It was 1987. Washington DC. Chief and I were hooked on a sound. “He’d better twang it.” Punk Rock. The scene was as uninviting as ever.
Sitting in our Astro Van, parked outside the Shitty Brain, with our bandmates Tom Hanks and Paul Shaffer, I honestly felt nervous. It was our first gig that night, and I had to ask myself, can we do this.
Before leaving the van, Chief had something to get off his chest. He turned the key out from the ignition and took in a deep breath. “Alright, assholes. I hope you’re ready. Word of mouth is all we have. So work them in there, we have to twang it.” We nodded. He went on. “If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” and he turned his eyes to Paul Shaffer, “We should better rename ourselves Muscular Dystrophy.”
Paul Shaffer gasped the most pitiful sound. To which I shook my head, disgusted. He spoke “I’m probably the most able musician out of anyone here” he said, in protest of Chief’s spot-on jab. “No, you’re not, Paul Shaffer. You are not,” I said, affirming Chief’s assessment. Chief slapped me five. “Yeah you’re a little bitch, Paul Shaffer.” And Tom Hanks chimed in. “Yeah, Baldy, what makes you so special? Heh! Just kiddin’, brother.” Paul Shaffer looked up and groaned, as if asking his God why the Hell was he here.
When we walked up on stage, the crowd sized us up immediately. This always happens. But our first time, it was not to our benefit. A man in the front had cuffed his mouth and shouted “Go back to Hollywood, Tom Hanks.”
To Tom Hanks this was happening. I couldn’t believe it. I looked at Paul Shaffer, expecting it would be him, the recipient of their ire, but no one was even looking at him. He was sponging up spilt drinks from his blazer with a marked-up napkin. It must had happened to him while he was walking in. People saw him, and naturally, disgusted, they threw things at him. But why was it now Tom Hanks though whom they were booing. Granted Tom Hanks was far from relevant to this subculture, but it was Tom Hanks, Goddamnit. One of the most hard-to-hate individuals I ever met. I looked over at Chief. He was looking right at me. We both looked at Tom. Clueless as to how he would handle this. And ready to bail him out if possible. But Tom Hanks, the enthusiast of all things that he is, was undeterred. “Come on, guys!” He told the crowd, standed up from his drums and lifting his arms, insisting himself upon them. The crowd had stopped chanting for his departure back to Hollywood. Tom Hanks gestured a thank you to them and sat back down. Now with some command. He shaked out his shoulders and rolled his neck. “Give me a chance!”
A collective grumble of huhs and what’s aside, this crowd was now silent. Everyone present was simply just waiting. Myself included. We were waiting for anything that Tom Hanks might say or do next. “I’m in this, OK? Now! let’s do this!” And he began beating the shit out of his drums. The most shittiest drum solo ever, out of nowhere. The crowd erupted. “Tom Hanks! Tom Hanks! Tom Hanks!”
Relief like an avalanche off my shoulders. I looked out to the original distractor. He now seemed as approving as anyone. “Tom Hanks might be straightedge” I imagined was his words, reading his lips. Perfect, I thought. I looked at chief. His face had told me his thoughts were exactly the same. I turned to Tom Hanks and signaled for him to calm it down, which he did, and I grabbed the microphone and introduced Paul Shaffer. The Target of dirty looks since stepping inside the building, and apparently as well, the sink to everyone’s spit and sips of shitty draft beers. Paul Shaffer was dressed in a glittering green blazer. He was wearing, as well, his trademark clear-framed wayfarers. And though this was not the sole reason for Paul’s harassment, it was likely among them. How emphatically he stood out for his attire alone. But there was many ingredients to this magnet of everyone’s ire, that is Paul Shaffer. Too many ingredients for even a cookbook full of chapters to encapsulate. In some time, Paul Shaffer would earn respect, through Electric Lukes. Not much by us but at least by our fans. Paul Shaffer’s liberace-like wardrobe actually proved in time to his favor. He remained himself, how he always was, and this impressioned to fans that the man was genuine. But kinder days for Paul Shaffer were still far away. “Paul Shaffer on Luke-boards.” I announced this, as if ashamed, as fastly as I could.
“Paul Shaffer’s a bitch!” The crowd hammered him. And began chanting. “Paul Shaffer’s a bitch! Paul Shaffer’s a bitch! Paul Shaffer’s a bitch!” To this I nodded of course, encouraging the sentiment. Chief did as well. He grabbed the microphone. “You got that right.” Prompting many to laugh.
Paul Shaffer was sweating profusely. It was seeping through his emerald blazer. Sweat marks streaked down to his sides from his pits. He was petrified in terror. Paul Shaffer had of course been muscled into this endeavor by myself and Chief. He knew nothing of punk rock and assumed that the scene was chock full of skinheads. And knowing that Paul at the time was a practicing Jew, Chief and I did our best to assure him it was true. Imagining the thoughts in his mind right now made me chuckle. I slammed on my Luketar. To which the crowd cheered. Chief followed with his bass. And Tom Hanks smacked his sticks in the air to set us in. I grabbed the microphone. “Paul Shaffer, stop being such a bitch!” I said this in song. “Paul Shaffer’s a bitch” the crowd parroted. And Paul Shaffer unfroze. He stretched his Lukeboards. Electric Lukes was on. We winged it that night. As we’d planned.