids how it was done, and It’s not like I needed to earn a fortune to make a $275 rent payment!
Things were kind of hit and miss for the first year or so until I met a student named Niki. At this point I need to be very clear about one thing–I was NOT writing students’ papers for them at this point. I was strictly helping/tutoring/editing, etc. as my ad promised. That all changed when I met Niki at the Hayden Library one Saturday afternoon. Niki had a five-page English 101 paper to write, and it required sources, etc. as you would expect. It quickly became clear that Niki had never written anything like this before, so we spent about 3-4 hours in the library starting from square one on what was really a pretty standard project.
After the research was done, I handed Niki the stack of photocopies (yeah–I know I’m old–Don’t rub it in!) and told her to follow up with me in a week or two when she had her rough draft completed. She asked me what she owed me for that day and I think I told her $40 or $50. She then asked what she thought my editing phase of the project would cost, and I told her about the same, but that it really depended on how good her rough draft was. She could definitely save some money by working hard on it (I had already given her a rough outline) and leaving me less editing work to do. Without batting an eyelash, she segued right into the question that changed my life for the next 10 years and probably beyond. “You seem like you know what you’re doing. How much will it cost if you just write it for me?”
I know a lot of you won’t believe me, but I was honestly taken quite aback by the question. What I didn’t realize was that Niki (and a lot of her friends I soon found out!) were a bunch of rich East Coast kids who came to ASU for sunshine and fun, not a serious education. I ruminated for a minute as I did my mental calculations and figured out that it would probably be more work for me to edit whatever she came up with than to just do it right the first time! I think I told her an additional $75 or so for me to write it, and although I didn’t know it at the time, it was off to the races!
After a couple more of these deals with Niki (and she got A’s on all the papers of course!), I got a call from her roommate wanting me to start writing her papers. Of course I agreed, and it turned out that Niki’s roommate was the president of a sorority of rich Jewish and Italian kids from the East Coast, and (get this) her boyfriend was the president of the fraternity of the same crowd! Within 6 months I became “the term paper guru” to a slew of rich kids and was working nonstop at my desk for the next 10 years. I don’t think I put up an ad again. And by the way, I did almost none of this sober. I would usually do my research during the day and then chill out at my WORD PROCESSOR (hahaha!) smoking a bowl and swilling a few beers. Hey-most of that shit was pretty damned boring to do sober!
At the end of my unexpected career I probably wrote about 700-800 papers, earned 15 college degrees worth of “knowledge” (and I use the term loosely!) and I even wrote two master’s theses (no nothing in medicine or engineering for you judgmental worriers out there!) in marketing and music. My average was in the 93-95 range, so I had a lot of happy customers, I made good money, and I didn’t have to have a “boss” or a “day job.” My “cubicle” was my own desk in my own house, and it wasn’t very far to the refrigerator in the kitchen. Who wouldn’t be grateful for those 10 years of great luck-I was well paid to stay in college, and I actually did do exactly what college trained me to–Hahahaha!
To hear people talk now about corporal punishment (commonly known as “spanking” in the days of yore) as akin to “child abuse” makes my blood boil. I’m actually very grateful to my Mom for teaching me honesty at the point of a leather belt. (Well, it wasn’t exactly a “point”–she kind of folded it in half and slapped away on my “tighty whitey” clad ass!) To be very clear, my parents were quite reasonable in terms of discipline–Typical forms included a disapproving look, a few choice words, or a minor punishment like no TV for a few days or being banished to one’s room in the pre-digital era (gasp!) I vastly preferred the bedroom banishment because I was an avid reader with a small library in my bedroom. Some punishment indeed!
That said, the one thing my Mom wouldn’t tolerate was being lied to by her kids. When asked if I were guilty of some household rule infraction, I tried to BS my way out of it maybe a dozen times or so between ages 3-8. Hey, what the hell–It was worth a try, right? In fairness to my Mom, she typically gave me at least two opportunities to come clean before Dad’s belt came out. The first time the question was asked with a raised eyebrow or something similar; the second time my Mom added some attitude, and by the third time, she was pissed and the belt came down on me.
As I was getting my belting, my Mom’s anger at my dishonesty was expressed quite verbally as well, and the general theme was that a mother and her children HAD TO BE ABLE TO TRUST ONE ANOTHER 100%, and that there was absolutely no margin for error on that important point. As I said, it took me no more than a dozen times over a few years to learn this lesson, and I take it to heart to this day. It is essential to be honest with family, friends, lovers, business associates, ad infinitum so that they will trust you. (I might make an exception for the police–Hahaha!) And the trust I have earned from this early lesson in honesty has been invaluable in helping live an awesome life for which I’m eternally grateful. Thanks, Mom!!
But as I got older I drew definite distinctions between what information was someone else’s business (including my parents’) versus what was strictly my business. You can read my essay on “How I Became a Libertarian at Age 4” for more on this point. And as you will see in some of my other stories to come, I definitely did not consider the mythical age of 18 to be “adulthood.” My definition of adulthood began around age 14 when I declared my independence from a lot of the social restrictions the adults wanted placed on us while they indulged in similar behaviors with wild abandon–Hahahaha! Freedom and honesty were always equally important values to me, and both have served me well in life.
Courtesy of Bob again, we were able to take a stab at recording an actual Beatles’ song in an actual recording studio. Brian (pictured on left) was the driving force behind this and played a really nice lead that was close to Harrison’s on the original recording. Actually, I’ve heard a rumor that McCartney actually played the “Taxman” guitar solo, but I’ll let Brian the Beatles Guru weigh in on that one. Now if we could only sing like the Beatles… sigh…
I’ll also throw in a couple of Flashback originals here. I can’t take credit for writing “Valarie” or “Everything You Do” but the obnoxious Farfisa organ is all me. I think we did this in Bob’s basement after he took his recording class and got some of his own gear. I’m going to credit Brian and Steve with the songwriting, but I honestly have CRS and can only remember how much fun it was playing with you guys!
Back in the 1960s, it was
pretty much a parental decision in terms of when one’s child would start
school. I’ve heard they have strict
rules now, but if your parents were sick of you driving them nuts around the
house, they could sign you up for school at the drop of a hat. That’s pretty much what happened to me when
my parents enrolled me in kindergarten at Oriole Lane School back in 1966.
I lived in an idyllic place called Mequon, Wisconsin which was about an even mixture of honest, hard-working farmers, blue-collar folks, and college graduates who wanted to live in a place where they could raise their kids right. It was so idyllic in fact that my kindergarten teacher’s name was Mrs. Apple. Seriously. If my memory serves (sort of), Mrs. Apple was a really sweet 20-something woman who had all the business in the world teaching kindergarten. She was kind, relaxed, had a very chill demeanor in general and could totally relate to young children.
I really liked Mrs. Apple a lot (as did all the kids), but there was a problem in my head when she would declare that it was “naptime” around 11am. I was a very energetic young boy (some things never change!), and I was very perplexed by a “naptime” so early in the day. It didn’t register in my young mind that it could possibly be “naptime” if I weren’t even tired. However, it did register that someone else could not assume the power to make me take a nap against my will. Apparently, the hard wiring in my brain was different than that of the other kids. Although I didn’t have a word for it yet, I realized I was a libertarian at that moment.
Mrs. Apple and I went back and forth about the absurdity of taking a nap if you weren’t tired for a week or so, and she (and my Mom!) eventually convinced me that it would be best for the class (now known to me as “the collective” or “society”) if I would lay down quietly on my mat like a good little chimpanzee and pretend to nap so none of the rest of the chimps would get any ideas about questioning authority. And 52 years later, only I decide when I’m going to ‘take a nap” or wake everyone else the fuck up!!!
I wrote the music to this when I was a freshman in college at UW-Madison based on (believe it or not!) some “lyrics” written on the bathroom wall inside a stall on the floor of my dormatory. The “lyricist” (and I use the term loosely) was a guy named Roger we called the “Shithouse Poet.” Roger’s “poems” were actually pretty funny, so I had to come up with some music we could sing them to around our dorm. The SAC Man was the “Student Affairs Coordinator” of Witte Hall, and as the mega rule enforcer working for the University of Wisconsin needed to be immortalized in song. There never was a real “band” performance with the lyrics, but the jam wasn’t bad, so the other guys indulged me in the recording studio when our bass player Bob was learning to become a recording engineer. We were about 19 at the time. You can hear the music below, but only I remember some of the lyrics…
Your story tears at my heart because I had a similar experience 40 years ago when I was a 6-year-old boy in grade school in the late 1960s. Ritalin was fairly new on the market, and schools and shrinks were just getting into the act of drugging kids who were bored with the “education” they were receiving in government indoctrination camps (aka “schools”). Like you and most boys with above average intelligence, I found school to be incredibly boring and felt the need to talk out of turn, doodle on my workbook, read things other than what were part of the plan, etc. The teacher sent me down to the school psychologist (a fairly new job title back in 1968) to find out what was “wrong” with me. The psychologist and the teacher had a counseling session with my mother and I, and he determined that I was “hyperactive” (they didn’t call it ADHD back then) and some Ritalin was just what the doctor ordered. My Mom filled the prescription for psychoactive drugs, and VOILA!–I became a walking Zombie overnight! I’m sure my teacher was very happy during the few days I was doped up in her classroom, but when my father came home from an out-of-town business trip, he was anything but pleased.
(Full disclosure about my
Mom: She loves me very much and wasn’t trying to harm me. She thought she was helping me. Unfortunately, my Mom has a blind spot when
it comes to trusting authority. If a guy
with a lab coat, an advanced degree, or a shiny badge tells her to do
something, she will do it. I’ve been
working on her about this authoritarian crap my entire life to no avail.)
My father came home from
working out of town to find his normally energetic, extremely talkative
six-year-old son moping at the kitchen table with a glazed look in his
eyes. He immediately knew something was
wrong but not knowing the cause, he asked my Mom what was going on. Had I had a bad day in school? Was I being punished for something? When my Mom told him what had gone on that
week at school while he was away, my father HIT THE FREAKING ROOF!!! He first gave my Mom an earful about it, and
knowing my father I’m sure voices were raised (mostly his) and fists were
pounded on tables. The Ritalin went into
the trash immediately. Whoever
prescribed the drugs suffered my father’s wrath next.
Back in the 1960s, “better living through chemistry” was the motto of both the medical establishment and the counterculture. Of course, Big Pharma was trying to gain a larger clientele by hook or by crook. (Oh, wait–Some things never change. Thankfully, my father trusted his own wisdom over that of the “doctors.”) The next morning, my father called the principal of the school and reamed her a new one.
He was rightfully appalled that the schools would recommend drugging children as a first option rather than using the children’s feedback of boredom to improve the “educational” system (which can’t be improved in its current incarnation by the way–The school system is rotten to the core. Personal teaching and learning is by far the best way to educate, and anyone who is interested should read “The Underground History of American Education’ by John Taylor Gatto. It’s both comprehensive and brilliant.)
However, my father did insist that if the regular class work could not keep my mind engaged, the school had better assign me some additional, more challenging assignments. The principal babbled some lame apology to my father and within a week, I and another above average kid (coincidentally my close friend and next door neighbor Chris) were placed at a table in the rear of the classroom with advanced work–simply textbooks and workbooks from the third grade (we were in first grade at the time). When we finished with the third grade material (in several months), we moved on to the fourth grade math & reading books. By the time I was actually in the fourth grade, I was reading at the eighth grade level and my boredom problem was solved by me sneak reading books of my choice in class while the teacher droned on about stuff I already knew. Of course, I was occasionally punished for this, but it sure beat the heck out of taking the Zombie pills. Thank you, DAD!!! I owe you one!
The sad thing about our
country is that things have gone so far downhill in the past 40 years. My father was able to rectify the attempted
dumbing down of his son simply by pounding his fist on the table, reaming
several ignorant people, and asserting his parental rights. Everyone backed down, no judges forced drugs
on me, and I went on to become a highly functional and successful (though often
non-conformist!) individual. Obviously,
things have changed for the worst when a father cannot insist on the right to
educate his own son in his own way without the state insisting on drugging his
child and forcing him into the government indoctrination camp.
My best advice to everyone is to keep your own mind as active and free as possible under the circumstances. Most of your “education” will not occur in school; it will occur by your own choices of topics and ideas you research in the library and on the internet. I graduated from ASU with honors in 1987 and I freely admit that most of what I was taught was absolutely useless nonsense. I knew college was crap at the time, and I have spent the past 22 years unlearning what little garbage “knowledge” took hold in my subconscious. I continuously read books of my choice when my reading skills reached the eighth-grade level (in the fourth grade) and have been educating myself since then. This may not be the “norm” in modern America, but the good news is that nobody can really control your mind–Keep educating yourself and you will be OK in the end. You will be 18 before you know it, and you will be 47 shortly after that (like me!). And it will happen much faster than you think. Life is very short, but make the most of it. It is a cool experience if you can just get through the childhood part of it where people tend to have more control over you. There are some wonderful adult experiences awaiting you if you keep an open mind and think for yourself…
(I apparently wrote this under one of my “stage names”—Hahahaha!)
Dano–Your essay below is the inspiration and the catalyst for everything to follow in my blog. So you get the credit (or the blame–hahahaha!) no matter what the hell I post in here! Seriously, when you initially wrote your essay about 5 years ago, it brought back a flood of memories and made me examine a life for which I am truly grateful. Not only in the sense that I remembered the things we did together (like playing in a band and sharing a high school experience together), but I immediately realized I had dozens of similar life stories I wanted to tell about what I’m calling my “55 rock star years” on Planet Earth. I started making a list of my life stories on a legal pad whenever I thought of them, and I’ve amassed at least several dozen at this point. Now is the time to express my gratitude for this awesome life and hopefully inspire others to realize how lucky they truly are…
“Crickey the Rock Star” (OK–I was never a real rock star, but it sure was fun “playing one on TV,” especially with you guys!
I quietly strummed my guitar. It’s hard to do that when you’re all amped up, on a stage, and seconds from beginning a show. I knew I wasn’t supposed to, not yet, but I had this dreadful feeling something was wrong. Strummm…it was out of tune. Every. Single. Fucking. String.
In dreams, once you find yourself naked and in front of a crowd, you wake up. That is the difference between a dream and a nightmare, and there was no waking from that moment. A quick tuning of the guitar isn’t that complicated, but when you don’t have a starting point and you need to be in tune with your band mates, it gets complicated real fast. “Fucking road-eyes. Buck, give me an E,” I said to the bass guitarist.
The stage lights were still off, and the high school auditorium was dark so I couldn’t gauge the attendance. There were over one thousand seats, and it was surprisingly packed for a high school gig. It was “standing room only” packed we learned later. Every year, seniors would play in what was dubbed Senior Sound Waves. That year, it was subtitled ‘81 Overture’ and the poster had an apple shot through with an arrow. Buck was in charge of promoting the show. No doubt, it was he and the Roach who tied our 1981 graduation year to the William Tell Overture, hence the arrow and apple. Buck’s idea of promoting the show consisted of a promise and a flyer.
teacher in charge of the event, Mr. O’Neil, was young and enthusiastic enough
to believe Buck’s promise that the show would sell out at $5 a ticket. Buck
then printed out a bunch of flyers, pinned a few up around the school, and then
gave the rest to his girlfriend K.A.A. (pronounced ‘kaw’, as if you were
imitating a crow call) who attended the sister all-girl school. We thought
there was somewhere between nine and twelve hundred kids and parents. O’Neil was
ecstatic. K.A.A. had come through.
The crowd sat expectantly. That was the worst part. I felt that everyone stopped what they were doing just to watch me. To listen to me. To see if I could tune a fucking guitar. To watch, and to listen, and to see me fail. My hands began to tremble. If I had my own guitar, this would never have happened. This never would have happened to Jimmy Page. Jimmy had his own guitar, and plenty of them. He had that sunburst Les Paul; the double neck electric; the acoustic; the double neck acoustic; even a goddamned triple neck acoustic. Jimmy had people and they tuned his guitars. Jimmy had roadies, not road-eyes like I had. And, other than the fact that Jimmy wrote million-dollar songs, sold millions of albums, owned a castle in Scotland, and could hold an entire arena in awe with his mastery of the instrument—playing it with a goddamned bow for Christ’s sake—the only real difference between Jimmy and me was the fact that he had long curly hair. Mine was straight. Well, that and that I had a pack of stoned and drunken road-eyes chimping around with my guitar…and that it wasn’t even my guitar.
around ’74 or ’75, I rescued an abandoned catgut string guitar from my eldest
sister’s closet. I had no idea how to play, but I knew instinctively that I
could. My older siblings—sister, brother, sister—were each forced to play an
instrument. They could choose their instrument, but not whether they would take
lessons. I loved a picture of my brother when he was eight. He was frowning as
light reflected off the coke bottle glasses he wore. He had a mop of cow-licked
hair. He was sitting on a fold-up chair being crushed by an over-sized
accordion; his chin barely reached over the top. Soon after that photo was
taken, mom relented and he took up the trumpet.
My second sister played the clarinet. Sometimes, when she wasn’t around, I’d open the case. The body of the clarinet was mesmerizingly smooth. It was jet black and had silver keys that hovered an eighth of an inch over the holes. I couldn’t help but touch it. I knew I shouldn’t, I had been warned. I just couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t get one goddamned sound out of it, though, other than a squeak. No matter how many reeds I jammed into it, no matter how many sections I took off it, or twisted around, or tried to rearrange the order of, nothing made a difference. In the end, I would pretend and simply hum through the bottom, bell-shaped section.
It was my oldest sister’s guitar. They took lessons at Maus Music. I was too young, they said. In time, I was assured. I recall walking on the creaky wooden floor of the store as they took lessons in small rooms closed off by musty smelling curtains. I bided my time by looking at the cymbals and triangles and other instruments hanging on the walls. I would thumb through sheet music all wrapped in plastic and arranged in long, wooden racks. I couldn’t read any of it, but I could dream. One time, Mrs. Maus gave me a kazoo.
Something unusual happened, or should I say, didn’t happen when I turned eight. I wasn’t ‘forced’ to play an instrument. My mother had died, and my father, who was naturally a “Sit down, shut up, and study your lessons,” kinda father, simply had no patience for the unique racket my siblings made. Whenever they practiced, the house sounded like a grade school orchestra gone rogue; random notes flitting about, intolerable squeaks, and I swear every song died from arrhythmia. It was as pleasant to listen to as two fully laden glass trucks colliding with one another. When my time came, I was practically forbidden to play. But I did anyway—my sister’s old catgut guitar.
It took a couple of years of me begging, and the help of my step-mother, Diane, but my father finally relented. I was allowed to purchase a steel string guitar. It wasn’t some grand gesture on his part, more of an embarrassed acquiescence. There was more of a ‘you can play it in the basement when I’m not home’ feel, than a thoughtful gift meant to show confidence in my budding talent. “Beethoven could play any piano–He didn’t need a grand,” Dad said. None of that mattered though. I had my guitar and he was never home.
One hundred bucks didn’t buy much of a guitar. I kept the receipt in the cardboard case the guitar came in. It was a quarter-body sized Epiphone with a spruce top and mahogany body. I called it Epi. I felt like a troll playing a ukulele. It had something of a dreadnought body, but I always thought the body top—where the neck meets the body— was disproportionately small compared to the body bottom—the part you drape your arm over. I couldn’t sit down, put both arms over the top of it, and talk with whomever was in front of me without severely listing to my left. Normally that wasn’t an issue, unless I happened to have a few drinks or accidentally inhaled something—then it became problematic. My only hope was that any drug induced lean was to my right, then the guitar would actually hold me in a neutral position. The Epi produced a sound something like those iPhone-sized Japanese transistor radios from the ‘60s, and the B string was impossible to tune. I had to file the bridge down to lower the action so my fingers wouldn’t bleed. Of course, lessons did not come with the deal.
The key to our show was the trap door, and you must understand this point. Buck came up with the idea (I think he did, but he doesn’t recall). A typical high school band would subject their audience to a series of crashing drum cymbals, ear splitting feedback, and an endless, eye-glazing string of “test, test, tests” as they set up their equipment. After which, these amateurs would hack out a few cover songs, and then float from the stage on their over-inflated egos. We, on the other hand, intended to put on a show. I had visions of lasers dancing to Baba O’Rielly as an act opener, but I quickly shot that down myself. Who had lasers? Who could play the keyboards? Who was going to sing like Roger Daltrey? The Who, that’s who. No one else could possibly pull that off.
No, we needed a dramatic entrance, but, one that could work. We decided to have the trap door slowly raise each one of us, one at a time, and under dim lights. Then, the hooded road-eyes would carry us to our respective spots on the stage as if we were mannequins, or something. Then they were to hang our guitars on us. Of course, that meant entrusting my guitar to someone else, if only for a moment. I think my road-eye was drunk. I think he crashed my guitar into every wall between the dressing room below and the stage above. I think he dropped it down the steps a few times. Heck, I think he skateboarded it down the steps. I think he hated me. But, this wasn’t truly my guitar. This wasn’t the Epi. We were electrified. This was some nameless imitation Telecaster on loan from Tow Head.
Tow Head was of elfin blood; slight figured, white skinned, anime round blue eyes, and long blond hair that clung close to his head. He was a bit squirrely, and a reluctant student in freshman English class. Fr. Forey, a frock and sandal wearing Jesuit, who could easily have passed for ‘long since dead’, dubbed him Tow Head in a moment of bewilderment at some off-the-cuff answer the Tow Head once proffered in class. Fr. Forey himself had long, thinning, grey hair and a beard that he could chew on if he was ever so inclined. Though I never saw him do this, I often imagined that he did. He reminded me of Merlin. If you were dark haired, he would call you a horse’s collar. To be stumped on a vocabulary word was an affront. “That’s a good word,” he would sullenly say. “Learn it, put it in your pocket and use it…you…you horse’s collar!” Tow Head knew that he wasn’t going to play in the Senior Sound Waves, so he lent me his guitar.
in the crowd shouted “Dan-O.” Buck had helped me tune the E, A, D, and G
strings, but bass guitars only have the four strings. I was on my own for the B
and high E. The cheapness of the Epi had damaged my ear. To this day, I cringe
when trying to tune a B string—it’s one of the reasons I gave up the instrument
altogether. Since one naturally uses the B string to tune the high E, I had to
adopt alternate methods. I used harmonics to tune the low E and the high E
together. It sounded cooler, and made it look like I knew what I was doing.
But, that left the B to total guess work.
first attempt at electrification came at the expense of my family. We had an
old Garrard stereo cabinet as large as a buffet. The outer doors hid the
speakers. The inner doors covered a reel to reel tape deck, space for albums, a
turntable, and the control panel. I would plug the jack-end of one of those
cheap four-inch, black plastic microphones into the control panel, and then jam
the head-end of it into the body of my acoustic guitar and crank up the volume.
There was a lot of feedback, and you could hear the mic banging around inside
the body every time I moved and I moved a lot. I had to.
In order to figure out songs back then, I had to play a small segment of it on the album, lift the needle up, and then try to imitate what I had heard. It was a painfully slow and repetitive process, especially if there was complicated finger picking involved. My brother simply said, “The louder you play, Dan, the louder your mistakes are.” I was a bit downtrodden after that. I had reasonable talent on the acoustic guitar—I just never developed the corresponding confidence to pull off a one man show. But, then came the call.
original band, The Derek Small Band, was the brain child of The Stiff (that
wasn’t his real name, but given that he stiffed me on a business loan later in
life, I feel tagging this label on him appropriate.) Back then, I had no idea
who—or possibly what—a Derek Small was, but that didn’t matter. The Stiff said
it was a spoof, and had something to do with Jethro Tull. Of the twenty-six
members of Tull, none of them were named Derek or Small. Recently, Buck
informed me that Derek Small was the name of a fictitious character on the
cover of Tull’s Thick as a Brick album. Sometimes, I just wanted to beat
the Stiff like a drum. Anyway, back then it didn’t matter. What mattered was
getting a band together and jamming. Tommy played drums, Buck was on bass, I
played rhythm, and Stiff played lead and sang. Everything was based on Neil
Young’s Live Rust album and movie. Even the cinnamon colored, cloaked and
hooded, Jawa looking, road-eyes.
For this gig, Senior
Soundwaves, we brought on a special guest, Crickey. Crickey could play the
guitar. Though our decisions were made in the fog and smoke of adolescence,
many–surprisingly–turned out to be right. The decision to bring Crickey into
the band was one of them.
something of a bigot, which was odd given that he was full blown Mexican. My
Korean side had shown me the harm of bigotry long before. I was always the
Chink, the Nip, or the Jap or whatever because none of the pasty-faced blondes
at the parochial grade school I attended knew where Korea was let alone any
derogatory slang specific to the country. The Stiff’s racial slurs were
threatening to become the focus of the band.
Crickey, on the other hand, was somewhat anomalous. He was tall, thin (a bit pasty himself), but didn’t care at all what you looked like as long you thought right. Idiocy was his biggest -ism. The amount of weed Crickey smoked would make most men curl up in a fetal position, claw at the air, and shield themselves from people they knew were coming after them. Pot can have this paranoia inducing effect on people, or so I hear. But not Crickey. He scored in the top 3% of the nation on his ACT and SAT tests while stoned out of his gourd. He was a critical thinker, and loved to argue with authorities. But, more than anything, he could play the guitar. He taught me the scales and how to find the chords within them. With his help, and a Mel Bay’s Book of Guitar Chords, I was able to start figuring out songs for myself. By bringing Crickey into the band, we refocused on the music.
drove the bandmates insane at practices with my propensity to throw in
‘Wacka-chucka’s at inappropriate places. I couldn’t help myself. I loved them.
I was a Wacka-chucka-holic, in total denial, and in need of an intervention. A
Wacka-chucka is something akin to a muted ‘Fiebrantz’ and best played in an
empty, otherwise silent space, known as a rest. To put it simply, form a chord,
but then mute all the strings with a free finger, and strum down. That’s the
Wacka. The ‘chucka’ is the partial up-stroke on the strum. Once you know what
you’re listening for, you’ll hear them a lot. Jimmy loved them. He used them to
great effect in The Ocean. A full-blown Fiebrantz, on the other hand, is its
opposite. The ‘Fie-’ is a partial up strum and the ‘brantz’ is a wild hack of a
down strum. Instead of muting the strings, you let a discordant chord ring out.
One practice, they took me up to a bedroom in Tommy the drummer’s house. They sat me down. It was a small bedroom inside a small bungalow on the south side of Milwaukee. No words were spoken. I felt mildly claustrophobic. The bed had a white cover. Dirty clothes, lying on the floor, kept the closet bifold doors from closing. There was a turntable, the type with a built-in speaker, on a table in the corner. The speakers crackled. Soon, the song we had just been practicing broke the silence. They forced me to listen to it. Crickey kept repeating, “There, that’s where you Wacka-chucka, right there and nowhere else!” I felt humiliated. At one point, Tommy the drummer had to leave the room. The mirror hanging on the wall was of no use. I needed to look deeper. I was forced out of my denial. And, with the support of my bandmates, began the long and lonely walk down the road of Wacka-chucka-holism recovery.
the only thing I loved more than the Wacka-chucka, was the technical lexicon
used in the world of high school garage bands.
first thing we decided to do, was to rename ourselves. Actually, it was about
the fourth or fifth thing, but, whatever. The Derek Small band had played out
once, a charity gig at some Catholic school. We were well received, but it was
time to move on. We were sitting around the kitchen table at Tommy the
drummer’s house on the South Side. You couldn’t be in the South Side without
over spicing the conversation with ‘hey der,’ ‘ya know, hey?’ “wanna PBR?’ and
‘how bout dem (you fill in the blank.)’ Of course, ‘kielbasa,’ was pretty much
the answer to any question posed. Those who mock Wisconsinites’ vernacular,
always sound like Southsiders. Think Fargo.
The term South Side became pregnant with so many other words and concepts; we simply called South Siders ‘hey-ders.’ Tommy was a multi-generational hey-der and took pride in the car up on blocks sitting in his driveway. He worked on it over the weekends. All good Southsiders had a car up on blocks and a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer on ice. He lived just north of Cudahy. Cudahy, the meat packing company (hence kielbasa), epitomized all things southside. Personally, I just liked the way the name contained a natural echo…’Cudahy, hey.’ So, we were sitting around the kitchen table, talking like a bunch of hey-ders, as we set out to rename the band.
sisters were members of the pom pom squad at their high school. Pom pom girls
were like cheerleaders on steroids. They held themselves to a higher standard
and were adored, or loathed, by the crowd. It really depended on whether you
were on the squad, or everyone else. There was arrogance and cattiness. Some
thought the whole thing so ridiculous they referred to the squad as the pompous
pompous girls. Often, practices were held at our house. It drove me nuts. What
seemed like hundreds, maybe thousands, of girls would descend upon the house
screaming and doing all that girlie-girl hugging crap. I swear if they practiced
at all I never saw it. Yet, at half time of every game, they would strut onto
the field, or court, in their short little skirts, pompous pompous poms
bouncing, plastered on smiles, and dance a dance they called the Highlander
Fling to a song called Scotland the Brave. Watching them was okay. It was the
song that kept my attention.
something about bagpipes that lifts me to a higher plane. Listening to bagpipes
is like eating a cumquat. Cumquats are micro-oranges inside out. The rind is
sweet, but the meat is bitter. You pop the whole thing into your mouth and eat
the rind, the meat, and even the seeds. At first, it tastes good, like you made
the right food choice for the first time in your life. But, that doesn’t last
long once the juices start flowing. When that happens, your face pinches up.
Your body shudders. I swear to God, the first time I ate one, I asked, “Are you
trying to kill me?” But, then I reached for another. And then, another.
It took time, but I figured out how to play Scotland the Brave on the Epi. I had to re-tune my guitar to an open G tuning, so I could get a nice constant drone like the bagpipes have. That freed up my left fingers for playing the melody. I thought it sounded pretty cool and that thought was what struck me when we were sitting around Tommy the drummer’s house talking like a bunch of hey-ders.
and Buck were at the breakfast table. Tommy sat on the counter and the Stiff
was hovering about. I sat on an upholstered chair a few feet away and had been
dreaming about I thought Jimmy would be sitting if he were sitting in this
chair inside this southside bungalow. But then, the vision: Scotland the Brave–electrified.
The song would begin with a dramatic prelude: a long drawn out, seat-rattling
droning in the key of G; multi-colored spotlights slowly illuminating and
circling a mist filled stage; a lonely, fuzzed-up guitar slipping through the
darkness. It would be haunting, think loon on a moonlit, woodland lake. Then, in
a few bars, the lights would blare and the rest of the band would crash in and
the song itself would begin.
I said, “How about Bagpipe Music?”
hey-der accents stopped. I was met with blank stares. Silence, himself, paused
to look. A chair scratched the floor as someone shifted in his seat. They
simply couldn’t access the wonder and awe of the scene inside my head. I blame
them not. Slowly, the scene vanished like fog burned away by the midday sun. My
head was empty, and I felt cold and alone. A solitary seed in a dried-up gourd.
The once brilliant idea, slowly and painfully, came to a rattling end, leaving me to wonder, what if
I had offered up The
The subject of sex was never far from the mind of a teenager, and so it was no surprise that that was what filled the vacuum created by my suggestion. The best way to get a laugh out of a teenager is with a sex joke. Someone cracked wise to break the tension. ‘Beaver’ was a big term back then when referring to a woman. And we all grew up watching Leave it to Beaver. Cleaver had become the pivotal word because–as Crickey explained his thoughts–it phonetically sounded like “cleave her.” Right there and then, The Cleaver Beaver Band was born. There was only one problem; the Jesuits who ran our school were smarter than us. We knew the name would never fly. We decided to ‘put that name in our pocket’ and use it for future, non-Jesuit, gigs.
We sat in silence for a while. I had read the book Equus in English Lit and we also watched the movie in class. It’s a story about a messed-up kid running naked in the night blinding horses with a spike all the while shouting, “He sees you, He sees you!” I couldn’t help but think, “Of course He sees you—you’re running naked in the night blinding horses with a spike, for Christ’s sake.” Since our show was a total rip off of Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse, we decided to play with the name. We were armed with the Latin word for horse, equus, all we needed to find was the Latin name for crazy. The Stiff knew the Latin teacher—a tall geeky guy whose only possible lot in life could have been a high school Latin teacher—so, it was the Stiff’s job to find out the proper Latin word. A few days later, we became Equus Daemons. Not only was the name fitting, it was sure to impress the Jebbies.
The show was broken down into segments. First, we all played together; a few Stones songs and one Dylan. That was the fun part. Buck couldn’t play bass and sing at the same time, so I got to play his Jet-Glo Black Rickenbacker 4001 bass on the songs he sang, like Live With Me, Get Off My Cloud, Jumping Jack Flash, and, of course, Sympathy For the Devil. For some reason I’ll never understand, while Buck couldn’t sing and play a four stringed instrument, he could jam on the piano and sing without a problem. The Rat Rickie, as he called it, had this full bass sound, but with a bright tonal quality. It could really shine through the full force of a cranked up, fuzzed up, curtain of music. Live With Me was my favorite. I started off the song, and for a few bars, it was just me. The same was true for Dead Flowers. Except, on Dead Flowers, not only did I start out the song, I actually used my own acoustic guitar. I couldn’t sing for shit, though. To quote Leo Kottke, my voice sounds likes goose farts. I was given the task of ‘who-whoing’ my way through Sympathy, and was the response to the call in Get off My Cloud.
After the Stones and one Dylan segment, everyone except Crickey exited the stage. He stayed on and played The Star-Spangled Banner ala Hendrix. He had this white Castillo, a Japanese rip-off of a Fender Stratocaster, which is what Jimi played. To watch Crickey, you’d think Jimi had been reincarnated into a pasty white suburban kid. At some point during his performance, I believe when he played with his teeth, Crickey cut himself. There is nothing as poetic as red blood dripping down the face of a white guitar as it bleeds out the Star-Spangled Banner. Of course, some of the folks there said it was blasphemous to play the song that way. They were probably old and white and had never heard of the young black man named Jimi. Crickey played behind his back. He played with volume. He played on his knees. Then, he collapsed onto the stage and let his guitar ring out with such dissonant discord, it eventually turned into a deafening hum of uncontrolled feedback.
Stiff walked on stage with his acoustic. He was going to do a few solos. Neil
Young. That was the start of the Neil Young part of the show. As he walked out,
he dropped a black rose onto Crickey’s dead carcass as the road-eyes prepared
to drag him off stage. Fr. Stang greeted Crickey right behind the curtain.
Stang was hairy and sloped like a Neanderthal. To some, he was The Missing
Link. To others, he was The OranguStang. Out of naked fear, I called him Fr.
Stang, my physics teacher. I saw him a few years ago, back at that school. I
was visiting, and caught a glimpse of him down a hallway. I couldn’t be certain,
though. It was all a blur. After gathering my courage, I went for a closer
look. He had disappeared. Vanished. No trace what so ever. His hair was still long,
but white. He still had that Neanderthalian slope. The Missing Link had become
Yeti. The receptionist confirmed my sighting, but said no more.
his prime, Fr. Stang had an egg fetish. Once, he made us wrap up eggs so that
he could drop them off the roof of our four-story school. After that, he lined
us up in the gym, two rows facing each other. One row was given eggs, and told
to throw them at their partners in the facing row. It wasn’t like dodgeball or
anything…at least it wasn’t supposed to be. I mean, after all, what could
possibly go wrong if you give a group of teenaged boys dozens of eggs and tell
them to hurl them at one another? We were supposed to throw, catch, take a step
back, and repeat. The point was to
see who could throw and catch the farthest without breaking the egg. Why that
ever amounted to a point I’ll never know. I’m not sure anybody won
either of those competitions. Certainly not the janitor.
Stang had no sense of humor. One day we got back from a liquid lunch and took
our seats in his physics class, the last period of the day. His head jerked
upward, he emitted threatening chimp-like grunts as he slowly sniffed the air.
He glared. “It smells like beer in here,” he said.
am positive we would all have been busted and expelled if good ol’ Murph hadn’t
jumped on the hand-grenade. Murph smirked, jabbed a thumb over his shoulder in
the direction of an open window and said, “That’s because Miller Brewery is
was. You could see the red Miller sign high above the main brewery right
outside our window. On windy days, the smell of hops filled the room. But Fr.
Stang didn’t smell hops that day and wasn’t about to take any nonsense from a
curly haired, bobblehead drunk like Murph. I think he is still in detention. God
bless him, though, he saved us all.
O’Neil was in charge of this show, however, the auditorium belonged to Fr.
Stang. He was not there, though, the day we mapped out our show. Unfortunately,
he was there as the road-eyes dragged Crickey offstage. He thought Crickey had
actually died, or passed out from an excess of drugs or alcohol. It was almost
a showstopper. I was on the other side of the stage behind the curtains.
Crickey was known to drink, but he didn’t that night (except for that medicinal,
half bottle of Jack Daniels—but I wasn’t witness to that.) As the Stiff began
playing “I am a Child,” Crickey told Fr. Stang that he was fine, it was part of
the show, didn’t he see the rehearsal? and, that he should go and leave him
alone because the show wasn’t over. There was a stare down, Cro-Magnon versus
the Neanderthal. Evolution rendered her verdict, and Fr. Stang silently slipped
away to where his lair lay. The show went on.
all met in the dressing room beneath the stage, while the Stiff did his thing.
He was singing Sugar Mountain or some such song, we sat tuning up and generally
being very quiet. The worst part about performing live is the wait. I had
vicious stage fright. I felt like an early Christian as the Roman Colosseum
announcer introduced the lion. Waiting to step onto the stage only to be scared
out of my wits wasn’t exactly what I thought of as fun. I kept thinking about
the Cat. The Cat was the debate and forensic coach. I wasn’t a member of either
team, but, he also taught the Speech and Debate Logic courses, both of which I
took. He said to wiggle your toes if you’re nervous because no one ever looks
at your feet. He said never to fold your hands in front of yourself when
standing and addressing a crowd because it looks like your hiding something,
like a boner or a pee stain. He said to adjust your cuffs, assuming you’re
wearing a suit, because it looks like you are meticulous. He said ‘Bust!’ in
his ridiculously high-pitched voice every time he stepped into the goddamned
bathroom because we were always smoking cigarettes in there. He said a lot of
things, none of which were helping me with my stage fright. But, I do know that
my guitar was tuned by the time Stiff was done singing, and the trap door was
idea was for the band to rise up onto the dimly lit stage, one at a time. Then,
the road-eyes would carry us to our spots. Mine was stage right, in front of a stack
of amplifiers. Buck came next and was stage center-right. Then came Tommy the
drummer, he was stage center-rear, Crickey was stage left, and Stiff was
already there in the center.
road-eyes were supposed to have rigged up small flashlights inside their hoods
to help them see around the darkened stage and to make them look like the Jawas
in Star Wars. This was a direct rip-off from Neil Young’s Live Rust tour. They
couldn’t manage the task. Their hoods were too small. Their flashlights were
too big. They weren’t exactly the road-‘eyes’ we had envisioned. Lenny, the
Roach, and Moys were the road-eyes. I don’t recall which two carried me over,
or who gave me Tow Head’s guitar, but there I was, nervous as all hell,
cursing, and begging Buck for an E.
thing about the Stiff, aside from being financially irresponsible and a bigot,
he could play Neil Young better than Neil Young. Neil Young had extraordinary
song writing abilities, but he was pretty much a hack guitarist. Stiff figured
out each note of every song, then smoothed out some of the rougher edges. He
played a 1958 Les Paul Jr. He called it a Les Paul TV, and said the TV stood
for Tone and Volume, because it was the first model with tone and volume
controls mounted on the body of the guitar. In truth, its color was referred to
as T.V. White. The guitar itself was beige, but on a black and white T.V. it
looked white. The same model was used in a Happy Days episode when Ritchie was
in a band. Either way, it had amazing harmonics and the fullest sound I ever
heard. But, until that night, I had only heard it through practice amps, or
other small amplifiers.
amps I stood before that night were part of a professional grade sound system
run by a trained team hired by the school specifically for this event. Mr.
O’Neil, the teacher in charge, saw to that. He was young, and wore a beard and
mustache. He was cool. The auditorium itself was not rigged for microphones and
speakers. It was designed to be acoustically perfect, and built for putting on
plays without the need for microphones. That night, we played through a tri-amp
sound system, with Altec-Lansing “Voice of the Theater” speakers. It had two,
seven-foot tall 3-way amp stacks—one on either side of the stage. Several
smaller foot monitors, interspersed between the foot lights, faced inward and
were supposed to enable us to hear ourselves. Until you’ve stood next to a seven-foot tall, Altec-Lansing amp stack cranking out rock ’n roll at full volume, you simply don’t know the meaning of loud. Those foot monitors may have been blaring The Sound of Music for all I knew.
is a wave—a disturbance that travels through a medium. Music is sound. Music
was my life. Waves I breathed, dreamed, and bled. The bars of a staff measured
my days. The sound that came out of that amp stack was a sound that cannot be
reproduced by any stereo, or any headphone set; the depth of the bass, the
richness of the midrange, the slicing trebles waxed in harmonics. The sound
travelled directly through me, it tuned me, so that my body vibrated in
synchronicity, thereby amplifying our music even more. I felt husked, and my
fragile soul laid vulnerable on that stage. I could feel my brain squirm—and I
Once my B
string came into tune, I gave the signal. The spots shone brightly. The Stiff
played the opening notes of Like A Hurricane. The crowd began to roar. We were
a group of kids, and we called ourselves Equus Daemons. I was a part of that. I
knew I was the least talented of the group, but that didn’t matter. For one brief moment, on a February night
in 1981, I was the music, I was the medium, I was a sound wave.