During my senior year of high school, my friends and I plugged in our instruments and attempted to cover AC/DC’s (yeah, I have to cite the band because people like my dad read this) “Back in Black”. Though we assembled in a garage, it would be a stretch to use the term “garage band” to describe our collaboration — the term “band” implies you’ve assembled a group of people that sound even remotely cohesive, and that wasn’t us. We had one guy that was proficient on guitar, a guy that was ok on bass, and two guys who royally sucked on their instruments – the rhythm guitarist (me) and the drummer. In our defense, the drummer and I had just started playing our instruments three months before, but we could have at least had the good sense to practice a little bit more. On top of all of this, we didn’t have a real singer – in fact, I believe I handled vocals that night. Suffice to say, Sebastian Bach wasn’t quaking in his butt-less chaps. What did I sound like, you ask? To best achieve the noises my St. Ides-addled throat was able to conjure up in the fall of 1991, I advise a three-step process: 1) grab a possum by the tail, 2) jab a fork into its ball-sack repeatedly, and 3) record the sounds it makes and then play them backwards. To say I made AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson sound like Susan Boyle would be a gross understatement.
Of course, it was obvious before the first note was struck that we were doomed – but we made sure our names were etched forever in Lucifer’s ebon registry by deciding to add a keyboardist to our lineup. That’s right – a keyboard. In an AC/DC song. Can you hear the wind whistling through my head? Not sure if the keyboard was a Casio, but it was definitely straight out of Toys R Us’s 1989 “Have a Radical Christmas!” catalog. Anyways, being the rock savants we were, we thought it’d be cool to double not only Angus (or was it Malcolm?) Young’s opening guitar riff with the keyboard, but every other guitar part in the song except the solo – which I can’t confirm or deny we ever got to because the first ten seconds were so mind-numbingly bad that I blacked out. Looking back, we should count ourselves fortunate that Zeus Almighty didn’t materialize in my friend’s garage and ram a lightning bolt up each of our asses for such an egregious affront to great music. Words fall well short of describing the atrocious, steaming pile of monkey poo that we splattered all over one of rock’s most recognizable anthems – but if I may make an LOTR analogy, it would be like taking the Balrog from Fellowship and equipping it with a pair of penny loafers, a fanny sack and a t-shirt that says “I Love My Miata”. Good effing lord.
It wasn’t about the keyboardist – he’s a great guy. And it wasn’t about the instrument – when employed correctly, a keyboard can be a huge asset to a rock/metal band’s sound — see Dream Theater for further reference. No, it was just a horrible decision by five dopes who should have known better. God, I can still hear that infernal keyboard. Its hellish timbre is burned into my soul, a lasting reminder to never tamper with perfection: “Plink! P-p-plink! P-p-plink! P-p-p- plink-plink!”
The following summer, four of us (sans keyboardist, who knew a dead-end deal when he saw one) got together and actually made it through Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” from beginning to end. Since the cloves-smoking, sloe gin-swilling septuagenarian high school janitor who gargled with thumbtacks was unavailable, I once again assumed singing duties. I’m happy to report that I improved, to the point where one could describe me as a “poor man’s Don Johnson doing a poor man’s James Hetfield”.
Garage bands: + infinity
My singing: - infinity
Here’s a cool song with a keyboard: