Fitting that the story begins within a lyric, as many of Tim’s lyrics were his interpretations of things that actually went on in our lives, of people we knew — tales of funny, strange, and sometimes horrible events.
In 1988 New York City, if you wanted to join a rock band, or were a band looking for new members, you placed and read ads in the “Musicians Wanted” classified section of the Village Voice weekly newspaper (which was the de-facto bible of the local rock scene at the time). Have a listen:
[Side note: You can also hear a bona-fide mellotron in there if you listen closely, performed by Nick Sansano.]
I had begun following the music pages of the Voice since the age of 15, when I met my first bandmates Pete Glasser (son of former head of the ACLU Ira Glasser) and David Goldfarb through one such ad. We formed “Spectre” which played our one and only gig together — an audition night set at CBGB (sensing a pattern here?)
That’s me on the right, with my hair (which was later removed and taxidermied, and is now on permanent display in the Co-op City hall of fame). Pete is playing guitar on the left, and you can barely see a bit of David off to his left. I don’t remember the drummer’s name.
I’d been an avid music listener and performer since the age of 5, and when I was 12 the bass chose me (I was a tall kid and was thus handed the upright bass when it came time to assign instruments for the school orchestra). I’d been playing professionally since the age of 14 when I did my first 2 paying gigs as a bassist while attending high school at the School of Performing Arts in Manhattan (yes, it’s the “Fame” school).
I got recruited for my first job by classmate Jay Rodriguez, who I think had been playing professional club gigs since he was 7 or 8 years old (or at least it seemed like it to me at the time). Jay is one big-time monster of a sax/flute player these days, he plays all over the world with everyone. We had a science teacher, whose name escapes me (I know friends are going to help me out with names as I need them, right???). This teacher had a side-racket going, selling shopping malls in places like Katonah New York and Paramus New Jersey on a show featuring “The Kids From The REAL Fame School.” I was the bass player in the band, and there were dancers who did ballet & modern numbers, actors who did scenes from Shakespeare (including classmate Esai Morales who had just enjoyed major success in his role opposite Sean Penn in the movie “Bad Boys”), and other various shenanigans and goings-on to keep the people in the mall entertained.
The year was 1982, and “Fame” had just been a major hit film, with the spinoff TV show enjoying major success globally. Needless to say, these shows brought in huge crowds of excited and adoring teenage girls. I instantly realized what an incredible aphrodisiac being on stage with an instrument can be. Especially an instrument that’s held so close to one’s “junk”. I had fans . . . FEMALE fans! If I had any doubt at that point about my future of being onstage with an instrument, it was crushed that very moment. I was in.
I have no idea how much money Mr. Whatshisname pocketed on these shows (and there’s definitely no way this whole enterprise was kosher at all — he would’ve gotten fired and probably sued if the school administration ever found out) but we kids had an awesome time, were treated like rock stars, and got a few dollars in our pockets to boot.
My second gig was given to me by my classmate Holly Bartlett, whom I also had a major crush on. Her mother was Doris Bartlett, nee D’Jamin Bartlett, the Broadway actress. D’Jamin had been given a contract to produce and star in a monthlong-run of cabaret show called “D’Jamin Sings Lennon And Sometimes McCartney” at the Vineyard Theater on the East Side of Manhattan. We did 8 shows a week for a month — I went to the theater every day after school and did my homework then puttered around until curtain. The band consisted of her pianist, daughter Holly on flute, and myself on upright bass and bass guitar. Some instrumentation, eh? The show consisted of campy versions of Beatles tunes, and I looked exactly like a young John Lennon at the time which is why they had hired me in the first place. It was weird. The show got an indifferent review from the NY Times and we enjoyed marginally full houses until the end of the run when the house manager was basically begging me to bring friends in to watch the show, even offering up free bottles of wine to anyone who’d come and tolerate it.
I had already gone through a whole career as a professional musician at age 20 when I met Tim and Gregg through a “personal ad in the Village Voice”. In addition to supporting myself with gigs, I was continuing my “serious” music studies fulltime as a Junior in college at SUNY Purchase. There are loads of stories around my musical adventures during this time, but they are being put aside now so I can turn to how The Rake’s Progress got started. It never, ever, in a million years would’ve happened without this:
I was sitting in the TV room of my place of residence in London England (where I lived for part of 1986) watching the performance above, live on television. I’d never seen or heard anything like it, and rewatching it now for the first time ever (which goes to show pretty much everything that ever happened will wind up on the internet eventually) I’m once again struck at how surreal it all is, the 2 dudes up front spastically “arm dancing” while perched atop their friend’s shoulders, while a coiffed crooner sings this sweet buttery melody of morbid lyrics, the restrained and simple instrumental arrangement sitting above the evidently expert musicianship beneath, and a driving melodic bass line which has always been my thing. I was stunned, my musical world shifted.
The next day I went down to the HMV on Oxford Street and bought a cassette of “The Queen Is Dead” which as it turns out had just been released the day before. I played it constantly, obsessively, in my walkman for months, walking around London. Every song on that album was a masterpiece as far as I was concerned. A few days after seeing that performance, my girlfriend back in New York sent me a letter in which she notified me that she’d been sleeping with other guys and she thought we should break up. That album and “Avalon” by Roxy Music got me through it.
So, getting back to the ad in the Village Voice. As one does when looking for bandmates, one cites one’s musical influences in one’s ad. The Smiths was the top of the list in Tim & Gregg’s ad, along with some others like Lloyd Cole and Prefab Sprout whom I’d never heard of before (but would quickly come to get to know and love and still do to this day). The ad said they had guitar, drums, singer, and had written a bunch of original material. They were my age. I dialed the number in the ad.