"You're Living Here In My Town"

It's damn near impossible to describe everything I saw this past weekend in Chapel Hill.  I know this because I've spent the last thirty minutes just listing some of the things I saw--the classmates, the ex-girlfriends, the bandmates, the people who were in my wedding (and vice-versa)--it just brings up once again how truly Gordian the knot of Chapel Hill is, and how hard it is to explain to those outside it.

Soon after I started dating Kelly, I tried to draw up an org chart of my connections to various people, and it wasn't long before I realized that two dimensions weren't enough to incorporate all the links; hell, I'd wager that three wouldn't be enough.  I mean, Mike Beard and Gilly Macknee and I shared something like four girlfriends, and both of them (and several of the girlfriends) ended up in my wedding party; add in the complications of our musical and dramatic connections, and things start getting messy very quickly.  I mean, Mike and I worked together in Great Wall of Doo Doo with Zingo, Zippy and Elmo; Elmo and I played in Elmo and PC, but only Zippy, Mike and I were involved with Rohrwaggon, which also included Rob, Burvis, Stacy, Marvin, Bill, Steve, and Taz, the last of whom I played in Terminal Mouse, which opened for the Pressure Boys, featuring Zippy, Elmo, Rob, Steev, Stacy, and Stafford, the latter two of whom were in the Rouch Cats, which opened for Great Wall of Doo Doo, and back around we go.  And I haven't even mentioned my stint in the John Santa band with Mike, or the fact that Burvis replaced Steev in the Pressure Boys, or my work with Zippy in Band Wailin', etc.

Clearly, the music scene in Chapel Hill in the 1980s was like a cross between Laurel Canyon in the 1970s and the royal house of Thebes in Oedipus Rex.

But this past weekend, the interwoven threads got tightened up around the Cat's Cradle like never before.  On both Friday and Saturday nights, hundreds of people were drawn into the club by the chance to see the Pressure Boys for the first time in twenty years, and on each night, I saw dozens of people tied to me by experiences of all sorts.  There were those I knew from school--mostly high school, but in some cases elementary or even nursery school.  There were those I'd played with in bands of all sorts, those I'd performed with in plays, and those with whom I'd worked backstage.  There were former co-workers from jobs in restaurants, record stores, and radio stations.  There were people who'd been at my wedding and three who'd been IN it--four, if you count Kelly--plus two whose wedding I'd been in.  There were two ex-girlfriends, two of my former compatriots in the Transactors Improv Company, and four people in my fantasy football league.  There were three people who'd invited me to perform in their clubs, and I'd performed in public at least once with every single member of the band.

All these threads were soaked in nostalgia like an orb weaver's web is soaked with dew on a damp spring morning, but there are some images that stand out from the pervading misty atmosphere:

*Stafford and Je shaving the crowns of their heads in solidarity with their follicly challenged bandmates.  (Je very sensibly shaved off the rest of his hair for Saturday's show, but Stafford was still gamely clinging to his coppery sidewalls.)

*The show opening with a slow, thumping intro that I recognized instantly:  the Specials' "Nite Klub," as doctored back in 1986 by Rohrwaggon.  (Other covers from the P-Boys' early days: "A Message to You, Rudy" and "You're Wondering Now" by the Specials and Bad Manners' "Lip Up Fatty" and "Inner London Violence.")

*John Plymale.  I felt sure the band would manage to reconnect and get back to their usual level of expertise; they're too good a group of musicians with too much common experience not to.  And sure enough, they were as good as I'd remembered--except for Zippy.  He was actually better.  Since his days in the P-Boys, he'd become even more self-assured, even more aware of his surroundings, even more attuned to the audience.  I knew Rob's right foot wouldn't have lost its potency; I didn't know how good Plymale could be until Friday night.

*Former Veldt drummer and Rohrwaggon lead singer Marvin Levi (CHHS '83) introducing the P-Boys as one of the Eighties' most influential bands, along with Night Ranger.

*Gilly Macknee, my buddy of thirty-something years now, dashing down to the show from his farm in Ashe County despite the impending birth of a new calf.  He and his wife Brenda knew they might have to sprint back to the mountains as soon as the show was over, but there was no way Gilly could miss this.  He even sent me this photo from the show:


l-r: Greg Stafford (sax), Je Widenhouse (trumpet--in bg), John "Zippy" Plymale (vocals), Bryon "Elmo" Settle (guitar)

*Jack Campbell taking the mic to muse, "You know, I'm forty-six years old... I'm in the best shape of my life... and I'm playing in a rock band.  I'm living the dream."

*The almost alarming realization that we didn't all smell like cigarette smoke after the show.  The Cradle is now a no-smoking zone.  If my ears hadn't been ringing, I might not have believed I'd been to a club.

*Kelly wearing her old Air Jordans (long the preferred shoe of the Chapel Hill ska scene) and casting aside twenty years of responsible adult behavior in order to mosh furiously during the sax solo sections of "Is This Normal?"

*Rob Ladd drumming as he always does: as though this is the last thing he will ever play.  His body language during a song suggests that there simply isn't any energy left in him to go any further.  It's always vaguely astonishing to me when he actually manages to count off the beat of the next tune.

*A pile of black, burgundy, and pale blue Pressure Boys t-shirts the size of a cord of firewood being whittled down to a single cardboard box's worth by the end of Saturday's show.  Each sold for ten bucks--we bought four black ones--and all the money, like that raised from CD sales and the box office, is going to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

*Hearing Bryon's son, Basie, who was standing behind me on Saturday night, bellowing "Radar Love!" for the last five minutes of the show, followed by a blazing hot version of the song during the encore.  I think he understands his dad in a whole new way now.

*Watching Dixon and Ian, wide-eyed and bobbing to the rhythm, on Friday night.  I think they understand their parents in a whole new way now.

And in the end, as much as it was about reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances, this weekend was really about the next generation:  not just Ian, Dixon, and Basie, but Mike and Kaethe's daughters, and Gilly and Brenda's three kids, and of course Allie Plymale, the face of the concert.  She's here in the reunion photo, and it's her fight against CF that inspired the entire weekend's efforts.  We came together for ourselves, of course, in hopes of better understanding what we've done and where we've been, but in many ways we came together to give the people we love a clearer understanding that we do in fact love them--both those who were there twenty years ago, and those who weren't yet anywhere--and that our shared experiences are part of the reason why.

Thanks for coming back to town, everybody.  See you in 2028.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on May 5, 2008 11:07 AM.

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