Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Yesterday's Garbage: Remembering the Martyrs

The Martyrs. Not one of my favorite bands (but then I can't even think of a favorite band at the moment). I was in it, I guess, yet there is so little I remember. Maybe because I was the first to discover drinking. If we were to be assigned Fab Four-style nicknames, I would be "the one who didn't show up for rehearsal again."

1986 or so. Mike and I were cleaning up after Saturday night bingo at our elementary alma mater, St. Pius X. This, and the setting-up beforehand, was our job. Although we performed our duties in the auditorium that was a mere Eucharist wafer-fling from the rectory, we risked rousing sleepy priests by blaring our mix tapes over the PA. This night, instead of his Dream Academy or my Blood & Chocolate (which he poo-pooed at first listen, poor dope), Mike unleashed a roar of cacophony over the speakers which I could only liken to the Velvet Underground I had recently discovered in my brother's LP collection. "Sister Ray," "I Heard Her Call My Name," and now, "Norman on Drugs." I guess it was Mike and Jim with Pauly V., don’t think Chris was involved yet. they may have been calling themselves Universe at this time. It sounded like shit, and fun. I wanted in.

It turned out that Pauly V. was not really a member of the band, but Chris soon was. I borrowed tapes to learn their "songs" and "lyrics." I listened to the half-finished "Sycamore Tree" and finished it, though no one asked me to. I attended rocking-out sessions and sang, badly. I wrote songs, but because I was not a songwriter by any particular inspiration, I would just pick a different genre for each effort and write goofy words, sometimes more like a parody than a song. I'd hand in a song called "Shake the Snake Awake" and say, "This is a heavy metal song, like AC/DC." Sometimes the Martyrs ran with it; sometimes, as in this case, they wisely ran from it. There are too many of my bad songs to list. I had a big binder filled with Martyrs arcana: lyrics, considered band names, rehearsal notes. I think I threw it all away (sorry, Chris). I remember lots of boring practices where I'd just fade out after a while and let the others do their thing. Then there were times like the recording of "Moving Day." The title was the sports-page headline of Newsday, about a Met being traded. Jim challenged me to write a song by that name. A few hours later, listening to the finished product, we blew ourselves away. Yes, far too many of our successful songs end with chaos, screaming, cheering, clapping--we couldn't help it!

I listen to the old tapes rarely, but today I plowed in. My lyrics within any one song can veer from inspired to trite to droll to "what-the-fuck?" I often sound like someone familiar--someone flat, true, but someone I've heard, so there's that. Listening to the songs I sang, I always think how much better it would have been had another Martyr taken a crack at it.

Chris' bass is impeccable, his enthusiasm unrivalled. He wrote astoundingly loopy songs with great melodies and harmonies. "Couch Potato" never fails to make me smile. "Josh Crandall." "But Until Then." "Bedtime Story." I think Chris loved the arguments almost as much as the music.

Jim's drumming is solid and workmanlike, especially considering his kit in later years made Slim Jim Phantom's look like the Doobie Brothers'. Mike, I think, held it all together, when he wasn't making us crazy. Jim and Mike had that Ray & Dave Davies thing going, the most tangible evidence being (other than the hours of between-song enmity) the hole in the closet door created by Jim whipped drumstick. If it weren't for Mike's reflexes, that hole would have been through the cleft above his occipital bone.

As for the Laura D.'s show, the rehearsal immediately prior to the gig was spot-on, trust me. The actual show I've pretty much deleted from my memory (although cruel echoes of "PICK IT UP!" will shudder through my soul forever).

I think of my songwriting forays as a creative writing device, the attempt to tell a story and make it rhyme. As for my singing, well, I didn't play an instrument, so what the hell else was I gonna do? I'm glad my musical brothers continue to record and even more glad that they rarely ask me to contribute anymore.

The Martyrs are dead; long live The Feebs, Library Myth, The Throats, et al!

- Paul Saur, September 2005

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