On Being a Name-dropping Groupie for a Lesser-known Pop Band with Roots in Philly (Part One)

I met Scot Sax by chance. It was the summer of 1994, and I had fooled myself into believing that an unpaid summer internship at a flagging radio station could either get me the contacts I needed to guarantee myself a first-class ticket to rock-n-roll superstardom or, failing that, land me a job as a DJ somewhere down the line. Both plans, however, fell apart that summer as a result of two unrelated events. First, a scathing review of my musical output described me as a cross between Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes and a massive, screeching train-wreck, thus nipping my creative aspirations in the bud. And second, a corporate buyout forced anyone at the station who cared about music more than, say, the invention of reduced-fat Oreos or the impending last episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation to start looking elsewhere for employment. This second development resulted in somewhat of a Freudian primal scene for me insofar as every DJ I’d ever idolized was suddenly bad-mouthing the music industry with such vigor that I was seriously beginning to entertain the notion of getting a real job. Music, it seemed, was a harsh mistress, and—unlike Scot—I was a frail suitor.

Despite my decision to abandon music altogether that summer, I stuck with the internship if only to bear witness to the slow trickle of celebrities who dropped into the station from time to time over the course of my tenure—Tony Danza, Joan Jett and Dave Edmunds, to name just three. Or, more accurately, to name the only three. And, to be perfectly candid, I should also note that I didn’t actually “meet” any of these people, except in the sense that I was answering phones and pretending to take requests in Studio B while all the real action was going down in Studio A. And, of course, I say “pretending” not because I refused to answer the phone or was prone to giving the station’s remaining loyal listeners the royal brush-off, but because one of the industry’s best-kept secrets is that if your favorite DJ plays a song you just requested, it’s only because your taste in music is so predictable that the song was already included on the playlist. In fact, even if the DJ dedicates the song to you personally, it’s only because someone like me is in charge of cross-referencing every request that comes over the phone line with a list of songs that a computer generated earlier that morning. Thus when Scot called the station to request “Beach Boy Blood (In My Veins)” by Dave Edmunds, who’d left the building just a few hours earlier, I knew there was no chance in hell that the song was ever going to make it on the air. Even so, I kept Scot on the line because my guiltiest pleasure as a self-avowed hard rocker was that the Beach Boys were one of my favorite bands of all time. As it turned out, they were one of Scot’s favorites as well.

Scot and I talked for about ten minutes before the afternoon DJ gave me the signal to clear the phone lines so he could give away a pair of tickets to an upcoming Billy Joel/Elton John concert, but we covered a lot of ground for two people who’d never met. I mentioned that I had read Brian Wilson’s autobiography, Wouldn’t It Be Nice?, so many times that the binding was coming undone, and Scot said that nothing compared to listening to Pet Sounds through a pair of headphones. What really sealed our mutual respect for each other as true Beach Boys fans, however, was that we both agreed that Mike Love, Brian’s cousin and the band’s hopelessly cheesy front man, was a total dick. (Not that we’d ever met the man. It was just a sense that we got.) Having reached this accord, we moved on to talking about other bands we liked, and Scot let it slip that he was in a band called Wanderlust—two Rickenbacker guitars (a la the Byrds), a bass and drums. The band had been playing in and around Philly for a while, Scot said, and they’d been to New York to play at CBGB’s—which was where the Ramones got their start, I made a point of noting because I didn’t want Scot to think my musical tastes were limited to California surf-pop. But the DJ was going into his Billy Joel/Elton John shtick, and the phone lines were already lighting up with contestants, so I got Scot’s mailing address and said goodbye. Then I counted off ninety-two callers and told the ninety-third caller that he’d won.

The letter I wrote to Scot was probably fairly patronizing. I distinctly remember saying that it sounded like his band really had its act together. Given my own musical failings and the inflated sense of ego that being an intern at a flagging classic rock station carried, I probably tried to give him some advice about trying to get a record deal and how to get air time once he’d made a demo. What I didn’t realize was that Wanderlust had already inked a deal with RCA records, and their debut album, Prize, was due out in just a few months. I was driving around late at night in New Jersey when I heard the first single, “I Walked,” on the radio. My best friend, Dan, was in the car with me, and I told him I knew the singer. The song was good, he said, basking in the second-hand glow of my brush with the potentially rich and famous.

That was in the winter of 1995. Since then, I must have prefaced thousands of conversations with complete strangers by asking if they remembered “I Walked.” The trouble comes when they ask me to sing a few lines. Scot’s voice is so perfectly-pitched and crystal clear, that I can never do the song justice. Either I try to ape his melodic falsetto with my own screeching train-wreck of a Lindsey Buckingham impersonation, or I cut right to the song’s grumbling bridge where Scot dives into the snarling, ominous “Till I made up my mind” that brings the song to a smoldering halt before catapulting it back into the buoyant chorus. Since I can never do the song justice, people tend to nod politely and tell me that, yeah, they think they know the song I’m talking about. It was big about ten years ago, they say, repeating the information I’ve already given them. It was recorded by that band from Philly.

“Wanderlust,” I say, the point already lost. “But then they broke up, and the singer started a new band called Bachelor Number One, and they had a song on the American Pie soundtrack called ‘I Am the Summertime,’ which they re-recorded when they changed their name to Feel and signed with Curb Records in 2002. I’m a good friend of theirs.”

In other words, “Listen to me! I know somebody famous!”

Please! Somebody! Anybody! Listen to me!

(More tomorrow…)

Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life

I just finished reading Steve Almond’s collection of essays, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, and I loved it… It’s all about the author’s love for music and the ways in which being what he terms a drooling fanatic has affected his life for better or for worse (but mostly for better!). Among the more hilarious passages in the book is Almond’s description of the Macarena:

  • The dancer extends his arms forward, palms down, then flips his arms over on the beat.
  • The dancer sets his hands on his shoulders, the back of his head, and his hips.
  • The dancer executes a pelvic rotation in time with the line “Ehhh, Macarena!” simultaneously executing a 90-degree jump-and-turn maneuver so as to repeat the same routine all over again.
  • Steve shoots himself in the skull.

It’s a fun book for anyone who’s ever fallen head-over-heels in love with a band — especially one that no one else ever seems to have heard of. And in that spirit, I offer the following series of posts, On Being a Name-dropping Groupie for a Lesser-known Pop Band with Roots in Philly. A much shorter version of this essay appeared in Origivation magazine in 2005 or thereabouts. This is the extended dance remix…

Click here to read on…

2011 in Review: Mr. T, Steve Urkel, and Me!

Just got my end-of-year stats report from WordPress. Here’s the part I found most interesting:

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding: Add Mr. T and Steve Urkel to any blog post, and you’re bound to get more hits. And try adding my name, too! What’s the worst that could happen?

Click here to see the complete report.