Thick and fast they came at last
“I read your blog about Surrealism,” said Stuart. He had come back through town on his way home.
“It reminded me of the garage band I was in.”
“You were in a band? I didn’t know you played music,” I said.
“I never played an instrument,” he said. “I was the roadie.”
“Roadie for a garage band? Did you tour?
“Heck no. It was high school. My job was to bring the Cokes.”
“I said it was high school. Drinking age was 21 back then, besides, when you’re high on weed, you want something sweet.”
It turns out, they played not in a garage, but in the basement of the home where the lead guitarist lived with his parents.
“We played very low volume, sometimes without even plugging in,” he said. “We didn’t want to disturb Sal’s folks. But that’s not why I brought it up. It’s because of our name.
“You wrote about rock bands using Surrealism. This was 1967 and we listened to Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, Procol Harem, the Velvet Underground — it was a whole list of Surrealist wordplay.
“I remember a whole subcategory of culinary surrealism,” I said. “Moby Grape, The Electric Prune, Strawberry Alarmclock.”
“And those were just the big ones. Don’t forget the Chocolate Watchband, the Peanutbutter Conspiracy and Ultimate Spinach. And I guess we could put Captain Beefheart on that list, too.
“There was the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band — bet you don’t remember them — Blossom Toes, Bubble Puppy, Pearls Before Swine, 13th Floor Elevators, the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Stone Poneys and the Monkees — not that we listened the them. Nobody did; they were too popular.”
“And your band? What did you call yourselves?”
“Well, at first we were the Buddha Fumes, but later that year, we decided that was too simple, so we changed to Unlit Booth/Breakfast Out of Context. We thought it was a great name.”
“Maybe a little unwieldy.”
“Yeah, but we really got on a kick with the slash. We made up albums we were going to record, all with great two-part names, like ‘Sudden Eyes/Velcro Sunrise’ and ‘Burlap Lapels/Unexpected Lady.’
“I became more involved in the band our senior year and wrote lyrics for our songs. Mostly they were covers of our favorite bands, but with my new words. It’s how I became a writer, I think. I wrote a song about my dog based on Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida with the words, ‘Ah, we gotta go feed her.’ And we did. Feed her, that is.
“We broke up after graduation. We all went to different schools, except Sal, that is. He got a job.
“But this is all prelude to this list.”
“What list is that?”
“Well, back then, we made up a list of possible names for the band, and it follows exactly what you said in the piece about Surrealism. We had all these great concepts built out of wild juxtapositions, like taking a dictionary and running it through a blender. Of course, we never heard of Surrealism then. We just knew this stuff was cool.
“I found this list in an old folder from that time.”
And he pulled out a folded sheet of lined yellow legal paper, brittle at the edges, with about 20 or 25 names on it, written in faded violet ink, obviously from a fountain pen (“really, a cartridge pen,” Stuart said). The ink was illegible in a couple of places where spills had made the color spread into a bright blot. I recognized the handwriting as Stuart’s from the many letters he has written me over the years. His high-school cursive was much neater, though, than the scrawl that has evolved.
“Wax Monkeys,” it began.
Buddha Fumes, Sudden Monkey, Jalapeno Fistula, Orlando Death Car, Sequined Monotreme. The list continued: Fog Hammer.
“There was a fraudulent PR company called ‘Frog Hammer’ in Slings and Arrows,” I said. “You know, the Canadian miniseries about actors.”
“Don’t know it,” Stuart said. “But frog hammer just makes me think of a squashed schoolroom dissection. Fog Hammer is more genuinely surreal. Soft and hard at the same time, dense and vaporous.”
He’s probably right. The list went on:
Red Suits and Whispers
Slice of Breath
Waking the Badger
Money Under the Hood
“Wait,” I said. “Isn’t Pineapple Fuqua a real person? Didn’t we know him when we were kids?”
“Yeah, ‘Few-Kway.’ Ran the service station. Good name, though.
“Any of them you wanna use, go ahead,” Stuart said. “I don’t mind.”