Jon Fine wrote a terrific book called Your Band Sucks of almost eerie relevance to a certain suburban rocker misfit guy who came of age in the late 80s. Jon is my friend through media stuff rather than rock because our bands and taste in music could not be farther apart. Jon was a founder of Bitch Magnet and loves dissonance and time signature weirdness and wordless choruses. I think Jessie’s Girl is as good a song as there’s ever been.
That’s just one reason why he’s a better person than I am, but the point is that he was giving a reading last night then interviewing Ira Kaplan about the magical era when indie rock was almost viable as a sustainable artform. My photo is way better than the one the bookstore that hosted the event tweeted, and you should all buy the book.
Anyway, one of the book’s stories they discussed was about how Johnny Barra at a club called the Electric Banana in Pittsburgh threatened them with a gun. Apparently, that was like his “thing” because he did the exact same thing to Green when we played there in 1986. Green had two songs on a Voxx compilation called “Beasts from the East” with a bunch of other “garage” bands. Green’s two songs on that include Something About You, which never appeared on any other Green record and is really one of Jeff’s greatest songs and greatest singing performances — it is amazing to me that a perfect gem like that is an “extra” tune. (Really tasty little hi-hat thing by John Valley in there, too, which John Packel and I loved and imitated. Great bassline by Johnny Diamond, too.)
Anyway, the point of Jon’s book is that this was a magical pre-internet era where if you played music that was somewhat similar music to that of some other band, you were like automatically friends with that band. So one of the other bands on the compilation was Pittsburgh’s great lo-fi unit The Cynics, led by a guitar player and singer who had almost identical names but were not brothers. I called one of them out of the blue, Gregg Kostelich, and asked him if he could hook us up with a gig because Green had a free night. Boom, we had a show at the Electric Banana.
The club was on the steepest street ever — I spent a lot of time in Pittsburgh cuz my mom was from there and it’s San Francisco-like in the craziness of the slopes. So we played and almost no one came and when I asked Mr. Barra for our dough he somehow indicated—I don’t remember him showing us the gun, but kind of just implying that it was in our health interest not to push it when he gave us only $50 or whatever. We were grateful to play in such a legendary place and that kind of story is why Jon’s book is so fun to read.
And it was fun to see him interview Ira Kaplan, who I’ve known since the 80s from Green frequently playing on bills with Yo La Tengo. I had actually seen Adventureland with the kids (again…) the night before, and was so enjoying both the soundtrack and the great Yo La Tengo score. So it was nice to run into Ira and Georgia at Jon’s event and catch up with them. It was a lovely evening and they really have two of the best smiles in rock.