My second year of college was in 1984/85. After becoming disillusioned with a Percussion Arts degree, I changed my focus to T-Comm. That is, Telecommunications, or radio and television.
I lost confidence in my Percussion Arts degree because my main professor, Richard Paul, who was my drum teacher since 8th grade, was not showing up to my marimba lessons. They were scheduled for Monday at 8:00am, and I couldn’t see him getting up that early to drive 80 miles to the campus.
There were others who let me down, so I decided to move on and acquire some skills and knowledge to apply elsewhere.
THE GROUP PROJECT
During the Radio portion of the class, I worked alone. Long story short, my grades were very high. My final exam was to produce my own radio show, including commercials, announcements, and sound effects on carts.
Then I moved into the Television portion of the class. The final exam for this involved having a three-camera shoot with a producer and camera work.
Everyone was put into groups. As fate would have it, I was put into a group with some people who had decided that this major wasn’t for them, so they were not going to do the final.
Keep in mind that we had no cell phones, no internet, no email, and no answering machines. I had to try to physically find these people, since they were so uninterested that they didn’t even stick around after class to share information.
So I tried to tackle the entire project myself. I set up the three cameras, and was ON camera while operating a production switcher. Basically, I was doing an advanced YouTube video decades before YouTube existed.
THE HAMMER COMES DOWN
I hand in my final to the professor. She looks at it and asks me, “Where is everyone else in the group?”
I told her that I tried to find them, and ended up having to do it myself because they didn’t care and were not interested.
She said it was a valiant effort, but it was a GROUP project for a reason.
She told me:
“I have some bad news, and some worse news. The bad news is that I have no choice but to fail you in the Television segment, since this is a group project. The worse news is that this poor grade invalidates your Radio grade. You’ll have to try again next year.”
There were a few other reasons why I left college, but this was most definitely top of the list.
I was angry that my fate relied on complete strangers.
This was a foreshadowing of what my life would become as a musician who either joins or forms bands, and served as a peek into the window of what it is like when your efforts and success rely on the behaviors, character, and talent of others.
WHIPLADS, FIRST ITERATION
My band WHIPLADS was probably my most successful venture. We never gained any commercial success, but we had some solid music and played out quite often.
The first iteration was a four-piece, which I formed after I quit SECRET and took bassist Kevin Sherwood with me. Kevin would end up playing rhythm and lead guitar, and would ultimately become a full-time lead vocalist in the band’s second iteration.
But in the first iteration, we had other players. Alex Austin was a guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter who had some amazing talents. The bassist was Alan Tait, who was a bit of a troll.
The band was starting to have some problems. Alex became comfortable with making fun of me for being overweight. He would draw stick figure cartoons that depicted me as a round character. The context of these offerings were all about mockery and disrespect.
Meanwhile, Alan was developing a really bad attitude. To be more accurate, he was just letting his bad attitude leak out.
In hindsight, I probably should have saved some time by either letting them go or disbanding completely. Instead, I let it all go and it lingered. As it turns out, I used to be VERY good at ignoring red flags and moving on as if things weren’t happening.
This kept on, until one night, things snapped.
FATE STEPS IN
I’m not feeling too good about the band and the current state of affairs. We have a gig in North Hollywood at some dive bar. I got there early, as I always did, to get set up and staged for quick set-up. I had my drum tech, Junior, in tow.
I also had a flask full of Martin Sebor Absinthe, which I had planned on dipping into later, after the show. My personal philosophy was [and is] that chemical modification is for after-hours. I typically treated music like my job.
Tonight would be different.
Alan comes in, and the first thing he says is, “Fuck it. Let’s get drunk.” For some reason, I was on board with this. So I got a Heineken, drank half of it, and then re-filled the rest of the bottle with Absinthe, effectively making a type of boiler maker drink, I think.
I had two of these.
We were expecting no people to show up. By the time the booze started to kick in, I started witnessing a crowd. The sound man asked us to get on and do a sound check before our set started.
I sat down at the drums. I remember playing the drum beat for Sweet Emotion to give the sound man a sample, and then I put my head down on my snare and closed my eyes for a second.
WHEN I WOKE UP
As fast as I put my head down, I raised my head. I was no longer sitting at my drums. Instead, I was sitting at a table. The club was completely empty, and chairs were on the table. My drums were gone! The band was gone!
I was alone in half-darkness.
I stood up carefully and made my way out of the club. My drum tech was sitting in the car with my drums.
“What happened?” I asked her. “We were supposed to play this gig.”
She replied, “You did play the gig, and I video taped the entire thing.”
I felt even more sick to my stomach. In my mind, I just knew that things went poorly and that I ruined my reputation. And there’s evidence of how bad it went, to boot! I was sure of it. We get home, unload, and go to bed.
I would have dreams about the gig, as if I were in the audience, but isolated behind a dark wall, peering through glass. Whenever I had to sing, a microphone melted through the glass and I would join in.
Then I woke up.
THE VIDEO TAPE
The next morning, my attempt to wake up peacefully was shaken by the memory that there’s a video tape that I need to watch.
To make matters worse, Alex called me and said that he quit the band. Damn, this tape must be really bad!!!!
My stomach pulsed. I would have to face my fears and watch this train wreck. After hemming and hawing about it all, I decided that I deserved this special kind of punishment. I put the tape into the player and sat down.
There I was, on video. The sound man announces the band, and I enthusiastically count in the first song. The performance was actually good.
The rest of the tape was the same, with the band sounding better than ever before.
Why did Alex quit? What was the problem.
ALEX’S DEAL BREAKER
The problem came near the end of the performance. We had played our regular set. Alan comes over to me and says, “Symptom of the Universe! Fuck it! Let’s do it!” I appear rather hyped about it and we start to play the song.
“Symptom of the Universe” is a song by Black Sabbath. At Alan’s request, we had started playing this cover as an encore. However, Alex had a big problem with this, for some reason. He just didn’t like the song.
We’re rocking it out, and Alex does not look very happy, at all. Before the guitar solo, typically taken by Alex, I see him lean over and whisper into Kevin’s ear. Kevin responds, shrugs, and we play on.
Kevin said that Alex told him, “take it,” as in play the solo. Kevin had replied, “I got nothing” and shrugged.
During a previous rehearsal, Alex had said that if we ever played that song again, that he would quit the band.
It’s not actually that impressive that I played the entire gig perfectly while passed out. It had become a routine for me that I could execute in my sleep. The problem was that I had to have been aware enough to make a conscious decision to VETO Alan and not play that song. But I was having a great time, it seemed, and so I rolled with it.
I was lost in the moment and allowed the cover to be played, instead of being firm and ending the show. Being wasted allowed this to happen, and I had no conscious memory of any of it.
After Alex quit, Alan tried to get fired from the band, because he couldn’t bring himself to quit like Alex did. He’d bring a bad attitude to rehearsal, and even a bass with technical issues. I wouldn’t fire him, for some reason. Eventually, he just stopped showing up and taking calls one day.
That was that.
Both Alex and Alan had a great deal of contempt for me. They didn’t like me. As for my side of it, I didn’t think that us liking each other even mattered. What mattered was whether or not we could create together.
That was a wrong take.
Alex and Alan were both engaging in destructive behaviors. My attempts to ignore it all was unhealthy, and lead me to my own destructive behavior of getting wasted before a show.
Yes, I was destructive to this group project that was my own project.
Upon having this realization, I destroyed the tape, considered all of it to be a bullet dodged, and moved forward.
I had been drumming with Noodle Muffin for a spell, and asked the band’s bass player, Kevin Richardson, if he would join us. He did, and we ended up making some great music together for the second iteration of WHIPADS.
Ironically, I replaced Kevin on bass with Noodle Muffin, after he quit due to the band’s political music. I had also joined Kevin’s band, Falling Moon, in which we did some shows and recorded an album.
THE END OF WHIPLADS
Sadly, the band came to a rather abrupt and ceremonious end in 2006. Kevin, the guitarist and singer, belonged to a cult. The cult leader warned him that Los Angeles would be devastated by the bird flu and that he should abandon the area and everything about it, immediately.
He had just finished a fantastic movie called GAMERS, where he was deeply involved with the writing, the music, and acting. I went to the premier and met some of the stars, including Kelly LeBrock, William Katt, and Beverly DeAngelo.
Everything seemed to be picking up, and then he left.
The other Kevin was upset, as was I.
He called us a few weeks later, apologizing for having to leave. He said that someone from HBO was interested in licensing some of our songs. Kevin Richardson’s response to this was, “Fuck you. I don’t want to hear any of my performances on HBO, or I’ll sue.” CLICK!
That was the end of the band. Or should I call it a group project?
Even though I was in charge of the project, it still failed, just like the group project in college.
Was I inept?
I did make some mistakes. Those include not dissolving the first iteration of the band sooner. I tolerated a great deal of emotional abuse from Alex and Alan.
Another mistake was keeping the band together after I learned that Kevin S. belonged to a cult. When someone belongs to a cult, the cult makes decisions and has authority that takes precedence above all other. The cult also takes priority over all others.
I thought that maybe I could work around that. The end result was a good band that died too soon for an absolutely stupid reason.
THE SOCIAL ELEMENT OF A BAND
Music performance has always been a social catalyst for me. These social connections were tenuous, at best, and fell apart as easily as they formed.
I play drums, guitar, bass, keyboard, and a variety of other instruments. I can do it all myself, and my home studio is set up for that.
But it can get boring. Creating music without a band, to me, seems to miss the point completely. It’s the case with modern “music,” and it’s the case with what I’m doing now.
It’s one thing to write and record a song. But playing in a band is a completely different kind of beast.
Yes, COVID-19 forces me to stay home and not join another band. If I survive this, I might want to form another. Should I be able to do this, it will be the FIRST band that I’ve had AFTER my High-Functioning Autism diagnosis.
Will this be a good thing? Time may tell, or we may never find out.
Would I be up for a reunion? Not really. I did run into Alex a few years later at a liquor store in Hollywood, quite by accident, while attending a CD release party for The Prix.
Everything seemed like water under the bridge. But I suspect that the contempt he had for me would resurface in almost no time flat.
Kevin Sherwood recorded and released a solo album. I bought a copy, since he’d probably not send me one, and wrote to him saying how nice it was to hear some of the old tunes of his that he had submitted for WHIPLADS.
Kevin didn’t respond. However, I have been friends with his older brother, Ken. Ken was one of the few people I got to see in mid-2019 before I left California for Oregon. Ken put in the effort to be a friend whenever we talked. He was an honorary member of the band, and we dubbed him “The WHIP-DAD,” only because he’s a few years older than us.
I had contacted Alan sometime around 2012, because he had left a bass behind and I wanted to try to return it to him. He was playing with the band Vegas Preacher. He was vague and didn’t really want to talk. He said that he didn’t want the bass. It was a homemade kit thing. That was that.
As for Kevin R, on bass, he has been in his own world for quite some time. In his own world, he is the dictator. It’s a night-and-day, Jekyl and Hyde type of thing. Reuniting with him doesn’t sound like it would end well.
IF I COULD DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN
If I had that kind of a chance, then it may not have happened at all. I would have ousted Alex the first time he drew his insulting stick figure cartoon in the parking lot. Alan would have left right behind him. That would leave me and Kevin to try to figure it out. Maybe we’d find other people. But then I’d find out about his cult membership and depart myself.
And the black-out drunk gig situation never would have happened, which inspired me to drink only water before a show.
IN THE END
Doing this any other way seems almost impossible. At the very least, I cannot see it happening any other way.
Then again, it is nearly impossible to envision an alternative life or alternative reality. I often wonder what kind of life I would have had, if only I had known earlier that I was Autistic. It feels like a life wasted sometimes, but that’s another topic for another time.
To the main point, the concept, implementation, and practice involved in the “group project” is something that may evade my understanding for the rest of my life.