Maiuri - Keyboards and Singing
Inspired by the Hartford Whalers hockey team theme song (my parents
took me to a game and I was blown away by the jaunty, celebratory
music blaring out of the tinny speakers over the ice and cheering
fans), I went home to my grandparents' kimball organ and tried to
recreate the excitement and attitude of the song as best I could.
More than two decades later, I discover, thanks to the goodness of
Audiogalaxy (R.I.P.) that the name of the theme song is "Brass
1983: Tony Becker and I spend all afternoon in my front room, a chintzy radio shack microphone plugged into my dad's stereo, and make up songs on the spot and record them. I play a churchy sort of organ with, like, 72 chord buttons, and I bang the volume pedal all the way back to act as a bass drum, and slam my left palm down on the other buttons to make like a snare. So I guess I played keyboard and drums at the same time. Tony played my out-of-tune acoustic guitar. Since he didn't know how to play, he just strummed it open, to the beat. Somehow it always fit in! I made up the music (some songs were ersatz versions of the "Alfred Hitchock Presents" theme and the music at the beginning of "Donkey Kong," but most were originals), and Tony made up the melodies and decided on subject matter. Which mainly meant using his puberty-cracked voice to make fun of people we knew, while I yelled out my own two cents from across the room in my equally puberty-cracked voice. Oh, we were geeks all right. Most of the songs are actually catchy and inspired, in a Shaggs sort of way. And I still have the tape. Labelled "Tony and Kenny Hits."
1983-1984: And then Tony found girls. (I think before the '80s were over he had a child. or two? we lost touch.) But his younger brother Tommy hung around with me and my younger brother Glenn, and soon enough there was (drum roll)...
Blue Steel. I made up the pointy logo, which was transparently inspired by the Def Leppard logo (all triangular letters). Now I was sitting down and writing songs ahead of time, but didn't have the guts to sing 'em either, so Tommy did that. He always gave it his all, and looking back now, he was sort of a ten-year-old cross between Tony Danza and Eddie Money. Songs included: "You Knocked Me Out," "Little White Lies," "Telephone Rock," and a pseudo rap called "Daydreamer." There might be recordings of these songs on some ratty old Certron tapes in a box somewhere, and I probably have the typed lyrics still lying around in a different box somewhere at my parents' house...
1986: Fellow Chicopee High School student Ray Mason (no, not THE Ray Mason) comes over and wants me to teach him how to play songs on the keyboard. I don't have too much luck so we decide to write songs. We complete one, called "Now Or Never." Ahhhh, the lyrics are coming back to me... (imagine a DX-7 power ballad, like a Phil Collins thing) chorus: "here they come again, those feelings / you were always so clever / now i don't know whether i'm coming or going / i guess that it's now or never." I don't remember writing those lyrics. I HOPE I didn't write those lyrics.
1988: We had a mutual friend, Steve Hartnett. (Where are you, Steve?) He looked a lot like the guy from "Hardball," actually. (Chris Matthews?) Steve was into politics, classic rock and the more "classic" side of "hip" music, like Elvis Costello, U2, R.E.M. (and also, thanks to his older brother, the Pajama Slave Dancers). Once he and I and Jim Evangelou (where are you, Jim?) went to Main Street Records and I bought the first They Might Be Giants album. On the ride home Steve looked back to me in the back seat to see what i'd bought, and said, "You listen to that stuff?"
But I wanted to start a band pretty badly. I was still too shy or nervous to do much alone, so I asked Steve to write lyrics and sing, though he'd never done either before. He had the idea to write a song in the Elvis C. mode called "I Wish I Could Recycle You." It was very wordy and awkward. And after he went home I decided to try to make my own song using the same title. Then everyone went to college.
1989: Finally started first "real" band, within days of arriving at UMass. We're called Media Darlings and it's me on guitar and Cullen Faugno on bass and drum machine programming. We sing our own songs and make four-track recordings of them in our dorm lounge. His songs, inspired by Husker Du and Joy Division, are very serious and love-wrecked or political, and included "Window," "To the Mediocre" (making fun of Vanilla Ice and his "To the Extreme" album), and "The Nylon Trick" (which I named, after the dorm-wide practice of putting a nylon over the change tray on the washing machines, then putting the change in the nylon-lined slots, shoving in the tray and releasing it: the washer turns on, you still have your change. The song had nothing to do with any of that, though.)
My songs were inspired by XTC and the Replacements and Billy Joel, probably, and were not very heartfelt at all, for which Cullen once sort of made fun of me. I realized he was right and I felt dumb. My songs included the aforementioned "Recycle You" song, as well as "Stay Up Late," "Opening Act," "Call Waiting" and "Drums and Wires." Tapes exist, including two of live performances from The Hatch (at the UMass Campus Center). Since neither of us felt too confident to sing in front of people, we got our friend Al Houle to sing (and Dan Guertin to drum). The shows were full of covers, embarrassing stage banter...but they're fun to listen to sometimes.
1992: Then one day, after Cullen and I had spent a day in my basement making backing tracks for new songs, Al, who seemed bored, said something when it came time for him to sing, like, "Well guys, it doesn't sound like the music's really ready yet for my vocals. I'll see you later."
So we booted Al. Recorded our own vocals to our slightly improving songs, and sent a tape to one Mal Thursday, who (to our shock and excitement) booked us at the Bay State! Media Darlings open for Zeke Fiddler and the final performance of the band Frances Gumm. I am shaking. During my song "Pixies in Her Ears" Liz Sharp from New Radiant Storm King comes in to stand by the door and nods stone-faced (is this approval?) and soon leaves again. Zeke, who's sitting off near the back door with what seemed like an entourage of women, shouts to me during the dead air between songs, "Turn up that Marshall!" I assume he's making fun of me, but in retrospect I'm positive Zeke was just trying to be helpful. We actually play a cover of Blondie's "Rapture" with me doing the rap. Ugggh. This moment lives on throughout history when I'm hired at the Optimist nearly two years later and meet Tom Hotz, who says, smiling like an uncle who's about to give you a wedgie, "weren't you in a band? yeeeahh, you guys played "Rapture."
Despite the performance, Mal invites Media Darlings to be on the "Hotel Massachusetts" CD comp. We go to Slaughterhouse ASAP to do a rush recording of three songs with Mark Allan Miller at the controls. Playing direct to DAT, no overdubs. We screech over to the Bay State and meekly give Mal the DAT. When it hits stores, we find out that we didn't get on the comp. (A few years later, Mal says he would have put us on the comp but was too absent-minded to follow through. "Did you bug me about it?" he said. "You should have bugged me!") Cullen goes of to join the Peace Corps or become an engineer on a nuclear submarine or both.
1994: I get hired at the Valley Optimist as an arts intern. I am hired by Alyssa Marchese, who's recently bought a bass, and during my interview I mention that I play guitar. She mentions her very cool little brother Brian is an ace drummer. She and I start writing songs (instrumentals), and eventually I meet Brian, who sees my CD collection in my parents' basement, where I am currently living after graduation. He notices the XTC discs and we launch into a very nice and calmly excited "getting to know you" kind of fan chat about "The Little Express" and all sorts of other nutty superfan stuff. Alyssa smiles and shakes her head. "You guys are such geeks!" she says. I stammer a little, like I feel like I should make an excuse or disagree or something but she cuts me off. "Don't change -- that's why you're cool."
So then Brian mentions his friend Todd is moving to the area, and specifically moving into his house in Hadley, and they've had a musical history together (see elsewhere on the School for the Dead site), and maybe he'll want to be the vocalist. Eventually that's what happens, and I move into Brian's house too (a great on-its-way-to-being-dilapidated farmhouse with a separate shack next to the driveway, perfect for loud band practcies). The four of us start the band Sourpuss (named by Todd, because we all loved cats; I swear another name option he gave us was The Pink Sexies. Is that true, Brian? Brian? (voice echoing, crickets chirping) Is anyone out there??).
1994-95: Sourpuss immediately kicks into high gear. Our songs mix together elements of XTC, The Fall, The Jam, The Kinks, I don't really know what. We often used the word "angular" in descriptions. I was and still am extremely proud of Sourpuss. Brian, Alyssa and I all wrote music, Todd wrote the lyrics. It was so fun to be at the Optimist, excitedly making plans with Alyssa about where we were going to make a record, how much it would cost, where we could find cool artwork for the cover, and calling home to find that Todd just named our newest instrumental "Childhood Dream of Abrasive Clouds." Wow! Cool! We were all highly inspired and wrote bunches of songs, separately and together, and recorded three of them with Chris Flood in his recording studio on the top floor of Thornes Market (well, four, I think, but one didn't make the cut).
I STILL HAVE 800 OF THESE SINGLES SO PLEASE BUY ONE. NO, BUY TEN. ALL THE KIDS IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD WILL ENJOY THE NOW SOUND OF SOURPUSS. EACH ONE COMES WITH A STICKER! Henning, would you want to make this a Rub Wrongways release? Please??
Sourpuss played shows mainly in Northampton and, uh, Middletown, CT (thanks to our friendship with the excellent pop trio Stringbean, and if you're ever digging through dusty old plastic-bagged indie seven-inches in some store and you see one of theirs, buy it!). Between trips to Middletown, the band slowly goes to hell. Musical differences, all sorts of differences. Alyssa meets her future husband in the Constitution State (at one of the gigs). Todd moves away, never to be heard from again (basically). The three of us carry on as Pollyanna, with most of the songs written and sung by me, though Alyssa has two really great ones, and we do a rockin' cover the Go-Go's "This Town." Then Alyssa moves away.
1995-96: Brian and I, our band dwindling like The Monkees, are now in our "Changes" period. (cue song: "Just the Two of Us") Although I dare say if we'd made an EP with the six songs we wrote (three of his, three of mine) it would have been a hell of a lot better than "Changes." We play one six-song set at the Fire and Water with Bill from the Mitchells on bass, and also do an inspired cover of XTC's "That's Really Super, Supergirl" for a cassette compilation, and I move to Northampton, where I've stayed ever since. Brian goes on to play in The Figments and everything else in the world.
Meanwhile, Amy Greene and Aimee Swift from the band Pirate Jenny decide to start a record label with a compilation of local bands, which they'll record live to DAT in their living room. They loved Sourpuss, but since the band up and died they suggest I start a new band so I can be on the comp. Ribboncandy is born.
1996-present.: So Ribboncandy's my baby. With Joel Boultinghouse on bass and Rich Germain (from Stringbean) on drums. We make a rip-roarin' super-hyper seven-song cassette called "Dynamic Ribbon Device.' People compare us to Unrest, The Buzzcocks. I always wanted us to sound like a cross between Mission of Burma and the Monkees. We play a great indie-pop fest in Boston at the Middle East and to my extreme surprise, much of the now-younger-than-me audience is singing along to half our (I thought) unknown songs. (Talk about an underground indie tape-trading network!) It felt great!
But when I tried to write more diverse songs, the guys seemed sort of uninterested, or at least our communication skills were not very sharp, and I didn't have the inner strength to push my ideas, and they didn't want to put forth any of their own, so I broke up the band. And immediately recorded a new eight-song cassette called "Girlfriend Is Mad," playing everything myself, mostly. I was inspired to hear the songs on tape the way I heard them in my head. Joel really liked the tape, as did other friends in bands, who wanted Ribboncandy to get back together to play shows with them. So we do.
Things happen, we get offered a record deal by a VERY small indie label but I can't get it together, so that goes un-taken-advantage-of, sadly. Eventually the line-up changes slightly, with Rich out and Brian now playing drums (since we'd been playing together in The Greenbergs), and even one show with Peyton Pinkerton from New Radiant Storm King and Anne Viebig from Tappan Zee on guitar and vocals/percussion, respectively. Then Tony and Henning joined for a show or two, and now, if Ribboncandy ever plays again, I suppose you might see Joel, Brian, Tony and me on a stage. If.
During the Ribboncandy years I also played: drums in Encyclopedia Brown (first a VERY loud pop group, which turned into an all-improv group); keyboards in King Radio and Mission Orange; drums in Michael Merenda Jr. and the Voltage Box; guitar in Dew Claw; guitar in The New Harmful (for one show!); bass in The Greenbergs; drums with T.W. Walsh; bass, guitar and keyboards in New Radiant Storm King; keyboards in The Aloha Steamtrain; guitar/keyboards in The Maggies; bass/drums with The Mammals, sometimes.
2001-present: And of course Henning's School for the Dead. The first time I officially met Henning was when I tried out for the drum spot in Humbert (before Brian got the gig). Tony, Ari and Henning came down to my basement and I did my best. Henning said my cymbals sounded kind of bad. "Have you ever cleaned those?" he asked dryly. I got the feeling Henning didn't like me very much. I've since told him that story and he's laughed. "I'm sure I was just kidding!" But I know it's true: my cymbals were filthy. *sob*
And I'm grateful that Henning asked me to play in his band. I like his songs, and they're inspiring. He's inspiring. His dedication, prolific energy, and all that. I'm learning a lot from the experience. What am I, at a job interview?? You guys, now I'm snapping out of this long long long long thing, sorry, but I'm in an air-conditioned undisclosed location and it's easy to get carried away. You're all my friends and I'm really happy to make music with you. Let's record! And tour! Let's vacation from our day jobs to play "Day Job" for bartenders who are at their day job!
Henning, if you need to edit this so it's less embarrassing (or move it to my not-yet-written bio page?) please do.