Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's, It's a Ballroom Blitz: Part Seven: It was 20 Years Ago Today

All right. By this point, in 1989, I was emotionally wrecked and exhausted. And by this point, in 2009, I'm more than a little bit tired and crabby. But, in the words of Samuel Beckett, "I can't go on, I'll go on."

As I said earlier, I'm telling this story from my point of view. And from my point of view, this story was over and finished when Pastor Dave canceled the Wesley Foundation benefit concert for The Public Address System.

It was the end of my direct involvement, at any rate. I was there, but I wasn't there ... if you get what I mean. My cash cow was dead from brucellosis, or bovine spongiform loose cannonitis. My crazy dreams of a big push over the top into publishing viability were dead. I had thought I had, within my imminent grasp, the capital infusion, and the big-time cultural happening, for Fame and Fortune ... and then that was yanked away from under my feet like a strip of wet terry cloth on a flooded bathroom floor.

My head hurt, and everything was foggy. So I don't have as lucid a recall from those post-cancellation days as pre. The next few days after the Obscene Rock Show Posters scandal aren't so clear. Luckily, JC Bureau Chief O.Ball has stepped up again to help out. But, first, here are my few recollections, as assisted by some things I affixed to paper and audio cassette tape at or near the time.

I was DJing a radio show at WKDI from 6 to 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings that semester. Probably the graveyardiest of graveyard shifts. The drunks were all asleep by then, and nobody with any sense was awake yet. I think I had approximately zero listeners.

Naturally, I let that allow me to do whatever the hell I wanted, from mixing Charles Manson folk songs with field recordings of the Jim Jones massacre to G.G. Allin played at 45 rpm mixed with John F. Kennedy speeches to rambling at length about whatever I felt that morning. More people, I am certain, have listened to my own cassette recordings, as captive audiences in my own apartments, of those shows than anyone ever did on their radios.

During my WKDI show for Sunday April 16, a certain No Eraser Head dropped by the Kishwaukee Hall studio for a visit. He later admitted to me that he was under the influence of LSD, but I didn't notice any difference from his usual self.

NEH took a seat in the news studio and strapped on a set of cans. (Headphones, to you non-radio-nerd types.) And we spent a good several minutes talking about what had just happened. Which I managed to preserve on tape, and which you can download and, if you so choose, listen to, thanks to the Internet (as part of the audio package offered in the footnote below).

The thing that stands out most to me now -- because I do hold a grudge -- is how unconcerned NEH was about the impact his and Squeaky's fun-fest had had on the newspaper. He was remorseful about fucking up Otis Ball's tour ... but I suspect strongly that that was because he had big designs on coattailery, and he didn't want to jeopardize that.

At any rate, I'm a passive-aggressive guy, not an active-aggressive one, so I sucked up the dismissal, the "Bah! The newspaper! That's secondary!" stuff. But I didn't really swallow it. That has stuck in my craw for two decades now. And it's kind of cathartic, frankly, to say so now.

Not that his feeling bad would have served any purpose. Other than for my fucked up ego. But if I'd felt better about things then, maybe ... well, speculation is worth little. Better to get back into what happened.

And what happened was that NEH decided to try to make good for Otis. And I thought that was fine, in general principle, but I still wasn't involved at all. It was very much an "OK, you take it" situation. And the last chapter of this story is what happened when NEH took it.

Time was short to accomplish any fixing, because Otis was heading back to Jersey very soon. So NEH, I don't know the details, set up a make-up show. He contracted with a local restaurant with a banquet ballroom in downtown DeKalb, Matthew Boone's, it was called, to serve as a venue. He called on the estimable Dr. Tulk (cannot praise Tulk enough, in any forum) to do sound. And he secured the bands from the original ill-fated Wesley show to play.

But, as I can recall, even after a lot of archive-digging and memory-mining, little or no promotion was done. I guess he was counting on word of mouth. The make-up show at Matthew Boone's was just a couple days away, on April 19th, and it was sickeningly obvious that that was not going to be enough time to get the word across, especially if promotional efforts consisted of nothing.

I still can't fathom the motivations. Was it to salvage some cash for Otis? Was it to save face somehow? I still can't see, hard as I try, how either of those things were going to happen, or how anyone could believe they would.

But, in spite of everything, the show went on. Hardly anyone showed up, and the bands, venue, and sound man all went unpaid, but there was a show.

That show has become known, among the cognoscenti, as The Ballroom Blitz.

I was there, but just as a spectator. I didn't have anything to do with anything. Didn't work the door, didn't work anything. Even paid to get in. One of the few. So, at this point, let's let Otis Ball tell the story of The Ballroom Blitz, itself.

Ready, Steve? Killer? Bouj? Alright, fellas. LET'S GO!

Twenty years on, it still took half a bottle of vodka to write this post. There we were. It was supposed to be the big homecoming show. But due to oppression beyond my control, it had been canceled. I was going back to Jersey on the 20th. The knuckleheads had less than a week to correct their mistake and book a make up show. To their credit, they did manage to get that together. Even suckered in Dale Tulk, soundman to the Dekalb/Sycamore stars. In hindsight, I wish they hadn't. He deserved better. But you play the Ball where it lies, so to speak. Or the Blitz, if you weel.

The big show was off. Apparently the Northern Illinois University campus was too delicate to withstand a promotion consisting of naked stick figures. They weren't even anatomically correct! But that post has been posted. Whether you're just joining us or you have been impatiently waiting for each new episode, I recommend you download the audio version of the backstory*

I suspect Stronger Than Newspaper Tom Lung may have some additional comments on this zip. I prefer to comment videologically.

Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah. April 19, 1989. A Wednesday night. Somehow, one Matthew Boone's event hall had been procured. I was tempted to say "rented," but that would have involved a deposit. Too bad about their lax business practices. It was an interesting venue for a rock show. To the best of my knowledge, it had never been used for a rock show before and CERTAINLY not since. (At least some of those involved learned valuable lessons on this day, though not all.) In hindsight, I'm sure it was nothing more than a dining hall for rent. But to those of us used to church basements, university commons and old man drinking clubs, it looked like a venue better suited to proms or weddings. My god, it was practically a ballroom! Disco ball included! (Which is not to be confused with a disco Ball. That would take us back to the late 70's and remove us from the story at hand.)

Kissyfish was driving down from Madison, the Chains were in their various Chicago area locales and I woke up in Dekalb. With a grapefruit lump in my gut. I had a bad feeling about the evening show. Not only was it booked on a weeks notice, but given the circumstances, let's just say that there was not a whole lot of promotion. And it was a Wednesday night to boot. And I sensed another boot could well be imminent, if we didn't watch all our P's and Q's. And stick figures.

Enough beating around the bush. We knew it wasn't gonna be the best Otis Ball & The Chains show. Christ, we had a pretty good idea it wouldn't even be the best of the tour. And it wasn't. That would be the IMSA show, discussed in the previous post. But goddamn it! There was a job to be done! I spent the afternoon with the Public Address System crew, which is documented in the PAS 23 mp3s [linked in the footnote below]. We were all understandably nervous for our own reasons. They needed a successful make up show to print the next edition. I coulda used some cash to get home and make up for taking two weeks off of work for a no budget homecoming tour. Thankfully the Cover Me With Roses cassette and T-shirt sales were doing fine. I was far more concerned about leaving my Dekalb reputation in tact. God knows why.

So we loaded in that afternoon. Kissyfish showed up, loaded in and we spent the afternoon pacing. Which changed not one thing of the impending show. Doors opened. $4 admission. Seemed overpriced to me, but I wasn't promoting the show. My concern was what happened on stage.

Good thing. Attendance was light early on. Not only did I know everybody, but between Kissyfish, OB&C and the PAS crew, we coulda handily defeated em in a fist fight. And that is not bragging about our collective pugilistic skills.

Kissyfish opened the show. I thought they were fine. But Ryan was not happy. More than once he apologized from the stage. I dunno why. They sounded just fine then and now. They opened with an excellent Hava Nagila. An arrangement I would blatantly steal over a decade later when asked to play at my cousin's wedding. They did a decent amount of their hits and a couple new songs, but ended after about a half hour. They were clearly feeling as nervous and unsure as I was feeling. The smell of curse was in the air.

Up next was No Eraser Head. One of the PAS crew. An old Dekalb pal. Soon to join me in Jersey and roadie for the OB&C midwest tour a year later. (I'm sick of saying "that's another story." Figure it out.)

NE was a unique performer. Like BB King, he couldn't play guitar and vocalize at the same time. Unlike BB King, he couldn't even play guitar. But that didn't stop him. Nor should it have. He did what he did and there was no one else doing anything similar. Before or since. He choose to use the first half of his set to both encapsulate the story of the show and do a greatest hits of his stand-up routine. All in about 5 minutes. For his second song, he performed a Stooges song backed by an old vaudeville routine. Rather than go into detail, I implore you to watch his entire set that night.

Under any other circumstances, I would have thought this No Eraser Head set was the greatest performance I had ever witnessed. But for the fact that the owner and/or manager of the venue had appeared with her two young children. She was looking for her money. Ironically from this anniversary vantage point, there could not have been more than 20 people in attendance. I knew she wasn't getting paid. The PAS crew knew she wasn't getting paid. Fuck, she probly knew she wasn't getting paid. Meanwhile, NE was playing a solo guitar version of I Wanna Be Yer Dog while two other gentlemen explained the definition of "To come" and smashed 78 rpm lacquer records over their heads. Me? I was curled up in a ball in a shadowed door jamb.

But now it was time. Might as well get this over with. I guess if ya gotta play a show, might as well throw in for the handful of friends who showed up. So Otis Ball & The Chains took to the stage one last time.

I guess we all knew this could be it. And it was. While Otis Ball & A Chains would play with A Kissyfish one year later, this collection of musicians and old friends would never gather again. Not all at once. Some attendees would disappear, never to be heard from again. (Steve Laux! Phone home!)

If this was a movie, (and someday it may be! All copyrights held by One O Ball and Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss!) the show would have been amazing, properly documented and hundreds would have been streaming in after the big football game let out. But that is not what happened. The attendees who were attending were already attending. We knew this was "a major loss for the band." (You are watching the accompanying videos, aren't you? I didn't upload em for my health!) And the video is very poor quality. But a rock show is a rock show. There are a lot of things I am lazy about. But when it comes to show time, well, it is show time.

And that is where our story does take a turn for the better. You see, while the audience was sparse, they were all hardcore. So they all acme prepared for The Request Bucket. TRB. An OB&C mainstay. (Along with acronyms.) At most shows, I would put out the bucket. Fans were invited to drop requests in the bucket. Not Otis Ball song requests. ANY song requests. And we aimed to please. The very first time The Request Bucket was employed, we got a request for a Metallica song. Leper Messiah. Well, we did not know Leper Messiah. So we made up a song on the spot. Called Leper Messiah. THAT is how The Request Bucket works.

This fucked up show was a financial disaster. It was not to be anything resembling an ego gratifying homecoming show. But thanks to the fifth member of the band, TRB, it was a success. My buddy Jody had been making notes for months. She came to the show armed with at least two dozen requests. The Associations' Windy! New York, New York! You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman! Green Acres! And someone requested Ballroom Blitz.

So the show happened. Which is more than we expected at the time, under the circumstances. And I do have to say, despite the doom hanging about two feet above the dance floor, despite the fact that NO ONE was making any money that night, despite the fact that we might never see each other again, we managed to end the night with the most triumphant rock moment Dekalb has ever seen. Or not seen in this case.

For the big finale, we called up Kissyfish to join us. We chose two very special covers and an anthem to end the night, the tour and the very special friendship all those in attendance were bonded by forever and always. As I did that night, I would like to dedicate these three songs, this rock and roll encore of all encores to all those on stage that night, all those in the audience and all of you who have joined us in this 20 year anniversary remembrance.

From Otis Ball and Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss, thank you, friends.

And now, finally, it has been told.

To follow, perhaps, an epilogue or two. We'll see.

Thanks for reading. Thank you very much.

-- Mr. Newspaper aka STDPM


* The backstory Otis refers to here is a combination xerox and cassette zine I made in April 1990 called "The Pub ic Address System 23." The audio consists of WKDI broadcasts, various musical interludes, and acoustic solo Otis Ball songs in reference to the event in question. It is available at

It's appropriate, I think, to relegate what I call "PAS 23" to a footnote. It was my first post-mortem on the fiasco, put together about one year afterward. It was also my first xerox zine. Here's the cover:

And here, from that zine, is my ... er, Mr. Newspaper's ghost writer's ... first one-page attempt at telling this story.

Plus, just for you, here is a little bonus. With each of the 23 copies I made of PAS 23 (about 16 of which were distributed to various very important people), I got Squeaky himself to draw a different unique obscene drawing in his own unique obscene style, and to number and autograph them on the back side. So, to finish this horrible epic, why not close with that? Here's one example of what made this all so possible, complete with autographed backside.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's, It's a Ballroom Blitz: Part 6.1: It's, It's an IMSA Blitz

In the words of Chuckie Baby Barris, here we are, back with more ... stuff.

The big DeKalb show was dead, but the rock kept on rolling elsewhere. Specifically, about 45 minutes down I-88 in lovely Aurora. Thanks to Jersey City CBRAT bureau chief, One O. Ball, here's a multimedia sidebar. Since I didn't, unfortunately, make this scene myself, personally, we'll give Otis the floor to tell you all about it:

To is a preposition. IMSA is an acronym. Stands for Illinois Math and Science Academy. And home of the greatest captive audience you will ever find.

The first Otis Ball & The Chains show ever was at IMSA. April 11, 1987. Me, Killer and my drum machine. Couldn't ask for a finer debut. IMSA was a high school academy for the finest and brightest minds Illinois had to offer. A live-in high school for the cream of the crop of IL students. My on again/off again guitarist Steve was an advisor/counselor there. Thanks to nepotism, I was often invited to perform at the in house entertainment gala, Club Pseudo. (side note - I wanted to name my debut album Club Pseudo. But the label rejected it.)

I videotaped my Charles Manson's Birthday video at IMSA. We even played a New Year's Eve party at IMSA. (The students were home for the holidays and we had the whole place to ourselves.) I made some good friends at IMSA. The Dunham twins, Dave Cung and, of course, my webmeister extraordinaire, Derek Wolfgram. Derek started the Otis Ball website before I even had a computer. I owe that man more than I could ever repay. Plenty more IMSA goofballs, too numerous to mention.

On April 16, 1989, Otis Ball & The Chains returned to IMSA with Kissyfish. Almost two years to the date of the first show. By this point, the big Dekalb show had been canceled. There was no telling if another venue would be found for a make-up show. For all we knew, this might have been the last show of the tour. And I got pink eye. Literally adding injury to insult.

But this show was, without question, the best show of the tour. Both bands were well on top of their respective games. Kissyfish not only led a magnificent game of Bison, Bison, Yak, but held a dance contest with the winners awarded a date with a member of the band. They played all the hits and it was well worth the drive from New Jersey just to see them play this show.

But there was more. Otis Ball & The Chains were on the bill. And we rocked. The request bucket was full and Kissyfish were there to watch our backs. We played well over two hours, including an acoustic set in which I was backed by Kissyfish Minus One.

I could gush on, but a video paints a thousand words. In honor of the 20th anniversary of this IMSA show, I have posted almost 40 minutes of it on YouTube. But this is not quite the end of our story. Please join me and Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss this Sunday, April 19, for the conclusion of our story, It's, It's a Ballroom Blitz.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It’s, It’s a Ballroom Blitz: Part 6: Pastor Dave’s Vengeance: They Were “Gross” and She Did Not Like Them: “Very funny fellas. Who you workin’ for?”

Imagine how the students, faculty, and staff of Northern Illinois University must have felt on Monday morning, April 10, 1989. Imagine waking bright and early, as always, ready for another day of learnin’ and educatin’. Imagine rollin’ out of your fluffy dorm bunk bed and wipin’ the sleep from your innocent little eyes, or staggerin’ off the futon in your crappy boarding house room and kickin’ the cat shit out of the way, or joltin’ awake in your flea-bitten armchair in the clothes you were wearing last night and cursin’ the dawn in your firetrap apartment converted from substandard housing built for immigrant barbed-wire factory laborers in the late 19th century and draggin’ your dispirited carcass down to the heart of campus and bein’ greeted by ...

Penises! Tuchuses and nay-nays! Stick figure hermaphrodites! Evil, evil cartoons! Giant posters of three-titted and two-dicked freaks! Shameful, wicked, and disturbing images everywhere, all around! Why? Why?? And who and what? But especially -- Why???

There must have been hundreds, thousands of Munchian screamers running around in dazzled circles that morning in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Mall.

I can only imagine. I slept late that day, as usual. Or I tried to. I was shocked into consciousness around, I dunno, let’s say 10 a.m., by my most hated enemy, the telephone. The Stickler answered it, and I was able to tell tout de suite that it was not a happy fun call. This suspicion was confirmed within a minute or two, when The Stickler started crying.

It was Pastor Dave -- our man at the Wesley Foundation -- and he was not his usual cheerful self. Pastor Dave, in fact, was not happy at all. Pastor Dave was angry. Pastor Dave was disappointed, chagrined, and dismayed. Pastor Dave had had it with those crazy kids at The Public Address System.

The verdict came suddenly, and it was blunt. The Otis Ball & The Chains, Kissyfish, No Eraser Head, Dude, Slut Kings et al. show scheduled for Friday was off. No show. Canceled. Kiboshed. Plug pulled, with extreme prejudice.

Furthermore, there would never be another Public Address System show at the Wesley. Ever. Never, ever, never. The Public Address System and its irresponsible, untrustworthy proponents were banned from the Wesley Foundation for eternity. Excommunicated, effective immediately.

After all the other problems we’d had with our shows -- kids smuggling in booze and weed, kids fighting and stealing stuff, weird band names rankling various Christers and Christees -- the Loose Cannons’ promotional orgy from the previous night was the last straw. Pastor Dave was actually sorry to do it, he said. He said he knew The Stickler wasn’t to blame, but unfortunately she -- as The Public Address System’s main contact person with the Wesley -- had to take the heat.

Pastor Dave himself had been under the gun all morning. I’m sure he didn’t have a good day at the office at all. Not only did he have to field angry, yelly phone calls from the university administration, as well as angry, yelly phone calls from his employers, the Wesley’s board of directors, he was taking shit left and right from just about everyone.

And soon enough, so were The Stickler and Mr. Newspaper.

It wasn’t long before the phone started ringing off the hook again. I sure wasn’t going to answer it. They didn’t want to talk to me anyway -- poor The Stickler was who they were after. It was the shitheels at the official campus newspaper, and they’d gotten The Stickler’s name from Pastor Dave. So it fell on The Stickler to do some damage control with the press, which I think she did about as well as could have been done, under the circumstances. And she had the advantage of being personally blameless, or very nearly.

Here is a scan of the story that ran a few days later (click on the picture for a larger, readable version):

Actually, I don’t remember if it happened that fast. I know for sure that the posters were torn down very quickly, and not too long after that -- possibly not until the middle of the week -- the show was shitcanned. At any rate, after the student reporter’s interview, the scandal was pretty much over with, as far as The Stickler and Mr. Newspaper’s direct involvement. Other than, of course, having to attend journalism classes for the rest of the semester under the disapproving gaze of their professors, TAs, and fellow students. (Mr. Newspaper still managed to graduate from the NIU Journalism Department with high honors, and today works at an undisclosed location in a relatively secure and punk-rock-free niche of the media world, but I digress.)

For other involved parties, the trouble was just getting going.

I did field one phone call during the ongoing fracas that week. I couldn’t dodge that one; it was meant specifically for me.

It was Otis on the line. And in place of “Hello,” what Otis said was “WHAT DID YOU DO?!?!?!”

“Homina homina homina” was about all I got out before Otis started laughing, and I heard the trademark deranged giggle of Squeaky in the background. Apparently No Eraser Head was there, too, but I don’t recall any direct audible evidence.

Squeaky and NEH were, understandably, afraid of possible discipline from the university, since it had been made known that Student Judicial Officer Larry Bolles (picture Dean Vernon Wormer as played by Bernie Mac) was researching the double-secret (seriously, nobody was ever allowed to see a copy of it -- I always suspected it didn’t really exist) NIU Student Judicial Code for possible charges and punishments. And, although I’m still not convinced they were capable of any degree of what reasonable people would call true remorse, they knew, deep down, that they were Guilty.

They didn’t want to get busted, but they wanted to see if they could make things better, if not entirely well. So they paid Officer Bolles a visit, incognito, to see if they could find out what any possible terms of surrender would be, without actually admitting anything, or even divulging their names.

NEH or Squeaky could probably tell this part of the story better -- or at least they could have 20 years ago, since they were there, and I wasn’t. But, by now, my memory of their description of this meeting is probably about as lucid and complete as anything we could get out of them today.

At any rate, Bolles wasn’t having any of it. And he saw right through their “we’re just curious noninterested third parties here, not any hunks of plastic explosive shoved down a gopher hole or nothing, just a couple of friendly squirrels” ruse.

“Very funny, fellas,” Bolles said. “Very funny.”

“We’re not saying we did it,” Squeaky and NEH bravely contended. “And we don’t even know who did. We’re just curious as to what the charges might be.”

“Well,” Bolles countered, “If you didn’t do it, and you don’t know who did it, then what business is it of yours what the charges are?”

Check and mate. But Bolles wasn’t finished.

“I will say that, whoever did this -- and I ain’t saying you did it -- is in a whole lotta trouble. A whole lotta trouble.

Bolles still wasn’t finished.

“Now, are you `Otis’? No? Are you `Otis’? Well, who you workin’ for? Huh? Who you workin’ for? Are you workin’ for `Otis’?”

At this point, NEH and Squeaky had had enough of the third-degree fire-hose hot-lights treatment, so they got the hell out of there.

Eventually, it turned out that there was nothing in the Judicial Code to charge anyone with. There were no provisions covering obscene rock-show posters, or obscene anything, or anything else analogously germane to the bad acts in question. Once this became clear, one of our Loose Cannons ginned up the nerve to write to the official student paper, more or less fessing up and offering an example of his own inimical defensive style:

And by then, that was about that. The Obscene Rock-Show Poster scandal, along with the spring semester, was pretty much over and done with.

But none of this explains why this mammoth story has been titled “It’s, It’s a Ballroom Blitz.” For that, you have to tune in for Part Seven.

Friday, April 10, 2009

It's, It's a Ballroom Blitz: Part Five: Cannons Break Loose: Secret Messages and Helpful Hints: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, and Filth and Flarn

Step back with me again through the Time Portal to April 1989. Place: DeKalb, Illinois, the campus and surrounding curtilage of Northern Illinois University.

Otis Ball was heading back to DeKalb, joining back up with The Chains, and bringing Madison's Kissyfish and a host of other supporting plate-spinners and cat-jugglers to play a benefit show for The Public Address System alternative newspaper in the basement of the Wesley Foundation. And the staff and friends of The Public Address System were as excited as a troop of electrified gibbons who have eaten nothing but three meals of Cap'n Crunch every day for a month. Washed down with bottomless cups of coffee at The Junction.

I think the technical term for what we did for the Otis Ball and the Chains show was we "promoted the everloving shit out of it." And here is the documentary evidence.

First up, here's the oversized 11-by-17-inch poster apparently produced by Otis's label, BarnOne, and customized by, judging from the handwriting, No Eraser Head:

Notable for its creative use of the words "FARTS" and "MASTURBAYSHUN," this is the tamest piece of promotion associated with this event. Also notable for mention of the acts Slut Kings and Dude, about which more will be revealed later.

The following item doesn't look salacious at first glance. Maybe a little weird -- featuring, as it does, the then-governor of Illinois, Big Jim Thompson, and the helpful suggestion on the left margin, "Grow morning glories and eat the seeds!" along with the radical political sentiment "Animal suffrage now!"

This one is also the work of No Eraser Head. Apparently we had stolen a "UP&A" stamp. (I don't remember what UP&A stood for, but it was the campus administrative organization that screened and approved things for posting on campus bulletin boards. We weren't an official campus group, so we couldn't have had UP&A privileges. At any rate, I think the statute of limitations has expired, so whoever is responsible for pilfering that stamp is probably safe from legal consequences.)

The Big Jim flyer also mentions an April 7 show at the Eagles Club, but neither Otis nor myself has any clear recollection of whether that show ever happened. Anyone who knows, clue us in, please.

Yeah ... the poster might look tame enough on the surface, but if you looked closely ... hidden and terrible messages emerged. This was accomplished by putting the flyers into the paper tray of the copiers at Kinko's and then copying a "secret messages" sheet onto them. Since the copier toner was slightly raised, if you looked at a certain angle, the black-on-black messages became visible. (Credit for this technique goes to the late, great John Rininger, who worked at Kinko's at the time -- this flyer, in fact, marks the first time I met John.)

Since you can't see the messages in the jpeg no matter how you twist your monitor around, here's a scan of the messages sheet itself:

For the jpeg-reading impaired, they are: "JUGHEAD," "DROP 'EM IF YOU GOT 'EM," "LSD," "SATAN," "ACID," "BIG JIM'S GAY," and "INSERT PENIS HERE."

I think you can see the direction we're heading.

Not to be outdone, Loose Cannon Numero Dos, Squeaky, contributed his own effort to the hype-fest:

Yep, that's fan-favorite Charles Manson. It also contains a swipe at the music & entertainment columnist from the official campus paper (the name of which I refuse to type), Allen Roscoe, who was, predictably, offended (more on this, also, later). Subtle use of Nazi imagery in the background ... also, in case people weren't enticed enough by the promise of seeing Otis perform, they were sure to be roped in by "6 Hours of Family Sex."

But our Loose Cannons were just getting warmed up. And what good is a cold cannon anyway, really?

The way I remember what happened next happening is as follows.

I believe it was the Sunday after the Kissyfish/OB&C show up in Madison. Squeaky, NEH, The Stickler, and Mr. Newspaper were all hanging out late at night at Kishwaukee Hall -- tiny but beloved home of WKDI (93.5 FM on your cable radio dial, or Channel 8 on the dorm TV system).

For some reason, someone had dumped a large stack of promo posters for some movie -- I have no memory of what movie it was; pick any screwball comedy released around that time, and that could have been it -- in the lobby of Kish Hall. I have no idea what their intended purpose was -- it didn't seem likely that anyone at the radio station was going to put up a whole bunch of giant posterboard advertisements for some dumb motion picture.

Anyway, it doesn't matter what movie the posters were for. What's important is that, on the reverse side, the posters were blank.

Another thing strewn about that night in the lobby of Kish -- a whole bunch of El Marko®-brand marker pens. The large variety.

So ... you've got a big stack of giant blank posterboards, a bunch of magic markers, and two Loose Cannons. This, dear readers, is a recipe for Trouble. With a capital T, and that rhymes with B, and that stands for Bolles. (More on Bolles ... you guessed it ... later.)

Squeaky and NEH got a-goin' ... and a-goin' ... and a-goin'. With any two other people, I'd ascribe the fruits of their labors to marker fumes. But, with these guys, I think a classic "Russian Reversal" applies -- Loose Cannons make markers act goofy, not the other way 'round.

Yeah, I laughed. And I also told them I didn't think it was a good idea to put their artwork on display anywhere. NEH just looked at me like he would have looked at his mom if she'd have ever told him to stop playing with himself. Squeaky just giggled.

The Stickler and Mr. Newspaper retired to bed that night with vague but distinct feelings of unease. If they'd have known what awaited them the next morning, they never would have been able to fall asleep at all.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

It's, It's a Ballroom Blitz: Part Four: Drove Sixteen Hours, Didn't Stop to Go Piss

When I left off last time, things were finally starting to get rolling for The Public Address System. A series of financially successful rock shows earned us the cash to publish three well-received issues of the paper. And, thanks to the business acumen of The Stickler, we were even selling a few adverts -- Record Revolution, Northern Lights Bookstore, Mama’s Restaurant, and the local food co-op all contributed to our slowly growing revenue stream.

I know I forgot a few of the bands that did benefits for the paper in my last post, and I apologize to anyone who reads this series and notices an omission. Jill, one of the people who helped us with booking, reminded me over the weekend of one punk band, The Misled, which opened one of the shows -- probably the main fund-raiser for the second issue, although I really can’t remember. Twenty years is twenty years, and some of the millions of brain cells I’ve lost over the decades probably contained that information. Plus, we probably did twice as many shows as issues of the newspaper, which added up to a good number of musicians. If you happen to be one of them, please leave a comment and take some credit.

Back to the story.

Coincidental with our efforts to build an alternative newspaper empire were Otis Ball’s efforts to build a rock and roll career. In April 1989, those dreams joined forces ... and, much like I’d imagine taking place if “F Troop” were armed with battlefield nukes ... mayhem ensued. Comical but brutal mayhem.

And that mayhem had a lot of outside help, from forces we’ll call outside agitators. Or you could call them two goofballs. Loose cannons. Whatever you want.

To protect the guilty, we’ll proceed using pseudonyms. Loose Cannon Number One has been called several things (but never late for dinner) -- for this story, I think I’ll go with his late-’80s stage name, No Eraser Head. NEH for short. I believe NEH had dropped out of school by this time, but was still holding down a prime-time air shift as Ringmaster of the “Sonic Carnival” show on WKDI, Northern Illinois University’s cable-based radio station.

Loose Cannon Number Two was the news director of WKDI, a guy we all called Squeaky, for reasons that have never been clear to anyone, certainly not to Squeaky. Squeaky was once described by a member of the Residence Hall Association -- who wasn’t aware that Squeaky was in the room at the time (not that that would have changed anything) -- as “Someone you probably wouldn’t want to take home to dinner.”

The reason that person said that was this flyer Squeaky made for a 1988 campus protest against tuition hikes:

I appreciated Squeaky’s work quite a bit more than the dorm dork, and he and I collaborated on several inflammatory and controversial political flyers together after that one, in our capacity as members of a certain campus left-wing activist group ... but that’s another story. I also knew NEH through the same group, and I had my own WKDI shift and did some news reporting for the station ... so that’s the gist of our connections at that time, in that place.

I’m not sure how NEH met Otis Ball, but NEH was heavily promoting Otis and his music on the Sonic Carnival show. In that connection, NEH introduced me to Otis, and I interviewed him for the only issue of The Public Address System’s short-lived precursor, MUSH. After Otis moved east and recorded an album, I ... er, somebody close to Mr. Newspaper, that is ... put together the following for the Public Address System -- presented here in its gritty, archival glory, in a scan from the original layout sheet:

After the third issue of the paper, we were, as usual, cooking up our next big showbiz escapade. Then, one day NEH came to me with the news that Otis was coming back to the Midwest for a tour. NEH got to work and booked Otis and some other acts, and The Stickler scheduled a date with the Wesley Foundation. I got started on promotional work.

I’ll let Otis himself pick up the narrative for a bit. The following excerpts are from his April 6 notes to his Facebook page:

OK, well, here we are. Almost twenty years after the "incident" and apparently few lessons have been learned. But that's another Facebook fan page. And a very left turn from the story at hand.

You might want to check the Cover Me With Roses Vol. 1 notes found elsewhere on this page if you care to be a completist on this saga. Or is it an epic? Well, I will let history be the decider, as that seems to be the thing to do these days. I cannot more highly recommend that if you have not already, you immediately go to for the set up to this story. If you're reading this after the fact, this is episode three feeftee in the It's It's a Ballroom Blitz story. Ask Mr. Google to catch you up if your manual searching skills fail you.

But let me take you back to early April 1989 in Hobroken my Boken Hoken. In late August of 1988, I packed up and moved from Dekalb, IL out to New Jersey to sign a record deal with Barn One Records. I put a band together, found a job, started recording my debut album and learned to navigate city living. It was an exciting time.

So I can't remember who instigated the homecoming tour. Maybe I was doing the tour and then asked to perform a benefit for my Dekalb buddies' newspaper or maybe they asked me to come out and I built a tour around it. Either way, it was as much a vacation as a no budget rock and roll tour. I choose to reunite with some ILL. Chains (to use the abbreviation of the day) rather than bring my Jersey band out. I was also looking forward to seeing and playing with my Madison friends, Kissyfish.

My bass player Killer and guitarist Steve would be my band, but we needed a drummer. I could not have been happier when Kissyfish's drummer, Steve Laux, volunteered for that slot. Which meant he would be doing double duty on the shows.

Let us now praise Kissyfish. I met Kissyfish at Dekalb's Wesley Foundation when I was still living in Dekalb. I was immediately taken. I don't believe I was performing the first time I saw them. They drove down to Dekalb with their friends My Cousin Kenny (who will reappear in a future mp3/story post.) I fell head over heels for Kissyfish. I felt I had found a soulmate band. And I had.

Ryan Jerving, John Papageorge, Shalini Chaterjee and the aforementioned Steve Laux comprised Kissyfish. Exceptional songs, brilliant, genius stage performance and wonderful arrangements. A perfect pop band, in my opinion. I covered their song Thanksgiving on Cover Me With Roses Vol. 1 and there will be yet another KF cover on Vol. 2. Which I have not forgotten about.

So I drove the 16 hours from Hoboken to Madison, WI, where I hooked up with Killer, Steve and Steve to rehearse for our tour. We spent two days in the Leisure World basement going over the songs we would be playing. And in retrospect, I am astounded by the variation in the show set lists. We musta been working. It was the Cover Me With Roses tour. Or so I thought. Little did we know, the tour would be renamed in retrospect.

Needless to say, we at The Public Address System were stoked. The big Otis Ball & The Chains show must have already been planned at the time we cooked up the third issue of the paper, because Mr. Newspaper himself made some hay out of it in a parody of Chicago-based Marxist-Humanist organ "News and Letters" -- with which I'll leave you until next post.

POSTSCRIPT: Ah yeah, as mentioned in the "Booze & Sweaters" parody -- the Kissyfish show in Madison, April 6, 1989. Good times, indeed.

Again from Otis Ball's Facebook page:

Which brings us to April 6, 1989. The first date of the tour. Otis Ball & The Chains opening for Kissyfish at O'Cayz Corral in Madison, WI. I now present selected mp3s from said show.

Said mp3s available for download here, for your enjoyment, which you will, I promise, experience if you download and listen to them.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

It's, It's a Ballroom Blitz: Part Three: The Wesley

Before I get any further, I want to introduce some of the other characters in the story. So far, it's mainly been me, me, me, with some vague "we" business. Just to prove that "we" was not meant in the obnoxious royal sense, here's a breakdown of the three main personalities that formed the core staff of The Public Address System.

Mr. Newspaper -- Editor in Chief and Publisher. Mr. Newspaper -- notable for his ever-present cigar and newspaper hat -- started out as a purely fictional character, of the cartoon variety, a combination of Perry White, J. Jonah Jameson, and Lou Grant. Being both lefty egalitarians and cowards, none of us really wanted to admit being in charge, and there were no formal titles, just de facto roles. By the second issue, however, the role of Mr. Newspaper had been thrust upon a specific person. That person didn't choose to become Mr. Newspaper. It just happened. I'll give you a couple hints as to Mr. Newspaper's secret identity. Rumor has it that early in his brief tenure as a reporter for the official campus newspaper, he told an editor for that paper that she lacked two brain cells to rub together, or something of that nature, at which time it was mutually agreed upon that his brief tenure as a reporter with that publication had come to an end. He has also been known by a different alias in recent years, with the initials STDPM. Like Lou Grant, he hates spunk.

Mr. Newspaper, a self portrait

The Stickler -- Business Manager, Sales Director, and Layout Editor. I'd just as soon leave The Stickler out of the story, for personal reasons, but she was just too integral to the narrative to exclude. She almost certainly would have been happier not to have been involved in anything having to do with The Public Address System and any of these shenanigans at all, but since she lived with Mr. Newspaper at the time in a small apartment, and Mr. Newspaper was, allegedly, a "self-centered and manipulative" guy, she was, I think you could say, railroaded into the enterprise. She also did some photography and writing. All of which she was good at -- and she did newspaper layout work professionally for a while -- but eventually the allure of accountancy led her away from the world of ink-and-dead-tree media.

Kurt -- Art Director. Known to many in the Chicago karaoke scene these days as Kirby The Beekeeper, Kurt was the person most responsible for the look of the paper -- apart from its trademark cheapness resulting from its being made of typewritten strips of paper and rubber cement. Kurt did most of the front page graphics and collages, rendered various illustrations, and drew some cartoons, as well as obtaining cartoons from other artists on campus. Kurt's presence during layout sessions also helped Mr. Newspaper and The Stickler to refrain from killing one another. He also booked bands for fund-raisers and played in one of them -- which brings us, finally, to the rock and roll and money part of the story.

Yeah. Money. The main problem with money was, we didn't have any. And we needed some. It cost about $400 for a press run. That might not sound like a lot, but we were poor college students. We barely had enough spare cash for gin and LSD. And books. Right ... books.

So we turned to a time-honored tradition immortalized by Spanky MacFarland and his gang -- we put on a show. Several of them.

The venue for most of them was the basement at the Wesley Foundation, a Methodist Church on the edge of campus, which is a locale that deserves its own chronicler. And several people on the "DeKalb Rocks" Facebook group have put some effort into that. The basement at the Wesley Foundation, or "The Wesley," for short, was the site of a ton of great shows (sponsored by, most notably, Greg Dunlap and Dan Grzeca of THIS fanzine) in the late 1980s -- Snailboy, Jesus Lizard, Defoliants, Didjits, Smashing Pumpkins, to name a few.

None of our shows were as big as those, but unlike the promoters of those events, we were in it for the cash. The filthy lucre. The do-re-mi.

Ah ... The Wesley. How I miss it.

The Public Address System had a close relationship with the folks at the Wesley -- particularly, another key character in this story, whom we'll call Pastor Dave. Pastor Dave was a truly tolerant soul, with a wide open mind and a kind heart for left-leaning causes. Which, ostensibly, The Public Address System was. I still feel guilty about the way things turned out. But, once again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Even before the Public Address System was called the Public Address System (leaving open the possibility for "The Story of MUSH" for some future date, or not), Pastor Dave let us use the Wesley for meetings. As evidence of how close we were to the folks who ran the Wesley, we even had a key to the front door. Mr. Newspaper, The Stickler, Kurt, and others (No Eraser Head, Squeaky Zip, and others) spent many evenings with the run of the place ... arguing, laughing, plotting. The Wesley was our clubhouse.

All successful animals know, and some humans, you don't shit where you eat. But, once again ... ahead of myself. Sorry. I'll get back on track in a chronological narrative flow now.

OK, so we had a clubhouse. And that clubhouse was already a key venue for small rock shows in DeKalb, Illinois, USA in the late 1980s. So what happened next was natural.

We had a clubouse, the clubhouse had a basement. Other people were throwing rock shows in that basement. Kurt had a band. You can do the math.

I can't find documentation for the earliest Public Address System fundraiser shows, so I can't remember how many there were. But I do remember that Kurt's band, Flesh Merchant, headlined at least one, maybe two of them. And I know that we made enough money to publish the Collector's Edition First Issue of The Public Address Sytem. Hooray!

Let me tell you one thing about all the Wesley shows we did. I've never considered myself much of a money guy -- my mother calls me a "hippie" (because "my son doesn't care about money") -- but I was ruthless at these events. The Stickler handled the contacts with Pastor Dave et al., and other people generally booked the acts, but I worked the door, and I worked it hard. Nobody but nobody got in free. All the bands we booked were willing to play anywhere for no pay at all. And I allowed no guest lists. No girlfriends, no freebies at all. I made them cough it up. And I hugged that gate boodle jealously to my side until I made it back to my apartment.

Yeah, I was driven. Moreso than I ever had been or ever have been since. Gotta publish the paper. Gotta publish the paper. Total Captain Ahab OCD trip. This psychological detail is important to grok for understanding of what commences later.

Anyway, all the shows were, like everything associated with the whole Public Address System experience, massive amounts of work but insanely fun. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, the gratification quotient from those events was, along with the profit margin, very close to one hundred percent.

For most of the shows, I insisted that the bands play through their own amps, and it was a small enough room that it didn't seem to me to matter much. An exception was the following show -- which funded our second issue, and for which I do have graphical evidence -- January 27, 1989 (art by Kurt).

Here's where the rubber started to meet the road, and the road began winning some rounds.

Up to here, the shows we'd done (and I think we'd done three prior to this one, all told), things had been pretty easy. Kids would show up -- mostly high school kids, some undergrads -- and we'd take their couple few bucks, and they'd have a good time. Rock would rock. Everyone would leave, and we'd sweep up, leave things as clean as we found them. Take some money home for journalisming. Easy peasy.

Then things started to get a little bit dark.

Bwah hah hah.

But seriously. First of all was this: The Wesley's governing board was getting kind of uneasy about shows being held in their basement by a band named "Flesh Merchant," and plus there was some chatter about kids smuggling in ... gasp ... alcohol and cigarettes and mary ja wanna. No good. No good a tall. And then, what's this about an event comprisinating some outfit by the moniker of ... what's this? ... "Bludgeoned Nun"?

Well, we explained, Flesh Merchant was a commentary about the excesses of capitalism in the music business, you see, like, the way it forces you to compromise yourself for capital. Like, the music business is the flesh merchant, and the band is a commentary on that, right?

They bought that readily enough, but ... Bludgeoned Nun? Jesus H. Whuh?

OK, see. Yeah, I know it's inflammatory. It's harsh and rough. But that's the point, see. It's about US imperialism in El Salvador. Remeber those nuns that were killed by death squads? Right. It's a commentary on that.

Which I'm not sure they totally bought (hell, I'm still not sure I buy it), but they did seem to realize that were were against bludgeoning nuns. We were in agreement that bludgeoning nuns was a bad thing, and this show was not an attempt to contravene that precept.

And Pastor Dave, good old Pastor Dave, backed us up. Completely. He went to bat for us, and with Pastor Dave's sympathetic help, the show was allowed to go on. Unlike other shows, Kurt browbeat me into hiring the esteemed and incapable-of-overpraise sound magician Dr. Tulk (who will return later in this story) to do professional and totally kickass rock and roll fucking fuck sound with the booming noise and ear bleedery sound for the show, which cost us about $150 overhead, which just about gave me a fucking heart attack to agree to ... but we still cleared at least $350 profit, which was enough for a paper. Huzzah!

But, before that, we had to survive the show. Which wasn't easy.

Bludgeoned Nun was a hardcore band from Rockford. Very good. Rocked hard. Loved em. But they and their fans didn't give a shit for the platitudes we sold to the Wesley board to get them to OK the show. In fact, they did their damnedest to trash the joint. I personally had to stop several assholes from looting the chapel, and there was a pretty vicious fight in the parking lot that drew the cops and rescue squad, after a dude got a beer bottle smashed over his head.

It was hairier than any of us wanted, especially me, so we decided to tone things down for the next show. (In the meantime, we put out a paper, but yadda yadda, we're into the rock show stuff now, so never mind that.)

I don't recall exactly how the booking came about, but I think what happened was that a friend of the paper's, Jill, set us up with a Chicago punk band called I.D. Under, who played the next gig, along with supporting group Not Us. This show went much more smoothly, and was, from my perspective, the perfect show. The best Public Address System show ever. I.D. Under was a kickass group (I didn't even mind that The Stickler had a crush on the lead singer), they didn't demand any payment at all or an expensive sound system, and the kids were well-behaved and turned up in sufficient numbers to provide me with a happy gate net (almost 100% profit, yeah). We cleared plenty for the next issue of the newspaper. Yay! We were rolling now!

The only hint of negative dark foreboding and gloom, perhaps, is the gall we were beginning to show in our promotional efforts. As exemplified by the following poster for the March 3, 1989, I.D. Under show (art once again by Kurt), with which I will leave you until next time.