Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Tragical History of All Smiles

So don't blame me, it's not my fault
It's their mistake, they made it that way!!!!!

This election was a brutal reminder that despite all the progress it seems like we've made over the last eight years, we still have a ways to go.  The idea of a Trump Administration is a harsh wake up call that there is still a power structure -- and prevailing attitudes --in direct opposition to what I and many others hold dear.  I feel very much like how I felt as a high school kid during the Bush administration, using music -- punk rock -- to send a loud and clear fuck you to the status quo and the powers that be.

I was in a couple bands in high school.  From the end of freshman year until the beginning of junior year (May 01 to September 02) I played guitar in a powerviolence style band called Daylight [hyperlink to youtube], or xDaylightx depending on what logo you were looking at (most of us were not very good at being straight edge). 
Daylight 10/26/01 @ The Orleans Juice Bar

When Daylight broke up, I decided to shift gears and start a band with some other friends from our small Cape Cod/Nauset High School scene which.  I hooked up with Chuck who played drummed for another Nauset band, ADD, his younger brother Sam on guitar, and our friend Adam on bass.  This band was going to be less about spastic fast hardcore and more about old style punk rock like the Misfits and Dead Kennedys.  A few months after we started my friend Zach joined as second vocalist and his addition to the band helped refine the band’s attitude, sound and sense of humor.

We started off as The Climax, but I wanted something that better captured my point of view as a cynical punk rocker trying to survive the end of high school.  I chose to name the band All Smiles after my friend’s rowboat that sunk to the bottom of Pilgrim Pond.  Other names changed too.  Zack became Suspicious Z.  Then there was Sam Inferno, Shady C, and then there was me, the Kool Operator, a name I took from a box fan at my parent’s house (Shady C was taken from the “shade control” setting of automatic window blinds, if I remember correctly.  Off-stage, Shady C, Chuck , gradually started going by his real name, Nick as well).  Adam stayed Adam. 

Suspicious Z
The timeline of All Smiles is probably fall of 2002 through February of 2004.  During that time, we played a good amount of shows at what was available on Cape Cod...namely, a local community center called the Juice Bar which hosted basically every show any of our bands played (my friend Dave booked the Casualties there in early 2001, for the now-modest guarantee of $400, and Mental played there in 2003, arriving there early in the day to erect a stage – at some point I might enlist a couple old friends to put together a real retrospective on this place that was the center of our scene).  We also played the Chatham Recreation Center a few times, and a few various hole-in-the-wall type shows typical of what you might expect from a small scene in a remote place like Cape Cod. We recorded one 7-song demo.
A project that lasted into college was smashing unopened paint cans on the roof of the Juice Bar.
We smashed dozens of paint cans by the time the Juice Bar was sold and became a Cuffy's.  I wish I had more pictures -- the roof became our own Jackson Pollack.
In July of 2003, we were asked to play on the Juice Bar float in the 4th of July parade, where we played our songs and some Misfits, Dead Kennedys and Reagan Youth covers to a wide variety of children, their parents, and their grandparents.  We substituted blatant curse words and altered lyrics when necessary to not offend the patriotic masses: for a few hours, our song “I hate the state” became “I love the state,” the lyrics in our Misfits cover changed from, “I’ll put a knife right in you” to “I really like you” and so on.   It was going over pretty well until the parade stopped right when we were in front of The Land Ho and Zach and I were told that we had to sing the national anthem in front of dozens of world war two and Vietnam veterans. 

All across the internet are videos of people fucking up the national anthem, all sorts of professional singers like Michael Bolton and other celebrities looking to pay tribute to their careers  America. Well, our voices were fine for punk rock…but singing this solemn patriotic hymn, without musical accompaniment, to a group of war veterans was a challenge.  I don’t think I even knew all the words.  But we tried.  It reminds me of when I was in elementary school and was learning cursive, and I had to write a short essay in one of those blue composition books and then read it to four ancient Rotary Club/Elk/whatever members in full uniform.  It in both cases they just seemed happy to watch young people do something...I hope.

Our songs ranged from faster old school hardcore to more mid-paced punk, with a couple curveballs thrown here and there.  Lyrically, Zach and I were interested in a combination of Dead Kennedys inspired satire and more bizarre stream of consciousness stuff that reflected some of the more abstract music we werelistening to at the time.  Some lyrics were a response to what was going on in our community or the world at large: I Hate the State was a typical fuck you response to an organization a classmate started to raise awareness about our school’s financial concerns,  Conglomo was a 100% Zach creation about the the climate of post 9/11 America, and 3rd world is about, well, what life is like away from the comfort of America inspired by some articles we'd read and photographs we'd seen. Other lyrics were written with the idea of conveying an image or suggesting something without explicitly saying it. Sidesaddled is one of these songs, and is probably my favorite song.

From the perfect vantage point, I'm gonna fuck with you tonight...

Sidesaddled was one of the curveballs I described above, and is a testament to the musicians in the band.  There was no real leader in the songwriting process, and Nick and Sam gave every song the sort of backbone necessary to take it in different, better directions.  Being brothers, they had a musical chemistry that was a perfect compliment to what Zach and I were doing as dual frontmen.  Sidesaddled was a Sam & Nick creation, as was the crucial ska break towards the end of “Garage Rock” and other guitar and drum flourishes in the demo.  Although Zach and I were the loudmouths, everything the band did was a group effort and I have many fond memories of hanging out with the guys, whether it was practicing, recording, or Zach putting on a pair of handcuff’s Adam had in his room that had belonged to his dad and which he no longer had the key for, forcing us to go to the fire department where a police officer shook his head, unlocked the cuffs and confiscated them. 

We recorded the demo in February of 2004 in Sam’s and Nick’s basement.  The “Conglomo” recording is from August of 2003.  After we recorded we spent some time putting the covers together, which included making stamps out of erasers, where Nick painstakingly carved “All Smiles” only to find that when he put the eraser on the inkpad and stamped it on a sleeve, the text was backwards.  This happened twice.  "The Tragical History" was borrowed from early editions of Hamlet that had the full title, "The Tragical Historie of Hamlet."  I find that phrase can describe almost anything.

So, 13 years later, here are 5 guys, 7 songs, and 11 minutes, and some of my favorite memories not only of music, but of starting to almost grow up in an uncertain time.  I'm starting to feel that way again.  Enjoy the full demo in the video below, and download here.  Anyone who remembers this time in life, please feel free to comment or share with a friend.  Till next time...