By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
He is completely sincere.
“People are embarrassed by glam-metal. You would never hear anybody admitting that Tommy Lee is their idol. I say that and people look at me like, ’What the fuck‘s wrong with you?’ And I‘m thinking to myself, ’What happened to the other 18,000 people that were sitting with me at the Spectrum that night? Where did they all go?‘ I liked Ratt, I liked Poison, I liked Bon Jovi, those were the bands that I listened to.” He pauses. “I think Winger killed it.”
Jon is from the middle-class suburbs of Philadelphia. He and his band, the HuDells, were doing quite well back home, putting out two CDs and getting local airplay, until their beer-addled guitar player ran off with a girl. When asked about his current musical interests, Jon professes a deep love for eccentric Philly art-rock duo Ween. He shrugs. “Hey, we all grow up. But we all came from where we came from.”
It turns out he also admires the catchy pop songs of art-school faves Weezer. When informed that Weezer’s singer and songwriter, Rivers Cuomo, is in fact an alumnus of the Musicians Institute, Jon shakes his head with disappointment.
“Weezer was so boring live, they just stood there. I mean, I‘m ready to light my drum set on fire every night if I have to. Our lead singer ate live worms onstage for 45 shows straight. Live, living earthworms. We had a song called ’You Got Worms Babe,‘ and in the middle we had this breakdown, and every night he just dropped his head back and he dropped like eight earthworms in his mouth.”
What was the song about?
“It was a love song.”
Um, it’s a little tenuous, this love-worm connection . . .
“Hey, that‘s what we’re about,” he says. “Whatever it takes.”
The singer in the HuDells is his childhood friend Hugh, who has moved to Los Angeles while Jon attends the Musicians Institute. “He doesn‘t work, but he lives here. He writes children’s books and children‘s musicals. He’s working on this musical called Sock Muffin the Elf. Eventually he‘s gonna shop it around. He’s been working on it for a lot of years, just constantly going through stages of making it right.”
There is a long, awkward pause. Jon lights a cigarette. The moment has the surreal feeling of an impending hallucinatory attack. Jon mentions that he is married and that his wife is from Iceland. The two met back in Philadelphia, where she was working as a nanny. Jon was her waiter, and they fell madly in love over a cheese-steak sandwich. She is here with him now, attending the Fashion Institute downtown. When asked how his wife likes Hollywood, he smiles. “When she complains,” he says, “I remind her, ‘Hey, you could be in Iceland.’”
Shawn and Dan have been at the Musicians Institute for over a year. Shawn is now in the advanced guitar program, but also takes classes in “Getting Gigs” and “A&R: Getting Signed.” Dan studied “Playing Techniques” and “Rock Drums,” then enrolled in the recording artist program. “As for the payment of this whole escapade,” he says, “my parents helped, along with financial aid.” To make the $3,000 per quarter, they both exist on a lean stipend of family assistance and financial aid, and work long hours at the school‘s library.
The two managed a trip back to Massachusetts on their first holiday break, and played a show for the hometown fans. “We did a comeback show and drew 500 people outdoors,” Shawn says, “in Uxbridge, the fucking cornfield town.”
He plays a videotape of the show. The band is up onstage, and in front of them, a swirling mob of shirtless a
and tattooed boys are pumping their fists and singing along. Suddenly a kid comes flying through the frame backward, executing a complex, Olympic-style combo of back flips and cartwheels. He sails through the raging mosh pit untouched and disappears from frame. When asked if this particular dance move is common at their shows, Shawn and Dan just shrug.
Suddenly there’s a burst of raucous singing and furniture-pounding from a neighboring apartment. “The Swedes,” Dan says simply. It sounds like a mob of soccer hooligans warming up for their weekly riot. A few minutes later, Dan points out the window and announces, “Swedes.” Sure enough, there is a small horde of very drunken Swedish punk rockers advancing down the walkway. They mill about outside for a few seconds, then stagger off -- all except one.
With some good-natured pleading, the remaining Swede, whose name is Memphis, persuades Shawn to open the door and let him in. It turns out the Swedes are M.I. students as well, and, with the exception of their drinking and unintentional destruction, they are all “good guys.” Dan, in fact, has occasionally played drums in their anarchist punk band, Time Out.
Memphis plops himself on the floor, his eyes barely open. He has purple dreadlocks and a freshly pierced nose. He insists that Shawn put on a CD of “classic” punk songs, then lets out an appreciative “Aaahhhh!” as the cacophony of Discharge fills the small room. Eventually, Memphis leaves to retrieve a beer, and Shawn locks him out, explaining, “Memphis is cool, but I don‘t want him spilling beer on the equipment or lighting something on fire.” Memphis returns and pounds on the door, then laughs and staggers off to rejoin his fellow Swedes. The drunken singing and pounding resumes next door.
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