The Singer

A few weeks went by with Richie and the crew coming over every day. It was really an amazing summer. Instead of Rock and Roll all night and party every day, we Rock and Rolled all day and hung out in a relaxed, party like atmosphere part of every night. Xav and Jerry eventually did make their way over to my basement, but they were unimpressed. I couldn’t tell if it was me they weren’t interested in, or if they no longer cared to be The Cogs at all anymore. Either way, net effect was the same. They just sort of went off and did their own thing, and Richie and I continued doing what we were doing.

During this time, the Community College group guitar course I took had ended and I transitioned to one on one lessons with Mike Kolber at his house about a mile away. I was learning quite a bit from him, but nothing improved my skills like playing with a drummer every day, trying to be a band. I was finally able to make a bar chord. That was huge. Paranoid and Born To Be Wild were starting to sound like they should; chunky and full and rich, not just a thin little noodle of a single note riff the way I was playing them just a few weeks earlier. The thrill of playing with Richie all the time at high volume did wonders for my confidence. I was driven to keep getting better, to keep learning more.

Eventually Brian started playing bass with us. He borrowed Eric Midgett’s short scale Cort bass and we were both plugging into the 2 different channels of the same giant amp. It sounded like shit, both because the amp isn’t built for that and because we didn’t know we had to tune the instruments to one another. Eventually somebody, I think Xav at the schoolyard told us we had to tune them to each other and the sound improved a little. Brian couldn’t always make it anyway because of his babysitting duties.

I had also begun to plug the microphone into the amp and try to sing occasionally. I very quickly learned about feedback in enclosed spaces. That is, if the microphone can pick up the sound of itself through the amplifier, it creates feedback-that loud squealing sound that you often hear at the soundcheck of a live show at which the sound guy doesn’t know his shit. I figured out how loud I could get it without it squealing, and I just left it on the stand in front of me, occasionally saying or singing something into it. Our originals didn’t have words and I couldn’t sing and play at the same time anyway, so it was of little use. That is, until Steve arrived.

One day early in the afternoon, Wayne showed up with his friend, Steve DiAvolo. I had seen Steve on the streets with Wayne before and I could tell he was trouble. He never gave me any problems, but I could tell he was maybe not that stable. He seemed violent. He never wore a shirt. He looked like Satan. You know like how Tony Iommi in the 70s looked like a coked out, Italian Satan? Thats EXACTLY what Steve looked like. Plus, he was older than us, a LOT older, Like 23 or 24. You know how fuckin weird it is when you’re 14 years old to have a scary 24 year old come to your house and just start hanging out? It’s pretty fuckin weird. He had a tattoo on his shoulder of a hooded demon wizard with a laser coming out of it’s 3rd eye. But here’s the crazy part: It Looked Just Like Him!!! So Goddamned creepy!. Richie and I went downstairs to play some music and I was worried about leaving Steve up in the living room. I was afraid he’d start freebasing or steal our VCR or something. He had a sweaty criminal sort of sheen that was immediately obvious. I needn’t have worried, because just then he followed us into the basement.

Richie counted off the sticks and we blasted into Paranoid. Before I knew it, Steve grabbed the mic and was bellowing, “Finished with my woman ’cause she couldn’t help me with my mind! People think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time!” I was at once invigorated and horrified. It was awesome because suddenly there was another dimension to our music. A loud, powerful voice that knew the words and was hitting the notes pretty well. Right away it clicked for me how easy it is to know where you’re at in a tune if somebody is singing who knows the words! I was horrified because it was Steve, this troubled, dangerous street urchin who was 24 fucking years old! We made it through Paranoid and started War Pigs. Again, super easy now that somebody who knew the tune was on the mic. His voice wasn’t great. It wasn’t terrible. It just wasn’t very pleasant sounding, harsh and vulgar. However, he used it with such power and authority, that it totally held it’s own with Richie’s energetic drumming and my “getting there” guitar stylings. Next was Iron Man, Born To Be Wild, Rock and Roll, and all of the other songs we kind of knew. Steve belted out each one with swagger and abandon.

“We need a PA!”, Steve said at one point between songs. Everyone nodded their heads in agreement. “What’s a PA?”, I asked? “A sound system! For the vocals! Ya have this mic plugged into your guitar amp. You’re supposed to have a PA! ..makes the sound better! Then you don’t have all this feedback!” All the time he’s talking, he’s gesturing with his hands and it’s menacing. I mean the guy wasn’t doing anything wrong at that moment, he was just such a hoodlum, that he made normal activities and exchanges seem like the opening credits for a fistfight, there, in my basement, with no shirt, high top white leather Nikes, tight faded jeans, hanky hangin out of his back pocket.

After about a half hour or 45 minutes, after we exhausted our repertoire, we returned to the living room, which was full of stoned teens. Steve began to tell us in a very animated fashion about how he was sure he could get us into the Cookbook. I was like, “What’s the Cookbook?” The Philly Cookbook! everybody shouted. Apparently I was the only person who didn’t know that there was a nightclub just about a mile away, under the El near Margaret/Orthodox that showcased local bands both original as well as bands who played covers. I got excited. A show in a real nightclub! Something to work toward My eyes must have lit up. And with that, we now had a singer. It wasn’t like Steve was asking if he could be in our band. He just showed up and joined. I had the feeling that if any of us told him he couldn’t be in the band, we’d have to fight him. I just nervously avoided talking or thinking about it. From then on, Steve showed up every day with the rest of the crew and did his thing.

His thing included intimidating the shit out of everybody, girls included. One day I came upstairs to find him aggressively shouting at my 13 year old cousin, Dawn, who had come to visit. He was saying something like, “You think there’s something wrong with eatin’ pussy?!? I’ll eat some pussy any time anywhere!!!” I was like, “Oh, Christ” and got ready to tell him he had to calm down with that shit, but my cousin straightened him right the fuck out. she told him he was a fucking gross pig and a totally disgusting person. She quickly reduced him to to a small, embarrassed size. Like, for a moment, through her violent reaction, he was somehow able to understand briefly that if you are an “adult”, you shouldn’t be saying shit like that to a young, teen aged girl. A brief moment of clarity. Another time he told us about sitting in jail with another guy when some other dudes came up and threw the guy a greasy rag and told him to either grease up his asshole and prepare to get fucked or wrap it around his fist and fight until death. What the fuck?! How was I in this situation?! I wouldn’t have to worry about it for too long. The whole thing was about to unravel.

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