a Rock And A Rolling Stone
By Scott Nicholson
My music career was the detour that lead in a roundabout way to my writing career. While in college in the mid-1980s, I spent one of my financial aid checks on a Telecaster guitar and amp. I holed up in a former meat smokeroom at a Chapel Hill, NC, farm called Hippie Hollow and played scales for about ten hours each day. Six months later, my garbage bag of home-grown depleted, I emerged, blinked at the sun, and followed rumors of a new band into the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
I played bass and sang in a group called Direct Osmosis, which devolved into a living room embarrassment called The Worthless Peons. I was one of the founding members of the Friars, a group that made a nearly invisible dent in the local music scene from the late 1980s through the early 1990s. The group went through several line-up changes, and I usually played bass, vocals, and occasional keyboards. (Pictured left, me on bass, Brian Chipman on guitar, and Mark Moser on drums) Somehow I ended up playing guitar as the front man in a band called the Cloud Rats, with an aspiring Deadhead drummer and a bassist who drank bottles of Robitussin to get high and whose pet rabbit chewed through our mic cables. After one memorable Halloween gig in make-up, I decided that my music career had reached its zenith and the ears of the world would be better served by silence.
Through all of those years, I was writing songs constantly. I would guess Ive written about 500 songs, with maybe 150 or so eventually fashioned into some sort of workable and presentable form. I was also a recording junkie. Many of these were late-night sonic experiments in the privacy of my back room, the ultimate in artistic masturbation. Well, the good thing is, in music as in sex, you can be more experimental when no critics are looking over your shoulder or between your kneecaps.
The song "Robert is Dead" is probably from the late 1980s. The story is totally true. The geezer across the road died, and they got rid of him and his building so fast that the asphalt was steaming by the time the dirt hit his coffin. I usually delved into what I call "plastic music," with poppy sorts of lyrics and unabashed pretension. But this song still sounds real, even with all the flaws and fluffed notes. I think I recorded all the tracks in about an hour.
"Circle of Flames" is a cheesy anti-Satanist song. Im positive I put some backwards messages in there amidst the drum machine and squeaky backing voices. I think I said, "Beelzebub spelled backwards is Bubba zeelba" or something appropriately hokey.
"Popsicle In The Sun" was recorded with the last incarnation of the Friars, Mark Moser on drums, Pat Saxon on guitars. I also produced a music video of the song, an eight-minute wonder that took forever to edit. I remember spending about two hours editing a five-second sequence. Mark is my soul mate in many ways and the most instinctive musician I ever played with. Pat was very meticulous in weaving his guitar tracks together and mixing the tape. This song still needs a good Floydian keyboard track and backing vocals on the chorus, but there it is.
As my friend Aaron Burleson helped me convert the tapes to digital files, I started getting excited about the songs. Most of my recordings had an audience of one or two people. So its with great trepidation that I release these flawed creations into the world. But my self-protecting motto is, "It was the best I could do at the time."
Since Im a chronic perfectionist, I was never satisfied with any of the recordings I was involved in, whether with a band or puttering around on the four-track making musical mud pies. Going through the old tapes (maybe fifteen hours worth of recorded songs), Ive found about ten other tunes that stand the test of time without inducing too much shame. Maybe someday I'll cobble them together into a CD, and I hope to post the video (and another one I did solo) on the site when I come across a friend with the requisite technical skill.
I rarely play anymore, and all signs are that I made a good career move by unplugging my amp. I made more money selling my first story than I did in my whole so-called rock career. And youll notice Im not quitting my day job for writing anytime soon.
At any rate, I hope you enjoy the tunes. Ill probably post "Popsicle" on www.garageband.com and see if I can nab one of those $25,000 recording contracts. To extrapolate the Jethro Tull line, "Too old to rock and roll, too young to die, and too stupid to know the difference."
Oh, and to echo my opening, music led to my writing career because, in the gap between the two endeavors, I suffered anxiety, was generally miserable, and didnt really have any big and hopelessly unrealistic dreams to pursue. I did the normal stuff like finished college, got a regular job, got married, and then realized that, hey, if I aint making something up, then I aint alive. Its all about telling stories, no matter the form.
As someone once said, "Rock on."
--originally appeared 2001
in the CD-ROM anthology Extremes II from Lone Wolf Publications.
Copyright 2001 by Scott Nicholson
Scott Nicholson copyright 2001ŠAll rights reserved