Hats Without Work

Columbia University, NYC, January to May, 1984

Personnel

Tom Adelman – acoustic guitar, vocals
Mark Lerner – bass, vocals, some keyboards
Mike Marubio – drums
Dave Robinowitz – keyboards at one gig

Folks, I’m diving deep for this entry. Deep into the world of shame.  Join me, won’t you? Let’s begin with a band introduction that sort of says it all:

By the middle of my second year at Columbia University, it became clear to me I wasn’t going to stay there. As I’ve already written, I had big plans with my pal Dan Eilenberg to become the next Difford and Tilbrook (or Taupin and John). My dear friend Tom Adelman was also planning on leaving Columbia. His future plans included a career in the lucrative world of poetry and an early marriage (because those always work out, right?)

So with one semester left, we decided to play some music together. We thought we could take Tom’s LA-punk/glam/poetry mess and combine it with my love for pop music and have something listenable. Tom had no electric guitar at the time, but we figured, hey: Violent Femmes! Turns out that’s hard to do well, and my approach (overplaying the bass, with utterly horrendous tone) didn’t help matters. In our defense, we didn’t have serious or high hopes for the band. It was a way to kill a semester before we both left for what we hoped would be greener pastures.

At any rate, we dug up a drummer at school, a kid one year younger than us named Mike Marubio. He was a cheerful guy, a decent drummer, and we put up with his constant tales of his “funny” heavy metal band back home, the Electric Sheep, which we thought was he stupidest band name ever.

How we reconciled that scorn with the name we chose for our own trio is hard for me to fathom. Men at Work and Men Without Hats were both ridiculous new wave acts for whom we had no love, and the simply hilarious conceit of combining their names to create Hats Without Work was, we felt, guaranteed to propel us to stardom and leave us swimming in women.

(Googling today reveals that 2 of the other members of the Electric Sheep were Tom Morello, future Rage Against the Machine guitarist and Adam Jones, future Tool guitarist. I can’t even tell who the joke is on at this point.)

Here’s Mike Marubio now; he looks to be a successful fellow in the field of cryptography and electronic signatures. He will appear in another entry here as well. Perhaps he will stumble across this entry while engaging in self-Google.

marubio

Our repertoire consisted of a bunch of Tom’s songs, a couple of my Lerner/Eilenberg songs, a co-write between me and Tom called “Safety Last,” and a selection of covers that leaned very heavily towards bizarre interpretations of the folkie singer-songwriter movement: Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young. We were big on “songs,” and this felt very dangerous to us at the time. (Also, we covered a song from the Attractions album, buying us a special place in the weird covers hall of fame.) We did a disco version of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” and a strange Bo Diddley-ish mashup of “Cecilia,” “Not Fade Away,” and “Mr Churchill Says” (by the Kinks). We rehearsed in a large fancy common room in the lobby of our dorm building. A troupe of B-boy breakdancers would usually be practicing in the same room, somehow.

First Show

I had contributed a song to a Columbia University compilation LP, and I managed to parlay that into a first gig for the band at the record’s release show, in some cavernous and largely empty hall at Columbia. Recordings from this gig reveal a nearly fatal dose of slapback echo on everything, as well as the presence of Dave Robinowitz on jazzy keyboards on a few songs, a fact I’d completely forgotten until preparing this blog entry.

Here we are, playing at that gig, February 24, 1984. “Gone for Good”

Recording

In March, when sensible kids went home for a short spring break, we stayed at school for a few extra days, crammed Mike’s drums into my dorm room, put mattresses against the door and walls for soundproofing, and spent a whole night recording a six song demo to try to get some gigs. We used a borrowed cassette 4-track, with built in cruddy reverb, and a borrowed microphone. The ill-advised disco Neil Young cover here may be my only recorded keyboard performance.

“Don’t Let It Bring You Down”

“Stake in Society”

Second Show

We played a party on March 31, 1984 with two other bands, called Felix and Off Sync. Worth noting because the guitarist from Felix, whom I didn’t yet know, was future bandmate Bill Fink. My journal from these days also makes mention of a rehearsal with “our new keyboardist, Andrew,” but I have no memory of this and he may not have lasted for more than one rehearsal.

Apparently I still had a ways to go before becoming a graphic designer, or even a nice person.

Apparently I still had a ways to go before becoming a graphic designer, or even a nice person.

My First Club Show in NYC, or Maybe Anywhere

Our tape worked! We landed a gig at the once-prestigious Bitter End on Bleecker St (it was known as the Other End at this time, though they changed the name back later) on April 25, 1984.

The New Yorker, Apr 30, 1984

“Dining and dancing.”

It was my first ever non-campus gig in New York City. We piled the entire band, drums, amps and all, into a cab. The scheme for payment at the horrible clubs on Bleecker Street back then was that you (or your friends) would hand out passes on the street, and you’d be paid according to the number of passes turned in at the door. My friend Lisa came in from Princeton to see it. She spent the entire set outside in the Village, trying to lure tourists in, and missed the show. Tom and I had, basically, one friend at school, Ben. He also gave out tickets, but managed to be in the audience as well, probably the only friendly face in attendance. We made $20, the cab rides cost us $14 each way, so we lost $8 on the night. As we were standing outside afterwards, a guy came up and, seeing our name in the window, asked the doorman “Hats Without Work, huh. How were they?” The doorman, looking right at us, did not hesitate in his reply: “Terrible.”

After that gig, we rehearsed a few more times, but no more gigs came up and at the end of the semester Tom and I left Columbia, though I was to work with both Tom and Mike in the future.

I will leave you with a rehearsal tape of Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight.”

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9 Comments on “Hats Without Work”

  1. Nancy Howell says:

    I still love you.
    N.

  2. Tom says:

    Thanks for sharing Mark. Made me smile. Hey you made the hallowed pages of the New Yorker!

  3. jim sylvester says:

    You are much too hard on this band. Great energy! When you dive deep, you find the best pearls.
    I could go on and on about your writing ability, but no…you do not need that. Cheers.

  4. Mark Lerner says:

    You are all far too kind.

  5. Michael says:

    Hello Mark! I found your blog a while ago and really enjoy reading about how you’ve walked your path. Though I remember you naming the band for a different reason though . . You were convinced that Men At Work and Hats Without Hats were such musical flash in the pans that they would fade from the scene faster than an Opera album done by Tiny Tim. Knowing you (though not Tom at that point) were not long for college life, you took it as a challenge to create a band name that would have a cultural half life that would beat theirs. (Needless to say, we all thought it was hilarious).

    I remember how excited you were to play The Bitter End . . “It’s where Dylan played!” You excitedly explained to me. . . To which a I replaced “Who?” I still remember the look you gave me . . I am choosing to remember it as accepting and kind. 😉

    Both you and Tom read just about every piece of graffiti on the walls in the back hoping to find scrawls from your heroes.

    I am disappointed to learn that fully 1/3 of our audience (the doorman) was not impressed. It would be nice to know what the other two thought. . It’s so rare to get a complete data set.

    You remind me I need to look up Rabinowitz . . He’s out here in Northern California and my next door neighbors did their residency with him . . Small world.

  6. Michael says:

    And Mark, there is a version of Don’t Let It Bring You Down without keyboard. . . But with you Slapping. The. Bass.

    So to clarify. . . Disco, Neil young, Parliment/funkadelic mashup.

    You were ahead of your time.

    • Mark Lerner says:

      Mike! I’m so glad you stumbled on this. Stay tuned, I’m writing about another band with you next. Do you still play music?

      • Michael says:

        Played some after college . . but it slowly turned slipped from from life as other interests took over. Though lately, with a 5 and 7 year old, it has come roaring back, as they insist of my renditions of ABBA and Carpenter songs for lullabys. Occasionally This Flight Tonight shows up at bedtime . . so thanks to Tom and you for introducing me to that gem 🙂

      • Michael says:

        One last entry from the crypt. http://www.verafirma.com/a2jdyyx/CAM00429.jpg

        You footnoted our posters. Heh. Never seen that before. Or since.

        You ought to write a post about your management and leadership of the bands you played in. You cared very deeply. Beyond the music. You cared about the idea . . .nah . .you cared about the people.


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