In the early 1990's I was the drummer for a band called Lampstand, a four-piece outfit out of Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Lampstand grew out of the ashes of an even more generic group with the ripped-off name Atari, which in and of itself was sprung from a completely shitty ninth-grade effort called the Immature Morons.
I start the story back in the days of the Immature Morons. Once, 4 boys got together after the end of the eight grade, armed only with a spirit of hope that would be the only thing able to lead them past the dark days of complete musical incompetence. Peavy practice amplifiers, an uncarpeted basement, a drumset that was in the hands of its fourth owner, and only less than the most rudimentary of abilities. We were fifteen years old, and the only songs that we could play were the ones with only four notes and possibly one change—it all sounded like garbage.
We would get together to make this unmusical mess, and quickly become frustrated at it, and each other. “Why does this not sound like music?” I would often ask myself. “What are we doing wrong?”
Because no matter how I tried to keep the beat, and no matter how Neil played his bass, or Brett played his guitar…it just didn’t sound like anything. The only we could tell what songs were on the tape would be by the loud screaming of semi-unintelligible lyrics that would identify the songs to us. Tapes from this period resemble painful archives of our pre-pubescent selves, which often included records of our dumbass conversations with girls, or the time that we called up strangers on the phone and asked them if they wanted to listen to one of our songs. (Our one taker said it was “not really my kind of music,” but at least he didn’t hang up.)
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Every practice for that summer was the same. Arrive at practice site (usually Neil’s house). Set up equipment. Play for about fifteen or twenty minutes. Then take a break, usually ‘cause somebody gets bored or annoyed. The break turns into someone doing something completely counter-productive, like playing with one of the many interesting objects in the basement, or going upstairs to eat cookies, or to watch TV…basically, rehearsing went completely out the window.
Then someone would call his mom to ask to be picked up. Suddenly, a new sense of urgency would enter the proceedings. And we would play. And for the next fifteen or twenty minutes, the music would be exciting, full of passion and inspiration, until….
“Dude, your mom’s here.”
And that would be that.
That went on for the whole summer.
So the band had its problems. By the wintertime, the guitarist (who didn’t really hang out with the rest of us as much) had sort of fallen out of sight, or had lost any real enthusiasm for the project. I really don’t remember what was up, all I know is that things with the Morons just weren’t working. We had songs, and probably about a fifteen minute set (not that we played out much at this point). It was generic, it was limited, and except for maybe the vocalist, we hated the music.
Then we met Lance.
Lance was in our high school. He was an artist, basically a nice quiet sort whose dad ran a barbecue company. One day he played a song he had written at home on his organ. The song had two notes, and a chorus that sounded more like hell being vomited upon the people of earth. These were the lyrics:
“Pittsfield people really suck/They’re just a bunch of fucks/Wanna-bes and scummy scum /takin’ it all by the hand/don’t care about anybody else/all they do is scratch themselves/ BECAUSE PITTSFIELD’S FROM HELL!!!”
Hearing this song would change lives. It was the song that propelled Lance into the fold, and would lead him to do great things as a future member of Lampstand.
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It was a fateful day in the winter of '91 when Neil, Dave, Doug, and Lance ventured into the basement of my parent’s house (affectionately known as Club Dave). Within the course of seven hours, a landmark Pittsfield album was recorded. Most of the songs were written that day, with a few that had been in the works for a little while, including Lance's uncompromising hit (and my personal favorite song) Pittsfield's From Hell. The result was a band named Atari, and an album entitled Destroy the Krylons (from the game Missile Command).
The album was put together on a less than minimal budget. The keyboard was a small 35-dollar variety product with a sampler, the drums sounded like buckets, and the bass was a distorted mess, but still probably the cleanest thing on the album. The music ranged from full on punk, springing out of the Moron's closet of hits, to half assed polka and half assed reggae (never try to make reggae with an organ sound). By the end, however, we knew we had done something different, and far from the sloppy four chord punk that we had started with. For better or worse, the future Lampstand had the beginnings of a sound.
Runaway--a blistering track with the refrain of "fuck with me and I'll run away!" Buy me something to shut me up--a pleasantly catchy song about the phenomenon of young brats in dollar stores who won't shut up until you put candy in their mouths. Ugh--Roller Ruler Reggae. Depraved Child--fantasies about the absolute dumbest things I thought about as child.
The tape was recorded over the tapes we found in the bargain bin at the local dollar store. The cover was assembled out of old Atari instruction booklets.
So Atari had achieved its first taste of success. And the Morons languished.
Soon after the Destroy the Krylons album had its run, Brett had his announcement--his family was moving to Pennsylvania by summertime. The news had mixed effect on the band. Knowing that there would be an end to the mess we'd started in the Morons would free us to develop with Lance and really do something different. However, I felt bad that Brett hadn't been involved with the Atari project, but there just was always a problem getting in the way of the band—Brett was not a punk fan, his interest was heavy metal. He seemed to be involved in other things. We sort of dragged him into band practices when he didn’t always want to go. He recognized the fact that the music was awful, and it didn’t really motivate him. I couldn’t blame him for being a reluctant member. We were all involved in a Catch-22, and Brett was just out of the loop enough to make things difficult.
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But the announcement actually had a positive effect on the band. Brett and the rest of us became more motivated to practice. We felt the need to get as much out of the remaining months as we could. We began to write more songs, more “challenging” songs. We practiced, played a few shows in people’s basements, and gradually developed a working knowledge of our instruments. Our chemistry became a lot better. The music was still rudimentary, but it was not sounding like complete garbage anymore. The spring of 1991 was a good time to be a Moron.
The last Immature Morons show was put on in a friend’s garage, as part of an “end of the school year” party. We had finished our first year of high school. We survived the onslaught of people fucking with us “freaks” and had made many allies along the way. Neil actually managed to get a girlfriend, Doug had dumped his, and I my abysmal first girlfriend encounter was on the way (see “Fun and Games”, Dave#3 and Davezine#4). I had no job (I had quit Hardee’s Fast Food a few months prior) and I was temporarily happy. The party was fun, though bittersweet. We were breaking up, never having released an album, and I would no longer be able to see Brett. (Happily, however two things have been corrected --1. The Morons got back together a year after Brett’s move to record the posthumous “Better Late than Never”, which was reviewed favorably by our Berkshire Eagle big fan Seth Rogovoy. 2. Now I live in Baltimore, and Brett is not far from me at all.)
It was “goodbye, Brett” and “goodbye, Morons.” We very ceremoniously folded up the big white Immature Morons tapestry we had painted with spraypaint and handed it to Brett, while I played “Taps” on the trumpet. The guy hosting the party told me to shut up because it might piss of the neighbors. It was fitting end for the band whose signature song was “I’m Trying to Piss Off the Neighbors.”
The Johnny LaFontaine movie trailer voice now comes out to speak the next part:
“Out of the ashes of this group, the remaining three members, now with Lance aboard as a regular, form a permanent group. They know they should not continue with the name “Atari” because of the copyright on that name, so they temporarily are nameless. During the summer of ’91 the four jam a little, and write new songs (many of which find there way to Lampstand’s posthumous release “Lost the Scene.”). By the end of the summer, the thing that started as a one day project has become a band, and the name is chosen: Lampstand. The rest is history. LAMPSTAND: THE MOTION PICTURE. Coming soon to a theater near you.”
When Lampstand “officially” started, we weren’t quite sure of what the sound would be. The first few practices were uncertain, until we came up with two early songs that would define the sound. “Hey, Gus,” a neat little ditty about a man who excretes, and “Every Wednesday,” a wacky, wacky tune about Neil’s neighbor, a woman whom he only sees on Wednesday morning when she takes out the trash. These songs would set the pattern of songs that were not about seriously heavy topics, but about fun, funny things that showed we didn’t take ourselves so seriously. The music combined the Minutemen style, with its mess of the instruments trying to combine parts that were completely different, and the Dead Milkmen attitude. But to me and to the rest of us the song that everyone would remember was the theme song. It resembles a really crazy chase theme to a seventies action movie, during the break everyone screams “LAMPSTAND!” as if it really meant something.
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SOME KEY MOMENTS IN THE LAMPSTAND HISTORY: April, 1992—at the YMCA in downtown Pittsfield, Lampstand’s first show. Ugh…I just think we tried to do too much. It was sloppy, we danced around to keyboard on demo, I tripped over the power chord and then I couldn’t hear Neil yelling at me to plug it back in. I have a lot of this on tape, but the funniest parts are unfortunately cut off. Still, it was really fun, and pretty punk rock, and we were only sixteen at the time.
August, 1992--Lollapaloozer2, at Woody’s Roadhouse in Washington, Mass. Lampstand got its first press—a write-up in the Berkshire Eagle, plus our picture. “Pittsfield’s own…herky-jerky style.” “Herky-jerky” became the definitive description of our music. The first time I think a redneck bar had ever seen 200 punks at a time without at least one of them being stomped under someone’s pickup truck.
November, 1992—Brannigan’s, in Pittsfield. The pinnacle of Lampstand shows. 20 minute set that killed. The good response is what helps to encourage the release of the first album. Probably the only time the audience wasn’t screaming for us to get off the stage.
Late November, 1992—Piddidle King, Lampstand’s first “real” album was released. 10 songs, fifteen minutes. Sells moderately well, things are looking up.
The winter of 1992-93—Blizzard cancels 2 possibly major Lampstand Pioneer Valley shows. One show at a college would have been the biggest audience to see us that would not include our friends. The other would have been at an old porno theatre that hosted many well-attended punk and hardcore shows. The fact that we never played anything significant after this is an omen of our eventual downfall.
Spring/Summer of ‘93—Lampstand plays basement shows. Wish (the emo-core band from the westside), Big Mistake (Ska-punk from NYC), Pigpen (NYC punk) and local faves The Goober Slab Giants all share the bill with us for a total of about 6 or 7 shows.
Late Summer of 1993—Lampstand’s Last stand. Carol’s basement. I swear this set couldn’t have been more than 7 minutes. Punk as fuck. Lance’s last, therefore everyone’s last.
Yes, Lance was quitting the band. He had too many other commitments and Lampstand just was not up there. But there was still more to come...
February 1994—Pittsfield High School Pep Rally. A reunion of sorts. One practice on Monday and then a five-minute set on Friday, in front of the whole school (about 800 people.) A battle of the bands with some cheeseball band that played “Gloria” (VOM-IT!). Utterly apocalyptic finale for the band, Doug wore a sundress and tried to light himself on fire. Receives detentions for this and forevermore PHS bans pep rallies. It was perhaps the proudest accomplishment of our four years in high school. Now it was definitely over.
So we finished high school, and went our separate ways. I missed the band in that time and I had stopped playing drums for about 3 and a half years due to the fact that I lived in an apartment complex. In ’98 I moved into a house with a basement and I retrieved my drums to resume playing. Still, I never had the desire to form a band. It is such a pain in the ass, if you’re not really into it you really shouldn’t bother. To me Lampstand was about as good as I figured it would be. I turned my attention to the ‘zine and getting myself through school.
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I heard about the reunion show from Neil one night. Andy from the Poncherellos had one last favor to ask from his old friends in Lampstand. Come to Pittsfield one last time and perform a final show before he left the area for good. It was a benefit show in honor of his parents, who had died within two months of each other. One last “thank you” for all the punks and other people who’d put time and energy into the “scene” in the years he had spent there. Of course I wanted to do it.
The task was this: get a couple of boys from Baltimore, a keyboardist from Chicago and the bassist from the Valley, bring then back together to remember these long forgotten songs from a somewhat forgotten time. Only under a month to do it.
The anticipation for me was great. I had been playing the drums on a regular basis in the 2 years since my hiatus from drumming. Now I knew that it had been a good idea to stay sharp. I vaguely remembered how the songs went. Neil sent a tape of all our material to study. I hoped that everyone would be able to figure out his part. The next few weeks went by quickly. The show was July 2nd. It all came about so fast. The six years since we’d been together last had gone by so fast. In six more years I’ll be thirty. One day I will die. I was overwhelmed by the sudden thought that it is so easy to waste time in this life. Lampstand and music was something I enjoyed. How could I have ever let something I enjoyed just fall by the wayside as it did?
"Club Dave", Adam Street, Pittsfield.
"Club Dave" was the name we gave to the basement home of the Immature Morons, Atari, and Lampstand. It was the basement of my parents’ house, our dank and smelly refuge from the miserable world above. The walls were this ancient rock shit that came crumbling off whenever you touched it. The floor was covered in this cardboard that we had drawn on years ago when I had the Club Dave Rave. The basement was a play land of junk and toys. Broken shopping carts, chairs, spray paint, coffee cups that had sat there for years. It was always the perfect home for the music we played--gross, generic, yet comfortable, and untouched by the adult world. It think every kid needs a place to play, to consider off-limits to everyone but his friends. "Club Dave" was our spot, the place where our creative selves had an outlet.
July 1-2, 2000- Club Dave is the host to the Lampstand rehearsals for its reunion show. Home again, we are so happy to see each other and get together. Much hugs, laughing, and fun. We are all older than the sixteen and seventeen year olds we used to be, but for these two days, we are Lampstand, back in the place where we spent our youth.
Rehearsal, happily enough, was a blast. For the three and a half hours we spent playing that first night, we rolled through a dozen songs, and the memories came flooding back. We played the Lampstand Theme song and damn near shit our pants laughing.
The next day we spent over an hour learning to play Buckner and Garcia's "Pac-Man Fever." We never did covers when we were together, but this song seems like a perfect one for us to do. Sort of an homage to our roots as a band with the name "Atari." '80's music appeals to me because it all seems so earnest in its absolute genericness. We were just generic in our absolute earnestness, and that was the basic relationship between Lampstand and the '80s.
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Three more hours of a pretty exhausting practice, and we have a solid 14-song set put together. The show was at five. It was about two thirty when we stopped to pack it up. We were as ready as we were going to be. I was a little sad to think that this would be the last time we would be practicing together.
The show was the American Legion in the next town over from Pittsfield. The bill had three bands from Pittsfield, us, the Poncherellos, and the Blank's '77, plus Johnny Tong, an obnoxious stand-up comedian from LA .
Johnny Tong, according to Doug, who spent a lot of time with him on a movie set out in LA, is incapable of being in a group of more than three people without turning into his Act. He will perform even when the audience has all but forsaken him. (In fact, at the end of the show, he kept on with the routine even while people were packing up and going home.) He was amazing to me in this regard. He opened up by doing a routine about "The Wall", a place in Pittsfield where there actually is a big homosexual prostitution thing happening. Then he disintegrated into a routine (During the time between the first and second bands) which was insulting but so-fucking-wrong-it-was-hilarious routine where he put on a hunter’s cap and walked around acting like a retard. The next thing was a black puppet that hated white people. The angry crowd burned up his puppet, and still he continued into the night. He was relentless, absolutely unable to quit, until absolutely everybody was gone. And during one of the three Pittsfield punk band he put a box on his head and ran around like a maniac (at least, I thought that was him, but I've been told it was actually somebody else. So much for accuracy.)
The Pittsfield punk scene had produced many new bands in the time that I had left. Many of these groups share some of the same members, and many of those members are related to people I spent and/or wasted oodles of time with in high school. (Thought Crime, People’s Choice and Dartboard. I just had to write those down before I forgot them. I couldn't remember the name People's Choice until this very moment. Chalk it up to the special powers that staying up late at night will give you to remember forgotten items.) I watched the bands somewhat anxiously, knowing that we would come on after the third band was done. I hung around, we took pictures, and I caught up with a few old friends. I felt swept up in the whole thing, feeling like a fucking celebrity. I loved the idea that I was here as member of Lampstand. Part of a family. An important part of a past era in Pittsfield punk mythos, just as there had been punks before us that we had heard about and wanted to meet.
Finally, it was our turn to play. I hauled my piece of shit orange set onto the stage while Johnny Tong harassed us about our dick sizes. I had to bring weights with me to balance the set and keep it from leaning to one side. I found a chair to sit on, and I was borrowing a hi-hat from Neil. No screws to hold any of my cymbals on. I wondered if this show had a soundman. Then someone put a microphone in front of my bass drum. That was a first. I wonder if it helped.
"You ready?" Doug was drunk. I was relaxing on my third beer. Neil told everyone in the crowd that we were a peaceful band and that it was okay for them to get close to the stage. I was no longer nervous. "Ready."
"1-2-3-4!" I clicked my sticks together and we launched into the Lampstand theme song. The notes from Lance's keyboard and the way they fit/don't fit but somehow all come together and meet somewhere in the chorus "LAMP-STAND!" It is just as I imagined it would be. For the first time in years people are dancing for us. I'm having a ball, knowing how fleeting the moment is. "Every Wednesday," extended for no better reason than to extend our way-too-short set. And so on, all the while Doug kept up a steady stream of good-natured harassment of the audience, a trademark of his stage performances.
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"Pac-Man Fever" goes off without a hitch (actually...well, never mind). Then the climax:
"WE GOTTA GO...TO THE PUNK ROCK SHOW!" Kids screaming into the microphone...how the fuck did they know this song? Chalk it up to the small town mythos of a band whose day didn't come until after its necessary death.
The show was over. Nothing to do but pack up and watch the rest. The Poncherellos played their last set. I could finally relax and just jump around with the other kids. The Blank's '77 headlined. By then we were packing up and saying good-bye to our friends, and preparing to part our separate ways. A testament to my "old age", I had no desire other than to go back to the parent's home base and watch their cable TV, before heading back to Baltimore. No partying, no nothing. Put me in front of a TV, for my body is sore and I can take it no longer. Good-bye, Pittsfield, and good-bye Lampstand.
Lampstand was finally laid to rest in the year 2000. Finally ending with a good show, a good memory to hold on to. I hate to sound so melodramatic about it. It's just it was a really important thing for me. I loved all the feelings of coming together in the name of fun and punk rock. Lampstand will play together no more.
I'm not really sure how to end this other than by adding to a quote of Neil's "if you weren't there, you probably didn't miss much." I have to disagree: If I hadn't been there, I would have missed it a great deal.
LAMPSTAND 1991-2000. It's all over. --Davey G., Jan. 2, 2001