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.

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Dan Eilenberg and Me (the B-Sides, the Rave-Ups, the Imposters, etc)

Bethesda, Maryland, 1981-1986

Personnel

Dan Eilenberg – guitar, vocals
Mark Lerner – bass
Ken “Bidjje” Kavanaugh – drums
Jonathan Lipson – drums
Adam Gibbons – drums
Stephen Lewis – guitar
Billy Simms – guitar
Sam Jannotta – keyboards
Dave Robinowitz – keyboards
Jim Levy – keyboards

I’m going to get so much wrong here. For a variety of reasons many of the details in this entry are very foggy for me. So let me get a few things right, here at the beginning.

Dan Eilenberg taught me more about listening to and playing music than anyone else I’ve ever known. It’s like he’s the imaginary listener for just about any piece of music I write or record. Listening back now to the music we made together as kids I hear a frightening amount of what I think of as me, and realize it came from him. He pushed tons of classic sixties pop music on me (anyone who knows Dan will know that “pushed” is an apt description): The Kinks, the Beatles, the Band, the Byrds, the Temptations, the Supremes, Creedence Clearwater Revival. All stuff that’s pretty much the basis of my musical vocabulary now.

This entry covers 3 or 4 “bands,” but I honestly can’t tell the difference between them. Dan and I started writing songs together in 11th or 12th grade, and we’d play and record them with various folks. None of the bands really played many shows. We just wanted to be world-famous songwriters. So this entry is about our songwriting partnership more than any band.

yearbook photo

Tilbrook and Difford in high school. Dan’s inscription in my yearbook. Between us, standing, is Dave Robinowitz. Adam Gibbons is next to him. Between us and below us is Sam Jannotta. Second from left is Billy Simms.

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GHE (A Good Hot Enema)

Summer 1984, Washington DC

GHE flyer.

Flyer for what may have been our only gig. Artist unknown.

I promised these entries would be in no particular order. As I happen to have very little visual or audio documentation of GHE, it’s an easy group to begin with.

Personnel

Eric Karten – guitar
Pete Fettner – drums
CJ DeMarco – vocals
Mark Lerner – bass

In 1984, I dropped out of college at Columbia after 2 years. The plan was to go back to DC for a summer and earn some money, return to NYC with my then songwriting partner, Dan Eilenberg, find a cheap place to live, and “make it big” in music, be the next Leiber and Stoller. That’s not exactly how it worked out, but more on that in another post.

Somehow making money in DC during the summer of 1984 still left time for me to play in 3 bands. One was GHE, a hardcore band that either was or wasn’t a complete joke. I couldn’t tell. This may say more about me than about GHE. The hardcore scene in DC was largely a mystery to me. It seemed to be mostly people a year or two younger than me (one year was a big deal at that age). It was people’s little brothers. Also, I liked pop music way too much to really get into the scene. I wanted to play bass like Bruce Thomas, like Paul McCartney. I didn’t want to thunk away on 16th notes with a pick.

I knew Eric and CJ from high school. They were close friends with each other. CJ was a legendarily odd guy. At the time, I believe he listened exclusively to Frank Sinatra and hardcore punk. We were pals, but I was more than a bit confused by him. Eric seemed to be doing the band more for a lark. His taste was (and is) pretty wide-ranging. He will pop up on this blog in some other posts.

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