Another of a Million (Part VI - Is This Thing On?)

Continued from Part V Track 10: "My Wave" (5:12) Soundgarden · Superunknown · A&M Records Track 11: "Again" (4:05) Alice in Chains · Alice in Chains · Columbia Records

Spring in New England is a thing that has to claw its way to the surface. It has to push apart its shell piece by piece, crawl into the light of day, and stand up on its own four legs. Gray skies cling to the landscape through February and well into March. Melting ice keeps the ground soggy for weeks, so that even if it happens to be reasonably nice out, you still can't go throw the ball around without running in muck. The crusted, dirty remnants of snowbanks linger along the sidewalks for what seems like eternity, well after logic dictates that winter be gone.

Then it snows one more time.

Finally, there's always one particular weekend when the temperature hits 70, the grass feels good under bare feet, and the sun actually shines all day — this is the day that campus practically explodes. Everyone goes outside, even geeks like myself. Music blares from dorm windows, girls debut the cut-off jeans. By then, there's precious little left of the semester. This is when UNH used to hold Spring Fling.

Spring Fling was a series of campus events that ranged from not-quite-bacchanalian to actually-pretty-bacchanalian, depending on what time they started. Stages sprouted in the quads and parking lots, to host whatever entertainment students could clear with the university. Later in the afternoon, the main event closed down Main Street, where the headlining bands would put on shows between Smitty's Bar and the Durham House of Pizza. Come nightfall, the fraternities would try to out-party each other. Or so I'm told. Honestly, it was kind of hard to hear them over the sound of our Magic: The Gathering decks.

(Spring Fling was canceled for good after 2001, when the festivities resulted in 163 arrests — more evidence that the Millennials would quit ruining everything if they just wore a few layers of flannel and listened to significantly more depressing music.)

That morning I woke up early, and woke up nervous. The longer you imagine something, the less your vision resembles the real thing. And I had been imagining what it would be like to play live since I was a child. Somehow my imagination had not conjured so much ... sunshine.

Chris booked us at two Spring Fling events, one at the Mini Dorms and one at the Upper Quad, so named because it is higher than the Lower Quad. (No, really.) These were to be Jesus Clip's first gigs — our five little songs, played in front of people who had ears, and opinions, and legitimately better things to do. The Mini Dorms featured live music all day, along with food and games and tie-dying and what not. Jesus Clip was first on the schedule, at something like ten in the morning. For a college campus on a Saturday, that might as well be dawn. Basically, we were going to be the alarm clock that could not be turned off.

With the sun still climbing, we set up our gear in as good a replica of The Store That Sold Nothing as we could manage. While Will and Chris tuned their guitars, I readjusted the drums a hundred times, in a series of smaller and smaller moves designed to forestall ever having to play them. Snare drum's too low. Hi-hats are too far apart. Ride's too close. Now it's too far away. Now the angle's wrong. Would the guys notice if I left? I'm thinking yes. I was too wrapped up in my own horseshit to register how the others were faring, but this was Scarpino's element. He coordinated with the event organizers, he supervised sound check, he worked the crowd, and he decided when we were ready to go. As ready as ever, I suppose. Whatever he said on mike to introduce us is lost to history, but it wasn't overwrought. It was approximately the kind of statement you'd expect from four New Hampshire kids with no bassist, playing outside at ten in the morning. Probably something like, "Hi, we're Jesus Clip."

Were we any good? Who the hell knows. Twenty seconds into the first song, my drumstick splintered in half, launching a jagged shard inches from Will's head. Most of the details beyond that are fuzzy. My mind does not register a single person there to hear us. I don't mean that no one was there, I mean that I recall nothing about them. Krystel and the brunette were probably there. But how many others? A dozen? Maybe more? Do any of them remember that morning? Did they notice that I nearly impaled our lead guitarist?

They clapped. That much I do remember.

Afterward, we packed up and drove the gear to the Upper Quad for our afternoon set. Chris changed the playlist order. This time I kept my shit more or less together, and if the show lacked some of that morning's virgin energy, it likely sounded better for it. Some of my friends came out to listen. Everyone sat in the shade and relaxed while Jesus Clip played its five ditties. Once the last chord rang out, I spent the rest of the day washed in a wave of calm, the buzz of adrenaline well spent. Chris seemed pleased with the results. It was a first step, and a shaky one, but Chris Scarpino's plan to take over the world was underway.

Come Monday, focus shifted back to the waning semester. There were finals to take, papers to write, summer jobs to line up. We closed out the lease on the store, and handed back the keys. I packed my drums into the Jetta, along with my stereo, CDs, clothes, and whatever books I couldn't sell back to the bookstore. Chris' hometown was only about a forty-five minute drive from Nashua, and we made tentative plans to meet up over the summer, maybe set up in his parents' garage and rehearse. The four members of Jesus Clip arranged with campus housing to live together in the Mini Dorms the following year. Then we drove away.

You have to understand, this was 1995. Before cell phones, before instant messaging, before the eternal reach of Facebook. We had email, but could only access it through the university's computers. Nobody had a modem. It just wasn't that unusual to head home for the summer and not have any contact with your college friends. High school friends would reconvene, or at least the ones you still wanted to talk to. The mixing of worlds, college life with hometown life, was disorienting. These worlds exist in parallel for a reason. You don't want your new friends to see what you used to be any more than you want your old friends to see what you're slowly turning into. So when I didn't get around to calling Chris, it honestly wasn't that unusual. Maybe a little shitty, maybe a little lazy, but hell, that's what happens when you're twenty. There was simply no way to know that I'd already seen him for the last time.

Concludes in Part VII