Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: LaSalle

Armistice Day

That’s what my grandparents called Veteran’s Day.

Back when I was a child growing up in the 1960s, I often spent Armistice Day/Veteran’s Day at my grandparents’ house east of LaSalle. It was on one of those Armistice/Veteran’s Day when my grandmother told me about the origins of the holiday.

“The armistice was signed on the eleventh day of November at the eleventh hour,” she told me.

“What’s an armistice?”

“It’s the end of a war.”

In this case, it was the end of The Great War. The war to end all wars.

War was still something off my radar screen, but this was the 1960s and America was at war again. I heard news about guerrillas and couldn’t understand why gorillas were fighting. The only gorillas I knew was that gorilla in The Jungle Book.

This was 1966 and 1967. I would soon learn about Vietnam.

My grandmother, who was born in 1911, was two years younger than I was when she first remembered the war to end all wars. At precisely 11:00, my grandmother and I walked outside. She told me that would face the east and remember those who died. Back then, a whistle from the Alpha Cement Mill east of LaSalle sounded along with a fire siren to mark the moment the armistice was signed.

Having done our dutiful remembrance, I spent the rest of the day playing before my grandmother took me back home.

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.

                        ~ President Woodrow Wilson’s Armistice Day speech

Over the years, I remembered veterans standing outside banks in the Illinois Valley handing out/selling paper poppies for small donations. Folks took the poppies, twisted the thin metal paper-covered strips and proudly wore them on shirts, blouses, and jackets. My grandfather or grandmother gave me a coin to drop into the can and I awaited eagerly for the veteran to hand me my poppy. I didn’t know what these poppies meant at the time. For me, it was a moment that I shared with my grandparents, like standing outside on the eleventh of November and remembering the war to end all wars.

Poppies. In the seventh grade I learned all about them and their significance.

My English teacher, Mrs. Assalley, a Syrian immigrant, had the class keep a poetry notebook. One of the poems I transcribed inside my notebook was “In Flanders Fields” by John McRae:

In Flanders Field

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Little did I know at the time, how fitting the poem was for the thousands of young men who began to come home in flag-draped coffins to their final resting places in our nation’s cemeteries.

Over the years, Armistice Day and Veteran’s Day would have other meanings for me, first as a member of the armed forces, and one special Veteran’s Day in 2000 when I met Medal of Honor recipient General Raymond Davis USMC at a special ceremony on Knight Field at the Yongsan Military Garrison which commemorated the northern campaigns of the Korean War, including Kunu-ri which I wrote about in my Korean War novel, War Remains.

Today, this very special day that I first celebrated with my grandparents over 40 years ago is just as significant then as it remains for me today.

It is a day to honor all those who served and to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. And, in the words of President Calvin Coolidge, “The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.”

The song remains the same but not the memories

The other night, a song reminded me of a girl from a long, long time ago.

It is funny how the mind works and what you might remember at any given moment; or what memories might be triggered by something you smell, hear, taste, or see.

The other night, I was listening to this song “Hospitality on Parade” (1975) by the group Sparks and it reminded me of eating Christmas cookies my grandmother baked and Pat Hardy, this girl I sort of had a crush on back in high school. I had bought the band’s 8-Track Indiscreet and was listening to it a lot back in 1975 around the holidays and when I was hanging out with Pat and some of her friends on the east side of LaSalle, going to lunch with her and friends to McDonald’s, or stopping to visit her at work at Bergner’s before I went to work across the street at K-Mart.

One memory begets another memory.

I was walking down the street, coming home from a long day at the language institute the other night, with this song on my iPod when I happened to look up at the second floor of this beauty shop across the street and noticed a light on in the window. The building looks more western in design than most of the homes and buildings on this street—western in that it didn’t have a blue or red tile roof.

For a split second, when I saw that light on in the window, with the drapes drawn, that song by Sparks playing, the cold, foggy night, thinking of Christmas, I was instantly teleported back in my mind to December 1975. It reminded me of Pat’s house and the times we hung out with each other.

Those days and nights back in 1975 were a fleeting moment of innocence that would be gone forever. Six months later, I was in the Air Force and although Pat and I exchanged many letters the first couple of months I was in the military, I would only see her four times in the next thirty-three years.

The other night though, for as long as it took for those memory tumblers to click into place, I got to see an old friend in my memories as I walked home.

MTV in Goose’s Basement — A work in progress

MTV-man-on-moonThere was a time when MTV was cool. I mean really cool, like a long, long, long time ago in another galaxy far, far, away cool. Back when the only thing you saw and listened to on MTV were videos. And if the videos programmed for any particular hour or block of time came up short, well there were some artsy video fillers to fill that block of time until the next hour when the process started all over again.

That was MTV in January 1982—at least the MTV we watched in Goose’s basement in LaSalle, Illinois when MTV was still not available in the Midwest, but by monkeying around with the rabbit ears on the top of some old B&W Zenith TV that Goose and his brother had in the basement and switching to VHF and ever-so-carefully adjusting the knob like some safecracker trying to get in a safe, we could, when the weather and atmospheric conditions were just right—fine tune that TV and watch MTV in all its primal glory and unadulterated magnificence.

It was Goose who had first come up to me in one of the bars that we frequented in the Illinois Valley—maybe it was Friday’s or Murphy’s, perhaps one of the bars we had not been banned from, we meaning The Libido Boys for causing a bit of a commotion when the boys played their “young, loud, and snotty” kind of rock and roll that more often than not antagonized the few patrons who found themselves trapped in the bar when the music started—and told me about this new TV phenomenon called MTV.

The Libido Boys was the brainchild of one Chris Vasquez who just so happened to be my best friend and included Goose on guitar and bass, Tony Innis on guitar and bass and Ray Joe Biagioni on drums. Although the band was sort of doomed from the beginning—it was hard to go up against heavyweights like The Jerks and Longshot, two bands that ruled the Illinois Valley in the early 80s—they broke the alternative barrier in a way that only someone like Chris and the boys could pull off. It was rather disheartening for the band when on some nights, the only people in attendance were the band’s girlfriends and the drunken patrons at the bar who were obligated to pay the one or two-dollar cover charge because they just so happened to be in the bar when the band started to play.

“Yeah, there are all these cool videos by groups like Devo, The Pretenders, The Ramones, Ultravox, The Clash, Oingo Boingo, The Buggles, Stray Cats, Madness, and XTC,” Goose said, rattling off a list of names of bands that pretty much defined the late 70s and early 80s New Wave scene—and bands that some of us had seen in concert and ones we liked a lot.

“Cool, I’d like to check that out,” I replied. There were some late night music shows that sometimes played videos, but it was nothing like the MTV that Goose was describing to me in that bar that night.

“It doesn’t come in all the time, though,” Goose added. “Sometimes the weather has to be just right.”

Well, I wasn’t too sure what that was supposed to mean but Goose was right: when the weather was just right, which usually meant when there was some storm front or cold front moving in, we were able to watch MTV in his basement. And of course, moving them rabbit ears around and fine tuning that VHF knob.

On one of the nights the weather and atmospheric conditions were just right and the band was not rehearsing at Chris’ house or playing out, not to mention when Goose’s mom, a registered nurse, worked the night shift at Illinois Valley Community Hospital, we all gathered around that ancient Zenith in Goose’s basement and had our MTV.

Goose was also right about the videos, too. It was one video after another by bands that we listened to a lot. There were some early commercials and even a contest—a chance to hang out with Devo in Hawaii.

MTV was definitely cool back then. We avoided becoming addicted to watching hour after hour of MTV because, well the weather and atmospheric conditions did not always coincide with our schedules, so it was hit and miss viewing until late that spring when MTV became available on the area’s cable provider.

Corn Detasseling: A summer rite of passage

CornFor many teenagers growing up in America’s Midwest their first summer job is often not working at some fast food restaurant or other service-related employment, but instead detasseling corn.

The neat thing about corn detasseling was that you didn’t have to be 16 to work, but instead only 13.

Back in the summer of 1971, my friend Jim and I decided that was what we were going to do that summer having just turned that magical age of 13. So one summer afternoon, we hopped on the bus from Oglesby, Illinois to LaSalle—about a 20-minute ride—and went to the Unemployment Office where we signed up. (We had gone to the Social Security Office a few days earlier to get our Social Security Cards with that all-important Social Security Number which entered us in the system and allowed us to work and pay taxes.)

It took us longer to get to the office than it did for us to fill out the application form. And when we had finished filling it out, we were told that we would be given a call when to report to work—actually meet in the parking lot of the A&W Root Beer Stand where we would get on a bus to take us to the fields—sometime in the middle of July.

For those of your unfamiliar with this agrarian rite of passage and the science of hybridization, corn detasseling is the crucial last step in producing hybrid corn seed. It involves removing the pollen-producing top part of the plant, i.e., the tassel, so the corn can’t pollinate itself. Now if you had been paying attention the day in biology or botany class when your teacher was explaining how pollination works, you would know that if the corn couldn’t pollinate itself, pollen from another variety of corn grown in the same field would be carried by the wind, pollinating the detasseled corn. The result is corn that bears the genetic characteristics of both varieties and can produce healthier crops with higher yields.

Although that bit of pollination lore might have been lost on me back in 1971 and again a few years later in a high school biology class, it wouldn’t in 1986 when I took a biology class at Eureka College. I’m sure my college biology teacher Dr. Mike Toliver would be proud of my explanation.

Despite technological advances in agriculture, detasseling is still a task that for the most part needs a hand—a human hand or two, if you can excuse the pun—and that’s where the need for manual labor comes which must be done quickly because the detasseling season is short, around three weeks from mid-July to August. And that’s where all those teenagers come in (migrant workers supposedly want nothing to do with this minimum wage job); approximately 100,000 teenagers, according to some estimates by seed companies and detasseling contractors, have corn detasseled during the summer.

Now that I was officially employed I had to break the news to my grandparents who had planned to take me on a trip out west to the Dakotas and Montana where my grandmother’s grandmother was buried in Hays City, Montana. For months they had been talking about and planning for this trip and looking forward to having me along for the third summer in a row.

Well, suffice to say they did not take too kindly to me giving up this chance to go out west with them and of course, in my pubescent wisdom, it was more important for me to make money instead, of going on some “dumb trip with my grandparents.” After all, I was a teenager now and it wasn’t too cool to be hanging out with your grandparents when you could be making money.

Don’t worry, that wisdom, or should I say the lack thereof, would come back to haunt me over and over, time and time again every time I would see Mt. Rushmore on TV, in a movie, or in travel article, and think, “gee, I could have seen that in 1971.”

When the day finally came to start detasseling, I had to get up before the crack of dawn, which if I am not mistaken is still pretty darn early to have to start anything. My Mom, who was already up early waiting for her ride into work at Spiller & Spiller (a furniture factory where she bent tubes of steel into legs for kitchen tables and chairs) had already made me a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and packed them in a brown paper sack along with some Twinkies. She had even frozen a can of Coca-Cola in the freezer the night before and wrapped it up in some newspapers for me.

Of all the things I might have done wrong that summer and would do wrong in the summers to follow before I finally went into the Air Force five years later, I have to say my Mom was pretty darn proud of me that I had a job that summer of 1971.

It took Jim and I about 30 minutes to walk from our homes to the parking lot of the A&W where there were about 50 other kids waiting for the buses to arrive. I recognized a few kids who had been in 7th grade with us; however, most of them were 8th graders, and high school freshmen and sophomores.

There was some older looking kid, probably a junior or senior in high school with a clipboard and calling off names. Looks like I had gotten there just in time. A few moments later, our names were called off.

It suddenly dawned on me that this was the first thing I had done without any parental supervision or adults around telling me what to do and what not to do. This was so cool. However, before I could revel with this sudden epiphany, two yellow school buses pulled into the parking lot. Of course Jim and I were expected to sit at the front of the bus with the rest of the younger kids while all the cool, older kids got to sit in the back.

From there, it was about a 30-minute ride to the fields we would be working that day. There was a kind of a staging area where the buses let off all the detasselers and everyone was put into smaller groups with a kind of squad leader or supervisor whose job it was to make sure that we did our job and if we left any tassels to get them and of course bawl us out for not doing our jobs.

There is not much to corn detasseling. All you had to do was reach up and snap off the tassel. That was it. Pretty easy and menial and back in 1971 worth every penny of the $1.25 an hour minimum wage we got.

First detasseling machines were used to detassel the corn—which detasseled about 50 percent of a field. Then that’s where the detasselers came in. Some of the older kids got to ride on these huge machines that carried eight to twelve detasselers for taller corn; however the majority of us would be walking the fields and snapping off those tassels that had been missed by the machine.

The first row was a piece of cake. This was going to be easy, I thought. Easiest money I had ever made. Unfortunately Jim and I were not in the same crew so there was no one to talk to as I slowly walked down the rows reaching up and snapping off those tassels. The two detasselers on either side of me must have been old hands at this because they left me in a cloud of pollen as they quickly moved down their rows.

It was right about now that I had wished I had brought along my transistor radio to listen to some music. It got pretty lonely out there.

That’s when I started to think about all the money I was going to make. Let’s see that was $1.25 an hour, eight hours a day, five days a week for three weeks. Yeah, that was going to be a nice lump sum of money. And to think I would have missed out on this had I gone out west with my grandparents.

I thought about what I was going to buy when I got my paycheck at the end of the detasseling season. First, there was this really cool electric guitar that I had my eyes on. Never mind that I didn’t know how to play the guitar; I would learn later. Next, with the money that was left over I would pick up some bell-bottomed jeans from Arlan’s Department Store. Finally, if there was any money still left, there were some cool beads at the 9th Circle Stonehenge Head Shop in LaSalle that I would like to have. And when I started 8th grade in the fall, I would be so cool in my new jeans, beads and playing my guitar.

And that’s what I thought about as I walked down that long, seemingly never ending row of corn snapping off the tassels. The day had gone on forever and when I asked my squad leader, who checked in on us from time to time, what time it was, he told me it was only 8:00.

I had only been working for one hour.

And then it started to get hot. July, sweltering, sticky, hot. It was a good thing I had remembered to wear a cap with that July sun blazing in the sky. It seemed hotter in those tall rows of corn and any breeze, was a welcomed relief. Suddenly it wasn’t so easy reaching up and snapping off those tassels. My neck started to hurt. My shoulders grew stiff. Pollen rained down on me and got inside my sticky, sweaty shirt and began to itch and itch and then really itch.

I never thought corn could be so tall.

When is this row going to end?

Thirty minutes later I emerged from the field. Fortunately, I was not the last one out. That would have been doomed me forever in the annals of corn detasseling not to mention make the other kids angry at me for having to make them wait. This time it would be some other poor soul. Once we had finished that field, we walked across a blacktop road and started down another one.

As the sun climbed higher in the sky, the day got hotter and more humid. I heard one of the crew leaders yelling at one of the detasselers for missing some tassels. My crew leader was pretty cool and spent most of the time hitting on a girl working the row next to mine. He was going to be a junior at LaSalle-Peru Township High School in the fall and she was going to be a sophomore. She had stripped down to a bikini top and made quite the impression on the crew leader. He had no time to check my row to see if I had missed any tassels. Good thing, considering how my young mind was wandering the few times I did get a glimpse of her snapping off them tassels.

Lunchtime and those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches never tasted better. And my Mom’s brilliant idea to freeze the Coca Cola the night before gave me an icy cold beverage to wash down those soggy, warm sandwiches.

After an hour, it was back to the fields and back to another seemingly endless row of corn with tassels waiting to be snapped off, but now with my arms, shoulders, and neck sore, it wasn’t as easy as it had been in the morning. My mouth was dry, my body was itching from all the pollen and the shimmering waves of heat that blanketed the field I was working in made it all the more miserable.

I thought about the guitar, the bell-bottomed jeans, Stonehenge, and the girl in the bikini top. I started to calculate how much money I was making with every tassel I snapped.

One more row finished. Then another. And then one more.

Finally, it was quitting time and a long bus ride home. Jim and I didn’t say much. We had only seen each other at lunch and he looked and felt just as beat as I did on the bus home.

When I got home I took the longest cool bath of my life and for dinner had BLT’s and iced tea. Good thing. I was too tired to eat.

That night when I went to bed and closed my eyes, all I could see was corn. Fields and fields of corn stretching as far as one could see into the distance. Corn, corn and more corn. Not exactly what you would call a field of dreams, either. I never saw so much corn in my life. And that was the last thing I remembered before I fell asleep.

“Jeffrey. Jeffrey. It’s 5:00.”

“Huh? What? 5:00?”

“Jeffrey, honey. It’s time to get up.”

“Just five more minutes, Mom.”

I rolled over and slept for another three hours.

That night my Mom didn’t say anything when she came home from work and made my favorite meal, spaghetti. In fact, she never said anything about whether or not she was disappointed with me for not going back to work. She would have something else to be disappointed with me by the end of that summer.

Jim never made it to the second day either.

My grandparents were disappointed when they returned from their vacation the following week and found out that I had quit after just one day. I wouldn’t hear the end of it for the next year—until they went on vacation again. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t be inviting me along.

The following year I went corn detasseling again and that time I lasted the entire two weeks and made enough money to buy a cassette recorder, tapes, and some other cool stuff. I never got that electric guitar though but I did see the girl in the bikini top in high school two years later.

“I’m Henry the Eighth I am…”

Okay, for the record I want to emphasize that I have never, I repeat never fancied myself or considered myself to be much of a singer. I’m the kind of person that can carry pretty much anything but not carry a tune. Heck, I’m not even a good singer in the shower.

In elementary school we were forced to sing American folk songs like “On Top of Old Smoky”, “Swanee River,” “The Camptown Races,” “Home on the Range,” “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”-songs that we all butchered when possible and never really getting into the groove song-wise. And those two years of high school chorus? Lip-synching.

About the only time I have sung (other in the car with the radio or tape deck turned up loud enough to drown out my awful singing) was when I was usually loaded along with everyone else and you know how that goes, when you’re loaded everything sounds good and know one knows the difference.

I was in for a big surprise when I came to Korea in 1990 and soon discovered to my dismay that everyone was singing about something and going out to do it. Everyone knows about karaoke in Japan and elsewhere but back in Korea in the early 90s there were these places called noraebang – which roughly translated means singing (norae) room (bang) popping up everywhere.

Similar to a karaoke, a noraebang had a number of small rooms inside where people could get together and sing along (with a small karaoke machine). Some of these noraebang were (and still are) quite stylish with TV screens and videos, spinning disco balls, flashing lights, comfortable sofas and chairs. Many places sold alcoholic beverages and snacks so it was like having your own private party room.

In the beginning the English song selection was quite limited to such standard karaoke classics like “My Way” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” but by the end of the 90s you could sing anything from “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf to “Don’t Bring Me Down” by ELO.

Going out to a noraebang would soon become a popular activity in Korea, especially with students and colleagues, and soon I was being invited out. There was no way that I was going to be able to lip-synch now or even fake it because these karaoke machines also “scored” your singing ability. Most of the people I went to a noraebang with scored 90 points or above. I would soon learn what it meant to “lose face” when people found out just how bad a singer I was when I scored below 50 points.

And all the times when some students would say to me, “you good singer teacher” – I knew they were just being kind and perhaps worried about failing my class if they really told me what they really thought about my singing.

However, my singing debut in Korea was not in a noraebang, but instead at a student-lodging house better known as a ha-sook chip that in Korean that means boarding house. It was back in 1991 and one of my students had invited me to an “opening party” – Konglish (Korean-English)-for an open house at her friend’s boarding house. There would be a lot of food, beer, and to my surprise-singing. It was a sizable party-around 20 people including the students and their friends-as well as the husband and wife who owned the boarding house.

The party was in a large downstairs room with everyone seated on the floor around traditional Korean tables called sang which resemble rectangular-shaped coffee tables. The tables themselves were laden with various kinds of Korean food: kimbap (thinly rolled sheets of seaweed with rice, vegetables, ham and fried egg inside) fried rice, fried noodles, assorted pickled vegetables (kimchi), ddok (a chewy, glutinous rice cake filled with sweet bean paste) fruit, and beer.

Before we could eat, everyone had to introduce themselves and say a few words to say how happy he or she was to be there and to thank the owners of the boarding house. Of course all of this was done in Korean until it came to my turn and I introduced myself in English and said a few words that only a few people understood.

After we had eaten and had a couple of glasses of beer it came time to sing. Koreans love to sing and university students are known for singing a lot of traditional Korean folk songs. So, just like the introductions, everyone around the table had to sing a song including me.

I didn’t know what to sing. My mind was a blank. Everyone started clapping encouraging me to sing. Think Jeffrey. Think. A song. Quickly. Search your memory bank for any song. Hurry.

And that’s when I launched into “I’m Henry the VIII, I am” by Herman’s Hermits.

I guess if you’re going to have to sing any ditty to appease a rambunctious crowd you can’t go wrong with a rousing rendition of “Henry the VIII, I am.” It worked for me and other than Peter Noone’s version, my rendition that cold November evening back in 1991 was no doubt only the second version of the song ever heard or sung in Korea.

Everyone seated around the table started clapping in a backbeat sort of way and fortunately, it did not throw me off and I managed to finish the song amidst a flurry of applause.

Too bad I never came across that song at any of the noraebang I’ve been to in Korea. I am sure I could have gotten 100 points.

And as for Herman’s Hermits and any connection to my singing of that song, back in the 1960s I just missed seeing them at Ryan Crawley’s Tap in LaSalle, Illinois.

Back in the 1960s a lot of bands like Herman’s Hermits, The Animals, and The Turtles played at the Peru Youth Center in Peru, Illinois that was right off Rt. 80 and Rt. 51. These bands would stop off there after having played in Chicago for a set or two before heading off to another concert either south on Rt. 51 or west on Rt. 80. Dick Verucchi-the former drummer of Buckacre, The Jerks, Missing 51, and now playing out with Wake the Sheep-once told me that he was standing in the back of the Youth Center one afternoon listening to a band when Eric Burdon of The Animals walked up and stood next to him.

One Sunday afternoon I was out with my grandparents when they stopped at Ryan Crawley’s for a couple of drinks. My Grandpa Miller knew Ryan Crawley quite well and always made a regular habit of stopping at his tavern located on Rt. 351 (St. Vincent’s Ave) on the north end of LaSalle when he and my grandmother went out on Sunday afternoons. On that particular Sunday, after my grandparents had ordered a beer, Ryan told my grandfather how this band had just stopped in after playing at the Youth Center. He said they called themselves Herman’s Hermits and that they were from England.

“Good lads,” Ryan said. “They had a couple of Cokes and some candy bars and then went on their way.”

In 1990, Peter Noone was back in the Illinois Valley (LaSalle-Peru-Oglesby-Spring Valley), this time for a concert during Oglesby Celebration Days. I was back home at the time and my best friend and college roommate Luke McQuade were visiting so we went to see Peter Noone. Luke and I got in the front row and were kind of heckling Peter Noone and this female Illinois State Trooper who for some reason was standing at the back of the stage for crowd control or something. That’s what Luke and I were heckling Peter Noone about and soon, he was wondering why she was at the back of the stage, and at one point while he was singing, forgot some of the lyrics. Sorry about that Peter.

And sorry about how I butchered your song when I sang it the following year in Korea.

Talk of War still Far from Heartland USA — Originally written in January 2003

The Story Behind the Story

 

One of my more ambitious writing projects was the time I interviewed some folks back home for a special article about whether or not the U.S. would invade Iraq and what the average American thought about North Korea.

 

It was December 2002 and I was home for the holidays. Before I came home I pitched this idea to the managing editor of the Korea Times and he thought that it would be a good idea with the U.S. moving closer and closer every day to another showdown with Saddam.

 

At the same time I wondered what the folks back home in the Illinois Valley thought about the two Koreas and if they felt that North Korea—having already been mentioned by President George Bush as a part of the “axis of evil”—posed a threat to American interests.

 

It ended up being one of those articles that I wished I had spent more time researching and conducting more interviews. My biggest disappointment was when I approached the managing editor of the Illinois Valley’s newspaper about doing an interview and she flatly refused. Whether it was a conflict of interest or she just wasn’t interested I was kind of bummed about that. Maybe I expected her to be keenly interested in how a guy from LaSalle, Illinois was now living in Korea and being a part of history. I guess not.

 

It is interesting to look back—five years down the road—and see what people were thinking about Iraq and North Korea at the time when I wrote this article. So much has happened in between, but we are still in Iraq (and hopefully not for too much longer) and North Korea has threatened to start up their nuclear reactor again—the one they had dismantled and then rebuilt.

 

Talk of War Still Far From Heartland USA

 

LA SALLE, ILLINOIS—As 2002 came to a close, the possibility of a military showdown with Saddam Hussein loomed on the horizon and North Korea’s nuclear adventure sent diplomats scrambling to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

 

While these two events have been making the headlines in print and broadcast news almost every day around the world, how these events are perceived in small town America tell another story.

 

“The one thing that is typical of this small town and is representative of many other small towns across the country is that the median age of its citizens is higher,” said Bernie Moore, Assistant Principal and Dean of Students at a co-ed catholic high school, “so people tend to be a little more conservative reacting to these global issues.”

 

Located 90 miles southwest of Chicago, La Salle (population 9,796) might be typical of many small towns across America when it comes to dealing with recession, unemployment, and a rising cost of living. As such, most people tend to prioritize their problems and insulate themselves from more global concerns.

 

“People trying to pay their rent far outweighs what they hear about someone throwing a bomb into a car in Israel or the revelation of a nuclear program in North Korea,” said Moore. “Unfortunately, there is a tendency to write these foreign threats off.”

 

On the other hand, in a post 9/11 world, there is a strong sense of patriotism and pride in America, which, according to Moore is a good thing.

 

“I stop and think about opening up our gifts on Christmas and having a great dinner that could probably feed some households in North Korea for months,” said Moore.

 

Nonetheless, with the possibility of another war with Iraq and a nuclear showdown with North Korea over the horizon, America suddenly finds itself at another difficult juncture. As such, the news of North Korea’s nuclear program on Christmas Eve might have surprised most Americans who know very little about this Stalinist country and its infamous leader.

 

“Other than the fact that North Korea has nuclear capabilities and is in possession of nuclear weapons, I don’t know very much about what has been happening in North Korea,” said Moore.

 

John Somolski, who has been running John’s North Star, a family restaurant for 18 years, was also caught off guard when he heard the news about North Korea reactivating a reactor that had been shutdown.

 

“I asked myself what’s going on here now?” said Somolski. “What are they trying to do now?”

 

Although Somolski doesn’t know why North Korea kicked out the UN inspectors, he pointed out that prior to the recent media blitz; he hasn’t seen much news coverage of the two Koreas.

 

“I don’t think people see North Korea as much of a threat,” said Somolski. “Is this going to be our next war? I don’t really know.”

 

Unfortunately, few Americans have a good knowledge of the two Koreas and this perhaps is because of insulation bred in our educational system, or because of the manner in which mass media outlets in the United States put out news about the two Koreas, said Moore.

 

“Many Americans might not even know which Korea is our ally,” explained Reverend Dr. James E. Kurtz, Pastor of the First Congregational Church. “When it comes to the two Koreas, I think some people aren’t even sure which side we are against.”

 

Moore, who keeps up with world events as much as he can, agreed. “There are probably some Americans who couldn’t point on a map where Korea is,” he said with a sigh of resignation.

 

Dave Adrian, owner of a gas station in downtown La Salle is concerned about another nuclear crisis in North Korea, but doesn’t know all the facts about why this has suddenly posed such a threat to U.S. security.

 

“I heard they’ve been developing nuclear weapons,” said Adrian who has owned the station since 1982. “That’s a terrible thing to do, but what can you do?”

 

Adrian, who works seven days a week, finds it hard to keep up with world events.

 

“I just don’t have time to keep up with all the news,” he said as he worked on a car and waited on customers who bought gas. “I read the newspaper and listen to the radio. That’s about it.”

 

Whether or not this nuclear crisis poses a threat to the United States, Somolski believes that with most of the media coverage focused on Iraq these days, the North Korean threat, although a real one has been downplayed.

 

“We feel a little less threatened here in a small town,” said Somolski. “Most people are more worried about what is going to happen in Iraq than they do about North Korea.”

 

Although the nuclear crisis with North Korea is reported by most big media outlets in the U.S., other news from South Korea like the accidental deaths of the two schoolgirls last June or the rise in anti-American sentiment seldom makes it to small town America.

 

“The general public isn’t aware of the implications these events might have on the relationship between North and South Koreans or Americans,” said Moore. “I think when something like that happens, we need a more comprehensive report from the media.”

 

“I have no doubt there will be a war in the Middle East,” said Kurtz sadly. “I think about the innocent people from Iraq who might die as well as the young men and women from our country who might die. I don’t understand why the Iraqi people who live in the darkness don’t want to see the light and rebel.”

 

Somolski pointed out that in talking to some of his customers who are military families, most of them are ready to go to.

 

Moore, on the other hand takes a harder look at America’s role as a world peacekeeper. “There is a strong sense of patriotism and pride in America which is really good; however, this country is just another member of the world community,” he said, implying that the U.S. is not the policemen of the world.

 

“If there is war with Iraq and Americans come home in bodybags, that is bad,” said Moore, himself a Vietnam veteran. “Also a war could hit Americans hard in their pocketbooks. Even the ongoing buildup of forces in the Middle East is starting to have an effect on local consumers and businesses.

 

“It’s sure screwing up the gasoline market,” said Adrian. “Since the first of December, the price has gone up 20 cents a gallon.”

 

Adrian expects gas prices to go up even further if there is a war.

 

“That’s a real no-brainer,” laughed Adrian.

 

Although some people would argue that a war is good for the economy, Kurtz pointed out that this is not necessarily so. “It’s going to do more damage than good,” said Kurtz.

 

“People aren’t even drinking much beer these days,” smiled Somolski. “All the beer distributors have been complaining.”

 

Although many Americans think that war with Iraq is the only way to bring about some peaceful resolve, Kurtz pointed out that nobody he has talked to in this town wants to go to war.

 

“Even though war seems inevitable, myself and the people I have talked to hope things can be resolved through negotiations,” said Kurtz.

 

Likewise, Moore feels America and its allies need to have this thing completely justified before resorting to military action.

 

“I don’t know if that’s a part of the 9-11 influence or that it may even go back to my era of the Vietnam War,” said Moore, “but we need to consider alternative measures of dealing with the people.”

 

Meet The Jerks – Rock & Roll from America’s Heartland

How I ended up working for a band that had briefly tasted fame (as another band) in the 1970s cannot be told without first looking back at an exciting time in a local music scene. At its most basic and rawest grassroots level, it is what rock and roll has been and will always be about: the musicians and bands playing the bars and club circuit.

The Jerks was comprised of three former members of the legendary Illinois Valley band Buckacre that in the 70s had recorded two albums under the guidance of Glyn Johns and had opened for such performers and bands like Jimmy Buffet and The Outlaws. When Buckacre broke up in the late 70s, two of the band’s founding members guitarist Al Thacker and drummer Dick Verucchi formed a new, hipper band (along with bassist Dave Morgan and guitarist Al Schupp) in tune with the resurgence of live music in local bars.

For a brief period in the 80s, The Jerks, which played mostly New Wave, covers and classic 60s, rock were one of the Illinois Valley’s (an area located along The Illinois River, approximately 90 miles southwest of Chicago in the north-central part of the state) most popular bands drawing enormous crowds wherever they played.

Originally called “Hamburger and the Works” when some people thought the “new wave” music covers they played made them sound like jerks, the name stuck. (Maybe these people who called them “jerks” were some bummed out Buckacre fans.)

The first time I saw the band play at Friday’s Saloon in Peru, Illinois was one cold, wet autumn night in late October 1980.

I was home for the weekend from Southern Illinois University (SIU at Carbondale) and had heard about this band that was quite popular in the Illinois Valley. To be sure, a few days before I came home there was a feature article about The Jerks and other bands in the News Trib, the area’s local newspaper, which among other things described this “resurgence in rock and roll.” Moreover, the reporter of this article pointed out that many local bands were playing the local bar circuit again after disco started to die out in the late 70s. The Jerks, along with other bands like Longshot (whose lineup also included other former members of Buckacre, Dick Hally, Darrel Data, and Les Lockridge) were generating a lot of excitement in the local bar scene in the Illinois Valley.

A few months earlier, The Jerks had been the opening act for The Ozark Mountain Daredevils at Illinois Valley Community College that also had a lot to do with the resurgence of rock and roll in the Illinois Valley. Many people remembered the “Buckacre” days and supported both The Jerks and Longshot.

That weekend I went down to Water Street (appropriately named Water Street because when the Illinois River crested whenever there was a lot of rain or flooding, the street was usually under a foot or two of water) in Peru where one of these bars, Friday’s Saloon was located. It was located in a cluster of buildings at the far end of the street, (past a few factories and other industrial complexes) which also included the Delta Queen and The Red Door Inn, a popular Illinois Valley eatery (now since closed). Rumored to have been a “speakeasy” during Prohibition, Friday’s had become a popular hangout for younger crowds (many who could get in without having their ID’s checked) and was the “official home” of The Jerks.

I guess that’s what made the place special, located on Water Street along the Illinois River, past all these factories. If you were to stand in the street (which at one time had been a brick street) and look east you could see these factories rising up underneath the Peru Bridge (U.S. Route 51, a major North-South artery—before U.S. 39 was completed—ran across the bridge). At night, and especially when it was raining there was an almost surreal aura to the place. This was a working-class neighborhood and I suppose it was only fitting that the three bars located on Water Street—Friday’s, the Delta Queen, and Murphy’s Bar (which had been a grocery store years before) rocked on the weekends.

Whenever The Jerks or Longshot played Friday’s it was an exciting time to be down on Water Street. During the heyday of this “resurgence of live music” in the Illinois Valley, people would be lined up outside waiting to get in. Inside, it was just wall-to-wall people. You had to fight your way through the crowd gathered around the bar to an adjoining room where the bands played. When it got too crowded inside, many people walked across the street to the Whistle Stop, a passenger train car that had been converted into a bar and waited until the crowds thinned out.

I went down to Friday’s early on that Friday night—a little too early because The Jerks had not even taken to the stage yet. The bar was not too crowded; there were only a few people sitting at some tables near the stage. One person in particular stood out. He was standing near the entrance to this second room. I didn’t know it at the time, but the man was Bruce Kowalski, a.k.a. Bob Noxious. He had his own radio program Alternative Opposites at a local radio station and was known for doing a wicked rendition of “Gloria” with The Jerks. Later, when we got to know each other, we would end up hanging out a lot.

I left early that night before The Jerks even played. However, I was back down at Friday’s the next night, and this time I got there later when the band was playing. For the rest of my life, I will always look back on that night as when I re-discovered rock and roll. I guess it is true what they (whoever they may be) say when the cosmic tumblers click and everything falls into place or maybe it was even an epiphany of sorts because after that night, my life was never the same.

Actually, I had already been really getting into the college music scene at SIU since I started attending classes there in the summer of 1980. SIU was always considered by many to be one of the nation’s top, albeit “unofficial” party schools and when it came to some of the musical acts, which played there, SIU, was bar none. There were always some big-name bands playing either at the university or in some of the bars. That autumn alone, The Pretenders, Elton John, Jeff Beck, The English Beat, and Off Broadway had played on campus; concerts by Kansas, Ultravox, and Polyrock (playing at the legendary bar T.J. McFly’s) would follow in the weeks to come.

I had met some friends for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in La Salle before heading down to Friday’s. With a couple of Mai Tai’s under my belt and a few bottles of beer I was primed for the night and ready for about anything. By the time we got there, the place was packed and jumping. While my friends tried to get served at the bar, I just followed the music, weaving my way through the crowd.

The interior of Friday’s Saloon was long and narrow with a bar that ran the length of the room. Actually, Friday’s was two rooms—part of the wall had been knocked out to make an opening into this adjoining room that was on the right. After pushing and fighting my way through the crowd, I entered this second room that was just as crowded as the first one. The air was heavy with smoke and perfume. A large group of people was standing in the back while others were sitting at tables on either side of the room. The dance floor was packed.

On a small stage at the front of the room The Jerks were playing a cover of a new wave hit by the English band The Vapors. The band was good, but it was the energy of the crowd, which really struck me as I stood there in the back and listened to the music and felt all this energy and excitement.

With a pounding, staccato backbeat and driving guitars, The Jerks were playing high octane rock and roll that had—judging from the way the speakers were swaying back and forth from the vibration of all the dancers on the crowded dancefloor—energized the crowd.

It was then that I noticed one of my old friends from high school, Chris Vasquez who I hadn’t seen in over four years, dancing near the front of the stage. While we were probably not the best of friends when we were in high school (we had only hung out just a few times) we were in a few classes together. Later I would discover that we had once hung out when we were in elementary school.

Suffice to say that night I ran into Chris at Friday’s was the beginning of a very strong friendship that has lasted to this day. We have had our differences now and then, but I can honestly say that Chris has always been able to count on me over the years, even when some of his other “best” friends have turned their backs on him. Who knows, if I had not gone down to Friday’s that night and bumped into Chris we might not have ever become as close as we have.

Chris had already been a regular at Friday’s and following The Jerks whenever and wherever they played in the Illinois Valley. He was just itching to have his own band—and he would in less than a year.

That night, and a few weeks later when I came back home for Thanksgiving hung out at Friday’s again, I could see why The Jerks had become so popular. They were the epitome of any bar band “playing out” weekend after weekend. In the case of Verucchi and Thacker though, they had already tasted success when they were with Buckacre and I often wondered if this popularity was bittersweet for them to return home and play many of the small bars they had played in before? On the other hand, maybe there was still some of that Buckacre magic left and that is why they remained so popular.

Between songs the band would joke and talk with the audience—usually Dick or Alan. Dick was a riot when it came to joking with the audience. He was very personable and well liked, which was also true for Alan. Dave and the other Al were more on the quiet side, perhaps still in awe with the reputation and musical precision Dick and Alan brought to the band.

When I came back home again for Christmas, I was out every night The Jerks were playing. I’ll never forget the day before Christmas Eve when the band was playing at Murphy’s. A snowstorm had hit the area and the streets were practically deserted. There was hardly anyone out that night, but with The Jerks playing, Murphy’s was hopping.

As much as I liked Friday’s when The Jerks played there, Murphy’s was actually a better venue for bands. It was just one big room with a real stage in the back. There was plenty of room to dance and the bands that played there sounded better. The problem with bars like Friday’s and Murphy’s though was the owners really didn’t know how to run a bar and take care of the bands that played there. Sure, the bars made a killing at the door when bands like The Jerks and Longshot played there.

I always found it interesting and perhaps a little ironic that on more than one occasion when both bands were playing on Water Street at Friday’s Saloon and Murphy’s Tap on the same night, some of the guys would walk to the other bar, when their band was on break, and listen to the other band play.

When I think about it now, that one night back in October 1980 would change everything; at least how that night took me down another path that I would end up following for the next couple of years. As ironic and surreal as it may sound, meeting The Jerks changed my life. Had I not gone home that weekend who knows what might have or might not have happened?

Ten weeks at Del Monte — Part 2

It was the summer of 1990 and I was spending my first summer in the Illinois Valley since 1985. Two of the big summer movies were Die Hard 2 and Ghost. Iraq invaded Kuwait in August and almost overnight the United States was starting a massive military buildup that would become the First Gulf War. My very dear friend Michelle Mignone—who I had not seen since 1988 when we spent a week together in Chicago—was home for the last part of the summer. Sadly, it would be the last time we would see each other. I took the train down to Macomb a few times and hung out with some friends. Fans of the off-the-wall and already cult TV program Twin Peaks were anxiously awaiting the fall season to find out who had shot FBI Agent Cooper. 

I taught an adult education class for Illinois Valley Community College (actually at a church in Streator, Illinois. One very hot and humid afternoon while driving to class (I enjoyed taking the back roads from LaSalle to Streator through small towns like Leonore and Lowell) in my grandparent’s car I had a blow out (probably a good thing that I had taken the back roads on that day instead of the more heavily traveled Route 51). While I was fixing changing tires and cursing the weather, an Illinois State Police car pulled up behind me. The State Trooper was a female with a broken arm. She asked if I needed any help. I thought that was kind of funny. No, I told her. I was just about finished. Okay, she said, I will follow you into town. That was pretty cool of her. 

I applied for a teaching position in Malaysia; had gone through two interviews—one on the phone and the other at Concordia near Chicago—and was waiting to find out when I would be going (I felt so sure of myself).  

And now I was going to be working at Del Monte for a few weeks. 

Things were definitely looking up for me. 

I never let on about my educational background and that I had taught in Japan and at IVCC when I went out to Del Monte. Of course I did mention that I had gone to college on the application form but I didn’t mention anything about my work experience. However, I think someone must have noticed because on my first day of work, I was told that I would be working outside and responsible for keeping track of the amount of corn (tonnage) that was dumped by trucks every hour (which in turn gave the shift supervisors inside some idea as to how much corn was being processed) as well as making hourly and nightly reports. In addition I would also help the tractor drivers who pushed the sweet corn onto these conveyor belts that led into the plant. I would also be working nights from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am. 

The plant had just about finished packing lima beans for the season and now had turned its attention to sweet corn. Mendota is famous for sweet corn and every August they hold a Sweet Corn Festival (with all the corn being donated by Del Monte). And once the festival is over is when the Del Monte plant begins its around-the-clock sweet corn pack—first with corn from surrounding communities and, by the end of the pack around the middle of October, with corn trucked in from as far away as northern Wisconsin.  

I was really fortunate to get on the night shift because the supervisors I got to know and work with were pretty cool. They took an immediate liking to me for some reason (maybe they had found out about my application) because they were really cool to me. And I just wanted to keep a low profile and not let on that I was only going to work as long as it took to find out when I would be leaving for the teaching gig in Malaysia. I just wanted to do my job, make my money and get on with my life, which of course was going to be back overseas. 

Sometimes I have wondered how things might have played out differently if I hadn’t applied for that job in Malaysia? I did quite well teaching over the summer at IVCC and I probably could have taught a class or two there in the fall. I know it would have only been part time and not exactly what I wanted, but it could have seen me through a year or two. Who knows? I was just so obsessed with getting back overseas that I might have missed out on some other opportunities (later, I would find out just how many). 

My job was quite simple: I had to tell the truck drivers where to dump the corn, keep track of how much sweet corn was “pushed/loaded” onto two long conveyor belts (which were actually in a shallow concrete groove) on either side of this monstrosity piece of machinery that cleaned the corn of any stalks and other chaff before the slender, green-sheaved ears of corn went inside, and give the two tractor drivers breaks now and then. Knowing how much corn was dumped and how much was still left outside soon made me quite popular with people who wanted to know how long we would be working on any given night especially after the last trucks dumped their loads. (In the beginning we worked all night, but later we were able to finish early). Also the night supervisors who wanted to know how much corn was processed at any given time, made it part of their nightly routine to ask me how much corn had been unloaded during the shift. I got to know a lot of people that way. 

There were a lot of people employed at the Mendota plant and I could see that many of them were migrant workers from Mexico. I don’t know how many were legal or illegal, but someone told me that when—then President George Bush senior was running for office in 1988 and stopped off at the plant, many of the illegal workers were supposedly kept inside, away from the press. Whether that really happened or not, there were a lot of Mexicans employed at the plant (in fact I even noticed two of my former students from the adult education ESL class I taught that summer). Many could not speak English very well and many were given the most dangerous and difficult jobs inside (like working the cutters—these huge steel blades that cut or sliced the corn off the cob). 

Some employees were between jobs or working at Del Monte for as long as it took to find something better. There were a couple of ex-cons who had just gotten out of the joint and took the first job they could get. One night, one of these ex-cons who drove one of the tractors said he was going to get something from his car and never returned. There were some rough-looking types who obviously had some issues about something and were just waiting for the wrong person to cross their paths. 

For some people, this was all they had for now. This was what put food on the table and paid the bills. These were people not looking to get out, just trying to get by for now. There were a number of single moms working there and when I saw these women it reminded me of when my brother and I were younger and our mother worked at Spiller and Spiller in Peru, Illinois. Later I would find out that our mother and even our father had worked at Del Monte. 

I didn’t realize this at the time though.  I was just working there until I left in a few weeks, maybe a month. For now, I was just going to do my job and keep a low profile. The thought never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t get hired to teach at the school in Malaysia. 

It should have.

The sound of a far-off train late at night

no doubt a freight train coming into Daejeon. I hear the sound of the ancient locomotive growing louder and louder as it and the cars it is pulling rumbles through town.

There’s familiarity in the discordant rumble of the diesel locomotive pulling its weight in freight, which reminds me of another place, another time, another lifetime. For a moment, with eyes closed and memories unlocked, I could have been sitting at the kitchen table in my grandparent’s home east of LaSalle with the windows open late one summer evening listening to the far-off sound of a Rock Island Line freight train moving through the night; through the sleepy Midwestern towns along its path. It’s funny what you suddenly remember and recall when you are so far away from your home and everything that you used to be.

Got an email the other day from one of my old friends from high school Bob Patelli. Haven’t heard from him in years and haven’t seen him since 2001; the last time I saw him before that was in 1990 right before I left for Korea. Funny, I was just thinking about him the other day. It was thirty years ago when we ran into each other during the Oglesby Celebration Days. I was home on leave from the Air Force. After I got out of the Air Force in May 1980 we hung out for awhile and then I went back to college and didn’t see him until 1990.

The years adding up and going by so fast.

“Can you believe we are going to be 50 next year?” Bob writes.

A half-century. The first half of my life. Act I. Part I.

Looking in the mirror in the morning and seeing an older you. There are more lines, creases, and wrinkles than there were a year ago. I cut my hair short and everyone tells me that I look young for my age. Go figure.

Sitting at my desk, a cup of coffee and gazing out the window. I am happy that I can see some mountains in the distance. It is something to focus upon.

It’s another Sunday. Another Sunday in Daejeon. Another Sunday in Korea.

How many more Sundays will be spent like this? How many more Sundays will I be sitting at this same desk and gazing out the window and feeling the way that I do today?

I think about a year ago…two years ago…three years ago. Where I have been, where I have come from and how I ended up here.

At school I hardly see anyone. Most of the time it is just passing a teacher on the street and saying hello or bumping into someone in the hallway. Sometimes I can go a week or longer without seeing any other teachers and this at a school where there are over fifty foreign teachers. I teach a class and then leave. Come back a few hours later or the next day and teach again. It’s a lonely way to make a living.

Got an email from Paul Collin yesterday. He talked a little about Carbondale and SIU. Something else that seems like a million miles away; far, far away in another lifetime. Paul banging on the wall at Freeman Hall. Paul pushing Miles in a shopping cart for my first student film. Paul and I finding out that John Lennon had been shot.

The nights are getting cooler. Soon the leaves will change into their vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows.

I wonder how many people read my blog and for those who do, why hardly anyone leaves me any comments. Who are my readers? I wonder if I make a difference in anyone’s life?

Today I will go to the market and then spend the day watching movies.

I hear another train rumbling into town. I wish I could be on a train headed somewhere, anywhere.

The Libido Boys — Rock and Roll Angst from the early 80’s

The last time I was back in the States and hanging out with my best friend Chris Vasquez, I wondered—when I looked at the small recording studio he had put together in his bedroom—what would have happened if The Libido Boys had that kind of equipment?

For one year—from the summer of 1981 to the summer of 1982—The Libido Boys, a band formed by Chris burst on the Illinois Valley music scene and then disappeared. Back then the local music scene had been revitalized and energized by bands like The Jerks and Longshot (both bands comprised of former Buckacre members) and Chris’ band tapped into some of that energy. Although they were quite talented, what they might have lacked musically, they made up for it with their raw energy and enthusiasm.

They had a lot of that when they started playing that’s for sure.

I’ll never forget one night at Murphy’s on Water Street in Peru, Illinois when the boys were playing–one of those times when the only people in the bar were the band’s girlfriends. Those were some tough times for the boys–trying to carve out a piece of the local music scene for themselves at a time when The Jerks and Longshot had pretty much all the pie for themselves, but that never dissuaded Chris, Tony, Goose, and Rayjo even though they had to play for the door.

On this night at Murphy’s, there were a few people who were already in the bar, and they were not too keen on having to cough up the two bucks for cover charge. And when the boys started to play their repertoire of Ramones, Sex Pistols, and The Cure covers, they were far less keen on paying those two dollars. One drunken patron, who obviously knew a little about the alternative music scene started yelling about how it was “ant this” and “ant that” and how the “ants were going to take over the world.” Maybe he was tripping on acid or something because the boys did not play any Ant Music; of course,  “Antmusic” was on the break tape, so maybe that’s where he got confused.

At one point during the night, some of those not-too-friendly bar patrons had about enough of Havana Affairs and Jeanie, Jeanie, and Jeanie and decided to take matters into their hands, as well as a few beer bottles, which they lobbed at the stage and the boys. I don’t recall anyone getting hurt by the flying bottles; not that we didn’t like the sound of breaking glass mind you, as long as it wasn’t a bottle breaking on our heads or instruments. The band stopped playing, some words were yelled, and the band started playing again and another bottle crashes on stage. Well, that got the boys all riled up, and they leaped off the stage, just itching for a fight.

Well, there would be no fight that night, but instead, when the band started playing again, they launched into a raunchy, loud–screaming loud, grinding guitar sound loud, the soundboard buried in red loud–version of “Pretty Vacant” with Tony Innis on snarling, ala Johnny Rotten-style vocals–that deafened anyone in a 100 yard radius of the bar. The owner, Randy Murphy ran over to me where I was running sound and told me, no not told me, but screamed for me to “Turn it down Sparks!”

It was too late for that. Chris, Tony, and Greg had already turned up their amps on stage–not the Spinal Tap 11, but the usual 10, but loud enough that would make a squadron of B-52’s taking off pale in comparison. There was nothing I could do from where I was at behind the board.

I wonder if that was the night we were kicked out of Murphy’s for good?

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