Saturday, September 21, 2013

An Astronaut and a Rock Star

So an astronaut and a rock star walk into a bar. No, not really.

As it was relayed to me years later though, that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up— an astronaut and a rock star. Sounds like something out of a Japanese manga or anime series. I can imagine it flashing across the screen: “Kazu Starthruster! Interstellar adventurer and rock and roll hero!” Kind of like Buckaroo Bonzai maybe? Damn that was a stupid movie. 

I announced it once over dinner I believe—my intent to be both an astronaut and a rock star. Quite noble ambitions, really, both requiring an exceptional amount of skill, luck, and even charisma. I’m sure there are some billion-to-one odds of actually making it in either profession, but as a kid, I wanted to be both.

My astral aspirations were dashed pretty early on though: I sucked at math. I barely made it through the basic algebra courses and flunked out of geometry in 10th grade. I imagine I grew out of the rocket man dream around 8th grade or so, but if I needed a nail hammered in the proverbial astronaut coffin, sucking at math was it.

That left rock star.

This became the focused career path of choice around the time I started high school. In 9th grade my friend Josh and I started writing what you might call songs on a Casio keyboard and acoustic guitar that rarely had all 6 strings intact. I recall sitting on a beach in Mexico (Josh was usually invited on family vacations with us) writing lyrics. Something about being lost in space and hate and something about blood too. Regular literati stuff. 

By age sixteen I had moved from the Casio keyboard to bass guitar and Josh picked up a Gibson Explorer copy and a cheap amp. We started writing semi-cohesive material and actually filmed ourselves performing (guitar, bass and loads of ad lib dialogue and singing,) replete with cheesy camera angles, strategic lighting, fake blood, and eye-liner that would have made even Robert Smith cringe. Oh and there was a sword fight in there. Thankfully I have the only copy in existence.

A drummer, singer, and occasional 2nd guitar were added to the mix towards the end of our sophomore year, and by the time we were juniors in high school we had a full-fledged punk/thrash band going. Our name? Subconscious Holocaust (although our singer, Rick, a 21 year-old dropout that found his way into our mix through a mutual friend, decided to tattoo the band name on his leg and spelled it “Subconscious Holocost.” When I pointed out the misspelling he turned the "s" in Holocost into a dollar sign and insisted that was how we spell the band name. The few fliers and cassette “J” cards I have left from back then are all spelled “Holocaust,” for what it’s worth.)

Our first gig was in Josh’s driveway. It was a ½ mile dirt affair that peeled off a quiet road out in the country a few miles from the desert town I grew up in. There were maybe 12 or 15 people there. Our set was so sparse we played it three times through and barely cracked 45 minutes before Josh’s parents told us to cool it. It was a modest start, but the handful of kids that showed up loved us. A dusty mosh-pit erupted in front of our amps as the kids slam-danced and slammed beers. In typical punk-rock DIY fashion, our cobbled-together gear barely functioned and was primarily held together with duct tape. We had no P.A., but rather an old stereo amplifier rigged up to a car speaker box. We probably sounded like shit, but we didn’t care; we were on our way. 

If anything we were persistent. We practiced three, sometimes four or more times a week. We wrote songs, building our paltry set-list to a point where we could rock for at least 30 minutes without playing the same song twice. We even managed to work up a cover of Anarchy in the U.K. It took some practice as Josh couldn’t do much more than power chords. It speaks to the level of musicianship in a band when you have a hard time covering a Sex Pistols song.

Our next gig was a considerable step up—our sound was improving with the addition of Todd, the 2nd guitarist. He could actually play solos.  Around the time Todd was worked into the band on a part-time basis, a kid I had known since elementary school threw a house party and invited us to play. (See imbedded video following the blog).

The back deck served as a stage and overlooked a sweeping yard in one of the nicer areas of town. Our sound check around 6 p.m. the night of the party got the neighbors on alert. By 7:00 p.m. there were at least 50 kids crammed into the yard. We managed to crank out 20 minutes worth of music to a mass of drunk high school kids before the cops showed up and rousted everyone. Josh’s amp fed back horribly the entire set. We couldn’t hear Rick. Ryan (the drummer) and I managed to hold the bottom end together yet really, I don’t think anyone at the party knew any better.

Gig number 3 was similar to number 2 except we never got shut down by the cops. We were tighter and our set had grown exponentially. Our equipment hadn’t improved much but were getting a better handle on making do with what we had, actually turning down the guitars and bass to make up for the crappy vocal amplifier. There was some buzz around high school the following Monday. I got some comments in the halls. We were on our way. Yet before we could rocket into local stardom, things went awry.

At our 4th and final gig we sounded the best we ever had. We played a party with another band that let us use their P.A. For the first time we could actually hear Rick singing during a gig and had actually developed a balanced sound.

Unfortunately there was a bit of a conflict that night.

 You see, it seems some of our friends had a run in with a skinhead at school in the weeks before the party. Even though we (the band) had nothing to do with said conflict, the skinhead and a couple of his cronies decided since our friends had dissed, pissed off, or otherwise insulted him, we, the band, were now a fair target for their displeasure as well.

It so happened these degenerates were at the party.

Halfway through our set one of the skinheads sucker-punched Rick in the gut. As a churning, riotous mosh-pit spun in front of us, the skinhead lunged out and connected a fist into Rick’s stomach. I remember hearing the sickening “oooommmpphhh” reverberate through the P.A. as Rick doubled over and nearly went to his knees.

Rick did his best to finish the set but his heart wasn’t in it. We carried on, and although musically we sounded the best we ever had live, the show ended with a whimper. We packed up our gear (most of which had to be crammed in and on top of my VW Bug) and headed off, drinking a case of cheap beer at Rick’s apartment.  

Soon after, Subconscious Holocaust was no more.

Ryan was the first to go. We got another drummer (coincidentally the kid who hosted the deck party) yet I never played a gig with him.

Todd had never really been a full-fledged member so I don’t know if he ever really officially quit—I think he just stopped showing up.

 I decided to join the Navy and went on delayed entry my senior year and, due to what I can only imagine was seen by the other band members as a lack of long-term commitment on my part, was effectually booted from the very band I founded. 

Shortly after I was ejected, Rick skipped out on probation and went skulking around New Orleans with a group of junkies he had hooked up with.

 I think Josh tried to keep the band rolling for a time, but soon after my departure Subconscious Holocaust (or Holoco$t,) a marginally-talented punk/thrash band from the desert nether-reaches of southern California petered off into an obscure high school memory.

Yet despite the premature demise of my first venture into the world of hedonistic musical indulgence, it certainly wasn’t my last attempt at rock stardom.