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.
Bethesda, Maryland, 1981-1986
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.
New York City, 1990–1996
Mark Lerner – six-string bass, banjo, melodica, vocals
Nancy Lynn Howell – guitar, vocals
Diane Stockwell – violin, mandolin, melodica, vocals
Mark Donato – drums, harmonica, vocals
Bill Fink – guitar, vocals
G. Doug Pierson – tuba, euphonium, concertina, guitar, vocals
Todd Weeks – trumpet, harmonica (until 1992)
Robin Goldwasser – cello, ukulele, melodica, vocals (1992 on)
This one looms large for me (and large for you, dear reader: this post is LONG). Flat Old World was the first band of my very own. Prior to it, I was a sideman or one of a few writers. I am a pretty bossy guy, really, so even when a band isn’t “mine,” I tend to assert myself a lot as an arranger and general loudmouth. Partly this is due to my musical role. Bass: come on. Four strings. Play the root. Duh. But when a song is well arranged, that simple task—playing a simple, grounding part in a groove—sounds really great. So I’ve always tended to offer lots of arrangement advice in any band I play with.
Attentive readers will recall that in 1989, the band I’d been playing with for 2 years, the Oswalds, split up. I found myself wondering if maybe it was time to stop playing music (I was 26). I had always felt that songwriting was the center of a band, but I wasn’t all that keen on it at the time. I could do it, but I knew (and played with) so many writers who were better than me. I’m also not really a virtuosic bassist, but I have my own quirky strengths, I suppose. I started to think that somehow, by basically subtracting songwriting—subtracting pop and rock, really—and focusing on my personal playing style and arranging, I might have some sort of band of my own to offer. I was also eager to play with my new girlfriend, Nancy, who was a great singer.
So I started writing some instrumentals and digging up some old folk songs to mess with. I pictured a very serious, meditative mix of ultra-slow country music like Souled American, chamber jazz like Red Norvo’s band, and the idiosyncratic guitar techniques of Joseph Spence and John Fahey. It was to be my new project. Luckily, reality intervened, and my theories were soon filtered through the sensibilities of a motley assortment of bandmates into something much more musical and fun than my Grand Plan.