SSS Archive 24 June 2011: Rawk Out!

Today’s question, asked by nobody, is:

Didn’t you used to be in a band?

No, dummy, I was in THREE bands!  Of course, one of them was never technically a band, and another only had me as a member for a week, but yes, I was the lead guitarist for a band called Fluoridation Mandrake.  

It only has 22 frets – how am I supposed to shred epic riffs on that?

So what were these bands?

Going backwards, I was in a band called “Neighborhood Watched” for about a week.  My friend Joe Stalin needed a bass player, I had Tuesday nights free, and we had fun the one time we practiced together.  I don’t remember why we called it quits.  If Behind the Music has taught me anything, we probably had a falling out over groupies and cocaine, and I’m sure that’s a better story than the truth.  

I was also in a band called “Plus-Sized Drag Queens.”  This band consisted of myself and a good friend who it should be noted does not actually play guitar.  Flush with easy cash from the dot-com era, I bought a brand new SG (still my absolute favorite electric guitar) and a Fender amplifier.  I enjoyed both immensely, but PSDQ didn’t last long – we got together twice (with neither drummer nor singer) and realized the only thing we could play harmoniously was the intro to Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy,” and soon after we fell into fighting over groupies and cocaine. 

I have a feeling you actually had a real band once, and you’re only inserting this question for a dramatic pause? 

Fluoridation Mandrake was my band from about 1992-1994.  The timing was lamentable because I had just moved to Warren and my bandmates were all in Dearborn – it’s only a 30 minute drive, but it’s hard to build up the proper rapport when you only meet once or twice a week. 

Still, we came up with a few good songs and had a lot of fun.  Come to think of it, I think we only had three real, rehearsable tunes:  “AC Slater,” “Barrett Girl,” and “The Day the Sun Went Out.”  For the rest of our practice time, we got high and played Super Mario 2. 

Joe Stalin now fronts The Kalashnikovs – no, he’s not really a fan of capitalism

What’s with the name? 

Fluoridation Mandrake is an erroneous transcription of a line from the movie “Dr. Strangelove,” which it turns out we all loved.  The actual line is “Mandrake – you ever hear of Fluoridation?” but we obviously mixed it up.

Dr. Strangelove continued to influence a lot of what we did – we advertised that our album would be put out on War Room Records, and later, when everyone started up side projects, one of the spin-offs was called “Children’s Ice Cream” (a presumed target of the Russkies nefarious fluoridation, according to General Jack Ripper). 

Did you guys ever do anything? 

We recorded a two-song demo that was pretty solid – damned if i can find my copy though.  We did both songs in 3 takes a piece, which was a necessity as we only had about 60 bucks for recording time. 

Fun fact: the recording studio is now a Little Caesar’s. 

But we never played out anywhere, in part because we never got a singer.  Well, we had a singer, but I don’t think she did much besides bang the drummer and bum cigarettes.  Nice girl, I think, and I think she might have even had a nice voice, though it’s entirely possible that I just dreamed up her existence.  

This was high-tech promotion for 1993!

So what happened? 

Distance, money, and time. We were actually set to release our demo as a 7″ single – so ready that we even made a flier for it, and that flier was distributed in Windy & Carl’s 7″ single, but we could never raise the herculean sum of 200 dollars that it would have cost to get the record pressed.  So it goes.  

We also all sort of went off in different directions musically as well – our one band got chewed up by different side projects, and it became terribly inconvenient for me to drive to Dearborn every week if when I was only involved in about 1/4 of the music being made.  Then, of course, groupies and cocaine. 

Where are they, and by they I mean you, now?

Three of the four surviving members are still making music, though not together as far as I know.  The rhythm guitarist is exploring consciousness-busting psychadelic soundscapes and probably a lot of drugs.  The drummer is in a more traditional rock band, and I understand they’re playing gigs and having fun, as is the second bass player (though I haven’t talked to him in close to 20 years).  The first bass player is now a writer who paints for fun and the occasional commission. 

So it’s good to know that, despite this one enterprise not working out, that everyone involved is still creating.  I myself haven’t picked up a guitar in quite some time, but I’ve been thinking about trying it again.  Like most things I do, I always want to go too fast too soon, and I wonder if maybe I haven’t learned a little patience and perseverance over the years – I had decent technique and rhythm…never too late to try again, I say, and it’s well known that a guitar is the quickest route from point A to point Groupies and Cocaine. 

But first I’d need a guitar –  if you know someone looking to part with an acoustic guitar, holler in my general direction.  Leave a comment or e-mail me, and I will endeavor to update this blog once-in-a-while with my progress if this whole idea works out!

A Look Back: 18 May 2023

So this one is a complicated one.

First, pretty much everything is true about the bands and the music, not that it’s all that impressive, but I’d say this is all 90% accurate. That’s not the complicated part.

As for the bandmates: That’s not complicated either. Joseph Stalin is still rocking out hard in Detroit, the rhythm guitarist from the old band is so far as I know still making music but he’s kind of vanished off the earth. The second bass player is indeed still playing bass. The drummer is still, last I checked, drumming. The PSDQ (ugh that name) guy never did learn how to play guitar but is still an awesome friend. The first bass player from the first band is, to put it mildly, no friend of mine.

No, the complicated part is that it took me something like 10 more years to actually get back to playing guitar…and furthermore to excel by orders of magnitude what I was doing previously.

What was I doing previously? Glorified noodling. How much can you really do with a handful of chords (G, A, E, C, D, D minor, and of course all the power chords), and a minor pentatonic scale? Well, apparently play in a couple bands and also record a demo, but that’s not the point.

The point is that for some reason, in my 40s (probably a raging midlife crisis) I came back to guitar.

I had an interesting detour into trumpet – I still play, sometimes, though living in an apartment makes that an exercise in awkwardness. I digress.

Despite best intentions in 2011, the date of this post, I didn’t buy another guitar until I think 2014 or so. I bought an Epiphone acoustic, a lovely guitar, really, which I gave to my nephew. I played a little, but found myself busy with grad school and impatient to advance, so I didn’t really go anywhere I hadn’t been before.

And then during the COVID times, it hit me. In fact, for all I know, it hit me because of COVID – maybe I got infected and just had to make music…but all of a sudden I had sounds inside me that I wanted to get out and (this is important) I had the patience to learn music!

Sometime around 2020 I just thought yup, that’s a thing I need to do and I have been basically on fire for it since. My girlfriend bought me a guitar for Xmas and I picked up right where I left off and then, immediately blew past that. I started taking it seriously and actually learning the notes, the scales, the modes, and a more significant library of chords. I started building up real endurance and a deeper understanding of how the instrument worked.

So it’s not like I suddenly became a real actual rock star, and I don’t know the degree to which I would actually say I’m skilled…I’m still learning. I actually lean a lot more towards bass these days, but I am learning & practicing bass & six-string guitar in tandem and letting practice in one fuel the other.

In sum – I’m making really good progress away from Point A.

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