About 30 years ago, as an obligatory part of a New-Jersey-based misspent youth, I fronted an "alternative" or "New Wave" band called Artificial Intelligence. We played out a fair amount near the campus of the college I attended perfunctorily, William Paterson. Having convinced the manager of a bar called The Peanut Gallery that it might be a good idea to host bands, and having thus cleared the ground that would set the stage for The Trypes, The Willies, and eventually a reunited-for-the-first-time Feelies, I suppose it could be said that A.I. was an important part of the Haledon Scene, which of course ought to be considered an obscure adjunct of the Hoboken Scene. Our music was an attempted hybrid of Pere Ubu and Gang of Four with various art-rock elements thrown in—our keyboard player, My Close Personal Friend Ron G., was a very big prog head who was also quite conversant in film music (I recall he "composed" one number that was a blatant and proud lift from one of Steiner's jungle motifs in the King Kong score). I will leave it to history, such as it is, to render its verdict on our work. One of our major distinctions was in attracting the very great Stanley Demeski, later of the aforementioned Feelies, and then Luna, and now, I'm really happy to note, The Feelies again, to pound the skins for us for a spell, said spell being one of our most fecund and best-sounding periods.
The band had many problems—its first and foremost being that I didn't know how to sing, at least over our deliberately knotty and loud and dissonant music, and also that I was a complete diva asshole a lot of the time, mostly just because I thought that was what lead singers did—but we also had a hell of a lot of laughs, some of them a result of interband banter, others deriving from the endearing boneheadedness of others of our kind. Once, our Clifton basement rehearsals having worked the last nerve of the woman who lived on the top floor of the house shared by a few of us, we went out to Cedar Grove to work at a more or less "professional" rehearsal space in the back of a laundromat in a strip mall. Frustrated by my general ineffectuality in the group, musically speaking, I had taken up noise-making with my ex-girlfriend's Fender Jazzmaster (I know: huh?) when not doing vocal impersonations of an agonized beached sea creature. The joint we were rehearsing had this great sort-of apse at stage left with an organ and some synths stacked up; a "keyboard nook," I later called it. So Ron took his place there; rising to the setting, he would do variations of Garth Hudson's intro to "Chest Fever" in between our own songs, which was pretty funny. Our guitarist Tom, a really inspired player in both heavy and noise modes, was doing his thing, as was bassist Doug. I plugged into one of the Marshall stacks and tried to make coherent screeches. I don't think we had a drummer at the time.
Anyway, we're there "jamming," which in our lexicon meant making a horrible racket to see if anything could emerge from its resultant Stygian depths, and in walks this dead-eyed dude with a greasy shag and a chip on his shoulder. One of the joint's owner/managers, or something. He stands there, with his arms folded, looking more than vaguely disapproving, as our jam goes on, and on, to less and less purpose. Finally we don't so much finish as just stop playing, and begin discussing whether or not maybe we'd like to try to play a song or something. Whereupon the dead-eyed dude steps up closer to the stage, and asks no one in particular, "Which one of you guys is the guitar player?" And the three guys holding guitars immediately point to Ron in the keyboard nook and say, in unison, "He is."
Whereupon the dude goes straight up to Ron and says to him, "Hey, man, don't mess with any of the controls on the Marshall stack there. It's modified." And Ron, perhaps in disbelief, just says, "Okay." And then the dude leaves.
Yes, we all still enjoy that story very much, thank you. And we we heartened, a couple of weeks ago, when the members of Artificial Intelligence reconvened for a rehearsal in the rehearsal district of midtown Manhattan, to see that the "don't touch the stack" mentality lives on, as witness the Sharpie-penned urgent instruction we found on one of the bass amps:
"So why was your 'band' that you hadn't played with for almost thirty years rehearsing a couple of weeks ago?" you may be foolish enough to ask. Well, why else would we rehearse except for a reunion, which took place on Saturday at, of course, the Holiday Inn on Rt. 22W in Springfield N.J. Our drummer for the occasion—said occasion being the 40th anniversary of bassist Doug H.'s first guitar lesson, which he commemorated by reassembling a good number of members of every band he ever played in, or something (I didn't quite follow the logic, I just showed up to play, man) was the great Daniel B. Our friend Barré D., whom Ron and I helped steer to a career path that eventually saw him as Patti Smith's crew manager and, of late, musical stage manager of The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien and O'Brien's subsequent live tour, and soon, O'Brien's new television show, came and took a couple of shots with his gizmo, which has an app that makes the things look like Polaroids, which is in fact pretty cool. Problem is these things don't have very wide lenses, so the band in its entirety is difficult to get in one shot. So here's two.
Oddly enough, in spite of having had almost zero soundcheck, and having to play a severely truncated "set" (two originals: "Diminishing Returns" and the immortal "Monster Island Dance Party;" we had worked up some nifty covers, including one of the Bryan Ferry arrangement of "The In Crowd"), the general consensus was that, by some miracle (the "Rock Godz" smiling upon us?), we actually ended up sounding objectively not bad, myself included. I did my patented stage schtick, which includes a lot of limb-flailing and unexpectedly falling in a dead heap and so on, and it seemed "effective." We all resolved that it would be a fun thing to try again for real despite the fact that most of us now reside in different states. I'll keep you posted. Maybe.