Every high school talent show across the land pretty much unfolds in the same way. There are some good acts and some bad acts and a few individuals who have heard the term tone deaf, but don’t know it applies to them. Standard fare usually includes a troupe of dancing girls (containing one leader who has clearly been in competitive dance since age four, flanked by six others who spend the whole time crashing into each other, always one beat behind), perhaps a comedy act and some homemade poetry that may induce motion sickness. But those are not the bones of the matter. The real spine of the show of course is the bands.
Like the rest of the acts, the band performances vary according to a number of things such as level of experience, measure of stage fright, quality of equipment, and plain old talent – or lack thereof. Granted, it is terribly difficult to sound good in a wide open cafeteria when you are singing through a guitar amp and you’re bass player has not actually learned any notes yet.
My firsthand experience in these matters comes from back in the olden days when I used to host a coffee house at the school. Through this, I have endured (mostly in good humour) karaoke, morose singer songwriters and punk bands that have obviously not practiced as a unit more than three times.
Occasionally, I would become cranky, like the time I was working the door, and a couple of young punks tried to get in for free. Two long haired, skinny little metal heads - one blond wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt and the other with dark hair sporting a Pantera t-shirt - just like Beavis and Butthead. It was only a two dollar cover charge which neither could procure from the depths of their pockets. I think they were about 14 at the time, and had a combined weight of about 150 pounds.
I had to lay it down for them. “Hey guys…you have to pay to get in, just like everyone else. Even the performers have to pay to get in.”
“What about if we perform? Can we pay half? ” Beavis asks, grinning like a maniac.
“Yeah” says Butthead, “We live like, one block away. We’ll go get our guitars, and find a dollar.”
I agreed to the deal just to get rid of them, as I was certain they would get distracted along the way and never return. Besides I was not up for sitting through another desecrating instrumental version of Stairway to Heaven. Not five minutes went by when I looked out the window and damned if they weren’t trudging across the parking lot, both with a guitar in hand and carrying a giant amp that banged against their legs with each step, forcing them to zig zag like drunken sailors. They still had no money but I let them in anyway because the show was half over. I told them I would slot them in between angst ridden poetry girl and bad punk band with no singer.
Angst ridden poetry girl finished and the metal head kids set up their amps, while I braced myself for a cringe-worthy performance of Free Bird… or worse. And yea, the stars did align, for the two tiny metal heads did burst forth with great musical ability and stirred the crowd with a righteous rendition of Green Onions. I’m not kidding. These little buggers launched into the Booker T classic like they were delta blues veterans. The way they traded riffs and grooved along you would think you were standing in a juke joint in Memphis on a Saturday night. It’s get better though. For the second song, one of them (Black Sabbath shirt) puts down his guitar and grabs the microphone. Pantera shirt starts into the opening riff of Rooster by Alice and Chains. By this time I’m grinning like an idiot and looking over at the punk band who has unenviable task of following this performance. I'm making sure they are watching how it's supposed to be done.
It turns out that Black Sabbath shirt can sing. I mean he can really sing. Not like a 15 year old with a shaky voice but more like a front man on the stage at Lollapalooza. They tore through Rooster with just the guitar and voice without a hitch. It was a glorious relief to have my preconceived notions proved wrong. I don’t really remember if punk band with no singer was half decent or horrible but either way, they didn’t burn a spot in my brain like the two little metal heads.
A year to two later, I found out that there was a third long haired guitar player from around the same grade – we’ll call him Metallica shirt, who, at another talent show joined Pantera shirt onstage for a scorching rendition of Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix. Once again, they played well beyond their years and in my opinion, stole the show. I don't know if there was something in the water in the neighbourhood where these kids came from, but they sure as hell could play.
Fast forward 10 years or so and you will be happy to know that these boys have done rather well for themselves. If we are throwing around names, then let it be known that Black Sabbath shirt is called Taylor Perkins and he sings in a band called Bleeker Ridge, which was last seen touring across the country with the likes of Papa Roach and Buckcherry. He is joined in this band by Mike Van Dyk -otherwise known as Metallica t-shirt - who plays bass. The last character, formerly referred to as Pantera shirt, is Timmy Kehoe and he holds down the lead guitar spot in a vicious metal band called Adrenechrome. Mike Van Dyk also plays bass in this band because his love of metal runs very deep.
And so it stands, that long ago I was reminded of some life lessons. Don’t judge a CD by its cover, and sometimes letting a couple of kids in to the coffee house for free is the right thing to do. Oh…and Kehoe and Perkins, you guys still owe me two bucks.