Friday, September 08, 2006

"More Cowbell is the new Freebird"

Josh Malerman stated, arms crossed and leaning against a pool table at the Upsidedown Plaza. Just four hours earlier, the dreaded phrased was thrown across the Library Theatre stage again and again as Josh stood with Chad's bass guitar in hand, surrounded by a small army of wannabe rock stars, all under the age of thirteen.

He and his band, The High Strung, had just played a full set to a room of bookworms and their parents. As each song progressed, I had noticed a few more small heads bobbing, a few more small bodies leaning forward scratching their heads and twitching in their seats with excitement. For many of them, this would be their first show. The first time they would witness a man in real life beat the crap out of a pair of drums with incredible grace and a smile on his face. This would set the standard. Derek would become an icon of beat and rhythm to a few front row beamers, blonde messy hair and summer clothes, playing air drums and staring at his every movement.

During the show, Chad donned his Rockgles (good one, Amber), and leaned forward, head flailing as his fingers sped up and down the frets, smiling his quiet, knowing smile as Josh hailed him "The Greatest Bass Player in the World". Josh took his familiar pace back and forth from the microphone, stopping and crossing his legs, bending down over his guitar. strumming at a feverish pace. This was their thirteenth show in a tour of over 60. 60 dates of sharing with little kids and young teens the magic of rock'n'roll. 60 dates of passing out picture books and percussion instruments to a room full of hyperactive youngsters. 60 dates of writing songs full of nonsense and wonder. That's right, every show they write a song.

At this moment, I see the significance of Josh's story of the prospective contest with Robert Pollard of GBV, writing a song a day for a year....instead he and Chad and Derek are writing one song a day with a room full of children who've just had their afternoon snack (in this case, popcorn, sprite, and mini candybars), or who may have been bussed in from a school for the behaviorally challenged, the crowd may be big or small, they may stick their fingers in their ears nd complain or run at the band full force with enthusiasm.... Dear lord, how I commend my friends. What an amazing task, an incredible journey. I'm so glad that they are documenting every stop along the way. Jeff, a friend from Detroit, is riding along with them, acting as cameraman/soundman, for the tour. 22,000 miles. Brave beautiful boy.

(excerpt from an email I wrote earlier today to bt and mc)

"The boys' van ended up breaking down in 5 Points last night as we were all leaving the Plaza to go home. They thought it might be the battery so we hooked my car to theirs and shared the last of pizza from dinner. I think that image will always stay in my mind, Josh leaning back in the passenger's seat, eyes tired and smiling, passing a piece of thin crust veggie pizza from his window to mine, the low hum of my engine, headlights blaring across the street in front of us, M Ward on the radio.

Derek finally took apart the dashboard of the van, in a ritual of layers that almost seemed like the undressing of Darth Vader's helmet, revealing instead of scarred flesh, a dark bulk of machinery. Josh then passed around a box of cookies. I decided to climb in the back seat of the van, bounding in along side chad as he scrolled through his Itunes, looking for an appropriate soundtrack.

It had been a good night since leaving the library. Derek and I had dominated the sport of pool (beating Josh and Chad, Jeff and Amber again and again) (which is strange because we are both total shit shooters and everyone else would plan out their shots, take time to discuss, pointing their sticks this way and that). The boys got to write on the wall of the Plaza. We all clog danced on the makeshift stage set up on the steps of the church behind the fountain. Jeff (dude making the documentary of their travels) declared Birmingham "a fun city". It WAS a good night. When the ancient engine of the High Strungs van finally rumbled to life, it was around 2am. We hugged goodbye and went our separate ways."

Check out the High Strung's site for tour dates and downloads, the latest news and the a great great video they made at a motel 6 with the Capitol Years....wait...that doesn't sound quite right....


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