In the midst of a 5th Grade Birthday party where the whole point was to play in basketball tournaments and win basketball cards, I encountered my first collaborative musical friend. After a day of shooting hoops in the hot sun and having a great time, we congregated down in the basement of the old ranch house where I spent my pre-adolescence. My Dad broke out a guitar and started playing tunes. He invited any or all of my friends to step in and jam too. I picked up a guitar and started strumming along as best I could. A lot of my friends tried to sing, but only one could really pull it off. This is when I found out that my friend, an acquaintance at the time, Percy, could seriously lay down the mouth harp.
After that, my friends and I went on to consume serious amounts of Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper, have intense pillow fights in a tent, and play Sega Genesis all night. But amidst all the juvenile version of revelry something in both Percy and I’s life had significantly changed. Our love for music had gone to a new level.
Shortly after that Percy and I got together from time to time to see if we could figure out songs or jam. The first song we wrote was based on what we wanted our band name to be “The Babies”. I don’t remember much of the song, but I do remember the chorus, which rang out in great lyrical poetry; “We are the babies, we’re here to rattle rattle rattle rattle rock you!” We quickly canned the name when we found out that a cheesy late 70′s band had the same name. You can check them out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjU50ow95aM
So amidst sports and the pressures of 6th grade social advancement we didn’t really do much after our little stint as “the Babies”. Percy and I did have one thing in common though, a hunger for trouble and aversion to good grades and behavior. After a 6th Grade year where I scored about a 1.9 cumulative GPA, they announced that they would have their annual talent show at the end of the year. Percy and I got amped about the idea of playing our music in front of the 6th, 7th and 8th Grade, some of whom were peers, some heroes and some enemies. We definitely thought it would make girls dig us, and Percy had a better chance than me because the aftermath of marshmallows and RC Cola hadn’t worn off of my obliques yet.
So we found a drummer named Dan. Before long we had figured out a song to play called “The Joker” by Steve Miller Band. I vividly remember playing the song in Dan’s basement as he smashed on the drums and I twanged my dinky Fender Squier. Percy sang the lyrics really well and decided to throw in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk as a special move- a real show stopper! In the middle of all this noise Dan’s Mom stormed down to the basement and gave us the death glare, calling us upstairs in what seemed to be a fit of anger.
Dan’s Mom went on to say that she wouldn’t allow us to sing “The Joker” by Steve Miller, especially because of the lyrics about being a smoker and a toker, and the line about “really love your peaches want to shake your tree.” Percy and I glanced at each other in laughter as she repeated this line over and over to us in anger. At some point she told us that we were part of the anti-Christ for putting on this display of apparently Beelzebubian evil.
Percy and I laughed about this for a long time after. Percy had grown up Catholic and I had no religious background. This was really one of my first exposures to Christians, and it certainly confounded me. Obviously Dan’s Mom had never heard Maurice Irvin’s quote; Syracuse Senior Pastor, once said, “People come to God through Christ. But they come to Christ through us. We must be careful not to erect any barriers they must climb over to get to Jesus.” Maybe she even felt that she was truly leading us to know this angry Jesus that she believed in. We felt like Dan’s mom was a little extreme. Maybe now she would even say that she was at the time. We convinced Dan to play the song anyways and somehow he pulled it off despite her protests.
The talent show went great. I paraded around like a clown in my Umbro nylon shorts, t-shirt and black and neon yellow Reebok pumps with my guitar, and Percy dressed up in a Roger Daltrey fringed sleeveless leather cloak, and did the moonwalk, driving the 7th and 8th grade girls wild. Dan would pull out random drum solos in the middle of the song, and then we’d pick it back up. I think Dan got a kiss from who we thought was one of the hottest girls in the 7th grade. From then on, we became “Joker’s Wild” (I really had no idea until recently that David Gilmour of Pink Floyd was once in a band called Joker’s Wild- you can check them out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbBjhW-OFcc&feature=related).
The addiction to that feeling of being on stage began, and we were noticed for it. Throughout the 6th grade summer and into 7th grade we became very popular. We tasted the recognition that someone gets from playing music. We also began to taste the ego trip that comes with wielding this power over people. The people I once considered my friends began to be labeled in my clouded mind as “nerdy”, and I was willing to do whatever it took to maintain my image.