Now It Can Be Told: The Quick Rise And Meteoric Fall of Dancing Lawnchairs!

A band like any other, stuck in the basement dreaming of greatness.
In 1986, after two years of hard work and just as we were beginning to take flight, my band broke up.

More accurately, the bass player quit and, since we were a trio, that made us either a drums and guitar duo (which was unheard of at the time - House of Freaks didn't even exist yet) or, as we liked to call it in 1986, "not enough people for a band".

The reason we had been a trio in the first place was because we were literally the only three musicians in our humble little burg who kinda sorta liked the same music and weren't happy to just play CCR and Foghat covers. We had wanted to write our own songs and conquer the world, but losing one-third of our band just like that threw a serious wrench into our plans for global domination.

By then, we had recorded an album's worth of demos and caught the attention of a "Big Time Record Producer" in the nearest big town to us, South Bend, Indiana. I know, not very big, but it's all we had.

It was during these sessions that I first encountered "the click track" and found it to be quite disconcerting. Note to bands, producers, anybody reading this: a click track is not something you spring on a drummer for the first time AT THE SESSION with the clock ticking.

"Play to a click track?"
Had I known we were going to be cutting tracks to a click, I would have boned up on that shit. Needless to say, our first couple sessions with this "Big Time Record Producer" were hampered by my inability to lock in with the click track.

Immediately afterwards, of course, I sat down with the metronome and got so I could play to a click track in my sleep.

Once confident of my skills, I called the "Big Time Record Producer" and told him that my drum game was now air-tight, but he was audibly not thrilled about the idea of another session.

At the same time I was sharpening my click precision, I was also teaching myself to play drums standing up because I had seen Brad from the Elvis Brothers do it. As the singing drummer in a rock trio, I was looking for any and all angles to keep the stage presence interesting. Trust me, a singing drummer buried behind a bunch of toms and cymbals is visually appealing for about...zero seconds.

As a test, we booked a gig under an alias at a jazz club (!) and played a Thursday night new wave dance party. Maybe 20-30 people showed, but they all spent the entire night on the dance floor. One of those sweaty, smiling husks of humanity was also the manager of the biggest band in town, The Kinetics.

As we were performing under a fake name, Mr. Manager had no idea the band he was losing his mind to was the very same one he'd rejected based on our original demo tape months ago.

After the set, Mr. Manager made a bee-line for the stage and offered a sweaty hand.

"Glad to meet ya," he said with one glistening, silver-capped tooth catching the light from a nearby strobe. "I'm not leaving here tonight until you boys agree to let me manage you!"

After taking a certain amount of joy in reminding him that he'd already turned us down, we laughed the laughter of kings as he pleaded temporary insanity, and we accepted under the condition that he drop the Kinetics.

Not the Kinetics, but you get the idea.
See, the Kinetics were our mortal enemy from the moment we began booking gigs on the same scene. Mind you, we hadn't actually ever met them or anything.

If we had been on any other scene, we would have figured out who the top dog was and gone after them, too. It was just our way of creating a senseless rivalry and getting our name out there back in the days before internet, cell phones, and flying cars.

You don't think the Beatles and Stones weren't rivals?

Whenever you see a picture of Mick Jagger hanging out with the Beatles, he's not there as a buddy, he's there as a fucking spy soaking up anything he can take back to his band.

Whether Mr. Manager was already on his way to parting ways with the Kinetics or not, by the time he took us on, they were no longer on his roster.

At the show he had seen, we had debuted a new song called "Fire From A Stone" that made the entire club go ape shit. People who hadn't walked in years were doing the funky chicken. Sitting down, of course. What had been a three-minute song in rehearsal turned into an eight-minute aerobic workout that left everybody on that dance floor exhausted.

Before the invisible ink on our handshake agreement had even dried, Mr. Manager called the "Big Time Record Producer" and, upon playing him our original demo of "Fire From A Stone" over the phone, listened as the "Big Time Record Producer" started cancelling paying gigs to have us in his studio again.

In the meantime, we had a few big gigs that we had managed to book prior to signing with our manager that we needed to prepare for, but that were now being hampered by the suddenly large infrastructure of the band.

"You guys wanna make it or not?"
Almost overnight, we'd taken on an entire road crew, sound man, and stadium size PA. When our new crew showed up to our first headlining South Bend club appearance, the woman who had been so kind to give us the slot in the first place was now complaining about the size of the PA system:

"We're a 500-seat club, not Woodstock," she said before hanging up on me.

Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of this whole experience was that, after a very successful weekend of rocking South Bend off its ass and making the most cash we'd ever seen, the manager, crew and sound guy were the only ones that got paid.

In hindsight, this was our first introduction to one of the universal truths of rock & roll: The crew and tech guys get paid first.

If you want to make money in music, join the crew. Don't believe me? Ask my favorite singer, Steve Summers of E.I.E.I.O., who pays the bills as REO Speedwagon singer Kevin Cronin's guitar tech.

After a few weeks of our constant bitching about everybody else getting paid but us, we managed to piss off ol' Silver Tooth. Just to go out on a brown note, we played one last gig out in the middle of nowhere with the full stadium-size PA and crew to about 50 people who were getting itchy to start chucking bottles.

Our sound guy had gotten busted for drunk driving the night before so our manager had to bail him out, thereby showing up at the last possible second acting like its all another day in paradise. His coming straight from jail to the show had became a fairly regular occurrence by then that nobody thought twice about because, well, the man knew his way around a mixing board..

Even so, we ultimately realized that we couldn't afford him, or the road crew, or the manager we once thought would be the answer to our prayers.

The whole experience had left a bad taste in our mouths, hastened only by an ill-advised attempt to find another drummer so that I could move out front as vocalist: yet another idea presented to us by our former manager that created tensions where previously there had been none.

Our bass player took it hardest, as he'd been the one who'd had to do the most changing to accommodate the manager. The guitarist and I had been only too eager to make any changes the manager suggested because, duh, why else have a manager?

But our bass player was not cut from the same cloth and by the time I finally realized the slippery slope I was skating down, the damage had been done.

What would have happened if we hadn't been so hell-bent on "making it" and just made music that we loved?

What if we hadn't let those who supposedly knew better tell us how we should be?

More importantly, what if the most important band of our time (Fall Out Boy, of course!) had broken up before they ever made a record?

Now that I think about it, how many great bands have we missed out on because of petty little shit that nobody else even knows about that caused a potentially great band to split up before the rest of the world even knew they existed?

Hell, I'd put money on the fact that The Beatles aren't the greatest band in the world, not by a long shot. They're just the greatest band in the world who stayed together after that first bump in the road. The difference between growing up with the Beatles and NOT could have been as simple as Decca saying "No thanks" and John Lennon saying "Fuck it, I'm done."

The moral of this story, you ask?

Fuck, I don't know. Enjoy every sandwich?

Next week's exciting chapter: "...And Then There Was One".

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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