Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Bloody Goof

"Of course they're all bloody twits. That's the point. 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!" 

So it came to pass, Andy & The Ampersands occupied the stage for St. David's Catholic High School 1967 senior prom. Chalk it up to Andy's salesmanship, and some clever sleight of hand.

The Amps were rich kids from Chicago's posh suburbs, high school dropouts who spent their days getting stoned and listening to imported 45's, EPs, and LPs of their fave-rave UK bands: The Pretty Things, The King Bees, The Animals, Them, The Lower Third, The Yardbirds, The Mojos, et al. 

Much time and energy was invested in The Amps' image. Onstage, a uniform: knee-high black suede boots, black jodhpurs, long-sleeve orange safari shirts buttoned to the neck, wraparound shades, and Brian Jones-style bowl cuts, dyed silver. The only variation, was drummer Andy's top hat. Even their instruments were art-directed: the guitar and bass were Mosrite Ventures models, repainted metalflake orange, with black 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 aptitude and practice. Practice time? Perish! Forbid! No fun! Better 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! Less resistance to stick to other people's songs, the ones painted in three primary chords - five, tops - and let it go at that. Thus, psychedelic versions of "Gloria," "Tobacco Road," "In The Midnight Hour," "Wild Thing," etc. The Amps could squawk their way through a blues, even if their blues were learnt via UK vinyl, not South Side clubs a stone's throw away, so to speak.

Inspired by the Warhol Factory, they renamed themselves: Lincoln Davis became Link Raye Vupp (guitar). The rest were, Jan American (bass), Andy Anti (drums) and Vera Loverly (vocals).

They hung out together every single day, mostly in Andy's room, it wallpapered in silver foil, a Personality Poster of Theda Bara push-pinned over his unmade bed. "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 in an overflowing ashtray, shoved a fistful of potato chips into her face, took a long swig of Tab.

Andy said, "Hey! Watch what you're doin', ya maroon! Don't get no greasy crumbs or fingerprints on my record cover!" From a corner, Jan grunted. (Opining 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 who'd been in the audience approached them and said, "I don't mean to pry, but I couldn't help but notice, you young people wearing sunglasses while viewing a motion picture. Do you have optical problems? I don't mean to be a busybody, but to think that youngsters could have serious…"

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

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

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, man.

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

(As for neighbors annoyed by the racket coming out of Andy's garage? Tough tarts. Just be glad that practice is more of a rarity than some of their import EPs.)

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 his birth control jive on me, an' Ah told him, you don't play-a the game, you don't make-a the rules, Paulie baby! Hey... what'd Ah say? Are you tryin' t' tell me you fellas don't have condoms in your wallets for this, THEE 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 and chaperones.

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

Crew-cut and pimply Donald Jarzabek made a lunge for the stage, but was restrained by Brother Michael and Father McCoffin. He screeched, "YOU COMMIE PUNKS! MY BROTHER'S OVER THERE! GETTING SHOT AT!" It was an impotent screech,
mercilessly drowned by the bass and drums lurching into "I Can't Explain."


The cinderblock walls shook as if a Brontosaurus was waltzing the dance-floor fantastic. 


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 magnified well beyond the threshold of pain:



Vera was pretty toasted, and they'd only practiced this song once, so she 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, whoa, 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 naked chicks…
I wanna BUST!"

Link's solo, five or six minutes of:

SKREEEEEEEEEEECHvzzrrrt-slpitzzzzzz-BGRRRRTTT!!! FzzzzZZZZittTTT! BreEEEEeeeT4#@TT!!!

"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 - an army in rent-a-tux, reeking stench of English Leather - and the Catholic girls - a sea of satin gowns and shellacked Great Society hair - tried, vainly and desperately, to dance in their stiff manner to this noise. Tried! It was the prom, after all! The senior prom, dammit! They had looked forward to it! All four years of high school! But it was impossible to discern a danceable beat! Who was responsible for hiring these jerks?!?

Next, the band lurched into a ballad, "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...
You're out there playing your half-ass games...
Of sorrow! Sorrow!"

She strutted around the stage, danced a little, doubled over with the microphone stand, some of her moves copped from Jagger, 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, buzzed and throbbed through the crowd, chaperones and teens alike. Anger, smoldering anger, waves of it… The precious once-in-a-lifetime night subverted, in ruins, Dresden carpet-bombed. 

And you paid us a thousand bucks! Ha HA!

They lugged their gear to the Ampmobile, laughing, feeling blurry and smug and triumphant - until they saw it: tires slashed, windows smashed, broken glass scattered on the pavement, on the seats, glittering pieces glinting 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 adults to restrain their savage instincts.