biff loves dodgeball
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by Michael T. Fournier

Following are the first six entries in the So There's This Band series. There are many more to come. Check back soon for more of This Band.

Band #6:

6) They decide the best way to beef up their stage show is to simulate weaponry. Their gimmick, dressing up in tinfoil-and-cardboard spaceman costumes, only goes so far.

Someone in the band has a buddy who knows about all things electrical. They give him a six-pack and twenty bucks, and soon have a new prop: this light-up chest harness/belt thing with a bunch of big lights on it, connected by a long wire to a foot toggle switch.

The night of the show comes. The gimmick will be the show's grande finale: one of the band members, stage left, will shoot this light-up toy raygun, while on stage right, the guy wearing the chest harness contraption will step on the toggle, activate the lights, and pow: laser gun hits target!

It's all pretty cool in theory, but the guy in the harness, a very rockin' guitar player, keeps flailing around during the set, sending the toggle switch in various unanticipated trajectories, most of which end with rude smacks against the floor of the tiny stage. When the appointed time comes and the toy raygun is pointed/fired, Stage Right steps on the toggle. Nothing happens. He tries again; the lights go on. The audience of fifty or so doesn?t connect the raygun and what looks to be a guitarist in a white painter's suit which inexplicably lights up.

The band is discouraged; the electrically inclined buddy is again consulted. He says he has a friend whose brother is a cop, and maybe they could get a Taser for cheap, do it like that. Everyone in the band is all whoa. The buddy makes a bunch of phones calls, finagles the Taser, brings it by the practice space like a week later, as the band is getting their set ready for another show. They're a little disappointed when their buddy takes it out of the case -- it doesn't look as space age as they had hoped. Stage Right asks to see it. He's goofing around and accidentally Tases himself: knocks his head on a folding chair as he falls to the floor, convulsing, a dark stain speading across the front of his Dickies.

Band #5:

They get together and start writing songs. They think they're pretty good. They are -- they've all played in bands before, have concrete ideas of what they should sound like and how things should work.

They get their set together, record a demo, start playing shows. Book their own tour, drive up and down the East Coast crammed into a station wagon with their gear in a rickety trailer. They send demos to a bunch of labels.

They click and get some momentum in the studio, to the point that they're no longer a pretty good band -- they're very good. They don't go out of their way, like so many other bands do, to sound like _________. They come together with their disparate influences and sound unique.

They get a record deal with an indie label. Their records are distributed all over the country. They continue to tour, continue to play, continue to write, continue to improve. They hop from shitty apartment to shitty apartment because they're touring and not making any money and can't hold down good jobs.

They record an album that incorporates new sounds but still adheres to the bandís evolved aesthetic. The album is released with little fanfare -- it features songs with guitars in a musical climate that shuns analog instruments in favor of keyboards and drum machines. The band agree that it's the best thing they've ever done. They're so confident as to say that it's one of the fifty best records of the year(and it is). They tour their asses off again, play in front of dozens of disinterested teens every night, then break up.

Band #4:

Everyone in the band moved to The Big City from an outlying town that traditionally sustained a vibrant, insular music community. The band members maintain their connections with friends who run all-ages spaces, book clubs, and write for zines. An old friend passes a CD along to the band -- it's a full-length metal album by a guy who has Down's Syndrome. His stage name is Brimmmstone. He takes records by his favorite bands -- Ozzy, Judas Priest, Scorpions, it all rules -- and sings new lyrics over the songs, just louder.

Brimmmstone is amazingly prolific -- he cranks out a few album-length releases a year and sends them to the clubs. The booking agents all over town know the distinctive childlike scrawl on the envelopes and treat their arrival with a jovial disdain that borders on reverence.

The band gets one of the Brimmmstone records, the new one. They listen to it over and over again as they drive to practice, to the bar -- they can't believe that this guy is basically shouting to be heard over like Black Sabbath and Dokken. They call the number inside the CD and speak to him (his mom, who answered the phone, paused for a moment before she retrieved Brimmmstone ). They say that they're in a band from the Big City who listens to his records a lot. Brimmmstone, naturally, is psyched. When the band asks if he wants to play a show with them, he squeals with glee.

It's no problem booking a show in the outlying town, especially when the band's friends are contacted with the news that a very special guest will be opening for them. Most everyone who shows up at the bar has heard a little bit of the act -- MP3s and burned CDs being passed around from house to house -- and a few people even know the words to some of the songs. Brimmmstone can't believe it, starts crying right up there on stage. The crowd, the ones who aren't singing along, are largely in hysterics.

Brimmmstone's mom corners the band before they go on. She thinks it's despicable that the band would take advantage of a poor challenged boy like her son -- they are the cruelest, most thoughtless bunch of no-good assholes (she curses) she has ever met. As her tirade finishes, her son comes up to see her, beaming, gibbering away about what a great time he had and how everyone likes his music. It's the best day of his life, he says.

Band #3:

A bunch of their friends are having kids. The band members are all right around thirty, working no future jobs to support their artistic vision, etc., and are weirded out by the whole parenthood thing (even though most of them think it's cool and would never admit it). They decide that they wanna give ups to one of their friends becoming a father, and do so by getting their hands on the birthing video and projecting it during one of their shows.

Said friend/father, of course, doesn't attend the show -- he's at home with his wife taking care of their kid. So are the second set of parents the band is tight with (friends who, as it turns out, have also taped their child being born). Their absence doesn't stop the second birthing video from being played at a subsequent show, though. There are very few people in the audience who recognize that the childbirth projected over the band and onto a screen in the back is different from the one at prior show.

The third couple isn't as far along in their pregnancy as the first two; the mom-to-be is way more mobile. She and the dad-to-be, both good friends of the band, come to a show where, surprise, videos of childbirth are projected. Later, both will insist that the videos did nothing to expedite their child's birth; nature just happens at a certain time for a reason blah blah blah. (The band, natch, suggests that the combined forces of the videos and their music induced labor.) At any rate, the mom-to-be's water breaks, and messily, during the third song, a full month ahead of the due date. The show is stopped as frantic cel phone calls are placed to 911. EMT's whisk the woman to a nearby hospital, where she gives birth to a healthy (but relatively small) baby girl.

The story is picked up by a newswire, and subsequent shows are attended by crunchy weirdoes who are convinced that the band knows a little something about fertility and will imbue sperm with extra urgency.

Band #2:

At one of their shows, they hand out little Dixie cups to the members of the audience, then produce pitchers of Kool-Aid, invite everyone to come up and have some.

No one gets the joke.

It's pretty hot in the club, though, so the crowd drinks it all.

Band #1:

They harbor a special brand of dorkitude: they're way into the Civil War.

It all starts as a joke one beer-soaked evening at a bar. Why not start a band with a finite lifespan -- one that can double as an art project -- and carry it out, start to finish?

A million such conversations have been held, great concepts that become tattered in-jokes. These four guys, though, follow through. Two weeks later, they lug their gear to a basement and start to jam.

At first, they're content to grow silly facial hair and play a bunch of songs that they claim, in jest, are about Robert E. Lee or whatever. They rent costumes, which they decide is too expensive, then look to eBay for further garment assistance.

At one show, an actual Civil War re-enactor gives them shit about their duds because their buttons aren't authentic (half the band, it should be said, is clad in blue, the other half, grey). There wasnít any plastic to be found back in the day, he explains. Why aren't they making an effort to attain gear that could have been worn on the battlefields?

The band is only up to like 1862 when this happens. You have to understand that they have been more prolific in hyping themselves then playing. All of the good stuff, they reason, happened later on in the war anyway. Their nascent buzz, coupled with sporadic shows, will make the last two, three years of their war/career more exciting.

Half of the band agrees with the button critique, thinking they should go after authenticity. The plans become crazy: shows only on the dates of major battles; out-of-town gigs only in cities that hosted armed conflicts, clothing completely up to (down to, really) the standards of the century. The other half of the band is totally like whatever, content to keep playing in costume and fucking around. Heated arguments in the practice space, heated shows under stage lights in heavy authentic wool uniforms.

After one record and eighteen months, the band breaks up. Some local fanzine writer hears about the split and writes a fairly convincing article, the kind that is cited for years on smoky porches, about how the group had a duality of intention that kept them from achieving the pinnacle of their potential. Each half of the band, the article explained, wanted something different, and the conflicts of opinion pit bandmate against bandmate. Kinda like the Civil War itself.

The reading public (the kind that forms opinions based around what obscure fanzine writers have to say, anyway) picked up on the band-as-metaphor tip and spouted the brilliance of the act -- not for the shows they had played or the album they put out, but for breaking up.

In 2005, Michael T. Fournier reviewed his record collection alphabetically. He owns Boston's only black velvet painting of Jandek.