Friday, May 18, 2012

The Goof



"Of course they're all bloody twits. That's just it. It'd be such a bloody goof! And it'll be a grand," she said. "Just imagine those Catholic kids trying to dance! They'll expect some nice little band, but it'll be us! It'll be such a bloody g-o-o-f, man!" 

And so it came to pass, Andy & The Ampersands occupied the stage for St. David's Catholic High School 1967 prom. 

The Amps were rich kids from Chicago's ultra-posh suburbs, high school dropouts who whiled away their days getting stoned and listening to imported 45's, EP's and LP's of their fave-rave Brit bands: The Pretty Things, The King Bees, Them, The Lower Third, The Yardbirds, The Mojos, The Manish Boys, et al. 

Much time and energy was spent on The Amps' image. Onstage, a uniform: knee-high black boots, black jodhpurs, long-sleeve orange safari shirts buttoned to the neck, wraparound sunglasses and Brian Jones-style bowl cuts, dyed silver. The only variation, was Andy's top hat. Even their instruments were art-directed: the guitar and bass were Mosrite Ventures' models, repainted metalflake orange, with black pearl pickguards. True to form, the Ludwig drums were orange metalflake.

The effect was Halloween on Carnaby Street with a twist of stormtrooper chic. 

Long on image, yet short on band practice. It was more fun to get high and listen to records. Even less time and energy was expended on writing songs. They tried once, but, man, that was work. Better to stick to other people's songs, the ones that're three primary chords - five, tops - and let it go at that. So they tortured extended, psychedelic versions of Gloria, Tobacco Road, In The Midnight Hour, Wild Thing, You Really Got Me, etc. Lennon & McCartney songs were too tricky. The Amps could squawk their way through a blues, even if their blues were learned via UK vinyl, not South Side clubs.

Inspired by the Warhol Factory, they redubbed themselves: Lincoln Davis became Link Ray Vup (guitar). The rest were, Jan American (bass), Andy Anti (drums) and Vera Lovely (vocals).

They hung out every day, mostly in Andy's room, it wallpapered in silver foil, a Personality Poster of Theda Bara push-pinned up. "Keith is just so bloody cool, man," said Vera while listening to December's Children, staring at the LP jacket in her hand, "but Brian's cooler..." She nodded slowly, agreeing with herself, stubbed out her Marlboro, shoved a fistful of potato chips into her face, took a swig of Tab.

Andy said, "Hey! Watch what you're doin'! Don't get no greasy crumbs or fingerprints on my record cover!" Jan grunted. Making a point or just passed out? Passed out.

Offstage they dressed in mod civvies, but always wore the shades, even at the movies. Once when they were leaving a Hammer double-feature, an old man with a cane stopped them and said, "I don't mean to pry, but I couldn't help but notice, you young people wearing sunglasses during the movies. Do you have optical problems? I don't mean to be a busybody..."

They laughed. "No, Gramps, we wear 'em 'cause it's cool to wear sunglasses in the movies! Haven't ya heard the word, bird? It's cool, man... real cool..." They strolled away, leaving the geezer baffled.

Their amps, two Vox Super Beatles, had been customized, an icepick used to punch tiny holes in all eight of the 12" speakers, so every song, without fail, had a totally fuzzed-out guitar and bass. Jan just played root notes, and Link slammed out barre chords. His leads usually consisted of him grasping the strings way up the fretboard while havin' at it with the whammy bar, creating unearthly sounds. Sometimes he'd zero in on a single note, bend and strangle it until it was forced into some sort of tonal range. His technique rested volume and distortion, allowing the amp do the heavy lifting.

Tuning up was a problem for Link, he being a little to the left of Jimmy Reed.

Andy was every inch as primitive. His kit was limited to a bass drum, a snare and a single cymbal. He kept a one-two bass-snare beat going, punctuated with an occasional martial roll. Once in a blue moon he'd smirk and hit the cymbal, just for the fuckin' hell of it.

They'd rolled into the St. David's that evening in the Ampmobile, a black metalflake hearse, set up their equipment, then back to the parking lot to get high until showtime. Their glove compartment stash included opiated hash, Sandoz, black beauties and yellow jackets. Getting busted wasn't a fear. Their parents were influential, one dad chummy with local pols, a mom an aggressive attorney. Any cop dumb enough to bust these kiddies would be looking for a new job, toot sweet.

As for neighbors annoyed the racket coming out of Andy's garage? Tough tarts. Just be glad they're too lazy to practice very often.

After stumbling through their first few numbers, Vera said, "This next one wowed 'em at the Vatican... Yeah, real swingin' crowd, they loved us... The dope - AH MEAN - the pope tried to lay some of that anti-birth control jive on me, an' Ah told him, you don't play-a the game, you don't make-a the rules, Paulie-bay-bay! Hey... what'd Ah say? Are you tryin' t' tell me you fellas don't have condoms in your wallets for this, The BIG NIGHT? Yeah, it might rain - wear your rubbers! Ah think Ah just heard a pin drop..." Andy added a little ba-dump-bump, hit the cymbal, tipped his top hat to the fuming teens.

"Anyhoo, we'd like to send this next one out to all the brave soldiers in Vietnam. Yeah, this one's for the... VIET CONG!"

Donald Jarzabek made a lunge for the stage but was restrained by Brother Michael. He screeched, "You commie punks! My brother's over there!" But it was a futile yell, completely drowned out by the bass and drums lurching into I Can't Explain.

BRAT! BRAT-DAT! BRAT! BRAT-DAT! BRAT! BRAT-DAT! The cinderblock walls shook as if a Brontosaurus was waltzing through. BRAT! BRAT-DAT! BRAT! BRAT-DAT!

Then Link jumped up, twirled in mid-air (to Vera he seemed to come down in slow motion) landing in front of his amp, holding his guitar flat against the speaker cabinet, creating a high-pitched feedback SQUEAL, a tea-kettle whistle taken beyond the threshold of pain:

WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!!!

BRAT! BRAT-DAT! BRAT! BRAT-DAT!

She was pretty toasted and they'd only practiced this song once, so Vera ad-libbed some lyrics, a hand on her forehead, elbow jutted out:

"Got a feeling upside...
It's, um, Chunky wide... 
Feelin' hotter 'n hell...
Yeah, wotta... SMELL...

"I said ... Can't 'splain!
I'm looooped now, yeah... Can't 'splain!

"Fizzy in the head and I'm feelin' sick...
The things you said, well, they sure sound thick...
I'm gettin' horny dreams again and again...
I snow when it skis, but...

WAP! WAP! from the snare.

"Can't 'splain...
I think it's lust...
When I see girls...
I wanna BUST!"

Link's solo, five or six minutes of:

SKREEEEEEEEEEECHvzzrrrt-slpitzzzzzz-BGRRRRTTT!!! FzzzzZZZZittTTT! BreEEEEeeeTTT!!!

"But I can't 'splain, no...
Yeah, hear what I'm sayin', girl!

"Woozy in the gut and I'm real bad...
The things you said got me psycho mad...
Somethin', somethin', hmm, yeah, real sad...

"Yeah, yeah, yeah... CAN'T 'SPLAIN!!! 
I'm gonna need a trank! 
Woop! I'm a worried skank!"

The Catholic boys, decked out in rent-a-tuxes, reeking of English Leather, the girls, a mix of satin gowns and Great Society hair shellacked with a quarter-inch of hairspray, tried to dance in their stiff manner to this noise - it was their prom, after all! They'd looked forward to it! But it was quite difficult to find a danceable beat. Who was responsible for hiring these jerks?!?

Next the band performed a fave-rave of theirs, a ballad, The Mersey's Sorrow:

"With your long blond hair and your eyes of blue...
The only thing I ever got from you...
Was sorrow! Sorrow!"

Vera placed a hand over her heart (was she playing with her nipple?!) and sang on:

"You're acting funny, try to spend my money...
Yer out there playing your high class games...
Of sorrow! Sorrow!"

She strutted around the stage, danced a little, bent over with the mike stand, all her moves copped from Jagger on The T.A.M.I Show, and continued, mugging:

"You never do what you know you owt-tuh...
Something tells me you're the Devil's daw-tuh...
Sorrow! Sorrow! Boo, hoo, HOO!"

An electric current of palpable anger buzzed through the crowd, chaperones and teens alike. Anger, smoldering anger...

And so it went, the precious once-in-a-lifetime dance subverted, in ruins. And you paid us a thousand dollars! Ha ha!

They lugged their gear to the Ampmobile, laughing, feeling blurry and smug until they saw it: tires slashed, windows smashed, broken glass scattered on the pavement, on the seats, glittering like diamonds on black velvet under the full moon. Then, emerging from the shadows, Jarzabek with a Bowie knife, and a half-dozen of his buddies, clutching tire irons, no Brother Michael to hold them back.