8 Million Stories: Loud Music, Bad Luck and Don Hill

Written by Mishka Shubaly on . Posted in 8 Million Stories, Posts.

Succeeding in the music biz depends solely on that one stroke of luck—being in the right place at the right time. In 1999, when the New York rock scene was about to explode, we were one of the few bands that mattered. We played all the great clubs—CBGBs, Coney Island High, Luna Lounge—that are no longer in business. My favorite was Don Hill’s, that huge dark anonymous cavern. Saturday nights there, we were kings— even the bartenders were nice to us.

A couple of days before a Don Hill’s show, a band got added to our bill by a promoter who couldn’t shut up about the buzz it had, how cool the guys dressed, all the models at the shows and so on and so on. So we grandly acquiesced and let the band on our bill. This Other Band didn’t endear itself to us by sending an earnest email pointing out an error in our flyer for the show. The word ‘the’ in its name was always capitalized, the boys wanted us to know. Stop the presses, what were we thinking? This is rock ‘n’ roll, a genre of music founded upon not just correct grammar and correct punctuation, but also correct capitalization! Fucking nerds.

The show was fine, which is to say that I was hammered. I wore a dress I found on my girlfriend’s floor and a pair of panties I found on my other girlfriend’s floor. This Other Band was pretty good. On one song, the singer sounded like Jim Morrison as a Vegas lounge act over a Tom Petty lick, his voice a big boozy baritone sax. The band was as good as we were and I worried that they may be better. After the bands were done, the promoter came up to us at the bar and said that we’d better check on the gear we’d stashed behind the stage curtains because some kids were messing around back there. Our singer checked and reported back that they weren’t just messing around, it was, you know, the whole enchilada. The drummer’s girlfriend grabbed her digital camera, which was cutting-edge technology at that time. She walked over to the stage, stuck the camera behind the curtains and squeezed off a picture without looking, then walked away and waited for the picture to come up on the screen. When she got back to the bar, she was laughing so hard she could hardly stand up. With her random snap, she had captured the naked, white, pimply ass of the guitar player for This Other Band, pumping up and down between the spread legs of some unfortunate female in flip flops.

Our next show was at Luna Lounge with This Other Band and, always in the market for a catchy picture for a flyer, we used the picture of the guitar player’s naked butt, midstroke. Did I mention he had some kind of weird rash crawling out of his crack? We used our beer money to make full color posters in which we tinted the picture to emphasize the rash. When we were done, it looked like he had a chemical burn or a flesh-eating virus. I have never been so happy to hand a flyer to strangers, and I hate flyering. Guys were like, "Thanks… whoa!" and girls would inevitably ask, "Are those plastic Adidas flip flops? The poor girl."

We were giddy with our own cleverness when we loaded in to Luna Lounge. This Other Band had just completed their soundcheck and laughed when they saw us loading our stuff in. All except the guitar player, who walked right up to our singer, by far the smallest guy in our band.

"Hey, it’s not cool that you guys used my ass on your flyer." His bandmates tittered. Our singer looked nervous; the guitar player was quite a bit bigger than him, and our singer, God bless him, hadn’t landed this gig for his prowess on the battlefield. If you’re going to fight someone in my band, it’s going to be me. I stood up from where I was sitting.

"Yo, fornicator!" I said, "the next time we use your ass is going to be when I put my foot up it. Chill out."

"Well, it’s just not really cool of you guys, OK?" He sulked out of the back room and everyone—even This Other Band—cracked up. So we showed them, right? Except This Other Band made a record with a producer they met that night at Don Hill’s—a producer who had come to see us—and that record caught fire. This Other Band scored the cover of NME, Spin and, finally, Rolling Stone. I got hired as a barback by Don Hill. As This Other Band’s star rose, I bussed glasses, mopped up barf, fished saturated tampons out of overflowing toilets and dragged bags of trash to the dumpster as rats ran over my legs. One night after he watched me punch out a frat boy, Don Hill clapped me on the shoulder and said, "The battling barback! We gotta make you a bartender." Don understood our desperate lives and I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

In the dozen years that have passed since that show at Don Hill’s, I have had time—too much time—to reflect on This Other Band’s lucky break and wonder bitterly if Fate maybe didn’t have one too many Jager bombs that Saturday night and accidentally bestow the stroke of luck we so clearly deserved on This Other Band. Because our band? We broke up. Our old singer manages that bar right across from White Castle. Our old drummer lives with me and, officially, he doesn’t deliver weed anymore. Our guitar player married our drug supplier. I work off Craigslist. And This Other Band? Well, if anyone knows The Strokes, please tell them that I’m very, very sorry.