Bill Fink and me (Libertyville, Del Pez, South of Heaven)Posted: February 4, 2014
New York City, 1985-1987
Bill Fink – guitar, vocals
Mark Lerner – bass, backing vocals
Mike Marubio – drums (Libertyville)
Andy Akers – drums (Del Pez)
Kenny ??? – drums (South of Heaven)
As 1985 started, I went back to college, this time at NYU, studying film production. In April, I moved from the Upper West Side down to 14th Street and 5th Avenue, sharing a studio apartment (!) with my high school friend Mike Causey, who was now working as an assistant at a publishing house. We were so starved for privacy that we put a futon on the floor of our one closet, along with a glow-in-the-dark poster of the moon on the ceiling; whenever we needed to, either of us could escape to “the Moon Room” for some alone time.
My sporadic yet strangely detailed journal tells me that on Tuesday, May 28, 1985 (the last day of the NYU spring semester), I turned in a paper on The Grey Fox, saw a Judy Holliday double feature (Born Yesterday and It Should Happen to You) at the Thalia, and then “met with Mike Marubio and Bill Fink to talk about forming a band.” Mike and Bill were both at Columbia University. Mike had been the drummer in my previous NYC band, Hats Without Work, and had also played with Bill in another band, Double Felix (also called Felix). I knew Bill slightly from seeing him play with Felix. The idea was to do Bill’s songs, with a few covers.
Within a week, we had rehearsed 4 times and named the band: Van Loom. (I have no idea.) We rehearsed in the basement of a frat house at Columbia University. When I wasn’t rehearsing that summer, I worked at the Hayden Planetarium gift shop, selling souvenirs and astronaut ice cream, and taking summer classes in acting and cinematography. By July we had renamed the band Libertyville, after drummer Mike’s hometown in Illinois, and we played our first show at a Columbia frat party on July 12, 1985. The house was Phi Epsilon Pi, maybe where we rehearsed, I’m not sure. Incredibly, Bill has supplied me with a tape of the gig.
Clearly audible on the tape are audience comments, generally praising us and saying “wow, they sound a LOT like R.E.M.” This pretty much dogged us for the next couple of years; Bill’s writing and playing was very R.E.M.-ish. Lots of chiming open strings, lots of droney melodies, few guitar solos. (It was 1985, we were hardly alone. See also: Dreams So Real, Miracle Legion, Dumptruck.)
Another big influence, if not precisely a musical one, was the Replacements. I didn’t see them live until a year or so later, but I was especially taken with their 1985 cassette-only live release, The Shit Hits the Fans, which featured lots of 70s swill and classic rock performed very sloppily: Thin Lizzy, BTO, Black Sabbath, etc. It was great drunken fun, and we aspired to the same thing: our sets included covers of Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band,” Steve Miller’s “True Fine Love,” the Bay City Rollers’ “Saturday Night,” and the Beatles’ “If I Needed Someone, veering between worship and mockery in equal doses. It seemed to me a good antidote to the generally po-faced R.E.M.-ish stuff.
At any rate, we played lots of shows, mostly up around Columbia at frat parties and the (now long-gone) dive bar the Blue Rose. (The Blue Rose was one of those bars where they never figured out a strategy for getting rid of their empty beer bottles, so the place just got smaller and smaller every night, as empties encroached on the available space. Invariably, cockroaches would climb out of my bass case after I’d had a gig there.)
We also recorded a 3-song demo and used it to get a few shows at CBGB, although I don’t recall where we did the recording. Here’s a track from that.
Somehow when winter arrived, Mike Marubio disappeared. I have no idea why; perhaps he or Bill will show up in comments here to explain. February 1986 found us rehearsing with a new drummer and a new name: Del Pez. The new drummer was Andy Akers, another Columbia student. We continued to play the same sorts of places, but the band definitely got a little trippier in this incarnation. Bill and I were getting pretty good at playing together, or so it seemed to me. We’d do more mind-reading/jamming sort of stuff, wandering from spacey jams into songs like, dare I say it, the Grateful Dead (I even remember we frequently segued into “I Know You Rider”). I don’t have much patience for playing this sort of stuff now, but it was actually pretty thrilling at the time. A rehearsal tape from this era has me goofing on J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight,” which veers off after one verse into a long jam of the sort that I’m far too self-conscious to do now. But I remember the shows with this lineup most fondly. Trios are hard—I’ve rarely been in them—but they can be really intimate and spontaneous.
Andy must have had somewhere to go after the spring semester (maybe he graduated?), as a flyer calls our May 1, 1986 gig a “farewell show.” Facebook snooping tells me he lives in New York still, and sells rubber boots for dogs (!).
South of Heaven
I still had another semester of college to complete at NYU, but Bill graduated Columbia in May 1986. Sometime after that, we got an apartment together on East 8th Street, just east of Avenue B. It was a big step up from my shared studio on 14th St; we each had our own room, and shared an impressive record collection in our living room. Bill had fairly catholic tastes in music, so I was exposed to the Cure, Hüsker Dü, the Bangles, and Living Colour (who we used to go see at their regular CBGB shows). I’m not sure what Bill got in the bargain; I think I was listening to Negativland and Tom Waits.
At any rate, we dug up yet another drummer, a kid named Kenny. Neither Bill nor I can recall his last name. He was a bit younger than us, and was living in Odyssey House, a youth drug rehab place in the east village. He was a sweet kid, but I don’t think we ever got to know him too well. Signing him in and out of his house for rehearsals and getting permission for him to play at bars and such was difficult. With a new drummer, we gave ourselves yet another name: South of Heaven. (I had been reading a lot of Jim Thompson.)
We were fully out of the Columbia University orbit now, so frat party gigs weren’t happening. Aside from a CBGB show on February 9, 1987 (I had just graduated from NYU in January), I don’t know that we played out very much.
“Don’t Walk Away,” from that CBGB show, actually has some bass breaks in it, almost—can it be?—bass solos. I had completely erased this from my memory until preparing this blog post.
We also went into a studio and recorded a couple new demos. Here’s one from those sessions.
and a co-write by me and Bill. (I supplied these lyrics, which manage to pull off the double feat of being totally wimpy *and* not making any sense).
I’m not sure what to make of these bands now; it’s all pretty different from anything I’ve played since then. I do know that playing in a trio was exciting, as was beginning to navigate the transition from college band to post-college group in the city. During these 2 years, I went through a lot of changes. On the backs of some of the flyers I scanned for this blog entry, I found scraps of terrible student film ideas, as well as lyrics for my own songs. I was starting to work, writing more on my own, experimenting with more elaborate home recordings, and itching for something different.
South of Heaven sort of withered, but Bill and I had one more band together based out of that apartment on East 8th St. It needs its own entry, though, so stay tuned…