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 http://colicky.blogspot.com/ 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.

No comments: