Another of a Million (Part II - They Live Inside The Television)

Continued from Part I Track 2: "The Bends" (4:06) Radiohead · The Bends · Parlophone Records Track 3: "Casino Queen" (2:45) Wilco · A.M. · Reprise Records

Luckily, somebody had the common sense to throw a party. My brain never works like that. If it had been up to me, we'd probably have gone to Bickford's again, exhausted but wired. But Beau Brousseau lived in the Woodside apartment complex on the north side of campus, so he had space, and he was old enough to buy booze.

More to the point, he had the initiative to hastily arrange a social event when famous people were around, on the off chance they might accept an invitation. Which, to our enduring shock, they did. Beau threw a party and The State showed up. Not the whole group, only four or five of them, but for a college town in New Hampshire in the dead of winter, that was plenty.

In that gap between The Kids in the Hall and The Upright Citizens Brigade, The State carried the torch for sketch comedy. Being on MTV in those days automatically made you at least a little famous, and if you never quoted "two hundred and forty dollars worth of pudding" at some point, there's an excellent chance I didn't know you. The fact that their tour came to UNH at all was a surprise.

To this day, I have no idea whose idea it was to have TheatreSports open for them. All I know is that I showed up for rehearsal one day, and suddenly we were booked for half an hour of improv before The State's set. Barely three months had passed since I joined the troupe, and only a couple of weeks since my first show. It was February 1995, just shy of my twentieth birthday.

When the night of the show rolled around, every single person involved with TheatreSports was there — including our techie, Chris Scarpino.

The following sequence happened at 99% of college parties between November 1994 and May 1995. A little before midnight, there would be a pause in the music while somebody rummaged through haphazard stacks of jewel cases for a different CD. After the pause, during which you might have tried a woefully unsuccessful joke on one of the freshman girls and gone back to focusing on the Tostitos, Tim Roth's voice would fill the room.
"Everybody be cool, this is a robbery!"
Someone fairly drunk would screech the immediate reply in exact cadence. "Any of you fffucking pricks MOVE ... and I'll execute every mother-fffucking last one of you!"
An aggressive barrage on a Stratocaster would take it from there. You were listening to the "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack. Again.
It's not a bad bunch of songs for a party — "Jungle Boogie" is fun, and this may be sacrilege but I prefer Urge Overkill's version of "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" to Neil's. Okay, that's definitely sacrilege. But the main event was always track six. When "Son of a Preacher Man" came on, without fail, every single woman within earshot would get up and dance. It was mystifying. Girls who'd grown up with the song, girls who'd never heard the song, girls who were stone deaf, every XX-chromosome pair in the room was drawn to it. For all we know, the song may have been a CIA brainwashing experiment developed in 1968 for use in 'Nam. Just an irresistible two and a half minutes. Every girl was on her feet, and could move. Yikes, could some of them move. Enterprising young men would get up and join them, but hey, if I didn't keep the Tostitos company, who would?
It was mathematically impossible to dislike Chris. He was friendly, he was easy to talk to, and he smiled a lot. That alone stood him apart from the post-grunge longhairs who brooded their way into girls' beds. He was solidly built, though not the tallest guy in the room. He kept his hair short, usually under a plain baseball cap, and had thick-rimmed glasses. If you ran into him on any given day, odds are he'd be wearing a t-shirt under a vest, with dark pants and combat boots.

If anything, his disposition was reminiscent of the group whose lead singer he was the spitting image: Barenaked Ladies. Upbeat, earnest, and ready to have a good time. Granted, it was a comparison that he had long since come to despise. He bristled whenever anybody said he looked like Steven Page, but even that came out as an affable dodge. The guy just couldn't help it. People liked him. He had been in several musicals in high school, and declared as an art history major. But there was only really one thing that he had any intention of doing in this world. He wanted to be in a band.

Chris worked the door for us at TheatreSports shows, in the little cabaret theater on the bottom floor of the school's Memorial Union Building. Admission was a penny. Every week we cleared out the tables and crammed a hundred chairs into rows — plus standing room, if the fire marshal wasn't around. Our tech crew got us set up for every show. Travis kept the wheels moving, Ron and Bryan handled the sound equipment, and Chris handled the door. Naturally, when The State showed up to drink beer, Chris was right there with us.

Brendan Quigley was the one who came up with the idea. He and Chris sat talking on Beau's couch. I was perched beside them, but was only half-listening as I considered the tableau before me. Don't stare at the people who live inside the teevee, I kept reminding myself, but honestly it was hard not to. They live inside the teevee! A couple of them chatted up Danna and Stacey, an altogether sensible thing to do, while Thomas Lennon did a mean air guitar to some They Might Be Giants, wisely keeping his beer in the fret hand so as not to spill it. (Before anyone asks, it was something from Lincoln, probably "Ana Ng" or "Purple Toupee," I forget.)

When my attention drifted back, Brendan was pointing right at me. "Here's the guy you should be talking to," he said. "Hey Keating, Chris needs a drummer for his band. You should play for him." Chris had been talking to Brendan about joining, but Brendan had an unusual concept of drumming that existed somewhere between Maureen Tucker and Nitzer Ebb. Basically, he would stand behind two tom-toms and pound the hell out of them. He knew he'd be a bad fit for Chris. But he also knew that I played, and that I'd likely be closer to what Chris was after. That I happened to walk over and sit down is just one of those things.

Chris invited me to stop by his dorm room, where they had a drum kit set up. Brendan had just arranged the loudest play-date ever.

Continued in Part III