In high school, the senior play for the class just ahead of me was Bye Bye Birdie. I ran sound. Brian Hudson, who played the lead role, was a good friend. My first instrument was bass, and the first guitarist I jammed with was Brian. He impressed me with his knowledge of bar chords. We formed a band with Robby Phillips on piano and someone named Chuckie on drums. We rehearsed in the band room, working on “Johnny B. Goode,” “Louie, Louie,” and a cheap blues number. They let us do our songs after Bye Bye Birdie, the show for the students. It was pure exhilaration. The girls were screaming.
Years later, there was a business in downtown Appomattox called The Mushroom Factory. It was run by two grown hippies—a man and a woman. They sold books, artwork, and coffee. I brought several copies of Rip Snap Meow for them to give to customers. She found it offensive, and was glad they didn’t give any away.
The Mushroom Factory sometimes had live music. I put together ten songs. The lady insisted that she see all the lyrics before she would let me perform. The day of the concert, there weren’t any customers—just the woman and one female employee. I opened with “City of Dreams” by Talking Heads. I had known all along that I was severely off key, but I figured that performing it in front of people would miraculously fix my pitch. It was all terrible.
The Little Grill in Harrisonburg, Virginia was a cool place for live music. I played at an open mic night. I was so nervous, I went behind the building and puked—just a little. I played a song I wrote, “Hippie With a Dog,” and the Pink Floyd classic, “Pigs (Three Different Ones).” One guy in the front was familiar with the original and seemed to dig my interpretation thoroughly.
The city of Murfreesboro was about fifty minutes south of Nashville. That’s where I did the only live performance the whole time I lived in Tennessee. I chose “Psycho Killer.” I was drunk and the song was brutally under rehearsed. A friend said that it “wasn’t quite ready for MTV.”
Robby and I have maintained our friendship. He would come in and out town every couple of years. It seems that he was the only avant-garde performer Appomattox has ever known. One of the things he did was street performance. He said that one time, he went behind a building downtown and improvised on the saxophone (at high volume).
He would frequent the open mic night at Baine’s Books & Coffee on Main Street. There, I performed “Pigs (Three Different Ones).” It’s hard to sing—but I had it down. I was prepared and confident. Now I can say that I did it right, once. No one in the audience recognized the song, but I think they genuinely appreciated the effort. One woman complained slightly that only playing one song was a tease.
The last time I performed in front of people was at Baine’s, just before Robby ran off on his latest adventure. The song was “It’s All True,” the first song on I Should be Shot. I couldn’t play it alone because there was an extended solo. Robby played piano. He wasn’t much interested in rehearsing—we only went over it for about fifteen minutes. I didn’t introduce the song, I just counted down. I liked to sing it—it had a playful melody—I think I sang it well. Nevertheless, Robby and I were so disconnected, it just sounded wrong. We got some pity applause. I left as soon as I packed up my guitar.