The Nitz!

Bethesda, Maryland, 1980-1982

Personnel

Craig Lapine – guitar, vocals, saxophone *
Jon Lipson – drums **
Stephen Lewis – lead guitar ***
Mark Lerner
– bass

* Only once for the saxophone. Bad idea.
** And marimba on a couple of songs
***And drums when Jon played marimba

As I’ve mentioned to in an earlier post, in 10th grade I exchanged my Led Zeppelin and Cream records for the Stiff Records catalog and early records by the likes of Joe Jackson and the Police. I also started playing in the Nitz, formed by Craig Lapine, who was a year ahead of me in school. He seemed very grown up. He’d make a joke I wouldn’t understand and I’d nod and laugh and then look up the words in a dictionary later. Most importantly, Craig wrote his own songs. This required that I figure out something to do on bass, since there was no Bill Wyman or John Paul Jones bass line to copy.

Rounding out the band was my closest friend, Stephen Lewis (also newly escaped from Atlantis), on guitar, and Jon Lipson on drums.

We named ourselves after knit shirts, I don’t know why. But with a Z, because it was more new wave. Usually the band name was rendered with an exclamation mark. Stephen’s mother made us band t-shirts and for some reason made the exclamation mark a star of David. I don’t have the shirt anymore, but I’ve mocked it up here, in all its ITC American Typewriter glory.

We all chipped in and bought a sparkly blue “tuck and roll” Kustom PA system and parked it in Jon’s parents’ basement where we rehearsed.

Left to right: ML, Jon Lipson, Craig Lapine, Stephen Lewis. This photo and those below are by Betsy Norwood, or so it says in the high school yearbook I grabbed them from.

Right off the bat things went pretty well for the band. Jon was an excellent drummer, so we sounded pretty tight for a bunch of 16- and 17-year-olds. And Craig was a good frontman. He had a nice gravelly voice and a lot of confidence. His songs sounded like real songs. I was amazed. We played school “coffeehouses” (these took place in the high school cafeteria; I don’t remember any coffee) and parties. When we played, folks would dance. That never happened with other bands I’d been in, and it was a revelation. We felt like pretty hot stuff.

Look at the ceiling. That is a suburban basement ceiling.

The sparkly blue PA, sadly rendered here in black and white. Jon’s marimba partially visible behind the PA head.

In addition to Craig’s originals, we played an awful lot of the first Joe Jackson album, much of the first two Police albums, a few Rolling Stones songs (“Under My Thumb,” “Beast of Burden,” “Get Off My Cloud,” “Happy”), a Dire Straits song, “Brown-Eyed Girl,” Elvis Costello’s “Mystery Dance.”

But it’s the originals that made this band a big deal for me. Stephen and I were even inspired to write our own songs; it helped that Craig was willing to sing them. Stephen’s was called “Tell Me Why” and is, as far as I know, the only song he’s ever written (except for the mighty “Vietnam”). It wasn’t bad. I wrote a terrible song that I truly can’t remember the name of. Something blues? Perhaps a commenter will pipe up with the answer. I can remember the chords and a few lines; it was sludgy, dreary.

At some point we pooled our pennies and went into a recording studio, a suburban basement with egg cartons glued to the walls. All I remember about the sessions was that the engineer was completely wasted and erased a few of our tracks by mistake.

At one memorable show we were  booked to play a daytime party at a community center. The audience turned out to be all senior citizens; they put their hands over their ears as soon as we started playing. So we played “Brown-Eyed Girl,” our quietest song, over and over until our time was up.

When I listen to this stuff now, some embarrassing things jump out: Craig writing about married grownups and other subjects a bit beyond his reach. Jon using Roto-Toms (ugh). Me overplaying. Stephen’s SG, which refused to stay in tune. But all in all, it’s not so bad.

In our high school yearbook, all of these photos were flipped, and we all looked like lefties. With this blog post, I am righting history’s wrongs. I don’t know why I look so surly in this photo.

Post Mortem

As I said, Craig was a year older, and at the end of his senior year he was headed off to Princeton. Amazingly, he actually pondered putting off school for a year to concentrate on the Nitz. I can only imagine the discussions at the Lapine household about this. At any rate, the idea was put to rest, as was the band. We played a show or two over the summer and a few when Craig was back from school, but other things were afoot by then. At some point I guess we sold the sparkly blue PA system and divvied up the proceeds.

I’m not sure what Jon did musically after high school, but he went on to become a professor of law. I’m actually going to be playing some music with him later this month at a 30th high school reunion.

Craig eventually ended up in Boston fronting a few bands, Huevos Rancheros (who came down to NYC and shared a bill with the Oswalds) and the El Caminos. He’s now in Maine, where he runs a nonprofit that involves children in sustainable agriculture. I’m hoping he’ll pipe up here with an update on what he’s doing musically these days.

Addendum: OH MY GOD I FOUND MORE

Herewith, a decent basement recording of “Survivor,” a rather anthemic Lapine number that I was mighty impressed with at the time and still think is pretty darn good for a high school kid. Also shows off, if that’s the right way to put it, Stephen’s guitar heroics. A little over the top, but we were young.

And… AND… I found the song I wrote. The first real song, words and music. I still don’t know the name, the tape was unlabelled. Lordy, this is bad. Whatever melody there is was totally brought to it by Craig’s vocal. But in the spirit of full endless relentless disclosure that is the hallmark of this blog, I present it to you, dear reader.

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7 Comments on “The Nitz!”

  1. ek says:

    There was coffee. In white styrofoam cups. Very bad. Few partook.

    Quite a thrill to hear these again, particularly “Chrissy” and “Something”, of which I vividly recall every note — and which would have paired, I still belive, to make smash hit 45.

    • Mark Lerner says:

      For years I had a tape of the Nitz at a coffeehouse where you (Eric) or someone right next to you was holding the boombox that was recording us. You and your pals provided a running commentary on the performance. It was priceless; alas, I can’t find it now.

  2. Dan Eilenberg says:

    I would love to hear some live cuts from the Nitz. They were a great live band. Real tight. Lots of energy. The originals were catchy and well arranged. Some of the stand-out covers included “Message in A Bottle,” “Roxanne” (ages before it was painfully overplayed by classic rock radio), “I’m The Man,” and “Sunday Papers.”

  3. Craig Lapine says:

    I’ll respond more soon, but let me say now that the word “saxophone” with an asterisk is the most hilarious and apt comment ever made on any musical undertaking of mine. Hope you guys have a great time at the reunion. More to follow…

  4. martha says:

    I have what I think is a band photo of the Nitz that you sent me somewhere, probably locked away in a vault with all the rest of high school. I’ll post it if I can dig it out.


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