Saturday, June 18, 2011

"The Creature"

I remember when I first realized the band could actually work:
It was during a very early practice session in the Music Room of the guys' dorm at BSU. We'd gathered just to hear how we'd all sound together -- we had nothing planned, nothing written down, we weren't even sure where any of this was going -- it just seemed an obvious thing to do with the friendships we'd formed and the musical talents we had.
All the members of the core group were there, all our equipment was laid-out in a rough circle. We were all kind of nervous -- none of us wanted to be first to jump off the diving board alone, even with all the big egos that were in that room.
Miles and I started things off -- slowly -- with just a simple 4/4 rhythm, nothing fancy, not really a blues, Miles just sort of tentatively bashing away at his drum kit and me loping along behind on the bass, just trying to lay down some kind of foundation and see what would come next. Just sort of vibing along....
Don started jumping in playfully on the organ, just little abstract runs and phrases to lighten things up. Then Melissa would embellish Don's work on the piano, sort of trailing after him, seeing where things might go.
Jim sprinkled in a few guitar chords here and there, just a few runs up and down the neck. Just stray thoughts, not connecting to anything.
What we had was starting to sound like a pulsing sort of beast, just waking up, flexing its muscles, seeing if it really wanted to crawl out of a warm bed and stumble to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee....
Allison and Thom joined in on viola and violin, adding a few screechy little phrases into the lurching creature, adding a little more dementia to the proceedings.
The beast's eyes were clearly open now. It was staggering out of bed, bumping off walls as it made its way down the hall, hoping there was some leftover coffee from the night before that it could warm up in the microwave.... And if there WASN'T ... heads were gonna roll....
This lurching, jolting, unpracticed creature was actually already fun to play. I was having a pretty good time just jamming along awkwardly, and when I looked around everyone else seemed to be enjoying it too. Miles was smiling as he made a quick run around the drum kit followed by a heavy cymbal crash -- boom bum-ba-boom-SMASH, and his eyes popped wide open each time he came to the SMASH.
Don was nodding his head along with the weird, slightly-off-kilter rhythm, Allison was bouncing along with the Halloween soundtrack, and Thom had a devilish look on his face -- always a giveaway with him that Things Were Good.
Melissa was singing along wordlessly with the silly gallumphing creature that had returned from the land of the dead, and she knew that -- as in any ghost story -- he had no good news to pass along: "Wo wo wo, oh no no no...."
And there was something else: There was a look on everyone's faces, a look of surprise and delight at how easily these first steps had fallen together. The realization went around the circle that THIS IS FUN! and THIS DOESN'T SOUND SO BAD and THIS COULD WORK and EVEN SOMETHING AS STUPID AS THIS MIGHT AT LEAST MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH....
That's where we started, with the creature the seven of us teamed up to create. We added the other singers -- Lee and Richard and Tina and Robyn -- a little later, and we added Jeff's extra heavy guitar when he was available. But basically we were The Zoo from that moment on.
Of course we practiced a helluva lot -- constantly, it sometimes seemed -- and got sharper and flashier, better able to tackle the kind of music we were hearing in our heads -- there was almost too much ambition in this band. And we soon got to a point where we could lock-in with each other a lot quicker.
But the creature lived on. We kept using him as a warmup, as the touchstone we could all fall back on when everything else failed. And he staggered on -- off and on -- for the next 20 years....

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