What Lookin’ Pretty Cool’ll Getcha’, Part III
It’s a sad chapter, one about which we rarely speak.
Chris, Tony, Ryan and I met in high school (Ryan was actually in seventh grade, but close enough). MTV was all about Skid Row, Mr. Mister and Mike & The Mechanics at the time, but we weren’t feelin’ it.
One day after school, Chris and I discovered a dusty cardboard box in my attic. The box was one of the few relics left an my older sister, Penelope — from whom we haven’t heard since she left home to become a flight attendent at seventeen-years-old — was chocked full of amazing records: The Clash, Husker Du, Pylon, Guadalcanal Diary, Joy Division. Really great stuff.
The four of us spent entire afternoons in my basement listening to those records on a beat up Realistic Hi-Fi, pantomiming the parts. It was until just prior the Trippleberry High School Battle Of The Bands that it occurred to us that we could play those songs ourselves — or at least try.
Thus, Buckeye was born.
We performed a new song call “Wonderful” (later to be re-jiggered as “Wonderwall,” then stolen and made famous by Oasis) at the Battle Of The Bands. Unfortunately, a far more accomplished quartet of juniors, Deke Dylan & The Drillbits, took top prize with an incindiary power-pop song called “Labotomize U.” (Incidently, Deke went on to join “Life is a Highway” one-hit-wonder Tom Cochrane’s touring band and was last seen stepping off a tour bus in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.)
The crushing loss galvanized us. We started eating right, jogging, and lifting weights. We took to studying Bob Dylan’s lyrics, Bob Mould’s vocals, Mick Jones guitar sound, Michael Lachowski bass lines and and John Poe’s drum patterns. We studied the great songwriters, from Rogers & Hammerstein to Lennon & McCartney. We wrote a thousand crappy songs before we cracked the code.
We broke through with a little song called “Girlfriend” — and we knew it. It was a simple dual-guitar, 1-3-5 blues number about meeting a girl (in this case, the focus of Tony’s sixteen-year-old affection, Susie Plouchbaum, a toe-headed, sleepy-eyed freshman who worshipped Sylvia Plath and Robert Smith in equal measure). You know the song: Matthew Sweet made it huge just a few years later. Here’s how our publicist, Billie Fleckman (yes, Bobbie’s daughter), summarized that August and everything after in last week’s three paragraph press release:
Just over eighteen years ago, a quartet of natty teens took the then-fledgling CMJ Festival by storm. Buckeye’s electrifying set at Greenwich Village’s Electric Banana (don’t look for it; it’s not there) became the high water mark of ’90s alternative pop performances, featuring incendiary guitar playing, saccharine vocal hooks, and knock-down, drag-out onstage fistfights.
Years later, Buckeye’s songs have been made famous by many of the musicians who witnessed this now-legendary flameout: Oasis, Matthew Sweet, The Dandy Warhols, Paul Westerberg, and The Gin Blossoms, to name just a few. Due to ongoing litigation with their defunct (but well-represented) record label, Flaming Cochlea, the quartet remains destitute, unknown, and relegated to selling pints of blood, quarts of saliva, and radio jingles (yunno’ that PC Richards’ whistle?) to make ends meet.
This Saturday night, Chris Abad, Tony Maceli, Ryan Vaughn and Benjamin Wagner reclaim their rightful place in the pantheon of ’90s alternative greats and salvage their reputation as America’s Most Punctual Rock Band.
There aren’t a ton of worse things to call a band than “cover band” (“wedding band” is a close second), so the fact that everyone thinks that’s what we are kind of galls me. Without us, Oasis wouldn’t have “Wonderwall.” Without us, Cracker wouldn’t have “Low.” Without us, there would be no Gin Blossoms (Bill Leen was in my biology class). Hell, the way Rolling Stone put it in its 2003 “Where Are They Know” cover story (well, it was in the Random Notes section anyway), we started the whole thing.
Borrowing from The Beatles and Bacharach and a panpoly of neatly-disguised and freshly-packaged influences, Buckeye virtually invented 90s alternative rock.
But what can ya’ do? Life hands you lemons…
… You rock out.
So we did.
We played ten of our hits for just the third time in eighteen years there in the basement of The Knitting Factory Saturday night. Tony’s mustache is graying. Chris’ forhead is growing. Ryan’s lost most of his hearing. I’ve got a paunch. But yunno what? It still works. There’s plenty of magic left. All fourteen people in the crowd’ll tell you so.
I’m not sure we’ll ever perform again, though. Some of the wounds are just too deep and painful. Many of those pesky sores too.
We did begin the show promptly at 11:02, though. So we’ve still got that goin’ for us.