Another of a Million (Part IV - Too Loud for Beauty School)

Continued from Part III Track 6: "Bull in the Heather" (3:04) Sonic Youth · Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star · Geffen Records Track 7: "Backwater" (3:42) Meat Puppets · Too High To Die · London Records

To be honest, the name was a bit of a problem. Every time I told people the band was called Jesus Clip, they would flinch. Nothing overt, just a quarter-note of furrowed brow, eyes barely narrowed. However, for a split second I could clearly read the question forming on their faces:

"Wait a minute, did he just tell me he's in a Christian rock band?"

No, he did not. But Jars of Clay had just started to sneak into mainstream rotation, so it was kind of a valid question, and certainly I'd struck my own quarter-note upon hearing the name. Honestly though, the name had nothing to do with anyone's Lord and/or Savior. Chris and Will were into picking locks, and came across the term as they read books on the subject. Solve the Jesus Clip, and the rest of the lock falls into place. Something like that, anyway.

Fair's fair — they started the band, they got to name it. Besides, thinking up a name for a band is torture set to music. This one was short, stuck out, looked decent on a poster, and didn't start with "the." That was plenty. We were Jesus Clip. And Jesus Clip needed a place to rehearse.

Playing in the dorms was out of the question, unless the goal was to be burned alive in the quad. Nor was there a large enough room in UNH's arts building that we could use regularly. None of us had any money to speak of, but Chris made it clear that if this were going to happen at all, it would take some capital. We had to rent a space. Chris fronted the deposit, but was in no position to pay the whole rent every month. It was part logistics, part initiation — if we were serious about making this band happen, we had to pitch in some cash.

This would be step one in Chris Scarpino's official plan to conquer the world.

Along the way, he was going to find three (minimum) or four (maximum) people who were on his wavelength, get them in a room, make a ton of noise, keep what was good, and then take it to bars and coffee houses around the New Hampshire Seacoast. If the chemistry wasn't there, he would switch it up. Those who worked out would stick around, those who weren't committed would be replaced. Durham, then Portsmouth, then Portland, Boston, New York. Jesus Clip would put thousands of miles on a used van, and thank the van in the first album's liner notes.

Chris and Will knew a keyboard player named Steve Knecht. Steve was a perpetually cheery fellow, who seemed as though he'd never experienced a moment of impatience in his life. Whatever was on the table, he was ready to run with it. He was also the smallest of the four, and those two qualities combined hovered somewhere between elf-like and impish. With Steve on board, Chris had found his three (minimum), and was itching to get to work despite the fact that we hadn't yet found a bassist.

Getting to work meant finding a space. Finding a space meant going to Dover.

Dover is a former mill town, about five miles northeast of Durham. Its old riverfront factories started to find new life as condos in the mid-1990s, but the stores and pubs that revitalized the center of town were still about a decade away. When UNH students get sick of dorm living, they look outside of Durham for cheap apartments. As often as not, they end up in Dover, commuting to campus every morning to wage holy war over parking spots.

Chris went looking for loft space in one of the not-yet-converted mill buildings, and instead came across a quaint little block of storefronts on Central Avenue. The second store from the left, the one next door to the Empire Beauty School, was empty. Its new tenants were four nineteen-year-olds with guitars, amps, a keyboard, and a low-end drum kit. Okay fine, the drummer was twenty.

The place looked like it might previously have been a greeting card store. It was entirely empty except for a couple of long metal racks for cards or magazines. Those we turned backwards and pushed up in front of the windows, just in case anyone thought we were some kind of extremely crappy store and try to come inside. Fluorescent lights made the place feel a bit like a waiting room. The floor was carpeted, but it was very low pile, hardly more than a layer of felt. There was a back room that presumably had been the office, and a little bathroom.

The weekend after the lease was finalized was load-in. I stuffed the drums into my Dad's Jetta, and the guys met me there with the rest. We set up the gear in a circle, with the drum kit facing the back wall, Will's amps to my left, Steve's keyboard to my right, and Chris in the middle with his amp and the 8-track machine. Will plugged in his Gibson and let loose a few chords, filling the space with an immensely satisfying sound.

On a whim, he started to play the opening riff to "Paradise City," and I joined him with a hearty peal of stomp-thwacks: Stomp! Thwack! Stomp-thwack! Stomp! Thwack! Stomp-thwack! He and I thought this was pretty funny, but Chris, who was trying to tune his guitar, was less than amused. With the first official rehearsal of Jesus Clip called to order, we messed around with a couple of song fragments, cracked each other up, and went home.

The Empire Beauty School called the landlord to complain pretty much immediately.

Chris received the verdict a few days later. No noise before 9:00 PM, seven days a week, or we would lose the store and our deposit. No second warning. All of our rehearsals would have to be at night. This was fine on paper, except for a chain of logistical causality that created an epic pain in the balls. Given Dover's downtown parking restrictions, we'd have nowhere to put a car overnight. We would have to use the area's only local transit, the COAST Bus, which just so happened to be closed at night as well. Our only option was to take the bus to Dover in the evening and return to campus in the morning.

Jesus Clip would have to sleep in the store, a piece of manger imagery that would have made Jars of Clay salivate.

Empire Beauty School instantly became our bitter sworn enemy, one whose name we would hiss as we cursed the wall behind which they lurked. At the time, I had no idea that I should have been thanking them for setting up one of the most memorable six-week stretches of my life.

Continued in Part V