I started high school in September of 1987. Because I had been in the junior band program in grade school, I automatically enrolled in the marching band program. The way it worked was, school started at 8:15 AM. Band members were to come at 7:30 for practice. The whole marching band all assembled in the big room and worked on the tunes in the current repertoire under the direction of the head of the music program, Mr. Anthony Marchione. He was a slickster in his late 50’s. He seemed to have a good relationship with the students. Well respected, and relatively easy going, he came off like a cool uncle. This was in stark contrast to the majority of the rest of the faculty at the shithole, North Catholic. There were a few cool teachers there, but most of them were dickheads of the highest order. Overweight football necks with a hard on for discipline. A few bona-fide pedophiles in the mix too.
Marchione was a hot shit trumpet player from what people said. I never heard him play, though. My experience with him was just sitting with the other alto sax players, pretending to play along as Mr. Marchione conducted enthusiastically from the slightly elevated podium, shouting directions and smoking cigarettes! At that particular time, the band was working on Gonna Fly Now (Theme from “Rocky”), Celebration by Kool & The Gang, and lots of others, it’s a shame I can’t remember them all. We did the song Aquerala Do Brasil or just Brazil by Ary Barroso. I really dug this one, because it had a Latin, samba feel, and I knew it from the Terry Gilliam film of the same name. I could play the intro is about all. Basically, I just sat there with my sax in my mouth, acting like I was playing. The sound around me was extraordinary. All of the drums, the horns, the xylophones! It was bumpin! Loud as shit! Great energy! Maybe about a week in, between songs, Mr. Marchione looks right at me and says, “When are you gonna start playing? I can hear that you aren’t playing anything.” How the hell could he hear that, I wondered? A whole fuckin room full of people blasting away, and this guy can hear me NOT playing? That doesn’t make any sense, I thought. But he was right! I wasn’t playing. I answered in my best Jeff Spicoli, “I don’t know!” He said “What period is your lunch?” I said it was 4th. He said, “Well, you need to come down here and work on these songs until you know how to play the parts.” Then he moved on to something different, Thank fucking christ.
There was no way I could ever do it, I thought. I had already decided that I would never be able to learn to site read music-all them fuckin dots? He seemed serious though, like that there’d be some kind of consequences if I didn’t. It was kind of confusing. Marching band was like an extra curricular activity, but I think they viewed it like a class. I think I was getting a grade for it. I don’t have any idea why I was there. I mean, I already knew I wasn’t going to be putting on an outfit and marching in a parade or going to any gay ass football game and playing for those assholes. You know what I think? I think this was like lots of other things I tried as a kid that I was just checking out. As in, let me see what this is all about. Let me give this a whirl, but, all from my perspective as an outsider, someone who inherently didn’t belong. I’d always be trying new things and as soon as I met the group of people involved, I’d shut it down, find some reason that they were all a bunch of whackers, and leave. Marching band was the same thing. All the other students were way into it, and worked hard to be good at this thing they were doing. I just would hang around the edge of something trying to look cool and not apply any effort, then ghost out of the whole thing. I still behave this way now. I think I thought I’d be able to hang around a bit, get some free sax lessons, and I don’t know what, but I think the situation I got into was that if I didn’t perform, I was gonna get an F in a fucking class on my report card. Bunch of bullshit. I started spending some lunchtimes in the band room. Grabbing some food in the cafeteria, and taking it down to the band room to try to look like I was trying. Now I absolutely fuckin hated it. I had to find a way out.
One day, I was eating some french fries in the band room at lunch, writing the notes in on my sheet music, so I’d have some fucking chance of making some sound come out of my horn for the band leader, when I saw a student come out of a soundproof room with an electric bass! I had seen this guy every morning during band rehearsal. He was sitting in the back with the tubas. Him and another kid, one of the very few black kids at this school, were playing bass with the marching band. This time however, he was coming out of a one on one lesson with what looked like a bass teacher. So cool! I had to find out about that! You know? Score me some free bass lessons! It looked like the school had a bass you could use as well. I wanted to get my hands on that! I needed to ask some questions, find out about this! Maybe if I could switch to bass, I’d somehow be able to keep my head above water and not flunk music.
I went into the office and asked Beth. Beautiful Beth! She said that the bass teacher’s name was Douglas Mapp. She also said that there were no openings in marching band for bass players, but that if I wanted, I’d be able to arrange some lessons after school that I could pay for. I think they were super cheap. I said, “Yeah! let’s schedule that!” I think I was overly excited and not thinking straight. Also, I think I somehow talked my friend Eric Midgett (not a made up name, I swear) into taking bass lessons too! As I write, I’m beginning to see a pattern of me making dumb choices, and talking my friends into joining me. Jerk.
Eric was a new friend that I had met in high school. He was obviously a skater. He had a skater haircut and I spotted him on the first day of school. We’d been hanging out all the time since then and we both liked a lot of the same shit musically. The Misfits. We really connected on The Misfits. Punk Skulls was the kind of skateboard he had. Eric’s grandparents had a deli on Torresdale ave called Moreno’s. That was his grandparents’ name. We’d go there a lot after school and eat cold cuts. He worked there sometimes as well. Right down the street from the deli, was a music store called Trader Vic’s. Both businesses had been around forever, so his folks and grandparents knew this Vic guy. We went over to check it out. It was fucking gross! It had some kind of smell. I can’t remember if it was cat shit, or what, but there was some putrescence that hit you in the face as you entered this wood paneled stained carpet corner store shithouse. As we walked in, Vic said hello to me and Eric, who I think he’d probably known since Eric was an infant. Everything looked dirty. There were 2 other guys in the store with Vic and nobody looked like they had anything to do with music. Vic was super fat and gross and sat in a chair pointing at things and smoking. He was like Dan Ackroyd in Nothing But Trouble. His 2 flunkies looked like some Hills Have Eyes(mutant rapist) type of dudes. It seemed like a crappy hardware store. There were guitars and amps and stuff, but it felt like an auto tags place or the office of a roofing company. They could have been selling appliance parts for all they cared. They didn’t give a shit about music. There was nothing really too interesting in the place except for 2 instruments. There was a fake Hoffner violin type bass, sort of like McCartney’s but it was funky because it had a knurled headstock, like an upright bass has. Weird. The other cool(ish) instrument was a blue Cort short scale bass, which Eric put on layaway right then and there.