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.


One Hostess Ball said...

What could possibly go wrong?

Feral Mom said...

Riveting. Tell on, tale teller! At, erm, your earliest convenience.