Forget the lack of talent; it had to be because we didn’t have a name.
My band — the only band I’ve ever been in — never had a name. We were a typical basement band (I never liked the phrase “garage band;” growing up, every band I knew practiced in a basement). We were friends trying to have a good time, we played newish instruments but not that well. We just didn’t have a name.
It all started in eighth grade when a band made up of three of our classmates performed in the auditorium after school. It seemed odd that a heavy metal band would be allowed to play considering the principal was an ex-nun, but there they were. I think they played three or four songs but I only remember one called “Embryonic Suicide,” which I believe was about abortion, although we later wondered why it wasn’t called “Embryonic Homicide.”
We — me, my good friend Frank, and our friend Jay — decided, pretty much then and there that if these yahoos could be in a band, so could we. Jay played guitar and although pretty good (probably as good as an eighth-grader could be), he would eventually become a fine player. Frank, also a talented musician, for some reason decided to play drums, maybe his third-best instrument.
And although I had never sung before, aside from music class when I was obligated, I was the lead singer. Why? There were really two main reasons. First, I wasn’t blessed with a whole lot of musical talent. I took guitar lessons for a little while but after several months I could only play about two and a half cords and the chorus to “Louie, Louie.”
Second, at the time one of my brothers was the lead singer of his own band called Cowabunghole, a delightfully loud metal band with profanity-laced lyrics. The origin of their name stemmed from the popularity of three relatively new shows: The Simpsons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Beavis and Butthead. (I loved the name and the band and when I one day wore one of their shirts to school — it was just their name over a happy-looking cow with its ass pointed towards the viewer — my Spanish teacher turned bright red and told me never to wear it again).
All we needed to complete the band, at least according to Frank and Jay, was a bass player. The problem was we didn’t know anybody who played what was arguably the least-sexy instrument this side of a tuba, and Frank wouldn’t relinquish his death-grip on the drumsticks and pick up a bass.
But the Fates must have smiled down upon us because it wasn’t too long before we found someone. Matt, one of our classmates and somewhat of a friend to all of us, had recently started taking lessons. He was hired.
The next obstacle was figuring out what kind of band to be. Naturally I wanted to take after my brother and go the metal route, and after some disgruntled ambivalence (“can we do something else?” “okay, what?” “I don’t know”), that’s what we were.
I, of course (again, because of my brother), wanted to write socially-conscious, politically-charged songs. Frank and Matt didn’t seem to mind but Jay did. He wanted more neutral stuff and lyrics I would sing instead of just kind of yell along with the music. But again (“okay, do you want to write the lyrics?” “uh, not really”), we went with my songs.
We began rehearsing a few times a week in my dark, musty basement. Most of the early rehearsals involved Jay and Frank jamming or playing Nirvana with Matt trying to keep up and me (without completed lyrics yet) just standing around and nodding to the beat, but I didn’t care. I was in a band!
Then, suddenly, drama struck. Jay wanted Matt out. It’s true that he wasn’t a great bass player (he’d often come over to the house — his new, gleaming white bass in tow — and after we’d start playing say something along the lines of “cool, I’m just learning this”), but I didn’t want to kick him out. At one point — right in front of Matt — Jay had me put on his bass and said something like “yeah, you could play it, it’s pretty easy.” But Matt was an amiable fellow and either didn’t notice or pretended not to.
So now we had every spot filled, a few rehearsals under our belt, and — when I finished the lyrics — some of our own songs. But we still didn’t have a name; for some reason we just couldn’t come up with something good we could all agree on. One day my brother, overhearing yet another discussion about a name, suggested we call ourselves the Fruit Loop Troopers after a nickname he’d given Cowabunghole’s oddball guitar player. I was all for it, at least it was something we could call ourselves, but I think I was the only one. I remember specifically that Jay hated it.
The pinnacle of our success came when my brother asked us if we wanted to play an upcoming show he was putting together. We were stoked if a little nervous. This was an actual gig! And although we only had two songs, we would be opening the show. On the flyers we were listed as “*Special Guest” and we were going on right ahead of Frisky’s Revenge, a staple at one of my brother’s shows.
Frisky’s Revenge got their name from an incident involving their guitar player. Apparently without his knowledge, his father had gotten rid of his beloved dog, Frisky. He was devastated and would often fantasize about Frisky returning home and taking revenge on his father. (Why didn’t anything happen to one of us to inspire a cool name?).
I don’t remember too much about our performance. I know our spacing was bad and Jay, Matt, and I pretty much converged in front of Frank’s drum set the whole time. For the most part I stared down at the stage while I sang. When I did glance out into the audience, I saw a guy in the back — a tall, skinny dude — flailing and jumping around to the beat of our song. He was the only one not just standing there staring at us. I remember at the end of both songs the guys looking at each other, uncertain when to stop, and all three instruments halting at different times.
As for the rest of the show, after Frisky’s Revenge played the cops came because of a noise complaint. My brother couldn’t convince them to let the show finish and everyone moved to my parents’ house and into the same basement where we had been rehearsing.
The Bouncing Souls (I’m not certain where that name came from but it’s pretty cool), played next. Out of all the bands to come out of that suburban New Jersey town at that time — Ruination, Pretzel Men, Juan Valdez and the Spanish Flies (both my brothers — including this one — were in that one) — the Bouncing Souls were the most successful and they’re still around, entertaining stoners and skaters across the country. Cowabunghole was the last band to go on that night and they put a loud exclamation mark on the show. (My Mom had to go to the first aid kit more than a few times thanks to a mosh pit and the basement’s metal support poles).
As for us, the no-name band (hey, what about the No Names? That might have been cool), we were pretty much over; I’m not even sure we ever played again after that day. Maybe we figured that was as good as it would get, a two-song set opening a show at the local Knights of Columbus meeting hall. Maybe we just got bored and lost interest. Or maybe — and every once in a while I still think about this — it was because we didn’t have a name.