My Roommate The Band #1
I have always hung out with creative types. Not necessarily other writers, but artists of various stripes. The vast majority of my roommates over the years have been artists -- writers, painters, photographers, and musicians. Lots of musicians.
In fact, at times in my life, it has seemed like I had a whole band for a roommate.
The first such band was the 8.12 Band, in Ketchum, ID. They got their name from the price of a case of Rainier beer, with tax (in 1984), standard supply for a rehearsal. The leader of the band, Mic (pronounced Mick, they had a thing for three letter nicknames), was also head of the household (his mom owned the house we were living in). At various times other members of the band also lived there (it had three or four bedrooms, depending on how you counted).
More important, they often rehearsed in the living room. This was the first time I'd ever experienced a real band rehearsal. Rehearsals for MX and the Cruise Missiles (my college punk band) only bore the vaguest resemblance to a real rehearsal -- we'd bang through a song once or twice, get the chords and lyrics (sort of ) down, and that was that. Here they would go over a song many, many times to perfect it. Then they would try out different touches -- a solo here, harmony there -- to improve it. These rehearsals were interesting in an intellectual manner, but not really fun to listen to. But other times they'd get a good jam going, and then it was like a mini-concert in my living room.
8.12 was mostly a cover band, but they did have a handful of originals. The three main members, Mic, J.G. and Quinn, were all songwriters, and they had some very good songs of their own. However, since they mostly played long (up to four hours) shows at the local bars, they needed to know plenty of covers, both to please the audience and fill the time.
Their influences were primarily jam bands and roots rock. They played songs by the Dead, Allmans, CSNY and John Prine, as well as classic rock like the Stones, Doors and Jefferson Airplane. They did play a handful of current hits: Talking Heads, Police, Pretenders. They didn't necessarily play the newest, or best known songs from any of these bands, they played what they liked. This may have limited their audience somewhat, but it gave them a more interesting set list than the hit mongers.
They played the local bars, and parties. Lots of parties. Mic, who also worked with lighting and sound, seemed to know not only every band in town, but most of those which came through touring. A couple of bands in someone's yard on a Sunday afternoon made for a great party.
I obviously saw 8.12 play many times, far too many to keep track of. But one 8.12 show does stand out, for obvious and personal reasons. In March, 1985 I was hit by a car. I was getting a ride home from work, in the middle of a blizzard, and my friend's car stalled. (As it turned out, he stalled because his entire engine was full of snow.) I stood on the shoulder while my friend pondered what to do next. A car came along and chose my side of the stalled car to pass. Going about 30.
I figured I was dead. I was surprisingly accepting of that idea as I flew through the air. Instead, I landed in the snow and lived.
The car drove on.
I ended up with a compound fracture of my leg, and a couple of other surprisingly minor injuries. I was in the hospital for a month. I had pins in my leg for three months, was on crutches for six.
Luckily I did have health insurance (pay attention kiddies), so my medical bills were covered. However, Idaho had no disability insurance, and I was out of work for those six months. Just keeping up with my daily living expenses was a challenge. Friends and family helped where they could, but it still left a huge hole in my finances.
So the 8.12 Band put on a benefit for me. Now here is one advantage of living in a small town. While I certainly can't say everyone in town knew me (far from it), everyone in town had heard about the hit-and-run. We had no problem getting many of the local businesses to contribute gift certificates, which we raffled off.
The fundraiser was called “Murray Can't Dance (But You Can).” We held it in Silver Creek, our favorite bar in town (especially for watching bands). We attracted a decent sized crowd, mostly our friends. Despite the title, by the end of the night, I was up and dancing (or at least trying to) on my crutches.
They recorded the entire show, which remains my main recorded legacy of the 8.12 Band. On cassette of course.
But there were many advantages to having a band as a roommate, beyond the parties and occasional fundraiser.
First, I learned a lot from watching them play, both live and in rehearsal. I learned about song structure and composition from those repeated run-throughs on a single song. The shows taught me about band dynamics, set structure, the subtle, and not so subtle variations a band might make to the songs they played. About mistakes, and covering for them (or just laughing at them). Most of this I learned subconsciously. I was usually too busy dancing, or socializing, or, to be honest, ingesting a wide variety of intoxicants, to pay close attention to what was happening on stage. Still, a lot did sink in. I have a much greater understanding of what goes on while a band plays because of this experience. Although, again, I don't usually apply that knowledge consciously, it just seeps into my appreciation of any given performance.
But in another way, those parties and perks were the main point. Backstage passes (so to speak, none of the places they played ever had a real backstage) at all their gigs, personal invitations to all the parties, both the big public ones and the more important private ones after gigs. Access to all the side benefits which hang out on the periphery of a band (although I'll be the first to admit I didn't always take full advantage of these).
I even enjoyed those rehearsals. Live music in my living room. I'm the kind of person who's going to enjoy that, no matter how late they play, no matter how many times they play the same damn song over and over.
That's what having a band for a roommate really meant. Fun.
And it's all that much more fun when you genuinely enjoy the music they play.
POSTSCRIPT: They finally tracked down the guy who hit me some years later, after I had moved to California. His big mistake? He got divorced. It was a particularly ugly divorce. His wife, who had known all along, said, “Ooo, do I ever have some dirt on you!”
He denied everything. “It wasn't me. I wasn't there. And I wasn't drunk.” Still, his insurance company made an offer. Since, technically, the statute of limitations had expired, I took it. That money bought me a new car, and helped finance a publishing venture several years later. But that's getting ahead of the story.
I do wish we had been able to nail him in court, but sometimes you have to take what you can.