Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Iron Fist

Well, I don't have a lot on my mind politically, and things are sailing along smoothly in everyday life right now, so howsabout we take a trip back in time and visit the greatest rock band you never heard of: IRON FIST!

Yeah, that's me, alright. Or, rather, it was me and my friend Mike. Not the Mike from Mike Has a Thought...THIS Mike is a guy I was friends with in high school. (You know...back in the Stone Age.) He was a trombone player, and a couple of years older than me. Which, as you've no doubt deduced, means he taught me how to drink. But, I'm getting ahead of myself here. So let's go back...back...back...

Wayne's World sound effects:

By my recollection, I only had one good year of friendship with Mike while we were actually BOTH in high school: my sophomore year, and his senior. And, my memory being what it is, I have no idea whatsoever as to how we met and became friends. I would guess that it was in band, having that in common, but like many things in my life, I remember a time BEFORE him, and then a time after which he was a fixture...but not the acquisition thereof, if you see. Anyway. He was a weird mish-mash of "types": he was a little bit redneck, who enjoyed running down dogs out in the country, or occasionally whipping into a field to knock off a dozen shots from a .22 at a deer he'd espied. He was a lot rock & roll, enjoying the same taste in riff-laden bands like Kiss and AC/DC...in fact we went to see Kiss together, either the Lick It Up or the Animalize tour, I forget which. But mostly? He was a P.K., which means he was hell bent on causing trouble and being rebellious. Which suited me just FINE!

Oh, and in addition to his trombone, he also played the guitar...in fact, I remember having a cast-off Les Paul body that either he or I had acquired somewhere, and he wanted it painted like the classic Eddie van Halen crazy-striped Fender. I painted the entire body white, then taped stripes onto it and painted it black, then taped stripes over THAT and painted it red. Hmph. I guess it worked. Anyway, we jammed together often, mostly blues-based stuff but occasionally throwing out Whole Lotta Rosie for the neighbors to enjoy. Heh. I remember one of his neighbors being the incredibly luscious Alice, who was a year younger than me, and we'd sometimes set up on his front porch and jam, hoping to lure her down with our hot rock and bad attitude.

I received a Fostex 4-track cassette recorder for one birthday, and that really opened up the doors to recording experimentation for me. I was full-on writing (what I now realize to be) phenomenally bad, trite heavy metal songs, and we chose to actually record the créme de la créme from this bunch: a rollicking tune called 1-800-HOT-LOVE. The chorus to which went, I swear:

H-O-T, L-O-V-E!

Yeah. The height of sophistication, I know. But, at the same time, I'm putting myself down more than I deserve. The lyrics were dippy - about a rock star who sees the number written in a phone booth, calls it, and gets his own answering machine - but the song was a pretty solid 3-chord rocker, and it had a kind of Generation X punk energy that I don't really think of having until I hear my own songs played back to me. Man, I worked that Fostex recorder: we recorded a telephone ringing first (back in the days - does this still work? - when you could call your own number and hang up really quickly, and the phone would ring), then laid the drum track over that. I remember doing most of this work in the living room at my parents' house: mics and cables and amps set up all over the place, and Mike had scored some beer for us so we thought we were so cool, with a few girls hanging around while we drank beer and recorded. God, it was, seriously, like, the BEST! And we didn't have a bassist (or a bass, for that matter), so I recorded a bass line on the piano, and I'd read about producers using all these tricks in the studio to get the effects they wanted, so I put the mic in a big coffee can behind the piano, and that gave me a metallic sort of echo that was really sweet, and made it sound not QUITE like a piano.

Well. We thought we were pretty much the bomb. So much so, in fact, that we took our mastered tape to the roller rink (where we went every weekend, thank you) and actually convinced the DJ to play it. Now, mind you, he played it during the break between 1st and 2nd skate (we always stayed for both), but still. We were ON OUR WAY! And we'd picked a name, something that, to us, identified both the heavy metal attitude we wanted AND a certain powerful presentation: Iron Fist. And, like all rock & roll wannabes do, we talked about what our logo would look like, and our first album cover, and on & on.

Naturally, none of that happened. Mike went to college (somewhere in Indiana, I think) for engineering, and we only recorded one more partial tune: our "theme song," titled Iron Fist (Gonna Rule). And that was that. But I'm supremely glad we did that one complete song, that I have the memory AND the recording of that great time in my life, when I was young and on fire and ready to take on the world.

Oh, and the "teaching me to drink" thing? Yeah, we'd take occasional sips of peppermint schnapps during evening marching band rehearsals, but the one time that really did it was a sleepover at his place. Now, understand: my parents did NOT want me to spend the night at his house, because they KNEW we were going to drink. Also understand: we WERE NOT going to drink that night! We planned on going to play softball with his church league, and then...well, just hang out! But, of course you know that Dave convinced us to go out drinkin' after the game, and of course there were a few girls around as well, and I tore into the schnapps pretty heavily. We eventually made our way back to Mike's, and I kept saying "Man, I just don't FEEL right!" He gave me crackers - bless the guy for trying! - but eventually I had my first booze-yarf, which of course I imagined I was doing with the utmost delicacy and silence, and of course must have been regurgitatingly loud, for when I exited the bathroom there was his preacher-man dad, looking both stern and pitying and disappointed all at the same time. "You boys been drinkin'?" he asked Mike. I figured, rebel that he was, Mike would try to lie his way out of it. Which, ha! 'Cause he folded right away and gave us up: "Yup." Sheepish, head hung low. I now know I must have just REEKED of mint and booze and puke, but at the time I still thought we could fib our way out of it. Nope. His dad was SUPER pissed...so much so that he wanted to take me home right then, in the middle of the night, and wake my parents up to tell them what I'd done. Don't ask me where it came from (prob'ly the liquor), but a wave of righteous indignation came over me and I told him forcibly that he was welcome to take me home, but we WAS NOT waking my parents up under any circumstances. We all eventually calmed down, and agreed that he'd take me back in the morning, but he WOULD tell my parents. Which he did, and to this day I'm not sure my mom believes that drinking wasn't on the menu for that night.

Good times, good people. Here's to you, Mike. You fuckin' rock & roll rebel, ya!


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