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Instant Death - You're Soaking in it !
SLOOPY'S HOT STUFF
It was 1984. Orwell's book didn't come true; for me, it was much worse. Flat broke, living off one bowl of rice a day, nothing else (I'm not kidding), I decided to call it quits for L.A.. The heavy metal band I was in that was trying to get signed fell apart, I was facing having nowhere to live, my car had been broken down for months (this means basically house arrest in Southern California), and my mom had died on my birthday (heartbroken at the time, eventually I realized what a good thing it was, as the woman made the lives of those around her miserable. What a final "fuck you"!). It was time to make some money. I joined a booking agency, and they got me a gig with a lounge/show band, Sloopy's Hot Stuff. Three hundred bucks a week, including a hotel room and a meal, at that time it looked like great thing. I showed up across the country at a ski resort in Pennsylvania. That should have tipped me off, they were booked at a ski resort in summer!Sloopy's Hot Stuff was fronted by none other than Sloopy. In the '60s she used to be a dancer in Paul Revere and the Raiders, allegedly "Hang On Sloopy" was written about her. Most of her career she was a show dancer in Las Vegas, but she was getting pretty old, so she got plastic boobs, a face lift, and started this show band. We played the top-40 shit of the time, Journey, Huey Lewis and the News, crap I really hated. One of the sets every evening was the "show" set, doing classics like, "New York, New York", and she'd do comedy skits with her husband, Walt, the keyboard player. That was actually kind of funny, but what was really embarassing was "Thriller", by Michael Jackson. In the middle of the song, Walter's keyboard would go on automatic, playing the tune, while the band put on halloween masks and tried to "spook" the audience! One time during this, his synthesizer freaked out and started playing all kinds of sounds. Very avant-garde! More humiliating than the music were the outfits we were forced to wear. They were this purple and silver leatherette shit, the one I wore was an Indian get up; the bass player, Zinneman, a heavy set black guy from Philly, had to wear a court jester-style outfit that was way too tight on him. Off stage he was an impeccable dresser, it made it all the more difficult for him. He was also a great musician. In my experience, anyone who can play well is usually doing those kinds of gigs because financially they have their back up against the wall. It was real money compared to working at Tower Records for minimum wage. But basically I sold my soul for peanuts. Worse to come were the new outfits Sloopy had lovingly tailored for the band. Shiny turquoise leotards! Mine had a tank top that was cut so low my nipples stuck out. I developed a drinking problem immediately. Me and the drummer (who stayed on for a week so I could learn the parts), after spending the whole night drinking on the gig, would get a fifth of Old Grand Dad and split it, drinking well into the morning. This went on daily. One time I awoke to find that my head, from the neck up, had fallen asleep! I was yelling, crying, slapping my head! Eventually the feeling came back. Sloopy's room was above mine in the hotel. One night there was a party going on up there, which eventually turned into the sounds of the whole room fucking, in unison! Okay, in theory this sounds exciting, heck, I like to watch porno sometimes, but the next morning I saw this group-sex crew hanging out by the pool; ugly, peanut-shaped, cellulite ridden middle-aged couples! One guy had such a big, pitted, red nose that you could have sliced it down and sold it for lunchmeat! I was sending a lot of money home so I could move to New York eventually. With the help of booze I had been able to deal with the situation, but soon I had to face the facts. We were in Bizmarck, North Dakota. During our outings there people would stare at us and point. They didn't act prejudiced or unfriendly, I just think that many of them had never seen a black person before. Actually there was just one Chinese restaraunt in town, but it had amazing food. Anyway, one afternoon Zinneman and I started our binge at happy hour, 4pm sharp, with gin and tonics. Many of them. I had a bottle of Beefeater in my room. Zin prudently took a nap, I continued imbibing. During the show, I'd drink at the bar, go upstairs to hit the bottle, come back down and play the set. By the end of the night I could barely play, and after the last number I stumbled up to Walt, slurring, apologizing, and saying I had to quit, I couldn't take it anymore. So the next night I talked with them, I gave them sufficient notice, they were good about it and we were all happy. After all, they were decent people, I actually liked them. Well, decent to a certain extent. The next scene was pretty indecent. My last show with them was at the Holiday Inn in Greensburg, PA. Somehow while driving cross-country, Walt picked up this teenage girl. They put her up in a trailer with Zin and me. Not bad looking, she was definitely doable. Especially as during my tenure, the band only attracted fat middle-aged married women. This girl wasn't very smart, but it didn't matter. I hadn't had any action for longer than I care to say. I was basically straightforward in my intention for casual sex. She wasn't into it; turned out her new boyfriend was Walt, Sloopy's husband. The next morning I awoke to find that Sloopy's poodles had been bathed in my shower, dog hair being left everywhere. Again turning to alcohol, heedless of fines that would be imposed on me if I pulled another stunt like the one in Bismark, I drowned my frustration and disgust with beer and a bottle of Mad Dog. Walt invited the band to have dinner with him before the gig. After dinner, Walt stepped outside with me as I attempted to walk back to the trailer. "Scott, you should have some coffee and sober up, I don't want to have to fine you, man." I didn't know what he was talking about, I was so wasted I thought we had already played! I crashed for a couple hours, sobered up well enough to get through the gig, but I wound up puking on my drumset! Luckily it escaped Walt's scruitiny, I wasn't fined. Their next show for them was in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and they basically had to drive straight through, set up, and play. Fortunately no one was hurt, but Sloopy fell asleep at the wheel and crashed the motor home into a toll booth, totalling it. Good timing on my part! Scott Byrne
UKRAINIAN WEDDING BAND SERIES #1: TRANCELAND
For about a year and a half in the late '80s I had the experience of playing in a Ukrainian Wedding Band. I don't recall the name of the group because quite frankly, and this applies to most other languages as well, Ukrainian is an indecipherable tongue-twister to me. Sadly I only speak English. As a seemingly precocious child I bought a Berlitz book on Russian, and couldn't get past trying to say "this is a pencil". Oh well.
The cast of characters is half the ingredients in this demented souflee'. Adam Bernstein is the bassist. To amuse ourselves we would pull strange stunts, like trying to play as bad as possible; wrong notes in painfully obvious places, missed beats, speeding up, slowing down to confuse the bandleader and dancers (quite different from the wedding band, check out his music at adambernstein.com). The saxophonist was Mark Kirk, a cynical jazz musician with a caustic sense of humor. Once a drunk driving ad was on the t.v., droning on about how many deaths alchohol causes. Mark, swigging a Michelob, retorts, " Yeah, but nobody talks about how many lives alcohol has saved!" Any guilt over my drinking habits, past or present, disappeared permanently, then and there. Olech (sorry, the last name can't be pronounced nor remembered) was a methodical, organized guitarist whose approach expressed no passion. An accomplished undergraduate student of jazz, he played strictly by the numbers. His fiancee' was the keyboardist and lead singer. She was pretty. We tried to get her to put together a punk rock version of the band called Chernobyl. Probably one of my greatest "concept" bands, we only approached realizing the idea whenever she would occasionally "yelp" the lyrics. To make matters more strange, we were all music majors at Rutgers, with Mark being one of our professors.
The music consisted of Ukrainian numbers in the style of polkas, waltzes, and tangos. Ballroom style dancing was the thing, once we played a grueling eight hour debutante ball for a Ukrainian engineering society in Philadelphia. Fifty minutes on, ten minute break per set. Exhausted, I fell ill for a couple of days after the show. It was amazing; dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns, the revelers crowded the dance floor for the full eight hours! Obviously no heavy boozing or drugs. The only parallel in my world would be if people were dancing eight hours straight, say at a rave, well, they'd have some chemical help. But with all these wedding band gigs, the bizarre reared it's wierd head. This debutante ball had no debutantes! The society didn't have any girls coming of age that year, but they had the ball anyway! I guess that's not so strange, we celebrate birthdays of dead people.
At this particular wedding the best man approached us with a cassette tape of Ukrainian "mountain" music. It was actually pretty cool, it sounded like a cross between Bluegrass and Muslim prayer songs. So we put it on for our first break. Adam and I immediately began square dancing to this music. Laughing, we retired to the bar. Olech approched us, "Thanks guys, I hope you didn't offend too many people." Instead of apologizing, we retort, "Hey man, we weren't dissin' anybody, we were just havin' fun!" Olech didn't deserve the abuse we frequently laid on him, but Adam and I were instigators to each other for bad behavior. But actually these Ukrainian functions had a real ugly side to them which warranted our insousance; predjudice. Once the band was done and everything was all packed up. The groom's mother approached Adam instead of the band leader, demanding they set back up and play one more set. Adam says, "If you want me to set my stuff up all over again I'll need at least a hundred bucks to do another set." Outraged, the woman asks, "What are you, some kind of Jew?" Adam replies, "Yes, what's that got to do with it?" You'll hear more about this sort of thing in other installments. Plenty more.
So the break is over, we return to the stage and I shut off the tape player. "No, no, no! Turn it back on!" I look out into the audience, and there's a knot of about 15 or so ANCIENT men, like the 100+ year olds in the yogurt commercials (remember those?). Their gaze held something that was beyond anger, despair, or pity for someone who had committed the blaspheme of blasphemes. I hit the play button and the men went back into their trance state! Rocking back and forth, mumbling to themselves, their eyes rolling back in their heads, I haven't seen anything like it before or since. Olech explained that among rural people the use of locally available cannibis and psychedelic plants was common.
As a postscript, years ago I played a Ukrainian New Year's Eve geriatrics party, and the accordionist was outrageous. We'd step outside for a smoke, and when we played he'd crank the shit out of his accordian, running it through a Leslie cabinet cranked full blast! It sounded like Ukrainian music Deep Purple style! He was intrigued with the idea of Instant Death and wanted to jam, but Dave and I never got it together with him. Too bad.
More to follow! Scotty