Holy shit did I feel stupid. Not that I wasn’t used to looking like a boob onstage — something for which I claim full responsibility — but this was just embarrassing. It was July 4, 2004, and my now defunct band, Billy Boloby, was performing at a pub in Fort Lauderdale.
The seventh song of our eight-song set had just finished, and I waited patiently for the next cue. Finally, a loud crashing sound came from behind me, followed by a complaint-filled rant by our drummer, Gary Harris. His tirade included but was not limited to the following: I’m a horrible frontman and a slave-driving dick, he’s a genius whose talent was being wasted, and the only recourse is for him to leave and start his own band. He then stormed the microphone and presented me with his “declaration of independence” from the band, which he asked me to sign. I gladly obliged. But before handing me the paper, he made me put on a judge’s robe, ostensibly to make things more “officious.”
The real reason for the robe, however, was to assist in the final “punchline” of our skit: when I turned back around, after having placed on the robe, I held in my hand a pen to sign the document — but it was a fake hand that was about to be severed by our vengeful drummer. But things were not going as planned. First, the crowd was starting to get restless. It had been almost three minutes since we had finished our previous song. Enough of the b-grade acting, I could hear them mumble cynically; get back to the music.
“Just play your songs,” shouted the bass player of the band that was to follow us. He seemed in a hurry to have us finish. Our nerves were a little jolted by the crowd’s seeming disapproval, and we hastily carried on with the skit. With the fake hand sticking out from my robe, I waited for the crash of the plastic sword to help move things along. Harris swung… and missed. Someone, shoot me, please. I was forced to hold out my arm so he could get a second try, an action that basically implied failure on our part. When he finally landed the blow, I quickly grabbed the microphone and duct-taped it to my wrist Evil Dead 2–style, and we launched into the final song. I spasmed and convulsed on the stage like I normally do, but this time I was really just trying to not look at the audience.
The fucking audience. These were our fans, I thought. They know the kind of dumb shit we like to pull on stage. They never complained the time our set was commandeered by a mad scientist and his robot, Boloby 3000, or when, during a Labor Day gig, we took time out to deliver the guitar player’s baby onstage. No one seemed to mind when, as openers for the SuicideGirls burlesque show, we presented ourselves as an end-times cult that solicited audience members’ money and offered Kool-Aid before committing suicide.
And, with the exception of one guy who “paid for my date to see Billy Boloby,” everyone seemed OK when we ditched that name (and all of our songs) and became a black-metal circus act called Vanilla Friendship Bracelet (which lasted about 10 minutes before devolving into a sword fight among band members). Screwing around was our M.O. While every other band of our ilk did interviews for punk and garage zines, talking about their rock ’n’ roll roots, we were featured in the Weekly World News discussing how we met in a home for deformed kids. For us, that was the only type of press that mattered.
But still, “just play your songs” was a mantra we heard often. I always brushed it aside or shoved it back in the offending party’s face. But there was another mantra of discontent I heard at an increasing rate of frequency: “Why are you doing this?” And it wasn’t something shouted from across the bar or even shouted at all — it was a voice in my head. This time, the offending party was me, and I had to take the complaint seriously. What were we doing? What was I doing? Was I just trying to be “funny,” acting as some kind of innocuous comic relief? No way; that’s bullshit. I was serious about the message (or vibe or whatever you want to call it) I was trying to impart. But it had reached the point where we were doing skits for the sake of doing skits, and I knew that wasn’t the original idea. Plus, anyone who saw that band knows I won’t be winning an Academy Award anytime soon.
I guess it had been too long since I thought about what I was trying to accomplish. After all, this was the type of band I had dreamed of since high school yet could never make happen for various reasons, both technical and personnel-related. I wanted to create a band that fused my disdain for phony social behavior with the desire to channel my inner idiot, combining the disaffected with the unaffected. At any rate, it was an idea that came about only after I realized the two sides — the angry anti-socialite and the enthusiastic spaz — were compatible. But that didn’t come easily. No sir, I am not a natural at displaying enthusiasm in public.
• • •
It was my sophomore year of high school, and I reluctantly attended the school dance. This wasn’t your average jock-run school but a public school of the arts — sort of like Fame meets Saved By the Bell, but even more obnoxious. The dance was pretty much our version of a homecoming celebration. I went for one reason and one reason only: a girl. OK, it was more like several girls, but still, that was the only thing that brought me to what I viewed as “enemy territory.” You see, though I hated just about everyone in the school, I especially despised the Z. Cavaricci crowd — which is exactly who the dance catered to. They all sucked, and I knew it. All I could think of was that they were phony, trendy, mindless, spineless and had really bad taste in everything. That was me at 15 — Judge Boloby.
It took only 10 minutes of watching them dance to Kris Kross and Marky Mark to confirm that, indeed, my hatred was justified. But the longer I stood around making snide comments and doing little else, the more I realized it wasn’t just hatred I felt — I envied them as well. It wasn’t a matter of popularity or feeling left out; there really were no cliques in the school. What bothered me was their sense of freedom. It was something I lacked as a cerebral, self-conscious and somewhat uncoordinated 15-year-old. I couldn’t dance. I couldn’t sing. Nothing came natural to me the way it seemed to for them. Sure, I could play guitar, but when did that ever come in handy in a social situation? For all the pride I placed on my individuality and ability to think for myself (the ever-important distinction for teenagers trying to carve out their identity), what was it worth, really? If I couldn’t actually do anything in the real world, the social world, what was the point? I couldn’t sit in the back of the classroom forever. Soon I decided to stop worrying about my environment and channel my inner weirdness.
Fast-forward about 15 years. I’m onstage, rolling around in a mess of wires and unaware that I had just unplugged the microphone. (Hey, it happens. A lot.) Anyway, we’re playing one of the poppier tunes in our set when I spot some metalhead-looking guy in the front row. He’s got his arms crossed and looks bored as hell … angry, almost. I’m sure the lack of guitar crunch isn’t his idea of rock ’n’ roll. And I’m doubly certain my stage antics annoy him, what with my lack of machismo and refusal to shout, “All you motherfuckers in the back, get up front!”
All I can think of is, “Hey, fuck you, buddy. Just because my music doesn’t sound angry doesn’t mean it’s all lovey-dovey, peaches and cream. Hell, I used to be a metalhead. I know what you’re thinking because I thought that way, too. Ah! The nerve!”
Not wanting to bum myself out, I avoid looking at him as much as possible. But after about six songs, his presence really starts to bug me. I decide to feed of his hatred, increasing the intensity of my performance as if to say, “Let’s see James Hetfield do this!” And, as usual, I had no idea what was going on.
After the show, metal guy approaches me. “Thank you,” he says. “That was a really fun show. I really liked your energy and the band’s overall attitude.”
Besides learning that I’m no good at reading minds, this helped me realize that my long and oftentimes painful journey to becoming Billy Boloby was not in vain.
Realized early on that as a performer, I’m the guy who sets the mood. It was something I could never get past, try though I did.
Ever since I started performing at age 17 (with my first active band, the Happy Accidents), my main purpose was to break the punk mold. I know, I know; people have been trying to do that for decades, from John Lydon to Ian McKaye. But their approach was either purely musical (Lydon) or ethical (McKaye). My interest was behavioral. I always hated the way people act at punk shows (or at any other music event [OK, anywhere, really]). If they’re not gallivanting around like trained soldiers fighting some absurd, scripted battle, then they’re moping alone at the bar, smoking cigarettes and trying to look unimpressed. And let’s not forget those colorful characters who don’t even know what they’re doing ’cause they’re too drunk to know other people are present. Mostly, what got my goad was thinking that I should be feeling more at home (in the tribe, as it were), yet feeling every bit as loathsome and out of place as I did around my classmates in high school.
Which brings me back to my sophomore-year dance. While it’s true that I went solely to scope out girls, it begs the question: Why couldn’t I have just gone to a local show like every other punk-rock teenager? Well, at 15, I wasn’t yet part of any punk scene. In fact, I hated the thought of it. Punk for me was being anti-social, and scenes were full of other people. I was content reading MaximumRocknRoll and listening to records in my room, alone. But eventually, those influences — and some new friends at school — led to a change in my outlook (not to mention my haircut). But there was something else that guided my social outlook, and it wasn’t anything I could control. But that’s another story for another time…