Today is August 8th, 2020, and it’s been over 15 years since I started at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School! The 10 year reunion for my class was recently and I honestly spent most of the event in the DJ booth reliving that high school and college past time instead of catching up with my classmates.
Recently with a lot of time on my hands to reflect on life due to the pandemic, I’ve been missing and thinking of some of the memories made in high school playing music and organizing shows!
I decided to go through my hard drive and find some rarely seen files and sometimes only locally released recordings of this short moment in my life and the life of some other teenagers who really cared about music and through that, each other!
Setting the stage: music at SPFHS in 2004
Coming in as a freshman at SPFHS in 2004, the importance of studying music had already been drilled into me in elementary and middle school by eager teachers. We were really privileged to have an expansive music department at the high school led by two, “Mr. T”s, Mr. Thomas and Mr. Turturiello, that included a band, wind ensemble, pit band for musicals, 150+ strong marching band, and the school’s pride and joy, 4 different levels of jazz bands including the Moonglowers founded in the 1940s, SPF Jazz, and 2, “lab” jazz bands. The choral program was also expansive although under fluctuating leadership during my time there, but we had a regular chorus, select choir, show choir, and a musical program.
Again, I don’t think we even realized how good we had it at the time, and suffice it to say that we had plenty of kids involved in music at the high school! You could. be in 1, 2, 3, 4, or. in some cases almost all of the bands and choruses and have a full schedule and social life and it was a really fun time for the most part (although a lot of practice and work).
On the periphery of this great music program was what I liked to call, “The SPF Band Scene”.
Boredom at Its Best:
Learning anyone could start a rock band outside of school
Coming in as a freshmen, I quickly started attending school Open Mic nights and Battle of the Band events, put on by school clubs like the poetry club, the stage crew, and junior statesmen (JSA) clubs as fundraisers. There were a handful of bands operating outside of the official school programs, mostly 4-5 piece rock bands kind of in the style of Nirvana and other 90s bands, either a little softer than that, or louder and more metal-like.
Boredom at Its Best was fronted by Brian Glassett, a senior at the time who the coolest to freshmen me! JSA hosted the Battle of the Bands and they’d have their officers like Corey Fineman host the Battle. Here’s a clip of the end of a Boredom at Its Best set and then the kind of hosting you’d see at these battles (I have a good amount of this battle on film if anyone comes across this post and is interested though the audio quality isn’t great):
Boredom at its Best showed me that anyone could start a band, and it didn’t have to be led by teachers to have concerts! As a freshmen, I started jamming with a good friend from camp, Scotty Eckenthal. We played in one Battle as, “David and Goliath” and were able to cinch the second place spot with just a guitar or two, Simon + Garfunkel style (but think more emo: Brand New/Dashboard Confessional covers and maybe a weepy original song or two). I still remember being driven home from a sleepover by Mr. Eckenthal with Scotty and I excitedly discussing the fact that we had actually written a complete song together. We played some open mic nights, I think we even played at a Borders book stores Cafe once. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of photographic or video evidence of this period but suffice it to say that it was quite fun.
Here is one David and Goliath original song Scotty and I wrote that I’m pretty proud of called, “Static Symphony”, I’m on the vocal and Scotty is on guitar on this one:
The night that changed it all
One night at one of these Battle of the Bands, after I’d just joined up with , “The Lampshades”, a sequence of events happened that lit a fire under teenage me to plan my own shows.
The Lampshades was a 7-piece ska/punk band fronted by Eric Davis and Nick Murray on guitar/vocals and guitar/trumpet/vocals. I was playing trombone and singing backup. Andrew Livingston was on tenor sax, Chris Casserly on guitar/trumpet/vocals, Rich Murray (Nick’s little brother) was on bass, and Tom Cristiani, eventual drummer of the aforementioned, “Moonglowers” jazz band, was our drummer!
We were playing one of the first shows we’d played ever, the JSA Battle of the Bands at the high school auditorium, and we were supposed to go last. We’d just been informed that the show had to end on time or they’d shut off the power to the auditorium (seems dramatic but that’s what the stage manager insisted on) and that we’d only be able to play 2 of the 5 or 6 songs we’d prepared that night. Here’s an excerpt from my college essay from my application to NYU Music Business years later on it:
With anger coursing through my veins, I chugged a bottle of water, practically ripped my trombone out of its case, and took the stage. The crowd instantly applauded as we all took our positions. The first song went by quite quickly, and the time was 10:56 PM. We had 4 minutes to do our last song, which was a long cover. As our guitarist hit the first few notes on his guitar, I could sense the room was changing. The audience began getting up from their seats as we went through the song. My heart rate increased as I became carried away in the emotion of the crowd going mad. I had never felt so happy about one thing and irritated about another at the same time in my entire life.
“As we rocketed towards the end of the song, the entire audience was out of their seats, in front of the stage. Suddenly, all of the power in the auditorium went off. The clock had struck 11! The guitarist and bassist quickly faded out, but our drummer continued to play as the curtain closed. I feared the worst.
But my fears were quickly availed as the audience continued to sing the song we had been playing! Nick and I finished the song with our (luckily) solely wind powered horns, as the audience went crazy. I fell to my knees and could feel tears flowing down my face. I had just experienced one of the defining moments in my entire life. As the lights went on, fans came up to congratulate me. We had won the battle of the bands with only 2 songs!
Later that night at the diner, we all toasted to our success and whatever the future held.”
The Shows that followed
The big realization I had from that night was that the people putting together the concerts were mostly doing it as a fundraiser for their organizations. They didn’t care that much about ensuring the show schedule was followed, seeing what the bands needed to be successful, and how to promote the show to get a relatively large amount of people to come.
I decided to take matters into my own hands, putting on a ton of shows in high school where I tried to keep things organized, let bands play for the time they’d been promised, and have a ton of fun in the process (especially since most of the show attendees were just our friends!)
With the dynamic music program at SPFHS, and the cooperation of some amazing people and bands, we grew the music scene and got 300 people to come to the, “The Final Battle” I put together at SPFHS my senior year! Some of the bands that played these battles (with great names and all) were:
- The Lampshades
- Earth Its Wonderful to See You
- Goodman Brown
- TAJ (The Association of the Jam)
- Dante Loses Weight
- The Smashups
- Rescue the States
- Melody Blue
- Papa Justice and the B-Lags
- End the Stars
- Southern Fried Funk
- (If I forgot your band get in touch and I’ll add it, sorry it’s been almost 2 decades!)
Here’s some of the flyers from shows I threw together:
What a good time we had! The Lampshades played all around Jersey and even got to go to Manhattan and get a spot at the coveted Knitting Factory (later opened in Williamsburg):
A musical moment in recent time isn’t complete with a few records to go with it! We recorded in many ways: on our primitive compraed to now Apple computers in the basements of our parents’ houses, in the local studio that gave us free time sometimes and even hosted a contest to produce an EP of top 3 Battle of the Bands winners that resulted in “Battle CD ’07” all the way to recordings in the school TV studio in front of a blue screen:
My band, the Lampshades, released an album at the end of high school called, ‘This Album Entitles the Owner to One Free Slurpee”. It doesn’t exist on Spotify and here it is in full!I particularly enjoy SRA (proud of my trombone solo on there not going to lie). I also think E.J.S. stood the test of time pretty well and shows of the ska chops of the band. Here it is:
N00bs Get Pwned
While the Band Plays
Goodman Brown was composed of Alex Russo, Pete Bistis, Luke Saenz, and Alex Cvetovitch, and man did they rock. I think what’s amazing is that their recordings and originals still hold up in the year 2020 after my music tastes have really changed and expanded. Here’s an article from 2009 about them:
My favorite story about Goodman Brown is when they played the Relay for Life one year and decided to cover the rock opera, “Tommy” in its entirety. It was AMAZINGLY performed especially for a bunch of high schoolers, and Alex C took it incredibly seriously with the windmilling on his guitar, envisioning himself as a bit of a Townshend, and hurting himself in the process. His guitar was all white but by the end of the performance it was covered in his own blood. I went to check on him afterwards in the bathroom where he had his hands wrapped in paper towel and asked if he wanted to go to the hospital, but he insisted he was fine. What. A. Badass that kid was!
Their keyboardiest was similarly eccentric. I was in the Moonglowers jazz band with Alex and he had a big piano solo in one of our signature songs. One morning, he placed a tape player on the sheet music stand and when his solo come, he pressed play on the tape player, from which a solo came out. He then slowly backed away from the piano, miming playing it, left practice, and didn’t come back. Crazy, or genius? We were sure a little bit of both. And man did he rock that Baba O’ Riley solo.
Here are some recordings of Goodman Brown, again if anyone wants these taken down, I am very glad to do so upon request.
Warmth of A Gun
Blue Eyes And…
Better Off With You
The Association of the Jam
Better known as, “TAJ” included Brian Sensor on guitar, Mike Scannell on bass, Kenny Hessemer on drums, Jamie Sensor on vocals, and John Loomis as the occasional featured guitarist. Very fun to jam out with these guys!
Ferocious Thelonius Funk
Red Scare, Red Nightmare
Sadly those are all of the MP3s I think I have of SPFHS bands, if others reach out with files though, I’d be glad to post them!
As for how my story ends and the things I neglected to catch up most of my peers on at the aforementioned reunion, after immersion in this amazing music scene in high school, I decided the only thing for me was to, “become a rock star”, so I ended up at New York University from 2008-2012 DJing 1-2 times each weekend, taking lessons in the all of the rock instruments, and music theory classes. Taking business classes like accounting and management at NYU Stern. Again I realize how lucky I am to have been able to pursue this dream that my parents setup for me. When I finally sat down to write songs, I realized I still had a lot of life to live to have anything interesting to say and I’m just now coming around to a point where I think I may start trying to write songs again the age of 30.
My first job was at Indaba Music as the Office Manager, where the CTO took me under his wing and taught me the missing pieces I needed to know to be a software developer. Indaba is where I really made. the transition from music tech to just tech.
From there I’ve had a string of tech jobs. Currently I’m writing software at SpaceX in Hawthorne, CA, where I just moved with my wife Bernadette from Madison (just a few towns over!) and our cat Tequila.
If any of you high school friends end up out here in LA and want to discuss this all over a socially distanced hike, hit us up!
Love to all of you SPF kids,
Trombonist for , “The Lampshades”