Monday, March 30, 2009

The Greatest Rock - n - Roll Band Never Heard

I don’t play in a band anymore. I have an acoustic guitar stored in the basement of my suburban house, but it rarely comes out of its case. I work for the State of Minnesota regulating utilities. This position makes use of a Masters in Economic that I received after giving up completely on a dream to be a professional musician.

In the spring of 1994, I was working in St. Paul, MN as a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service. I was wearing my headphones, listening to the radio for updates on Kurt Cobain who had gone missing for almost a week. I was not surprised when word came in that his body had been found with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head. Kurt Cobain had taken the deal I turned down earlier from the same mysterious dark man with steely dark eyes many would refer to as the devil. Cobain met him on a crossroad in rural Washington or, perhaps, an alley in the Seattle urban area. I met him at a crossroads on the outskirts of Fargo in the summer of 1988. Three years later I walked away from the same dark man as he cursed my name from the same crossroads outside Fargo.

As I listened to the reports of Cobain’s death coming in, I realized that the world would have surely be hearing of my similar tragic demise had it been I, instead of Kurt, who took the deal for rock-n-roll stardom. As it was, I was suffering through my own curses when the news of his death reached me. However, since I eventually walked away from the devil, my demons were much milder than Cobain’s. I turned down his offer, but it was not without consequences and it took many more years of battle of suffering the Devil’s curses that haunt me to this day.

It was August in1990 when I was making my second trip to the crossroads to seal the deal I had made a couple of years earlier with this mysterious dark man. I was walking along a gravel road with my guitar case concealing a Gibson Sonix 180 guitar and following in the footsteps of the great blues guitar playing legend Robert Johnson. It was a road outside of Fargo, North Dakota, and a long way from the Mississippi Delta. On this hot day in August outside of Fargo however, I assumed this flatland plain along the Red River of the North was an equally attractive place to meet the force from the dark side so I could seal the deal for my rock and roll future. It could not have been any less hospitable place for the tyrant of eternal hell fires than the flat plains of the Mississippi where Johnson made his deal more than 60 years earlier.

It was 5:00 in the morning and the air was thick with humidity as the temperature still hovered in the high 80’s. I had walked several miles after the bars closed, through the city streets of Fargo until I reached a dusty road south of the city past Interstate 94. I was still feeling the effects of several pitchers of beer served up to me and my band mates by Bob at Ralph’s Corner Bar in Moorhead just across the bridge from Fargo. As I walked my mind was on the band and the recent streak of bad luck we had experienced.

Floored was just starting to get attention in Fargo and soon the local colleges would fill the campuses with students during the days and the bars with young drinkers at night. We were playing well and our sound was bigger than anything you could find on the radio or even on records from bands that were playing in Minneapolis. Many bands, like the Geardaddies, Run Westy Run, Soul Asylum and Jonestown from Minneapolis, knew of us as a great little secret from backwards Fargo. However, our drummer, Rodney, had just been kicked out of his house in north Moorhead leaving us without a practice space. My girlfriend, Sweet Anne, was in Montana and I was feeling the pains of lost love. My former best friend and another band sidekick, Manny Breeze, had a fling with Sweet Anne before she left to Montana leaving a fistfight between best friends in her wake. This proved to be a blessing for Floored, since the band with Manny, Diddy Wah Diddy, was probably not as viable as Floored. But, I was depressed as I walked to the crossroad to offer the rest of my life to Rock-n-roll and seal a deal for Floored that would finally bring rock stardom to all of us.

I had learned of the crossroads from my friend Spooky. Spooky was a piano player—the best one in Fargo. He would play in the back room at Ralph’s for all of us. He had his own band called Spooky Chunks. Although he was only slightly older than all of us, we considered him the wise old sage musician and he was an inspiration to each of us. He would leave town periodically and come back at random intervals. When he was in town he stayed at Rodney’s house and joined us in after hours jams until early dawn when he’d finally announce he had “crickets in his ears.”

Spooky was the one who told me of the crossroads south of Fargo. I wasn’t sure of the exact spot, but after many late nights of wandering and days of driving I found what I assumed was the spot. That was the first time I met the Man with the dark soul, before I had been given the gift of guitar playing to go with my raw and nascent songwriting abilities. When I met the dark man at the crossroads the first time, he ordered me to come back later when I was ready. He gave me some inspiration and cursed me for a portion of my soul and put a retainer on the rest.

Now, I found myself wandering the same route to the crossroad on a hot sticky night outside Fargo to sell what was left of my already seriously compromised soul. I had a long walk to think about what I was going to do. A lot was on my mind-Sweet Anne, Manny, Betsy, Mary, Heather, Molesy, Thumpy, Rodney and, mostly, Spooky. The talk at Ralph’s that night was some recent news we had received from Minneapolis. Spooky was in the hospital.

He had been on the roof of a three-story apartment building dancing, naked under the light of a full moon. He was doing his patented spooky jig that ended up taking him over the edge of the building before he fell and landed on a stair railing in the middle of the night. Spooky would never walk or dance his jig again. He broke his spine completely through in two spots. Spooky was the best blues piano player ever in Fargo and might have been on his way to Blue immortality when the Devil came to collect his dues. Spooky had made the same walk I was making several years earlier and now he would never walk again.

I was contemplating my fate, weighing the pros and the cons of what lie ahead. I knew I was considering a shortened life for a brief period of fame and possibly putting myself in the same class as Dee-Dee Ramone, Keith Richard, Sid Viscious, Bob Stinson, Jimi Hendrix and others. We had already reached the height of a very good rock and roll band - maybe even great. From my perspective, based upon the raw power we could generate that transposrted each of us to the mysterious and unexplainable, we were equal to any band I had ever heard on record or seen live in a club. But, we were stuck in Fargo where the police broke up our parties quickly due to noise complaints and bar owners kicked us off the stage for being too loud.

This story should be accompanied by a soundtrack, but unfortunately the soundtrack does not exist. There would be Gremlin Stomp playing in the background as Molesy stumbled home on a snowy and drunken February evening, Blue Fields of Wheat playing during the adult exploits each of us partook with Betsy our local porn queen, Queen Geraldine whenever I held sweet Anne in my gaze, Guaranteed to Bleed as my fists drove into Manny’s face crushing his nose and cheekbones and I Can’t Get my Dick Up at the appropriate Rodney moment.

But, alas, the music meant to accompany this story has been lost to everyone but me. There are others who remember, particularly my band mates Thumpy and Rodney. My occasional recent conversations shared with them discussing those far away days reveal a shared nostalgia for the music we created almost twenty years ago in Fargo. However, even their memory is tempered when compared to my own. The memory of Floored in each of their minds is one of failure to rise to the level I thought we had reached. Rodney revealed to me he still has some recordings in his apartment in New York City and his descriptions of these recordings today does not support the memory I have of what came roaring from our amps and fingertips. But Thumpy and Rodney never made the trip to the crossroads. I was the only one to make that trip, although each of us paid a price for the curse the man with the steely eyes put upon me. Paul and Rodney’s pursuits for careers in music were similarly cut short by my breaking of the contract I had signed at the crossroads. For that, they were tantalized with limited success in a band called Hammerhead and the subsequent failures accompanying it.

I spent three years living in Fargo from 1988 to 1991 playing in three bands – Diddy wah Diddy, Hammerhead and Floored. I arrived as a twenty-two year old singer/songwriter with limited rhythm guitar playing abilities. I could strum a few chords and string together some songs. After my initial meeting with the devil, I became one of his potential minions capable of harnessing power and magic from my fingertips as they danced along the fret board of my cheap Gibson guitars before releasing it to anyone who dared stand in front of our amps to feel the full force of our songs. We played sparingly to only a few people who remain largely unknown. Later we learned we had actually built up a group of core fans that went on to make the “scene” in Fargo that became modestly famous along the same line as so many other local scenes around the country lasting months to years and producing a limited fame among national audiences.

From 1988 to 1991 however, there was nothing that could be described as a scene except for a small following that included some young and beautiful high school and college girls from nearby small towns willing to play the role of rock groupies for us. Those days from my early twenties created memories that would last a lifetime. In those three years, I did more living than the more than twenty years I have lived since. It seemed everything we touched turned to magic; it seemed that beauty was to be found in every direction we chose to perceive - it seemed I touched something I would never get a chance to touch again, for better or worse.

I have talked to a few others who witnessed some shows of Floored in Fargo. This small group of people is of varying opinions of what they witnessed on the stages of Kirby’s, the back room of Ralph’s, frat parties at North Dakota State University, gigs at area colleges and parties in the house where we practiced in North Moorhead. My memory of the music remains resolute even amongst those who remember a loud, drunk and obnoxious band. I know what we were. We were the greatest rock and roll band never heard.


Richard said...

I'm sure your band was as great as you remember it. Peace.

Anonymous said...

No mention of Herm Holland's influence? Shame!

Andy B said...

Herm's influence was monumental