Saturday, July 16, 2011

Little Green Men (Part 2)

So they stank. They were ugly too. But their music was GORGEOUS. And popular. Great art comes from the strangest places sometimes....
Their first album was called OUT OF THIS WORLD. Pretty subtle, huh? It was a three-disc set. The Men recorded it in four days.
Basically, they walked into the studio, set up, switched on the recording console, and taped everything that came out for the next 96 hours.
And it was brilliant. Jon painted a gorgeous, swirling starfield cover for the discs, and we got the package out onto store shelves within a month.
Last we heard, it had sold more than 40 million copies worldwide....

Then The Men went on tour. They hardly needed any promotion or publicity -- which was one of the reasons Carl wanted them on White Knight Discs in the first place. They made their own publicity just by existing. Low overhead, high profit -- we couldn't lose. Carl liked to go for the Sure Things.
Newssheets and Cyclops reporters followed us everywhere. One of my primary responsibilities during those early days was keeping the reporters far enough away long enough for the band to perform a set. Or eat a meal.
At first it was just curiosity that attracted crowds. Then folks started coming back for the music.
I'd been hooked long before then.

At first The Men followed the basic tour circuit, all the big population centers and factory towns, as well as occasional stops at music-producing centers: LA, Frisco, Portland, SeaTac, Den, Dal, SanTonio, Austin, Houston, St. Louie, Indy, Chi, Det, Cleveland, Cinci, Pgh, Philly, Baltimore, DC, NY, Bos, Montreal, Toronto, Memphis, Nashville, Lanta, Miami, Jax -- you know the syndrome.
Then overseas: MexCit, London, Paree, Munich, Rome, Istanbul, Moscow, Calcutta, Beijing, HongKong, Tokyo.
The Men never took a day off. Day after day of performing, no breaks. This was much harder on me than on them. The only time they ever got in any trouble was when I'd passed out from exhaustion and the band was forced to entertain themselves.
After awhile they started doing shows in odd places they'd heard about and wanted to visit for whatever reason: Boise, Craters of the Moon, Vancouver, Cheyenne, Yellowstone, Ankara, Ayers Rock, Alaska's Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes....
Then there was the infamous "Hot Date Tour" of the American Southwest: Phx, the Grand Canyon, Zion, Tucson, Yuma, Albuquerque, SantaFe, Gila Bend, Death Valley -- they loved the heat. ...And the crowd loved them, though concertgoers kept sitting farther and farther away from the stage as the tour went on. Maybe folks couldn't take the smell, but they couldn't leave the music.
We couldn't always take the tube to get to those less-well-traveled locations -- there weren't always connections to the tube. Sometimes we had to charter a landbus, and it was usually during those times (with someone else driving -- none of the guys could ever grasp the basics of driving, too forceful for them to handle, not enough delicacy involved ... and now that I look back on it, it's probably a good thing: think of the wrecks they could have caused!) that I collapsed and got the only rest I'd ever get while the guys were on tour. Not that I minded so much....
I remember that public and critical reaction to the shows was at first VERY mixed. One early newssheet headline read: "Can a green man sing the blues?" But the response soon turned rapturous....

Whether it was during practice, while recording, or when playing in concert, the Little Green Men were mesmerizing. Their sheer alien-ness, combined with the timeless other-worldly beauty of the music they created, cast an almost-unbreakable spell over an audience.
Just seeing Jon wrap his impossibly long, delicate, tentacle-like fingers around the specially-elongated neck of his motar was enough to boggle some fans ... but when they heard the exquisite sounds he was able to coax out of that instrument, that ended any further reservations. Critics and hardcore zombies alike started throwing around names of famous motarists from zonk history to compare Jon's work to. Names like Hendrix and Clapton and Page kept popping up....
Because of their incredibly nimble, dexterous hands, The Men could perform music that literally no one else on Earth could play.
Take for instance their first hit, "Welcome Home," a moving, mellow zonk instrumental. In concert, through the wonders of motar technology, that track became a gorgeous raining firestorm of color, breathtaking in its beauty.
The band always thought recording was a step below playing "live." They needed an audience. They basked in the warm glow of an audience's wonder, approval and love. The only thing better than the feelings evoked inside them by the music they played was the feeling they got from an audience's applause.
The solution to this minor technical problem was a live concert album, which we finally got around to recording on the most historic of occasions....

I said earlier that the guys saw and felt things differently. Here's an example:
"Don't you see visions when you hear music?" Jeff asked me once during a recording session.
"Well, KIND of," I said, "but it depends on the KIND of music that's playing, and what kind of mood I'm in ... and if I've been drinking or taken any chemicals...."
"We ALWAYS see things," Jules said without hesitation. "We feel things too. Sounds cause deep emotions within us. The music flows through our bodies like water. It cleanses us, purifies us. Makes us feel whole again. Doesn't it do the same for you?"
"Well ... KIND of ... SOMEtimes ... SOME types of music, but...."
Jon must have seen my confusion, my stumbling over the almost-metaphysical concepts his bandmates were juggling so easily. He looked at me with what seemed like pity.
"You must all lead very difficult lives, Earthman...."

Their second album was called MUSIC OF THE SPHERES. It sold almost twice as many copies as the first one, possibly because it was only a two-disc set....

The Men's addiction to cats had been a closely guarded secret among the road crew from the very beginning. And since I was most of the road crew while on tour with the guys, I did most of the cat-catching, cat-preparing and cat-cooking. Sometimes I hired help. It took A LOT of cats to keep up with the guys' appetites.
At first they liked their cats sauteed and served up with a thick, cheesy yellow sauce ... or soup ... or broth ... or whatever.
Then that proved to be not-quite-greasy-enough, and the guys went in a big way for deep-fried cat.
Considering their senses of humor, their wonderful music, and what a total GAS it was just to be zinging around the planet with them, I could have lived with all this.
But I had to be careful. Bribes in all the right places: To get people to catch breakfast, lunch or dinner for the guys when I was too worn-out to do it myself or tried to catch a couple hours' sleep -- and then to keep my helpers quiet about having done it.
We all probably could have gone on like this indefinitely. But I think the trail of missing cats took its toll. A large number of cats disappeared whenever the guys came to town, and eventually the law-enforcement agencies and the local Humane Societies started to notice. We tried to stick to just stray cats, but when those ran short we had to start buying them by the truckloads from the local animal shelters ... or even combing through people's back yards....
Meanwhile the guys had become just a little too bold about the whole thing. Placing ads in newssheets across the country volunteering to give unwanted cats a loving home was one thing -- but I thought the guys tipped their hands a bit too far when they called the closing track on their second album "Sublime Feline." That was just rubbing fans' faces in it.
And folks did eventually notice. I thought people would forgive them, but....

There were, obviously, some rocks in the road along the way. In fact, there were some very BIG ones. But nothing altogether THAT different from the kinds of troubles other successful zonk groups face all the time....
In the lull that followed the Hot Date Tour, Jon did a series of newssheet interviews about The Meaning Of Music -- focusing on the idea that he should have more control of group affairs, because after all he wrote most of the music and designed the album covers besides.
Jon had a point. He was pretty accurate about his contributions to the band, and maybe he was feeling a little bummed that his work didn't make him stand out more.
But the public took the Little Green Men as a package deal -- six pretty unique individuals, rather than one genius and the rest of the guys along for the ride.
Jon did what he could to try to change that.
In the last interview of the series, Jon posed nude for a newssheet photographer, exposing the many large brown eyes all over his massively-wrinkled body -- and in the interview he bragged about his 20-20-20-20-20 vision....
The other Green Men seemed to find this flaunting of traditional human values brave and daring. "Ooooh!" I remember Jules exclaiming when he first saw the photo.
It raised some eyebrows. But not as many as when Jon's solo album came out shortly after the interview -- and used that same photo for the cover.
The album was called RAW. Some stores sold it in a brown paper bag. Some cities banned it.
Most humans didn't know whether to laugh or throw up.
It was a huge sales failure, even though there was some pretty good music on it. But Jon's solo work lacked the tight ensemble feeling he had with the other guys, and he seemed to realize this.
The stress got to him pretty fast. He started turning red around the edges -- wherever those were. It was such an obvious condition that if the rash continued, soon humans would start mistaking him for a big alien tomato. They'd have to change the name of the band! If there still WAS a band....
Jon tearfully made-up with the rest of the guys, and they agreed to forgive his ego trip. They all got back together again, and it really did turn out to be better than before. At least for awhile. The breakup that newssheet columnists gleefully predicted would kill the band ... lasted about six months.
But this wasn't the last of Jon's public pronouncements....

(To be concluded....)

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