Screeching Weasel Founding Guitarist Officiates for The Lillingtons
Fifteen years ago I tried to write an article about The Lillingtons, a Wyoming-based punk band. The piece turned into a surreal book, an emotional torrent of pent up thoughts about my own band Screeching Weasel. It took me seven years to write that tome. I often refer to it as the mound of stress that made me go gray.
You see, The Lillingtons are my good friends. Over my 30 years involved in music, quite a few punk musicians have become complicated players in my life. I invite them in, and I do not do small talk. The Lillingtons have become a symbol of this kind of bond for me. The stories of each band member’s participation in my life are sprinkled with moments of paradox. These friendly encounters, over many years, have usually been brief, highly enjoyable, mundane. We talk plainly and joke like normal friends, but it all seems layered with complexity. Do they see me as a friend? Are we past me having been one of their punk rock heroes? Do they realize that they are now more famous than I am? Do we act normal when we are together? Do they really like me? Is it possible for them to put aside my influence on them and actually be able to tell if they really do like me? Am I just normal to them now? Are they now my heroes? Is this making me act weird? Am I purposely acting weird in order to seem special or different? This shit really goes through my mind. And it’s not just paranoia, because often enough it is proven to be an actual element at play on both sides of the relationship. I can’t discuss The Lillingtons without it immediately becoming complicated.
I will narrow the subject matter. This article will be about The Lillingtons’ frontman Kody, or more specifically about his betrothal. He is getting married soon and I will be intricately involved in the ceremony. Kody is the guitarist, vocalist, melody-making machine, enigma manifesting giggler and low brow humor spewing aficionado of the band. He is a manically hulking, chili-devouring, guitar-crushing pussycat, nicknamed Moose. Recently, while we were exchanging meaningless messages on Facebook, discussing liquid farts and showing each other pictures of turtles having sex, he mentioned that he overheard that I had the not so overtly impressive ability to officiate weddings.
ACTUAL CONVERSATION VIA MESSENGER:
Kody: Did I overhear you saying that you marry people?
John: Yes, I haven’t performed one in a couple years but I have done about 10.
Kody: That’s good to know
John: You need some marrying done?
John: Then I also say Yes.
Kody: You ever marry a moose?
John: No, but I have married a short brunette Jewish lesbian to a tall blonde pale skinned Swedish catholic.
It has been over twenty years since I acquired this supposedly legal power. There was no studying or menial tasks involved in obtaining this sacred skill. I simply keyboarded my way to the website of The Universal Life Church, typed in my name, and printed out a document containing my official title and a long string of numbers. That was all that was needed to be certified. I don’t even have that piece of paper anymore and have long forgotten my file number.
I originally took on this power at the behest of one of my high school friends who witnessed me giving one of the best best man speeches he had ever seen. For his wedding, I was promoted from best man to reverend. Since then I have been asked occasionally to perform these ritualistic ceremonies. The first few were among a small group of lifelong friends totally unrelated to the punk society at large. But once it was revealed that the semi-famous “legend” known as Jughead could hitch you to your betrothed, the pleas came in more frequently.
At my first punk wedding I officiated the mating of an Asian American Nutritionist to a Literature Teaching Southern Belle. They walked down the aisle to the effervescent sounds of Liz Eldridge, the vocalist of my current band Even In Blackouts, singing “Angel’s Wings” by Social Distortion. That started a string of weddings featuring me and Liz as the officiant and musical hosts. After some of these ceremonies we would take on the task of disc jockeys at the reception. At one of the more memorable punk rock ceremonies the bridesmaids, dressed like fairy godmothers, skipped down the aisle to the soundtrack of “We’re Off to See The Wizard.” Then when they were in place the “record” skipped, scratched, stopped, and this song was replaced with the blazingly loud and distorted strains of the Ramones singing I Wanna Be Sedated. The groomsmen all dressed in leather jackets, red slim ties attached to white t-shirts, and tight blue jeans slamdanced down the aisle, nearly knocking each other unconscious along the way. For the first dance the newlyweds demanded that Liz and I sing our band’s song “Love Cynical Style.” The song is about a couple unsure of their love for each other, then at the end of the song a third voice, not yet heard before, sings to a lone guitar, “I will be waiting. I will be waiting for your love to die.” I told them I wasn’t comfortable singing the last line at a wedding. They said that was fine. Unbeknownst to me and Liz, as the song ended, the newlyweds, dancing alone to their first dance as husband and wife, stopped dancing, looked at each other and scream/sang, “I will be waiting! I will be waiting for your love to die!” I didn’t mind the sentiment. I was just NOT going to say it myself.
Kody: You want to? We’ll fly you out
Kody: Oct 13th
John: Yes, I do!
Kody: Rad! It’s a date
In a later conversation, I told Kody I couldn’t perform a ceremony without becoming more familiar with his fiancé, Dana. Luckily, I occasionally get free flights because of a close relative’s privileges. A couple weeks later I messaged Kody and told him I could fly to Denver the next day to meet Dana. I knew he had just gotten home a day or two before from The Lillingtons’ tour in Europe, I also had discovered that their flight got fucked and it took them like 36 hours to get home. So I would understand him saying, no. He also had another guest staying at his house on the couch. Having not seen the place, he made it apparent that room was sparse and that that was a concern.
John: You know me, I’ll sleep under a table.
Kody: You are pretty short. I don’t doubt you could make that happen. And you may literally have to do that.
John: No problem.
Kody: I’ll confirm that Dana can get the night off and I’ll get right back to you.
LESS THAN AN HOUR LATER:
Kody: We’ll see you tomorrow night!
John: What time is good for you.
Kody: Dana is off work around 6pm.
John: Great! See you then.
The only flight I could catch for free, on standby, with the likelihood of getting on, would get me to Denver at 10:30 am. I did not want to be bother Kody sooner than we had planned, so I began to work on finding something to do with myself in Denver that afternoon. This thinking I’m a bother is an aspect of my character that at times becomes very annoying to myself. My semi-fame and total lack of job prospects allows me the ability and time to cheaply hop across great distances and converse with punk rock friends and strangers who are curious enough to meet with me on a whim. But for some reason, I feel in social situations I can easily become a bother or a bore. I fight constantly against these instincts to hide and try to put myself out there in the world whenever I can.
I created a post on Facebook about being in Denver around lunch time with nothing to do. A mutual friend, who I hardly even knew, tagged a guy named Nicholas, who I did not know at all. Some may think this is odd, but the next morning while I was at the airport I got a message from Nicholas.
Nicholas: Hey John! I live in Denver. I’m a fan of your music and I am also a guitarist. If you would be down, it would be cool to have lunch and talk with you. I know we are strangers, but I just thought I would throw it out there. Always trying to learn from fellow musicians that are out there living the type of life I would like to. Let me know if it’s something you’re into! Thanks John
John: Cool. I’ll be downtown around 1pm. Let’s meet at a burger joint!
Nicholas: Cherry Cricket is pretty cool, right across the street from Coors field.
John: Ah! A field made out of beer! Great!
I met Nicholas outside the restaurant across from the field made out of Coors. I am very short and he is very tall, he may even have been twice my size. It was quite a sight seeing us walk into the building together. Once near a table we shook hands, awkwardly signaled for the other to sit down, and then we both sat down in unison. I picked up a menu and he said, “I got this.”
“I am in no position to refuse, Nicholas, so thanks very much.”
Over the years I have noticed that I have inherited my salesman father’s propensity to say a person’s name over and over again. My main purpose is that I can’t remember people’s names, so it helps. Supposedly the use of the name, according to many salesmen, is to help make the person feel more important, because all individuals crave acknowledgment. I don’t know if it works, but I do believe that we are all worthy of recognition.
He smiled, stared for a few long seconds and then said, “Get whatever you want, I hear the onion rings are good… but I’ve never eaten here.
“Well, then we shall find out.”
He stared at me a few seconds longer then realized he should look away and take a look at the menu.
It is true that I was very short on funds and the offer of food was very welcome, but it is also true that I have learned to not turn down kindness offered. I am barely ever afraid to admit that I am lost, or poor, or confused, or angry, or even that I feel nothing. Because in my heart of hearts I know I would want the same courtesy of truthfulness if I were on the other side.
I thanked him for meeting with me.
I knew he wanted to speak more, and I knew he probably had a head full of questions, but I could sense that he felt he was engaging in something foreign to his usual disposition.
Finally, he said, “I don’t normally do things like this.”
“It’s all good. I do it all the time.” Pause. “I saw you are friends of Tim from the Lillingtons’ brother?
Then I switched gears. “What’s your passion Nicholas, what brings you to reach out to me?”
“I’m an engineer. I design and build crane lifts.”
“Did you go to school for that?”
“No, I’m just good at making things.”
“Shit! That’s cool!”
He smiled again. “I also have my own recording studio.”
He was getting comfortable. We ordered, the food came, and we ate. It was good. We talked more. And then he got to the heart of the matter.
“My band, Brother Wind… we are all getting older… last recording I did mostly myself, solo project… I’m going into a professional studio this week to get the vocals done… our band has some injuries. We’re getting older. I turned this project into a more solo thing. Not to replace anybody! I wanted to make sure not to give the impression that I want to replace anybody. I just need to get this stuff done. Ya know what I mean?”
“I do know what you mean.” I said. “Gotta get shit done, but always keep communication open. Musicians are sensitive. I can tell you really care how they will feel, but you gotta get shit done.”
“It’s a weakness and a strength I think.”
“I am all about weakness and strength,” I told him. “It is human, and I feel people hesitate talking about that, but I do feel it helps everyone understand each other better.”
Then he went deadpan. He was thinking, staring through me. He was working up to saying the thing that was most important for him to get to before he had to leave.
“…Should I go on tour?”
“How do you mean, Nicholas?”
“I’m not getting younger. Should I quit my job. Do I give up music? What do I do?”
Like I said, I don’t do small talk, so I welcomed this level of engagement. “I don’t think you should quit your job, and also you don’t necessarily need to quit music.” Then I went on a spiel I have given before, to varying degrees. I talked about how in Screeching Weasel, Ben and I worked all day and night to save for tours, I had three jobs and only slept three hours a day. I talked about all the horrible jobs I had.
Then I told him, “We did not expect to make any of our money back. We had to have some kind of backing for ourselves. We had to take care of ourselves, and not rely on the gigs making money, because that’s how members start hating each other on the road, is when you have unrealistic expectations but then find that you have no funds, no audience, no food. Enjoy the small audiences, because they appreciate it, and you never know, maybe next time you come to town they will tell all their friends about how dedicated you were to playing even though no one was there, and then you get there the next time and the place is full. That happens. I don’t think you should quit your job. Take a few vacations, save that money.”
“I don’t want to regret not doing this. I’ll really regret it if I don’t. But… I don’t know.”
Once he said “regret” my tone changed. I was serious before, but perhaps a bit lighthearted. I got very serious when he brought up regrets, maybe even too serious.
“Nicholas, I don’t think anybody should regret anything. If you feel you will regret not going then you need to make it happen. Quit your job if it is the only thing stopping you. I don’t think you have to but I’m not you. Don’t regret, Nicholas. Go on the road, suffer, have good times, get lost, find yourself, lose money, sing some songs, meet some cool people, but don’t regret.”
He nodded to me, looked out the window, and then finished his burger.
I liked him. I hardly meet people that I don’t find something to like, but I actually liked him.
“I was looking at some pictures on Facebook, so I’d recognize you, Nicholas. Are those pictures of your girlfriend and you?
“Yes. She lives here. I live with her.”
“Are you happy?”
“You two look happy. Have you ever been to Chicago?”
“I got an extra room. I keep it unrented so that friends can stay with me. You and your girlfriend are more than welcome to come visit.”
We ate some more food. He had to go back to work. He paid the bill. We stood up, shook hands, he left, and I sat back down. I stayed there for another hour. It was still three hours before I was to meet Kody and Dana. I looked at my gps, to see how I would travel to the place where Kody said to meet. I could take a train, but I could also walk. It would take an hour and ten minutes to walk. I walked. I can walk for hours. I am one of those where walking clears the head, I never think more clearly or feel as good as when I am walking long distances. Often on tour I get up before the rest of the band and just wander the streets. I’ll make my way to a convenience store, buy a fountain drink, and just sit in the parking lot. I may even be doing that right now as I write this.
Even after walking 70 minutes I still arrived early to the Indian restaurant. I walked past the location and made my way to a bar to have a glass of wine. I sat at an outdoor table. What was I going to ask Kody and Dana? I am never NOT nervous about performing a wedding ceremony, and the preparation leaves me anxious for months. I had a few notes, questions to ask them, but I wanted to have more.
So I wrote this:
(Let Kody introduce his fiancé. Engage in a small amount of pleasantries and then launch into prepared speech.)
“Yesterday I was with my friend Bob, you don’t know him. He helped me structure the first ceremony I ever performed. Bob is also an officiant himself. Anyway, we began discussing the emotional weight we carry with us that gains strength with each wedding we perform. Bob is 27 for 30 still married. I am 10 for 10. You will be number 11. Those numbers mean something. I could see it in Bob’s eyes that those three divorces were, perhaps only minutely, but still, were in fact, eating away a bit of his soul. A priest who performs like 200 weddings a year may have a different way of dealing with this, but when you get a friend to perform your wedding you must realize that, the good ones, the ones that believe in the romance that is about to be tested by time, patience, love, restraint, frustration, and love once again, will be there with you, like a shadow or a drone, a small thing, mostly unnoticeable, watching over your whole experience together. It is a tiny piece of the whole but indeed a crucial constant reminder to treat each other well and be truthful and understanding towards each other. You will be tested every day in your lives together, and we are there, the officiants, contemplating the odds and hoping for the best outcome for the two of you.”
(Pause. Perhaps put some food in mouth. Chew. Before they respond begin speaking again.)
“I can NOT commit to pieces of my soul being torn asunder without seeing the two of you together, to learn, to help build a speech that will inspire you to put in the extra time to make sure this works. That is why we are here tonight. We are here so you can share your memories with me, prove to me, that you can express the raw, intimate feelings that you want bonded together, so that I can be a mirror for both of you to look at yourselves as one. And even though it is always fun to see you, Kody, and I love you dearly, and I love that we can go months not speaking and then just talk about farts. But now in THIS moment when we are here together with your fiancé, sitting in an Indian restaurant in Denver, punks who have known each other for over 20 years, I want to know that you are serious. That may sound stupid to both of you, but why propose if you are not serious… and sadly the reality is that I think false promises are made every day, marrying for the wrong reasons, or because it is the thing to do. While we eat our cheese pan, Saag Paneer, and Tandoori Chicken, I need you to prove through your actions and your words that you love each other, that you are the type of punks that think through decisions clearly, that think for themselves, and that you are both now willing to think for yourselves together. I need to know that you are able to be rational and yet romantic, calculating yet spontaneous, careful with each other yet allowing one another to take risks. It is ok to be embarrassed and to think I am being sappy when I ask you to be serious, but do it anyway, because this not just real life, this is your real lives. This is what commitment IS.”
I finished my wine just in time to get to the restaurant. I stood outside for a moment just staring out at the world. I do that sometimes too. No purpose. Just standing somewhere and staring at nothing. Then I got a text from Kody: “We’re in here.”
I walked in. They were sitting in the back. I sat down. We ordered food. I met Dana. I did not say what I wrote. It was just too heavy to lay on them, and too much about me. This was their moment. This was their wedding, and I was happy to be considered important enough to be involved. We got down to business and enjoyed our time together. Our meeting and the wedding, which will happen between now and before I write the next section, will be discussed in part II.