Wednesday, April 29, 2015

TMFW 86 - Phil Collins Remembers...the Alamo

Phil Collins was born and raised in England, and is a famous drummer. But unless you are a prog-rock junkie like my buddy Jinx, you probably underestimate his body of work.  
As a key member of Genesis and a solo artist, Collins has had 37 songs in the top 40, with 17 of those in the top 5 and 8 number 1s.  THIRTY-SEVEN top 40 hits!  I struggled to believe that, but then went down the list and said "oh yeah!  oh right!  oh yeah!  forgot about that one!  yep, I remember that!  oh, that one too!" etc.  So, respect to Phil Collins for his musical achievements.  
But today's TMFW is not about Phil Collins' music.  It is about his unusual passion for Texas history.  As a kid growing up in England, Collins watched Disney's Davy Crockett shows, and he became enamored with them. In his adulthood, he loved learning about the Alamo and studied it as a hobby.  After his wife gave him a piece of Alamo memorabilia one Christmas (it was a receipt for a saddle that an Alamo horseman had bought), he started a collection.  "Once I had something to hang on the wall," Collins recalls, "I started to look for other things to hang on the wall." All told, Collins amassed an Alamo collection with over 200 items, including a rifle owned by Crockett himself and a Bowie knife that its namesake Jim Bowie carried during the battle.  The value of Collins' stash - the largest private collection in the world - is estimated at over $10 million.  Collins even wrote a book about it in 2012.  
Last June, Collins announced that he would donate the majority of his collection to the Alamo site.  They in turn plan to build a new museum that will house Collins' donation alongside their existing collection. In thanks for his kindness, last month the Texas state legislature formally named Collins as an "Honorary Texan."  
So now you know:  Phil Collins is (almost certainly) the only guy in history to simultaneously hold the titles of "Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order" and "Honorary Texan."  Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.  
BONUS FACT:  For those wishing to get their Phil Collins on after reading today's entry, here are his 8 number 1s: "Invisible Touch" (the only #1 with Genesis), "Against All Odds," "Sussudio," "One More Night," "Separate Lives" (with Marilyn Martin), "A Groovy Kind of Love," "Two Hearts," and "Another Day in Paradise."  And here's a number 2 just because it's awesome: "Easy Lover" with Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire.
BONUS FACT 2: 30 years ago this year, Phil Collins played two gigs on two continents in one day, thanks to the Concorde.  In July 1985, Collins played Live Aid at Wembley Stadium, then flew to New York and got to Philadelphia in time to play Live Aid there.  
BONUS FACT 3:  In the category of "Not True Music Facts Wednesday," despite the kid you knew in high school whose cousin was totally at the show where it happened, and despite Eminem calling it out in his song "Stan," the song "In the Air Tonight" was not written after Phil Collins witnessed a murder.  And there was no front-row karmic retribution for the bad guy
BONUS FACT 4:  The Hangover franchise went off the rails pretty quickly, but the Mike Tyson mini-karaoke to "In the Air Tonight" (NSFW for lots of language) is good stuff.
BONUS FACT 5:  This is now the THIRD Pee-wee Herman related TMFW item, but you can't tell a story like today's without including Pee-wee's tour or his post- bull-riding memory of the Alamo.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

TMFW 85 - Weezer Earns a B+

Last Wednesday, TMFW told the story of Mozart ripping off the pope during Holy Week, 1770.  It was appropriate timing given that Easter of that year fell on April 15.  Today's TMFW is another good April 15 music story, separated from last week's by only a couple hundred years. 

This week's story begins on March 9, 1993, when the band Weezer played a set at the now-defunct Rhino Records in Santa Monica, California.  The band was quite young at that time and they were playing their way around LA in search of a deal. At the Rhino in-store appearance, sound was done by a fellow named Dale Johnson.  Johnson was only a part-time sound guy for the store, as he was a student at Loyola Marymount University in LA. 

Johnson was in a music engineering class, and his final project that semester was to record a song at his school's recording studio. He asked Weezer to help him do it.  The band, who would not be signed to DGC Records until June of that year and who did not start recording their first big record until August, obliged (and was no-doubt happy to get some free studio time.)   The band's bass player Matt Sharp insisted that the group must own the master recording, and Johnson agreed.

On April 15, 1993, Weezer and Johnson recorded six takes of the song "Jamie."  The recording was "live to 2-track," meaning that the band played their instruments on one track and Weezer's singer Rivers Cuomo simultaneously did vocals on another.  They were done in a little over an hour, and Johnson used the sixth take as his class project submission.  Though Weezer would have a platinum record less than a year later, the song earned Johnson only a B+.

That little story - that a pre-megastardom Weezer played on a kid's class project - is a pretty good one by itself.  But what makes it worthy of this week's TMFW is the life that the song went on to live. 

Shortly after Weezer's debut album took off, DGC records released a compilation album featuring several of its artists called DGC Rarities, Vol. 1.  Weezer chose Johnson's recording of "Jamie" for the record - it was good luck that he had given them ownership of the master - and included a shout out to Johnson in the liner notes for the CD.  The write-up for the song explained that "[t]his recording was done live to 2-track at LMU for this guy Dale's Junior Recording project. He only got a B+, but it still sounds cool."  DGC also used the track as a B-side on the "Buddy Holly" single.  "Jamie" became a fan-favorite and a frequent Weezer setlist item, and though he didn't get an A grade Johnson's one-hour class project became an engineering credit on two major-label releases.  Not bad at all.


BONUS FACT:  Rivers Cuomo has a brother named Leaves

BONUS FACT 2:  "Jamie" had the working title "Jamie Young, Esquire."  The song is one of love and appreciation for the band's first lawyer, who they worked with starting in March, 1993.  She inspired another song, too: Matt Sharp wrote the song "Mrs. Young" about her in 1993, and reworked it into "Please Let That Be You," which appeared on the debut album of Sharp's band The Rentals.  I like to think I am a decent lawyer, but to my knowledge none of my clients have ever written a love song about me.

BONUS FACT 3: The "Please Let That Be You" video linked above prominently features Maya Rudolph (of Saturday Night Live fame), who was a touring member of The Rentals before she joined the show.

BONUS FACT 4: Rudolph was in one of my favorite "stupid SNL skits that nevertheless make me laugh:" Tennis Talk With Time Traveling Scott Joplin.  The concept is that Scott Joplin travels through time and hosts a talk show where, between short bursts of ragtime music, he opines on women's tennis issues.  It's so dumb, and only 12 years later the characterization of the women's tennis players seems anachronistically sexist, but Rudolph is so good in it.  

BONUS FACT 5:  Maya Rudolph's mother is Minnie "Lovin' You" Riperton.

BONUS FACT 6:  Jamie Young is still practicing law; she is a named partner at a media law firm in LA.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

TMFW 84 - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Music Pirate

(April 15 was Easter Sunday in 1770, so what better date to tell this story...)
When Napster first came on the scene in the late 1990s, record labels freaked out with worry that piracy would kill the music industry.  (And they were definitely right that digital music changed the model - 15 years on, revenue is up and piracy is down, but the industry makes only half the money it did at its peak). 
Concern over music piracy is not a new phenomenon - as cassette recorders proliferated in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the British music industry trade group BPI launched a campaign titled "Home Taping is Killing Music," complete with a cool skull-and-crossbones logo made with a cassette tape.  Even before that, as detailed in TMFW 60, the Soviet Union had a decades-long history of elaborate underground pirating of western music.
But (perhaps) the first ever act of music piracy happened more than 200 years ago, when Mozart ripped off the pope in 1770. 
The story starts in the 1630s, when Pope Urban VIII had the Italian composer Gregorio Allegri write a setting of Psalm 51 called "Miserere mei, Deus" (have mercy on me, O God).  Musical recitations based around psalms were a feature of Catholic services from at least the 15th century, and were central to Holy Week rituals called tenebrae on Holy Wednesday and Good Friday.  Versions of the Miserere had been performed at the Sistine Chapel since the early 1500s, and after Allegri's version was composed it became the standard.  
To preserve some mystique around Allegri's song, it was performed only at the Sistine Chapel, and only twice a year during Holy Week.  Distribution or unauthorized performance of the song was punishable by excommunication, and even 130 years after it was written only three copies of the music were said to exist (in the hands of the Holy Roman Emperor, the King of Portugal, and the famous Franciscan composer Padre Martini.) 
But in 1770, the 14-year-old musical prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was visiting Rome and got to hear the "Miserere" on Holy Wednesday.  After hearing it only once, Mozart went back to his room and transcribed the whole thing from memory.  He returned to the Sistine Chapel two days later on Good Friday (remember: the only place on Earth and the other day in the whole entire year it was performed) and made some minor corrections.  And with that, Allegri's "Miserere" was freed.
Mozart's dad wrote back to his mother in Salzburg boasting of the feat: "…You have often heard of the famous Miserere in Rome, which is so greatly prized that the performers are forbidden on pain of excommunication to take away a single part of it...But we have it already. Wolfgang has written it down..."  
Later that year, Mozart met the British historian and composer Charles Burney, and gave him a copy of the song.  Burney wasted no time and published it in England.  One would expect that Mozart got busted for his act of piracy, but instead he was invited to a papal audience with Pope Clement XIV and praised for his genius.  The "ban" was lifted (though the toothpaste was out of the tube at that point anyway) and the "Miserere" was thereafter performed widely.  You can hear a version of it on YouTube here.  It's pretty good, I guess.
So the next time you hear someone lamenting the modern problem of music piracy, tell them that it's all Mozart's fault.  
BONUS FACT:  Mozart LOVED scatological humor, writing about it in 40 letters and incorporating it into several of his works.  There is so much out there that "Mozart and scatology" has its own Wikipedia page.
BONUS FACT 2: Mozart was only 35 when he died.  In that short life, he composed over 600 works. (What have you done with your life, man?)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

TMFW 83 - The New York Times Joins the Tom-Tom Club

The fall of 1991 was the commercial birth of the grunge movement.  First, Pearl Jam's Ten was released at the end of August.  In September came Nirvana's Nevermind, and then October featured Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger.  By Christmas, kids were decked in store-bought flannel from South Carolina to Southern California.  But the cultural impact of grunge continued much longer, and in November, 1992 the grunge craze was still in full effect.  The New York Times - always on top of the latest trend - featured a story on the movement, exploring its birth, rise to prominence, and adoption/adulteration by corporate interests.  
The story - headlined "Grunge: A Success Story" was perhaps cursed from its first paragraph, when it failed basic counting and asked "How did a five-letter word meaning dirt, filth, trash become synonymous with a musical genre, a fashion statement, a pop phenomenon?" (emphasis added.)  But it became famous - or more accurately, infamous - for a sidebar that accompanied the article.  Titled "Lexicon of Grunge: Breaking the Code," it explained that "all subcultures speak in code; grunge is no exception," and went on to provide a handful of grunge slang words that would be "coming soon to a high school or mall near you."  The words were reprinted from a list that had appeared in the British magazine Sky, which were provided by Megan Jasper.  Jasper was at the time she talked to the magazine a receptionist in her early 20s at Sub Pop records (the label that first signed both Nirvana and Soundgarden).  They included:
"wack slacks" - old ripped jeans
"swingin' on the flippity flop" - hanging out
"harsh realm" - bummer
"cob nobbler" - loser
"lamestain" - uncool person, and
"tom-tom club" - uncool outsiders
Those words certainly qualified as "code."  But the problem for the Times is that the code most definitely did not belong to the "subculture" of grunge.  By that point, the commodification of Seattle culture, and the suggestion that it was somehow a singular thing that could be distilled to some simple essense, had struck a nerve with the people who were actually living it.  When Sky magazine did their "journalism" by simply calling a record label and asking for the latest slang, Jasper thought "if they're lame enough to try to scrutinize this totally stupid thing, why not fuck with them?"  And so she did, and made all of the words up.  
Shortly after the Times printed their list, a Chicago publication called the Baffler published an article titled "Harsh Realm, Mr. Sulzberger," in which it quoted an interview with Ms. Jasper and revealed the hoax.  The story was picked up by The New Republic and others, and the pranking of the stalwart New York Times got legs.   
From there, the story gets a little complicated.  The Times, embarrassed by their sloppiness, contacted Ms. Jasper (for the first time - they had not fact checked the list before publishing it) and intimated that the journalist who'd written the story would possibly be fired if it turned out Jasper's words were a hoax.  Jasper felt bad - "I would feel shitty if someone lost their job over a stupid prank," she later said - and so she denied ever talking to the Baffler.  Emboldened by this, and believing as a result of that denial that the Baffler piece was false, the Times demanded a response/retraction from the BafflerThey faxed over a cheeky response that read:
"Of course the Baffler stands by its story, and we can document our conversation with Megan Jasper.
Having seen The New York Times’ misinterpretation of the Grunge ‘phenomenon,’ we are hardly surprised that you fail to understand the nature of this continuing prank.
We at the Baffler really don’t care about the legitimacy of this or that fad, but when The Newspaper of Record goes searching for the Next Big Thing and the Next Big Thing piddles on its leg, we think that’s funny."
To put the issue to bed, Ms. Jasper came clean shortly thereafter.  The Times never printed a correction.  And 20+ years later, the newspaper is remembered both for its ridiculous story and for its petty, embarrassing response.  They proved themselves to be lamestains in the truest sense. 
BONUS FACT: New Wave fans in the TMFW audience will recognize that "Tom Tom Club" is the name of an early 1980s band.  The group, which was started as a side project by two members of Talking Heads, has released six studio albums.  Their first two singles - "Wordy Rappinghood" and "Genius of Love" - were each #1 songs on the U.S. Dance chart.
BONUS FACT 2:  Chris Carter, the creator of The X-Files, made a sci-fi show called Harsh Realm that briefly ran on Fox in 1999.  The name was taken from a comic book, which took its name from Ms. Jasper's slang invention.
BONUS FACT 3:  By the time Ms. Jasper experienced her 15 minutes of fame from pranking the Newspaper of Record, she had already been laid off from Sub Pop when hard times saw their staff shrink from over 20 to just 7.  But in 1998, she returned to the label, and more than 15 years later she is still there and is now an Executive Vice President.  She seems by all accounts to be supremely cool.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

TMFW 82 - **EXCLUSIVE** - The A&R Man Who Made a Deep Impact

[NOTE: Today's entry will hopefully be very entertaining to a small subset of readers.  It is equally likely to be seen as completely inane and boorish to the rest.  My apologies to the latter group.  But to paraphrase TMFW 76 subject Lesley Gore, it's my TMFW and I'll write what I want to.]
The late '90s South Bend music scene was a busy place.  On one hand there was the not always visible but nevertheless thriving "indiepunk college rock" scene that saw bands like emiLy, Sweep the Leg Johnny, and the Florida Evans Showband and Revue play basements and bars just off of the Notre Dame campus.  On the other hand, there was the birth of "improg" group Umphrey's McGee from the combination of Notre Dame mainstays Tashi Station and Stomper Bob and the 4x4s.  But over on the third hand, something truly magical was happening: the explosion of on-campus acoustic cover groups who played shoddily-constructed, sparsely-arranged, and poorly-rehearsed cover songs of top-40 hits, usually in micro-sets of only three or four songs at a time.  For today's TMFW, I am very proud to announce some real live journalism: an exclusive interview with Matt "The Officer" Kloser, the man who was central to the mainstream success of that movement and who was widely regarded to be the best A&R man in his field.
As the head of the Benchmark Consortium, The Officer controlled a stable of groups that dominated the acoustic cover scene.  His groups were rumored to have included the Goshen, Indiana based heavy metal band Lyx, along with campus mainstays Skeletor, the Blasterz, and the all-female group Meat on Fridays.  But no band is more linked to The Officer than the 1999 campus group The Meteors.  In this exclusive interview with The Officer - who I remind you is widely regarded to be the best in his field - he tells for the first time the story of the wild three months in 1999 when The Meteors blazed brightly in the nighttime rock-and-roll sky (and then just as quickly burned out in the atmosphere).  Here is the interview, which for old times' sake was conducted by AOL Instant Messenger.  It is at times heavily edited to remove inappropriate references and expletives from The Officer.  He is widely regarded to be the best A&R man in his field, but he has the mouth of sailor. 
TMFW:  Wow.  It is a true honor to be corresponding with you.  I guess first things first: how did The Benchmark Consortium come to be, and how did you come to be widely regarded as the best in your field? 
The Officer:  Thanks for contacting me, and for your kind words.  I think that I earned my widely-regarded reputation as the best in my field because I always made sure that the artists were free to be creative.  I handled the tedious details of booking, contract negotiation, equipment, fan management, and promotion, and left the talent to do their work. 
TMFW:  On that subject, let's get into your time with The Meteors.  Tell me how you came across that band. 
The Officer:  I had been looking for a group like The Meteors for some time.  Back in those days, the campus scene of fake bands playing poor joke versions of cover songs was very new, and it was almost like a zygote when I first encountered it.  Bands like The Glass Eye Merchants, Briggz, and Skeletor were like haploid cells, teaming up into a diploid cell and then dividing and growing inside of an archegonium. 
After that initial fertilization period, the scene became more of a morula, and some dominant groups started to emerge.  I am talking of course about The Sampsons - an early band on the scene that really changed the game and laid a foundation for the success for future groups.  If The Meteors were the fully-formed human child of the scene, The Sampsons were the rich placenta that nurtured its growth.
TMFW:  That's a really excellent and not-at-all-weird metaphor, Officer.  Tell me about the Sampsons. 
The Officer:  Well, they were a special group.  I first encountered the band when I had gone to Tomassito's at the Student Center one night for my weekly calzone.  They were playing across the building, and doing their best to cover a Barenaked Ladies song. I wandered over there and stayed for the set.  They moved to a Barenaked Ladies song, and then ended with a Barenaked Ladies song.  What really struck me was their versatility, you know?  So I added their calendar to my PalmPilot and kept up with the group. 
The next time I saw them, lightning struck.  A newcomer to the scene was opening for them - a kid named Ski.  He played a really beautiful cover of Emilia's then-hit song "Big Big World," and the crowd was really taken by it.  It was intoxicating, almost.  You can hear actually Ski announce The Sampsons, and sense the crowd's anticipation of the group, at the end of that song.
As it turns out, unbeknownst to all of us The Sampsons were under heavy artistic stress when I saw them.  They ended up dissolving not long after that, when they faced a minor medical setback that caused them to cancel their remaining shows.  By the time that was resolved (and very thankfully so), creative differences between the group became irreconcilable.  The two driving forces behind the group - Mobes and Jinx - had a close friendship, but they also had some bad history that went back to a yacht sale and Hawaii land deal that went bad.  I remember years later - in 2007 or so - there was a legendary fight between them, and Mobes declared that they "shan't work together again."  (Of course we all know now that they did end up playing again - the legendary Pierogi Boyz show in July, 2014 - but that was a long time coming.) 
TMFW:  Most people who were on the scene then remember the devastation caused by The Sampsons' break-up, but for you it had a silver lining of sorts, didn't it? 
The Officer:  Well no doubt, for the Benchmark Consortium it did.  I had a vision of what could succeed in those days, and I was looking for a group that I could mold.  To me, they would perfectly combine showmanship, average-at-best musical talent, top-40 songs, a willingness to look like complete idiots, and mouth noises.  When it became clear that such a group did not exist, I set out to build it.  
I approached Hoey, who was the lead singer of The Sampsons.  He was looking for something new and joined up right away.  I signed him to a "deal memo" to lock him into the Benchmark Consortium, and set out to find the right group to pair him with.  Hoey suggested a guitar player named Loaf, who had been in the band Jackrabbit (which also featured Jinx on bass, so they had shared bandmates in common).  Loaf had also played with Hoey in groups called Tape Deck and The Push Pops.  To be honest I was not impressed with either of those groups, but I am widely regarded as the best in my field and I saw a little nugget in their music that I knew I could polish into a diamond.  Loaf was in, provided that the group would play something by Sixpence None the Richer.  He had a girlfriend at the time named Kim and that was their special song.  Kim was a cool girl - I always wondered what happened to her.
With those two on board, I went to Ski, the fresh-faced kid I'd seen a month before. I hatched a plan to get Ski to join the band: I hid every pair of socks that Ski had and knotted each of his shoes together in difficult clumps. Ski gave in and joined the group after I promised to give him back his stuff if he did. Ski's feet would sweat - like, really really bad - and so he needed those socks.  I'll never forget what Ski said to me that day: "Ok, man."  I have goosebumps thinking about it.
With three pieces in place, we just needed somebody to add superfluous and distracting mouth noises on the top of each song.  A promising kid named Hipp was recommended - he'd sat in with the Glass Eye Merchants once and basically just went "dug-a-duggie, dug-a-dug, dug-a-duggie duggie duggie" the whole time.  Naturally, I invited him into the group.  He spent 20 minutes lamenting that modern music featured the same lack of morals that doomed Rome in Caligula's time, then agreed to join up. 
TMFW:  So the band came together and off they went? 
The Officer:  To our great surprise, yeah.  I booked the boys for their first show at "Acoustic Cafe," which was a small peanuts show at the Student Center.  I wanted them to start small and build a following.  I remember that they opened that night with "Hi, We Are The Meteors," which was a blatant rip-off of a They Might Be Giants song.  It was sloppy, and they messed up the bridge, but they sang the hell out of it.  In that way, the song was a great metaphor for what The Meteors would go on to be.
For their next gig, I stepped it up and booked them for "Acoustic Cafe," which was a pretty prestigious event at the Student Center.  I think that was the first night that they played "As Long as You Love Me."  From the first "yeah, we're singing it" from Hipp, I knew we were on to something.
The third gig was going to be the most important, so I spared no expense and swung for the fences.  I booked them at "Acoustic Cafe" at the Student Center, which at the time was only for marquee campus performers. They broke out two of their big songs that night - "Ironic" and "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)."  Those songs were so bad as to be almost unlistenable, but they went over huge.  And soon I was managing the biggest act in Michiana. 
TMFW:  And then I presume you brought the kind of publicity muscle that only the Benchmark Consortium could offer... 
The Officer:  Of course.  I knew what we needed to do when it came to promotion - I don't know if you heard this yet, but I am widely regarded as the best in my field - so I got the band hooked up with an official photographer and had a series of photographs taken.  We had staged photos - the classics like playing leapfrog, laying in a "star" formation, and posing in front of empty fountains.  But then we got some more candid shots, too, like being protected from fans, posing with those same fans (to show that the group is approachable and down-to-earth despite their success), having a band practice and setlist review meeting, and working on harmonies in sets of two
I also had them do some radio interviews.  Hipp lamented about life on the road (with the frequent charity golf matches and book signings) and acknowledged his own limitations, Loaf talked about his influences, and Ski revealed the surprising sources of his inspiration and strugged to answer a long-forgotten question.  I even had Ozzie, the official photographer, offer some perspective about what it took to make the band look their best.
If you listened carefully to some of those early interviews, you could hear in some of the answers the strain of fame: Hoey gave a complex answer about the band's direction and Loaf defended the band against those who accused them of selling out.
But the biggest move I pulled off was of course the magazine cover. 
TMFW:  Ah yes, I recall that.  But before we get into that, is that you conducting business in several of those photos?  Was that intentional? 
The Officer:  Yes that is me, and no it was definitely not intentional.  Remember, I was all about promoting the talent and staying out of the spotlight.  But at the same time, I was widely regarded as the best in my field, and that meant constantly working for the group.  You can see from the size of my cell phone (which was NOT just a cordless phone used as a prop because none of us had a real cell phone in those days) that those were different days from a technological perspective, and so I had to go wherever I could get reception.  Sometimes unfortunately that meant being in the shot. 
TMFW:  Well, I am sure the band understood and appreciated that dedication.  As you mentioned, the band famously graced the cover of the campus magazine Scholastic.  How did that come about? 
The Officer:  Well, once we put the publicity machine into gear there was no stopping us.  It helped that the band was at the height of its creative powers - they had covered "This Kiss" and "Still the One," which were rookie league tunes, but they really came together when they did "The Glory of Love," and they hit their apex with a movie-quote-laden and very off-key version of "My Heart Will Go On." 
Of course we had intense media interest at that time, and we had the opportunity to hook up exclusively with a young journalist named Kara Zuaro.  Kara was the best on the scene, and the band really was taken with her.  She was a real professional.  In fact, Kara has gone on to write a very cool book that combines food and indie rock called I Like Food, Food Tastes Good.  Anyway, Kara interviewed the group, they posed for some photos, and the result was a cover story that really captured the essence of the Meteor Craze.  We didn't know it at the time, but that was the brightest that it would get for the band. 
TMFW:  At that time, you all were living the life, it seems... 
The Officer: We definitely were.  I remember one notable instance where a young lady named Amber came to a show and was smitten by Ski.  She really wanted a date with him and talked to him after the show.  Ski was very interested in her, but he understood that such matters were not core artistic issues so he wisely referred her to me to book a date.  I handled that for Ski and I think that it went very well.   
TMFW:  But I suppose nothing lasts, does it?  The band eventually fell to Earth? 
Officer:  In a big way, yes.  The first sign of trouble was at a show in the basement of Keenan Hall; it was a freshman dinner and was well-attended.  Hoey especially at that time was struggling with the pressures of fame, and insisted to the band that they should play a straightforward, gag-free cover of "Boot-Scootin' Boogie."  I still have no idea why he did that or why the band agreed, but they did.  And when they played the show, the song went over like a lead balloon.  Hoey chose to double down, and repeatedly insulted the audience from the stage. It went downhill from there.  In a case of instant karma, the band's tape deck got swiped during the show, so thankfully no record of that gig exists. 
Another instance of the band getting to big for its britches was the annual Nazz Battle of the Bands.  Tickets to the show were only $5 or so, but the group made a bunch of "backstage passes" for their friends.  I remember being at the gate when people started coming in, and Amber (who had moved on from the first date and was by then Ski's lady) flashed her badge and tried to walk on through.  Of course, the ticket guys were not impressed by a crudely laminated, Corel WordPerfect-designed "all access" pass, and they stopped her.  Being a professional, I insisted that the passes should be honored - my loyalty to the band means that even to this day I must officially believe that - but in my heart I understood and could empathize with the guys at the door.  
When the band finally did break up, it was obvious.  I had seen it with so many great bands that dissolved at the height of their fame - U2, The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, &c. - and it was plain when it happened.  As I recall, Ski made a ceremony of unplugging MegaVox (that's what we called his keyboard; it was so involved in the songs that it was like the Fifth Meteor) and he walked out the door.  We didn't see him again for several hours, until we met for dinner.   
TMFW:  But the story of The Meteors has somewhat of a happy ending, doesn't it? 
The Officer:  Thankfully, yes.  By fall of 1999, tensions had subsided and I booked the band for a double-slot at "Acoustic Cafe," where it had all begun.  That was not an easy feat for such a prestigious event; it was the first and last time such scheduling accommodation was made. 
And after that first date, Ski and Amber kept things going, and got married.  Amber insisted on getting the band back together for the wedding reception, and so I handled the logistical arrangements so that the band could focus on their art.   
To our great surprise, the usually totally reliable Loaf bailed out of the show at the last minute.  Though it went against everything I stood for, I was compelled by the circumstances to step in and take his place.  I took over lead guitar for one night only, and the band played a blazing performance.
I still remember the press release I wrote when I made that move: "It is with great trepidation that I cross over the once impermeable membrane between the A&R work and the creative element.  The band has both rocked and rolled due to this separation of powers, often preventing arguments that could have vainly ended in lower per diems and/or less playing of the guitar will only be a coping mechanism to allow The Meteors to blaze a trail in the sky one last time.  Following this concert...I will immediately sign away all my rights to the creative element and return to the A&R work I was born to run. God bless us all in this time of crisis and God bless America."
I sent that to the publishers of Rolling Stone, Spin, and Highlights for Kids.  I don't think it made it into any of them.  I don't know why; I had expected it at least to run alongside Goofus and Gallant. 
TMFW:  Thanks for that great run through The Meteors' history.  Are you still in the A&R field? 
The Officer:  No.  After I played Ski and Amber's wedding, I officially retired.  By then, the Benchmark Consortium had rapidly disintegrated into a mix of discontented artists and everyone was miserable. So I moved on.  I earned my masters in biology and a doctorate in science education from Stanford University.  Now I work as a university professor at Notre Dame, and my dissertation received honors for the paper of the year in the field of science education.  If you want to read it, the paper focuses on the interaction of epistemology and core teaching practices in high school biology classrooms.  It's pretty great.
TMFW:  That's terrific.  Thinking about the interaction of epistemology and core teaching practices in high school biology classrooms is a hobby of mine.  Thanks for the suggestion
So that's it for today's TMFW.  I hope that you enjoyed reading about the history of The Meteors - one of Notre Dame's greatest campus bands.  See you next week.
BONUS FACT / EXPLANATION FOR CONFUSED READERS - It being April 1, today's TMFW is in the spirit of April Fools' Day.  Though remarkably all of the facts above are more or less true, they are about some college bands that I played in and around.  I made up all of the quotes just a little bit about the band's grandeur.  The Officer was indeed The Meteors' manager/A&R man (and is a current TMFW subscriber), and he was indeed widely regarded as the best in his field.  I thank him for his willingness to play along for today's entry.
BONUS FACT 1.5 - These days, Ski and Amber - who is now Dr. Amber - have two young kids and live in LA.  In a fun bit of serendipity, they have a book that comes out TODAY.  Buy it on Amazon right now.
BONUS FACT 2 - In an exercise even more inane and pointless than spending several hours a week writing a music fact that very few people read, Ski once wrote one poem a day, for a year, about onion bagels.