Tuesday, May 27, 2008

F.L.A. in L.A.

In my junior year of high school my friend Tom and I were in the same Humanities class taught by Mrs. Franco. She was an enthusiastic lover of all the arts and was constantly perplexed at the lack of interest the hordes who came before her had for the same.

I think she would have been pleased had she heard the following story.

Tom and I had started writing songs together. We'd done covers of Clash songs, Violent Femmes songs, Run DMC songs, but we'd only recently started creating our own works. I sang and wrote lyrics and Tom played guitar and wrote the music.

Tom's style is unique. He's still one of my favorite guitar players even though I haven't heard him play in years. He had the whole quiet/loud thing that The Pixies would hand off to Nirvana down cold. I still think that we should have quit high school and gone on the road. That is if we could have ever found a drummer.

I recently brought all my old notebooks down from storage in my parents attic. The earliest is a typical school notebook with a brown paper/cardboard cover. A pattern is drawn on it, jagged interconnecting lines, almost like bloodshot eyes in a Sunday comic. Within the oddly shaped contours lie letters in my teenage hand.

The F.L.A.'s.

Upon writing our first few songs Tom and I set about coming up with a band name in earnest. Some are unprintable, all I've forgotten. The one that stuck came from something Mrs. Franco had said about an era in painting that came about via several 'frustrated landscape artists'. They'd wanted to paint landscapes but had to constantly paint portraits to earn their keep.

We shortened this to F.L.A.'s and we were off. It wasn't until much later that we realized we'd named ourselves Florida in abbreviation.

Mixing self-pity, a half-hearted death wish, and impossibly innocent romantic ramblings with Tom's buzz saw licks, we had almost an album's worth of material within a month. But something was missing. Like a rhythm section. And another guitar player.

All of a sudden Justin was also in the band. The three of us were already best friends but I had no idea Justin even played guitar. Looking back I think he pulled some sort of Robert Johnson crossroads thing because one moment he was an injury prone football player and the next he was tapping like Eddie Van Halen and making god-awful somehow appropriate noise that layered perfectly over Tom's rhythms.

Justin also contributed music and our sound got more ragged but also more powerful. Our gentle giant friend Chris picked up the bass in order to complete the lineup. By now we'd already changed our name to the already written about classic Fecund Youth.

We never had a regular drummer. We played a couple of parties that live in isolated infamy. At both parties our drummer fell from the drum kit mid song. A recording survives of one of these shows, the one that took place in my basement the day before I saw The Replacements for the first time. How my parents thought going to Canada with the rest of the family the week of my birthday and favorite band coming to town was a good idea I'll never know.

Buried within the myth that is Fecund Youth is a short-lived duo called The F.L.A.'s.

And now, here I am in Los Angeles, a frustrated landscape artist in my own right. I've had success that I can point to, but nothing like the kind I'd envisioned for myself when I started out. I struggle financially. I wrestle with resentment and anger at what almost was, at what might have been.

Those old painters tricked their benefactors by painting portraits that sat on the edge of vast vistas instead of indoor still life. I'm casing joints, looking for ways to circumvent the limitations I've encountered. I'm about to unfrustrate my landscape.

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