CHAPTER 4: The Super Secret Experiment Lab
Now, as far as what took place on that now infamous night when the four members met for the first time, now chronicled in many music critics’ memoirs and every single music history book written after that date: We were talking about the possibility of our first show. The possibility of being huge, traveling through time in a phone booth and meeting our future us-es, and rock journalists writing articles with, instead of “The war is over, we won“ as an opening line, they write, “it‘s not about winning or losing, it‘s all about the music.” Listen, we were dreaming, writ large, and it felt right. We were wide awake, maybe a little caffeine catalyzed, and our feet were on the ground, tapping out the beat. Historians will note, this was the “Pre-Tim’s Van Period.” Sidney and Lane were getting to know each other, a meeting of elements like silly putty and a pencil sharpener. We were trying to think of a name, and there were some pretty bad ones thrown out. We wanted to avoid being the “something something ‘project,’” or the “something something ‘theory,’” or anything like that. In the car that night, I came up with “Section Eight,” the military code for being unfit for duty. We sort of liked that name, but kept searching.
“How about… ‘The Super Secret Experiment Lab?’” Sidney proffered.
We laughed a little.
“We could have shirts and stickers that say ‘I was spied on by the Super Secret Experiment Lab,’ and dress up like Devo.”
I turned back to him laughing and almost crashed the car. Sometimes I wondered about Sidney.
“We can’t be named ‘I was… whatever you said’ if we want people to take us seriously,” I said.
“Well why not? We can be serious but just have a ridiculous name,” Lane said.
“Are we not men?” Sidney cried plaintively.
“I think we’re there.”
We couldn’t immediately find the place. We knew we were on the right street, but I couldn’t read the address that Mark had written down. So we just sort of walked up and down the street for a while before we called him and he came outside and ushered us in. He helped carry Sidney’s giant bass amp and Lane and I both lugged our cabs in, the plastic or rubber wheels audibly wearing away on the sidewalk.
His house passed our assessment; it was cool. He still lived with his parents, as we all did, but his parents weren’t home. Apparently they were out, at some kind of dinner party. We trailed through the living room to the basement steps, and we were all looking around at the pictures on the wall, the books on the shelves, and then rounding the corner and heading downstairs. His kit was set up in the corner of the finished basement, and I don’t know how many pieces it had but it looked like enough. It was bright red, but not the glossy or sparkly kind like some sets.
He sat down and started messing around, filling space with sound. We set up pretty quickly, mainly because we don’t have too many pedals or anything to worry about. Lane used a few extra effects besides distortion, but hadn’t brought the pedals.
So we were ready to play and Mark said, “Let’s hear what you’ve got.”
Lane played the intro to the first song we had written. It starts out with just guitar and then the bass and second guitar come in after four measures, the drums also, presumably, and then it hits pretty hard and goes from there. After we played through it for a while, Mark came in. It changed everything. We now had a rhythm to base the sound around. He was playing a simple, crisp rock beat. I was singing the lyrics loudly, and still I could barely hear them, but the music sounded good. The sound wasn’t too dense, even though we had four instruments going. The sound was still distinct, which was good. I looked at Mark and told him when the rhythm changed, and he switched to a different beat, the chorus. Here the two guitars drop out and it’s just bass, drums, and vocals. It sounded really damn cool; Mark played this part on the toms, with a steady thump from the bass drum on each beat. I was singing my head off. When we finished that song, we were all smiling. We had something.
We practiced for a long time, but it went by quickly. We got three songs pretty well finished. We didn’t want to quit playing, but Mark’s parents came home, and the three of us packed up and then turned back to Mark to say our goodbyes.
“We have to do this again soon,” he said, and we agreed.
- ‘Evil Us-es’ refers to the film ‘Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey’ (1991)