Kramer, Record Shopping & The Italians

I decided it was time for an upgrade in the electric guitar department as well. I’d been playing the D’Agostino for a little over a year. It was a great guitar, but as a teenager, I was very good at getting the idea in my head that you needed to have name brand stuff. Like, that playing the D’Agostino was like wearin’ bo-bos and I needed a pair of Nikes. It sounds so stupid and shallow now, but then it made perfect sense. I started looking at guitars to buy. I found a white Kramer Pacer (pictured) for a reasonable price. I brought my D’agostino with me to see what they’d give me in trade. They took one look at it and said. “We don’t want that. We can’t do anything with that, give ya like, fifty bucks. You’re better off keeping it, or selling it yourself.”

The Pacer was very slick. It looked exactly like a Stratocaster except it had a humbucker pick up in the bridge position and a goofy Kramer headstock. The guitar also had a super complex Floyd Rose floating tremolo system with fine tuners and a locking nut. You were supposed to get the thing in tune, then use a hex key to “lock” the strings at the nut, thereby disabling the tuning heads. Then, you’d “fine tune” the guitar with the little knobs on the tremolo bridge. Super stupid. If you rested your hand on any part of the bridge, the guitar climbed or dropped out of tune. Still, it played great. It sounded great, and looked great from the neck down. It was the same brand of guitar that Eddie Van Halen played, so there’s that.

Looking back, I think it’s odd that I bought a heavy metal guitar right around the time I was getting out of heavy metal. I didn’t have an epiphany and wake up one day and get rid of my metal records. I just started drifting in a different direction. One day after a snow storm, a little less than a year earlier, we had off from school. I took the bus to Roosevelt Mall and went to Sam Goody. They still sold mostly vinyl LPs. They sold tons of cassettes too. They probably had a few racks of CDs, but nobody had really noticed yet. That day I bought Outlandos D’Amor by The Police, Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd, and Earth Sun Moon by Love & Rockets. No single shopping trip has had a greater impact on my musical life. The Police record and the Floyd record were both already classics, but the Love & Rockets album had just come out. I had seen the video for No New Tale To Tell on MTV’s 120 Minutes, and it spoke to me. It was cool and quirky, but not corny like the Pixies and XTC, who were also on MTV’s alternative show.

Another truly fantastic experience was discovering The Record Cellar. It was a used record store on Bustleton ave. It was located right between my 2 favorite “go in and sit down” pizza places. New England Pizza, where we’d go when I was with my father and step mom, and Gearo’s where we’d go when I was with my Mother and step dad. Any time we were at either of those places, I’d ask if I could go look at records. At the time, I think a new LP at Sam Goody was about 8 or 9 dollars. The Record Cellar had used LPs for as little as 2 dollars!! SO good!. On one trip to this wonderful store around this time, I picked up Never Mind The Bullocks, Stop Making Sense(live album), The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars, The first Violent Femmes album and this freaky 2LP set by Iggy Pop that had no title, but ended up being a re-packaging of New Values and Soldier. All that only cost 18 bucks!!!

Meanwhile, back in the hood, my homeless band was adrift, wandering the alleys and haunting the basements of the parents who worked nights. We weren’t rehearsing. We were just hanging out, smoking cigarettes and weed(not me, mom), maybe playing guitars sometimes turned down to a low volume or totally unamplified, trying to figure out how we could get ourselves a place to practice. One time, in Danny’s basement, Xav had his (headless) bass and was masterfully laying down some grooves. He was plugged into a pedal board. The first I’d ever seen. It was exquisite. It was a Boss BCB-6. It held 6 pedals! One of the pedals was a power supply so he didn’t have to have batteries in any of the units. The other pedals in his chain were Compression Sustainer, T Wah, Slow Gear, Bass Overdrive and maybe an Equalizer, all Boss. I thought it was so fuckin cool. He said that he’d been playing with Chris Commodero and John DiZio-The Italians! Everybody knew they were the best guitarist and drummer around. Xav was the best bass player in our neighborhood for sure, so in my mind I was like, “man that’s a supergroup” Even though I hadn’t yet heard of supergroups. He said that they rehearsed in Chris’ basement and that if we wanted, the next time they got together, we could come hang out and check them out. I was in. That sounded great to me.

Maybe a week or so later, Richie, Brian, and I walked a few blocks over to the house where we were told Chris lived. We entered through the back door, as was the Hessian custom. Richie and Brian already knew Chris and John from around. I had never met them. Chris was quiet and easy going. He looked to be in his early 20s and was wearing double denim. John was wiry, animated, and boisterous. He liked to joke and laugh and break balls, but he was friendly. Both dudes had mustaches. Xav was already there, too. They were already set up. “What ya wanna play?”, he asked the Italians. “Play Paranoid” one of us shouted, joking. “I’ll play Paranoid!!”, John yelled. He clapped his sticks 4 times and they were off. God Damn It Was So Fucking Loud. It was so good! They were so good. I thought to myself. “Give up. Give up now. You’ll never play like this. These guys are musicians. You are a pretender. Save yourself the heartache. Just walk away.” I ignored the self hating voice in my head and just sat back and let the power and volume wash over me. Xav and John were psychically playing as a one brain unit, locked together impeccably. Chris wailed and squealed shrieking metallic riffs. They weren’t doing Paranoid by Black Sabbath. Their version was an instrumental closer in sound to the version on Ozzy/Randy Tribute. A version in which the guitar is completely untethered from the earth. They finished and launched into some of their own tunes that they’d been working on. All of them sounded amazing. Chris’ tone was knocking me out. I looked at the floor in front of him. He had just one pedal. It was a Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal pedal. I had to have one. It was so thick and chunky. It held together and didn’t just fuzz out sloppily.

A little while later, it was time for us to leave. I had to go home and eat dinner. As we were leaving, Xav said, “Look at this.” Pointing to a 4 foot square section of the ceiling that was perfectly tiled in Marlboro boxes. “This is Chris’ idea for soundproofing. He wants to do the whole room. I think he’s gonna keel over first!” We all busted out laughing. As I walked out into the alley I was thinking, “I have so much work to do.”

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