Here We Are Now... Entertain Us....
It wasn't what I would call a great beginning.
"You guys ready?"
Hearing nothing, Jason began ripping out the chords to Nirvana's "Rape Me." I wish I could say the first song we played together was something different. But, Jason and I were in the waning stage of our Kurt Cobain phase and, well, it was just the same four chords over and over again.
Jason was seated on a chair on the stage because he hadn't ever played standing up before. Drummer Neil, just a sophomore in high school at the time, looked as Neil-ish as ever in his Nanooks hat. Dave, our first bass player, looked nervous. He had a right to be. We were playing on the stage at his father's church, The Vineyard. I use the word "church" loosely-- it was Austin's former roller rink converted into a non-denominational, dance-in-the-aisles house of worship. To boot, we were also using the PA system and the instruments that belonged to the in-house (in-church?) band. Yup, a band. Definitely not really your typical Lutheran Austin church.
I was sitting on one of the myriad of folding chairs on the former rink floor. I wasn't officially part of the band. They were just getting the kinks out of the actual music, so there was no real need for a singer yet. That was fine by me. It was a cool late August night in 1994, and I had bigger things on my mind than remembering lyrics. I was less than two weeks away from going away to college, my biggest step in life to that point. I was excited, but scared. I'm an only child who grew up sheltered in a small town. Although Northfield (my destination) was a small town as well, and I'd be less than 100 miles from home, it was a huge step. Heck, I used to get "sick" while sleeping over at friends' houses so I could come home. A tried-and-true momma's boy.
Despite this yearning for the comforts of home, I was ready to move on. I'd seen enough of small town life at that point, and was ready for bigger challenges. I knew it all, or so I thought. Being part of a fledgling band in my soon-to-be-former hometown wasn't a priority at that point. Especially hearing the "music" that was coming out of those early practices. It's hard to believe you can sound bad covering "Smells Like Teen Spirit." But you can.
During the first few months at college I kept asking Jason about the band. Still practicing, getting better, he'd say. I was beginning to get a bit envious. Like most kids (I assume,) I spent my fair share of childhood in my room, lip-synching to Huey Lewis and pretending my tennis racket was a guitar. Didn't most kids do this? It's fair to say, then, that for me being in a band was a childhood fantasy. Of course, so was being the quarterback for the Vikings. I figured it was one of those visions that would stay in that rarely-opened pipe dream closet that most of us have in our heads somewhere. And now my best friend was in one? I wanted to be there too.
Before long, I got my chance. The band ("Plack") had its first public, uh, appearance at a New Years' Eve party in 1994. Dave was looking just as nervous as ever; this time we were in his parents' basement. If you're thinking Dave was in the band just so we could take advantage of him, you're right. He was sort of a dink. But we were ready to entertain the dozen or so people in Dave's basement that night. At least the ones who weren't too distracted playing pool. A distracted audience is better than no audience at all.
I have the setlist somewhere. Jason and I were sitting in a deserted Perkins the night before the "gig" and, using a crayon, came up with it. It's awful. I don't remember everything, but some highlights: "When I Come Around" by Greenday, "Enter Sandman," Metallica, and four more Nirvana songs beyond the two already mentioned above. Like I said, they were easy. Oh, and we featured a few originals that night as well. The titles of some of these gems:
- Broken Hand
- Watching You
Thinking back, we really had nothing to be *that* upset about.
We held people's attention. For a while anyway. Somewhere soon after I became an official member of Plack. Incidentally, I'm not sure where Jason came up with Plack, or what it really means. I just remember that it was between that or Wingnut for band names. I'm not sure we made the right choice.
Speaking of choices, it soon became clear that Dave was not the right choice for bass player. Exit Dave, enter Chris Britt. I like to refer to those days as the lost days of the band. Chris was lucky enough to be part of our band for the recording of our first and only album of original songs, in the summer of '95. The music was awful, but recording was fun. We felt like real musicians, recording onto a four-track. Two crystal-clear memories will always be with me from the Plack sessions. First, former State Senator Pat Piper busted in during our recording looking for her election signs-- our "studio" doubled as a storage shed. (If you listen close enough during "Worthless" you can hear the Senator.) Second, one day Chris walked into the shed with his bass case in one hand, and his bass in the other. After noting our puzzled stares, he set the case down, opened it, and displayed the bounty: 24 cans of piss-warm Busch Light Draft. Ah, only in Austin.
It was the summer of 1995. My first year in college was over. I now realized that everything I thought I knew twelve months before was not really true anymore. Life pitched its share of curveballs to me that year. It also gave me some highlights too (including meeting my future wife.) And, it was the beginning of the realization of my Huey Lewis fantasies from years before-- even if Nirvana wasn't as musically complex as Huey.