Tuesday, May 8, 2012

We were about to rock, but no one saluted.

So, here's the thing. I was supposed to be a rock star.

We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won't. With the obvious exception of that pale kid with the rat tail over there, of course.
I had it all figured out and planned out.  There was no angle I hadn't covered, assuming you don't include a single logistic or practical angle in that count. To wit:

-- I had surmounted the first hurdle that keeps most rock bands from ever getting around to being famous, which was deciding on a rad band name.  If I didn't tell you right now that I was a nine year old boy when I came up with it, you'd know it by the time you heard the name: The Bloody Rats.

Don't be alarmed. Most people need a cold compress after hearing it for the first time.

Whether the rats were themselves bleeding or simply spattered with the blood of the less fortunate was immaterial to me.  The important thing was that the words "bloody" and "rats" sounded cool, and they sounded even cooler when put together.  That's all I needed, and I didn't care that they combined to form a phrase that was essentially meaningless.

I was neither the first nor last to take this approach.

-- I had extensively studied some of the most influential musicians and rockers of my generation, to know exactly how to wear fingerless gloves and bedazzled leather jackets while totally rocking out.

-- I had no instruments, but you'd understand why that made little difference once you saw me pantomime playing an electric guitar using an old axe handle I'd come by in my childhood.  I attempted to paint "BR" high on the handle, to further drive home the essential brand recognition that The Bloody Rats would need in order to engender endorsement deals and eventually be able to sit back and collect royalties on every box of Bloody Rats Breakfast Cereal (TM) sold, but the paint quickly wore off.

"Paint-peeling" was certainly one way to describe my music.
-- Paint may have failed me on my axe handle, but it certainly stuck to the old denim jacket I found at a garage sale and decided to incorporate into my already considerable stage presence.  It being a jacket and not an axe handle, I had the whole back to paint on instead of having to cram some abbreviation onto it.  I'm sorry, but Google has no image results which can remotely do justice to the radness of the image I produced on the back of that denim jacket, encapsulating every bit of taste and restraint you can imagine a pre-teen boy might have in rendering a tableau worthy of the words "BLOODY RATS" screaming across its top.  My parents wouldn't let me wear it out of the house, likely because they didn't want to deal with the hassle of having girls calling the house and knocking on the windows at all hours of the night after they saw me at the mall and followed me home, shrieking with glee and chanting my name while tingling with an awakening feeling they could not yet understand.

-- I had a band member, in the form of my friend Wanda from next door.  Wanda complemented my axe handle mastery by playing an aluminum baseball bat.  What she lacked in garishly painted denim jackets she made up for by foretelling the face-concealing likes of Slipknot or Mushroomhead, opting to wear a mask while we performed.  I am certain this was out of recognition of the sheer radness of doing so and not from shame.  Ever the pioneers, Wanda and I found the perfect mask for her, which we thought made her look a bit like Optimus Prime.  It was the plastic cup I'd pulled out of an old jock strap I'd used while in little league baseball; turned upside-down, it fit perfectly over her nose and under her chin.

Adding a vaguely cheese-scented air of mystery to the baseball bat solo.
-- I listened intently during the time blocks between programming on The Disney Channel, as they would often include interludes called DTV, which consisted of vintage cartoon footage married to contemporary pop and rock songs as if to create a music video using archival Disney intellectual property.  Once in awhile DTV's rotation would play the Yes classic "Owner of a Lonely Heart," which I was convinced had the hardest hard rock guitar solo in the hard history of hard rock guitar solos.  Bending guitar notes that made me strain and make pained faces while playing along on my axe handle were a definite plus, and "Owner of a Lonely Heart" had those in spades.

-- Lots of Bon Jovi.  I should mention at this time that The Bloody Rats were also pioneers in the field of not having any actual original songs of their own.  We did covers; we just did them radly.

Shut up, Dictionary.com.  Syntax corrections are so not rock and roll.
Which in 1986 meant every Bon Jovi track we could find.  Even lesser B-side-worthy tracks like "Tokyo Road" made it onto The Bloody Rats' setlists for us to rock out on, only minimally relying on the backing track provided by my cassette deck playing my three Bon Jovi tapes.

There are kids out there working on this very same dream right now, with drastically different setlists.
-- Most impressively of all, if you can believe it surmounts what you've been told thus far, was the moment I decided that maybe some original tunes were a good idea.  The Bloody Rats never performed any of these, but I wanted to keep them on a back burner, perhaps for an eventual solo career once fame and fortune and a life of excess eventually came between Wanda and I and my jock cup.

So I began composing music.  That I had no training nor ability to read music was lost on me, and frankly, these things are but trifles in the life of a world-famous-musician-to-be, even one who admittedly can't be bothered to learn the lyrics to even his favorite songs.

So, with no ability to write down the sounds I wanted my songs to make, I took to my trusty cassette tape player with a blank tape, hit Record, and proceeded to hum, sing and beatbox all of the sounds I wanted to remember for my eventual Grammy-eligible solo album.  For months I returned to the tape and added new bits of chorus or intro music as my muse visited me.  At no point did I sound like my jaw had just been injected with a massive dose of Novocaine, nor that I had just received my lips in the mail that day.  When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would receive this cassette one day far into the future, perhaps courtesy of my estate as a way to help fans gain a deeper appreciation of the musical genius they so adored in their youth, absolutely no one on the staff would confuse it for evidence of animal cruelty by someone forcing their cat to gargle Listerine.  Because my ability to make a perfect simulacrum of bending guitar notes with my mouth was just that strong.

Approaching the strength of the shelf I'd need to hold all of the awards I knew were coming.

As my interests began to evolve in junior high school, I made the perfectly reasonable decision to incorporate hip-hop into my burgeoning musical oeuvre.  The world had shown that it was ready for suburban white kids to flex their rap skills before audiences of millions, so who was I to deny them that thrill when I eventually took to the stage?

Following in the footsteps of giants.
At least with rap I could pen my lyrics and not worry about singing my beats into a cassette deck; now I had a conduit to get my point across in song, to reach the masses with my urgent message and to effect change in the world with the power of hip-hop.

So I wrote a rap about not getting along with my sister, and then approached her to see if she'd be comfortable appearing on stage with me on tour, in front of thousands of screaming fans, to deliver the one line I'd written for her in the song.  She was fine with it, so at least we didn't have to get any lawyers involved.  The exchange, as I remember it, was:

"I think I'm right!"
"And I think she's wrong,
No matter day or night,
We NEVER get along!"

Lyrically peerless.
Inspired by LL Cool J, I also began writing boastful raps about how awesome I was.  It seemed like the right thing to do, and it yielded some of the hardest rap lyrics you'll ever hear.  Sit down if you aren't already, for excerpts from my pending mega-hit "Take It Apart."

"I'm up front, leading the pack,
Everyone's runnin' but no one's lookin' back,
I'm intimate with my fans, we never like to part,
But while I'm still on stage, we take it apart! Take it apart!

Even at a tender age I'd discarded meter as being too pedestrian. Nah, my tastes leaned more toward the experimental, the dangerous.  Given that the phrase "take it apart" makes up roughly 40% of all spoken words in "Take It Apart," it simply adds to my mystique as an artist that at no point in the song did I ever explain what that meant.

Besides, I'd discarded the cassette-deck style of remembering harmonies, but that did nothing to stop them from coming to me in a torrent of inspiration.  In the margins of many of my rap lyric sheets are such tone-descriptive passages as "bucka bucka BOW butt-utt-utt-utt BWOW-uh bu-WOW..." with some words written slightly higher on the page than others so I'd remember where to really punch a high note on my axe handle.

Now twenty-five years removed from this electrical storm of ideas and prodigious musical talent, I am still undiscovered.  "Take It Apart" failed to crack the Billboard Top 100, or even to truly exist as a song. I have never been taken to court by the members of Bon Jovi for playing their songs as my own to sold-out screaming crowds.  My demo tape consisting of me making guitar-mouth sounds still exists, but mainly as corroboration that I had a mental problem in my youth which went undiagnosed.  And The Bloody Rats now exists only as the greatest image ever painted onto denim.

Nice try, Real World, but you can't hope to compete.
But the dream is still alive.  My day as a rock god of questionable talent will come, and I think therein lies the true spirit of rock and roll: that the world continues to deny and squelch that dream, but cannot extinguish it completely.  No matter the obstacle, there still burns an ember.

It survives, and thrives, no matter how many times Life rears up and kicks me in the balls.

Because I'm prepared.

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