The sweet taste of failure (2/2)


  1. Writing an adventure story
  2. My seventh form art folio
  3. Being a rock star
  4. Looking cool
  5. Being a poet
  6. Being a playwright
  7. Being an academic
  8. Writing a novel
  9. Having a wildly successful blog

I can remember the exact spot at school where we came up with name for our band.  The  adjective came first,  and it took about five metres for us to nuance the verb to perfection, and then we had it – somewhere between one end of the path that ran beside the staff car park and the other – that magical name: Perverted Thrust.

I think the “thrust” was inspired.  It makes you laugh.  It especially made you laugh if you saw Corran  do his comedy thrust whenever he said that word; a pelvic  maneuver that I think was inspired by the  motion that Flashheart used to make in Blackadder whenever he said “woof!” but with an added absurd  twitch.

The driving force of the band  was Corran.  He put us together for the Coca Cola Rockquest.  He put the band together by telling people they were in it.  He decided I was the singer.  He decided another guy was the bass player.  He knew someone  who could play drums, and someone – other than himself – who could play guitar.  He wrote the  song, and he supplied the garage for us to practise in, and then  he drilled us.  He was tough.  I think I was originally supposed to  be on rhythm guitar but wasn’t up to snuff so was demoted (I think that is the right word) to lead singer and someone  else was roped in on guitar.  The bass  player struggled  nobly for weeks to discover a sense  of timing  and  then Corran  fired him  and got Steve in. Steve wasn’t a bass player but  he  played the guitar and  said he’d do it.  His first rehearsal was our final rehearsal.

As it turned out Steve was not going to be the least rehearsed member of the band.

The night before our heat was the Seventh Form school ball at Southward’s Car Museum.  This is a picture of me in my rented tux the evening of the  big night.  At that time we had actually moved to Wellington, and I was spending two hours  each day commuting to and from school on the coast.  On  the night of the ball my mother  booked us some rooms at a motel on the coast, and  here I am in front of the motel room curtains.  The tux is standard issue, but for a touch of class in 1990 sparkly, crinkly waistcoats or cumberbunds were all the rage.  I got mine in a kind  of purply-pink – the kind  of thing you might wrap Turkish delight in.

I was neither Turkish, nor delightful.

As it turned out, going to the Seventh-Form ball was largely pointless exercise for me.  I didn’t have a date, and I didn’t dance.   I also didn’t go to any wild after-parties.  We had better  pass  over this evening for another time, and move  on to the next morning when I woke up in my motel room to some bad news.  A telephone call from Corran  told us that our drummer had decided to pull out.

If there was a single weak link in  our band I knew it was the drummer.  He was cool.  No one else in the band was cool.  You could see when we practised that he was just being  polite to us.  What he really wanted to be doing was hanging out with his cool mates.  Of course it was the cool kid who did the most uncool thing.

We were desperate.  I think my mother called the drummer’s mother and  pleaded.  He wouldn’t budge.  So we called another guy we knew who played the drums.  He said he would do it.  We were teetering on the  brink of farce, but it was exhilarating  to pile  in  my mother’s car and  drive to town.  We met the drummer at the Town Hall.  He had  his drum sticks.  Please bear  in  mind that he had never heard the song we were about to play.   It is also useful to know that he was a speed metal fan, and  we were attempting  a rock ballad.  We emphasised the words “rock” and “ballad” to him, and he nodded but he did a lot of nodding generally and I think it may have been coincidence.

The rhythm guitarist showed up in  a leg cast.  He had done something horrible to himself but he was enthusiastic.  Steve was trying to remember the song.  We sat down in the seats of the Town Hall and looked towards the fully lit and frighteningly equipped stage which seemed huge and serious.  Our band name was called first and we got to our feet with great bravado.  Throughout the darkened hall were scatterings of other  groups and their supporters.  Our name got a ragged cheer, and as we walked past the judges the guitarist for Chicago Smokeshop said, “Awesome name, guys”.

Walking  onto a stage like that is sort of like walking around to the  other side of the TV and looking at everyone sitting on the couch: it is quite a disorienting  experience to see and not be part of the darkened, anonymous crowd.  We took up our positions, and  I suddenly realised why no one else had wanted to be the singer; I was the dickhead who had to stand right at the front with no instrument  to hide behind and actually say something to the darkened mass.  Luckily I had decided to wear something inconspicuous.

There was nothing to do now but set Perverted Thrust loose on the world.

It went something  like  this:

Corran began by picking some chords in a slow, melodic manner  suggesting  to the audience that we were about  to launch into a rock ballad.   After two bars of this the drummer unleashed  himself at a furious tempo completely unrelated to what had come before.  Steve, after playing  his first note and realising that we were in serious trouble, stopped playing the bass and walked towards the drummer  waving  his  hands  like he was trying to bring in a plane to land.  I understood the  impulse but it probably didn’t inspire confidence in our prowess in the audience.  The  next cue was  for the lead singer and  the rhythm guitarist.  I opened my mouth and the rhythm  guitarist mashed his plaster cast down on his distortion  foot pedal and unleashed a sheet of feedback that I strongly suspect caused vomiting in some sections of the audience.  I was so alarmed  I missed my cue for the  first verse.  Steve returned to his bass  and doggedly attempted a bass line somewhere between the speed metal tempo of the drummer, and the lighter-waving, sing-along-ballad tempo of the guitarist.

The  strange thing about  this is that I felt calm and happy.  Here I was, on stage in a ridiculous T-shirt, with  a band that was spectacularly imploding all around me, and I was having a ball.  I waited for the chorus to come around and I sang it.  The song sort of began to come together (minus the drums of course, which never came together with anything but the thrash song in our drummer’s head), and soon enough we came to a shuddering,  sphincter-clenchingly, horrible end.

There was almost no applause.  I remember some brown kids in the front row looking at us with sort of disgust.  I thanked the audience anyway and we went off stage.  As I passed the MC he said, “what the hell did you guys have for breakfast?”  I beamed at him like an idiot.  We walked up the aisle through the audience and out into the light of the foyer. 

We were elated.  We recounted every disaster to each other with rising joy.  Wandering  towards Manners Mall later in the day another band past us, and I heard one of the boys in the band turn to another and say in a sort of hushed awe: “That’s Perverted Thrust”.  My god, it was absolutely brilliant.  If you look at the photo that was taken after our performance, the one at the  top of the page, you will not see a bunch of dejected youths, you will see a group of very happy boys. 

We had actually done it.  It didn’t matter how bad it had been, we had gone through with it and  been bonded by it.  The Coca Cola Rockquest was a glorious failure that I built about fifteen years of being in bands and writing songs on top of. 

Corran and Steve.  Thanks man.  It was awesome.

10 thoughts on “The sweet taste of failure (2/2)”

  1. One thing to add to this: I *did* go to one of the wild after-parties for the school ball. In fact, I think that was the year I had my first (and last) experience with rocket fuel.

    As a result, I can remember getting picked up by you guys to head into town for the gig, and desperately practicing the bass lines in the back of the car while struggling with the onset of a fairly nasty hangover.

    … Also: about halfway through this post (just as we were about to head up on stage) I had to stop reading for a few moments, to brace myself for what was to come.

  2. What I love best about the band photo is that you’re all in your socks. (Or plaster casts, as the case may be.)

    Love it!

    morgue, friend of Steve

  3. Steve – Brace yourself for the awesomeness presumably.

    Morgue – Shoes? Shoes! Who needs shoes when you are rock and roll dynamite.

  4. This post reminds me of my second gig with my current band, except it was the extremely drunk guitarist and not the drummer that started it all.
    I enjoy how vividly you present the scene.

    I really wouldn’t call this a failure.

  5. The absence of socks says,
    “We’re inside a home of one of our parents.”
    You guys need to get more Rock n Roll. Wear your shoes at the reunion – take a step on the wild side.

  6. I too was in a band that competed in Rockquest in 1990. We made it to the Canterbury regionals with our renditions of “Money for Nothing” and “Jump”. I recall having nothing sufficiently cool to wear for the competition, so I dressed in my black orchestra uniform and hung all my necklaces, mostly gold and silver cruciform pendants, over my black skivvy. That year was the beginning and end of my career in popular music.

  7. Gruntled – It was failure in the sense that we actually thought we were going to win our heat (before we performed).

    Richard (of RBB) – Correct. We’re standing in my bedroom.

    Harvestbird – Two pretty cool choices, although the lyrics of the character in “Money for Nothing” get pretty edgy at a certain point.

    Your outfit sounds cooler than mine.

    Of course, that’s not saying much.

  8. I think the peverted thrust shirt is really cool, which says alot for my fashion sense I guess

  9. I read this because a good muso mate of mine said it chronicled the sad demise of some schoolfriends of his, so there I went to click the link to this blog … and it’s one of the most insightful “get in the head of the band members” bits of writing in my opinion. It reminded me of my bro calling up HIS mates in an insane “assemble a band while we’re on the way to a gig” moments of his own, it captured how we certainly felt on our own moment of spectactular failure onstage where we felt oddly awesome about just how badly it was really going. And after *our* sphincter-tightening ending, the engineer came backstage before the next band that night went on. He said: “Hey guys …. that was …” We never, ever heard what he planned to say, as he didn’t finish, simply just looked at us with a mixture of utter pity and bewilderment that we hadn’t presumably been slaughtered by the front row. We too felt strangely satisfied with this outcome. We did leave by the back door though…

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