it’s a balancing act
and I can’t balance
and I can’t act too well
apparently, apparently.

should I act to the crowd
should I put aside feelings, for acquaintances
should I feel lucky to be part of the wheeling and dealing
no matter what is said
no matter.

shake hands and smile and
hope for the best
as they size you up
to see if you can pass their test
pass their test.

it’s a social science
it’s crowd control
to get real good at it
you have to learn to pretend again and again.

should I act to the crowd
should I put aside feelings, for acquaintances
should I feel lucky to be part of the wheeling and dealing
no matter what is said
no matter.

it matters, it matters, it matters to me,
it matters, it matters, it matters to me,
it matters, it matters, it matters to me.

Peter Prescott and Volcano Suns
“Balancing Act” from The Bright Orange Years – 1985

We should take a brief moment here to discuss some of the music that I took the trouble to drive in to see during the late eighties as the train is not an option for shows that end around 3 or 4 in the AM, long after the last train has left.

Also the train does not go from Westchester to Hoboken where Maxwell’s is located and before Hoboken was “discovered” and yuppified, Maxwell’s, along with the old Ritz on 11th St. and CBGB’s down in the Bowery were the prime places to find those bands that played what has been called various names over the years including punk, new wave, post-punk, underground, and alternative and no matter what it was called, until Nirvana came along, no band, with the notable exceptions of the Replacements and REM ever made any money at it.

And as the band Cake has asked the question, “How do you afford your rock and roll lifestyle?” I will answer straight up that during 1987 and 1988, I worked variously moving furniture, as a substitute teacher, and as a telephone representative for Bank of Manahttan’s mortgage telemarketing department.

Somewhere in the haze between the summer of ’87 and the winter of ’88 came several incredible shows involving those bands which had led the underground scene in Boston throughout the late ’70’s and early ’80’s and were now struggling mightily to rub two coins together.  At some point (I think this might have been during the summer of ’87), me and Jim Maddox convinced Dudley to go down to CBGBs to see the Volcano Suns which was the band put together by Peter Prescott, the former drummer of Mission of Burma, who had been forced to break up due to the the tinnitus of guitarist Roger Miller back in the spring of ’83.

I can’t remember the first time I ever went to CBGBs, but it requires driving as the shows tend to start around midnight and end around three or four in the AM.  So, me and Jim are very into Mission of Burma and Volcano Suns and all that.  Dudley is a little more mellow, but he enjoys the show just the same.  The major factor in this show is the volume.  At some point, the three of us all walked outside and realized that we could still hear the band just fine from the sidewalk, and I guess I understand why Roger Miller’s hearing was starting to go.

Roger Miller was still playing music but he just couldn’t take the extra amplified sound that Mission of Burma was known for, and he had put together a band called Birdsongs of the Mesozoic which Jim had been to see a few years before this with my brother and several other folks while I was down in Virginia.

Anyway, sometime in ’87-’88, Birdsongs came to play at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, one time with Volcano Suns and once with the Neighborhoods.  Bobby D., Jim Maddox and I had made it down there for both shows and the Class of ’84 crew of Ken Shaunessey, Mitch Caplan and “Jari” Nichols were there for the Birdsongs/Neighborhoods show.

Now the Neighborhoods had been to Port Chester (over on the Long Island Sound, but still in Westchester) during the summer of 1987 to play in a bar down there, and a group of about ten or fifteen of us including Jim Maddox and Bobby Devlin, Eddie Alarcon and Steve Collins all made the drive over to see them.

I went over with Kathleen Ryan and we had a good time, but at the end of the show it was pouring rain.  I’m talking one of those mid-summer thunderstorms where the skies just erupt in torrents of water.  So we give Eddie Alarcon a ride over to his car, and he stumbles out and runs over to his station wagon to drive home.  Kathleen tells me at the time, “Mitch, he’s wasted, he shouldn’t be driving.”  But the alcoholic’s maxim is that if someone says they can drive, they can.

So we drive away and end up skinny dipping at the swimming pool in the apartment complex where my friend George lived overlooking the Hudson River while thunder and lightning crash all around us.

But, back in Port Chester, Eddie is arrested for DWI and brought down to the jail.  Meanwhile, Steve Collins is trying to sleep in someone’s car while he waits for them to come back and drive home.

In the process, he accidentally knocks the car out of gear into neutral and the car rolls out into the street.  Steve gets into the driver’s seat to move the car back into the parking spot and as soon as he starts to back into the spot, he’s busted for DWI and is brought in to keep Eddie company.

But, the Birdsongs of the Mesozoic shows at Maxwell’s during ’87 and ’88 are astounding, they are playing keyboards and percussion along with a saxophone player and it all blends so beautifully.  I go running up to Roger Miller after the show all drunk and reverent telling him it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard, some wonderful combination between jazz and whatever, man.  He is very gracious and asks if he can use that expression himself sometime when he’s asked to describe his music.

I had an extremely unfortunate experience at the Dylan/Dead show at Giant’s Stadium in the summer of 1987.  Anyone who remembers that summer in the New York area must remember the weather of that summer, as it was ultimately the worst pollution weather I have ever seen.

I made it a point to stay as fucked up as I possibly could so that I would not have to face up to the fact of how tremendously depressing this weather was to deal with.  It was like Blade Runner, but without the rain.  95 degrees and 95% humidity the whole fucking time, and the sun very rarely shone other than some kind of Soylent Green glow behind the pollution haze.

I spent a lot of time that summer going around telling people that somebody had set off an atomic bomb, but forgot to tell us.

I had had an rather disquieting experience with mushrooms toward the end of April down in Virginia just prior to graduation, (which involved falling down in the mud repeatedly, being left by my friends and getting a ride home with the cops) and was in no physical condition for anything more grueling than beer and pot in a backyard lawn chair.

So, the drive to Giant’s Stadium takes like four hours because of the traffic and, as I mentioned, it is 95 degrees that day with 95% humidity and I drink about 10 beers before we even get to the show.  Mostly the concert is a blur, but I do remember being passed a pipe and smoking something that may or may not have been marijuana.

Whatever it was, the next thing I knew I was on the ground with several deadheads surrounding me asking “dude dude, are you OK?” Luckily someone had a bottle of water and I got a drink off of that, and Jim helped me over to the edge of the “scene” where I could sit and get some air and about 20 minutes later I got my color back and survived to drink another day.

(Down East, Me., 1998-99)