Sunday, February 13, 2011

This is where the good times went...

Yesterday Crum introduced me to a band I'd never heard of before.  Aside from really digging the music I enjoyed his reflection that
"...youthful rebellion is woven into our humanity more as a reality check for the rest of us than just the surface pain in the ass it seems to come off as."
How true.  Even for those of us who were fairly straight-laced growing up.  I think it's woven into our social development as we mature.  The case in which this that made the most sense to me was presented in the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  I'm not going to cover it in detail because that's not really what this post is about.  The crux of his argument is (and he covers it in his reasoning behind why teen smoking is such an epidemic) that once you start socializing with others - in school, etc. - you start taking more and more behavioral cues from your peers than your parents.  There comes a point early on when your parents literally have almost no control over where you are taking your cues from.  So I think that, even if you fall in with other "goody-goody" kids, there are bound to be behaviors you take up from them that your parents won't approve of.  Rebellion, at some level, is always there.

Of course, it really took off for me when I got to college.  Straight-laced ROTC guy started hanging out with a bunch of hippies, punks, Pink Floyd fans, and others who were antithetical to the "Reagan Youth" that I drilled with every week.  The trick was balancing the assimilation of both groups.  I didn't care that some of my friends smoked dope and they knew not to do it in my room/apartment, but there were plenty of times when they were taking hits from the bong I was at the other side of the room drinking my vodka.  Such was the pattern of mutual inebriation.

The biggest thing I remember were the parties my junior year.  My roommates and I had inherited (that is, we were lucky enough in the housing lottery to be able to choose) an apartment that some graduating friends of ours were in that was famous for its parties.  We vowed to carry on the tradition.

The apartment itself was beautiful.  Well, it was for a bunch of college age males who didn't know any better.  It had a huge living room, and the previous tenants had put a huge mural of a moonscape on one wall.  A great lunar landscape with the Earth high and in the background.  They had taped up a cartoon pic of Starship Enterprise from Star Trek, and a floating head of John Madden.  Enterprise was shooting Mr. Madden with phasers.  We added to the mural - usually with whatever photos we thought were cool out of the Weekly World News.  Aliens, 300 lb goat-headed babies, we even had Hitler giving the "Sieg Heil" to a bust of Bette Midler that was emerging from behind a giant moon rock.

They'd left the bar there for us.  And all the alcohol.  They had a rule - drink what you like, but if you finish a bottle you need to replace it.  Over the three years they'd had it, a steady stash had built up, and since they reasoned none of it was their own by the time they graduated, they told us it was ours.  What a great bunch of guys. So we had the bar, we had the new and improved mural, what could we do to improve the parties?  We decided we needed a band to play our parties.  This was our major rebellion.

Parties you could have - more than ten people was a party, and you had to register your party at least the night before.  But campus rules prohibited bands from playing parties.  We decided to push the envelope anyway, knowing that getting caught could get us kicked out, and that would have bad repercussions with my family and with the organization that was paying my tuition.  Fuck it.  We did it anyway.

The band was called "Dead Men on Holiday", taken from Koestler's Darkness at Noon.

"For all over the country there were small groups of men who called themselves 'dead men on holiday', and devoted their lives to proving they still possessed life."
They were a punk band, not to be confused with a country/rock/soul band named "Dead Men on Holidays" from Germany, that comes up when you google the name.  They had the usual repetoire of original songs that sounded good to and would only have meaning to their fans, with cool titles like "It Must Suck To Be You" and "Store 24" because I guess every college band needed a song about the local convenience store, who the fuck knows.  Anyway, they were popular.  They had come out of nowhere and placed second in the battle of the bands the year before, turning the stage-front of our beloved and esteemed theater hall into a frenzied, thrashing pit to the horror of school officials and visiting families.  The front man was a fellow ROTC cadet in my unit, known as "Stain" who went on to run nuclear reactors for the Navy and command submarines.  Smart guy, great guy, showed me that just because I wore the uniform it didn't mean I had to grow up as some right-wing Niedermayer that my future charges would want to shoot.  More bad influence to add to my pothead friends; I'm sure my parents would have shit had they known what their good little Catholic boy in ROTC was now doing.

The pattern was simple.  Buy a keg, buy some cheap vodka for a Kool-Aid punch, advertise by word of mouth, charge two bucks at the door, and Bob's yer' uncle.  They took off something huge.  By the third party we were turning big profits, enough to finance the next two.  Fuck, we could even start paying the goddam band! We started being less covert.  Well, the band started being less covert.  They would put up posters a week before they played, always tasteless.  The mid-December poster showed Santa and Mrs. Clause in a threesome with Rudolph, almost every one had a beer / barf motif.  People started coming from Boston, from Providence, the punks from the local scene started showing up.  Even the fucking frat douche bags.  It usually started with them knocking on the door.  I'd answer and notice the usual gang of fucks who I didn't like and didn't like me.

"What can I do for you?"

"Hey, we need to (use the phone / use the bathroom / borrow a cup of sugar / verify what this week's physics homework is).  Can we come in?"

"You need what?  I can't hear you.  The music, you know.  Try a quieter place if you need a phone."

"Can we (borrow some dental floss / see if our escaped hamster is in here / gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today)?"

"Look, guys.  For $2 you can come in."

"Oh."  And $20 or so bucks later, frat douche bags were in.  Whatever, it was a business.  It was fun hearing what excuses they would come up with.  I think they changed with every one and it became something of a game.

They had a rash of great covers, too.  Mostly of the classic, "Oi!" genre.  The favorite was "Someone's Gonna' Die Tonight" by Blitz.

What a great fucking song.  The way it builds up, unleashes into a frenzy of sound and gives way to a crooning/shouting anthem to violence and football hooliganism. It usually signaled a high point in the party.  They knew when the crowd was worked up and it put us over the edge a few times.  The cops usually came after that.

One of our roommates wasn't really into partying so he holed himself up in the attic (Okay, there wasn't an attic.  We cut a hole in the ceiling and put a table and chair up there...) listening to the police scanner to see if any complaints would come in and alert us to quiet down before the campus rent-a-cops got there. We normally could quiet down enough (i.e. - get the band to take a break) that they just drove by.

Until one day in mid-January when they finished up the song and we noticed that the air conditioning had kicked on.  Except there was no AC.  One of our buds had gone straight from the pit head first through our front window.

Shit.  Fuck.  We had blown it.  The cops came, shut us down, party ended early.  That Monday, the letter came telling us we were meeting with the housing administrator to discus the party, the damage, and our futures as residents at college.  We thought we were done.  I thought I was losing a freaking scholarship.  Rebellion had backfired.

So the meeting came, and we all dressed in our best unwashed shitty college kid clothes and went to see the housing administrator, a lady in her mid-30's who immediately threw us for a loop.

"Now boys, you know the school policy is that you cannot have a band play at a party."

"Yes, we do."

"And you know that what you did was dangerous, and your friend could have got seriously hurt.  This is entirely unsatisfactory."

"Yes...we're sorry."

"Well, you're going to have to pay for the window.  And I'm going to have to ask that you please don't have any more bands play your parties and that you keep it down in the future."

Stunned silence for about 10 seconds.  Is THAT it?  We looked at each other.  I think one of us managed an "Okay" or "Yes, ma'am", or "We've learned our lesson" or something equally mundane. The window cost about as much to replace as 1.5 future parties.  Hell, the band even chipped in by refusing their cut for that night.  So we took one party "off" and didn't have a band, and made enough cash to subsidize another one.  A month after that, we proved we hadn't learned our lesson - or simply decided to say "fuck you" to the administration - and brought the band back.

We were back in business.  And housing didn't seem to mind.

It's good that some people recognize rebellion is part of growing up.  So, for old time's sake.  Do you feel alright?


MRMacrum said...

Well thanks for the linky link.

Malcolm probably has the teen rebellion better pinned than I did. We certainly, or make that I know I did take many of my cues from the boneheads I hung out with. Plans of action were thought up but not thought through. Consequences not even dreamed of until they became realities.

This trip down memory lane of yours was excellent. I could almost feel the sway of the drunken and drugged as they rocked your place down.

Mary Lee Farlow was the person in charge of housing on my campus at Towson State. I had my first run in of many to come the second night I was there. I remember her words to me after being caught by the RA smuggling a six pack into my room, "Mr. Macrum, I think I will be keeping a close eye on you." Having just finished three years in military school, I thought, "Whoa, if this is all getting into trouble amounts to, then this college gig is gonna be a blast." I was right and wrong. Having no real boundaries created some tough times a few years later.

Beach Bum said...

Let me state for the record I am officially envious! Like Mike said, I could almost feel the thump of the speakers and the smell of spilled beer. I love my family but at times I wish for the free wheeling life of a college kid.

It's good that some people recognize rebellion is part of growing up.

Yeah, such people seem rare these days. Everywhere I look it seems its all by-the-book and how dare you even think about crossing the smallest line.