The first acoustic trio I was a part of existed for about a four-month period, over 40 years ago. This was back East in the heady (in every sense) countdown to the end of high school. Two of my fellow members in the Wheaton (Maryland) Choir, Steve Rice and Lynn Gianini, just happened to be dead ringers for Richard and Karen Carpenter, whose songs had “only just begun” to influence and hold sway over our budding teen libidos. To the public at large, the Carpenters’ music was soothing, pleasing, inoffensive. With us, it also got us hot ‘n’ bothered and hot ‘n’ buttered; its sweet sugar was thick and sticky — not modest enough to conceal its adventurous throb of sweet, sticky sex. In short, their songs were groovy makeout numbers, a memorable soundtrack to our young carnal escapades. Yeah — makeout music for cupid’s couch, with a cherry on top.
So we formed what had to be one of the earliest “tribute bands” known to man, woman, or Republican.
Steve did a bit of back-up harmonizing and (unlike Richard Carpenter) played the only instrument, his guitar. Lynn sang lead, having perfected the Karen voice after countless hous of listening and practice — often at parties when she and I had ended up in some dark corner or under some big table, engaging in yet another round of Bucking Bronco.
We rehearsed our act for several weeks after school at Steve’s very big house — his parents were usually gone — and soon knew we had something pretty entertaining and actually very, very good. Soon enough we had become the major draw at the Friday night “CoffeeHouses,” which the school’s folk club had recently instigated in our (candle-lit) cafeteria.
These much-anticipated little hippy fests were quickly springing up at other high schools in the county, and quite soon it wouldn’t be rare for Folk You (our chosen name) to be the featured group at three or four different locations on the same evening. Three voices, one instrument, and we did the Carpenters proud. Until the controversy.
By this period, I had innocently believed that we’d all truly learned something — or several things — from the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. The importance of a character’s content over physical appearance, when applied to our trio, would seem to bestow a primacy on our music that would override any perceived cosmetic irregularity, but things turned out a bit differently with us during our much-anticipated debut at a venerable Catholic school.
The principal or generalissimo or whatever he’s called at places like that refused to let us go on until we “corrected,” as he put it, our “inappropriate and uncalled for” appearance, being no more specific than that before turning his back and angrily rushing away.
We had heard that this school had a rigid dress code but hadn’t expected it to extend to visiting entertainers. And we were certainly not unwashed — Lynn and I had taken an hour-long bubble bath at Steve’s house that very afternoon — and our stage attire was always freshly dry-cleaned.
(At this point, I must indulge in a four-decade flash-forward, and I promise to be brief:)
I stumbled upon that Occupy Civic Center/Woodstock-On-Concrete by accident on a recent weekend and became pleased with the participants’ insistance on voicing their feelings about whatever it was they were feeling. And I felt very good for them that the media seemed interested in feelings that could only seem to be defined in very broad generalities. How much better it could be if they could learn something of specificity, I decided; perhaps I could provide an example. So I constructed and painted a big placard that said “Free Phil Spector and Lindsay Lohan” and raised it proudly in front of the TV cameras, which unfortunately didn’t catch some reeking malcontent tearing it from my hands, ripping it up, and threatening to kick my (posterior) if I didn’t (get the hell out of Dodge). I get it now: free speech for some. Not all.
Sorry, Phil and Lindsay. I tried.
(Back to the Folk You saga:)
And so that night, which we called the Night of Parochial Paranoia ever after, got us quite a bit of press and a great deal of increased interest and letters to the editor but it didn’t matter anyway because school was ending and Steve and Lynn and I were each heading in different directions, to different states.
I headed West, where I met Craig Ingraham and Debra Masterson. Forty years later, we’ve formed an acoustic trio — one instrument (guitar, again) and three voices, doing Craig’s own quite-charming originals. Except for Craig having to come down from Los Angeles when we perform, it’s lots of fun and we’ve been having a blast, particularly at Rebecca’s in South Park (won’t you stop by and see us?).
A Folk You reunion always had seemed destined to be, and with Karen Carpenter gone, it seemed increasingly necessary. Not to show anybody “how it’s done” — we were never delusional, just frisky — but to remind ourselves and our own contemporaries of the fine music and the fun times — like good carpenters we had all yearned to polish the wood one more time. Our 10th or 20th or even 40th high school reunion back East would be an ideal time and place.
Or would have, had Lynn not been killed in a plane crash in Chicago in 1979 and Steve in Vietnam in 1972. My own soul has been under attack — incidents like those two above, killing it bit by bit over the decades, with joys like music working hard to piece it back together.
Treasured always on my living room wall is a large blowup of a Polaroid that a very cute girl took backstage at that Catholic school so very long ago, as Lynn and Steve and I waited to do the show we never would. It’s perhaps five or six minutes before that angry prefect would burst our bubble. On the left is dear Steve Rice, smiling through his blond Buster Brown scruff. Center is beautiful Lynn, shining like her voice and smile, so like Karen Carpenter, so close to me then, to her left. Yup, me there, smiling, costumed once again as Jesus Christ, who was a Carpenter too.
The Craig Ingraham Band will play at 7pm on Thursday, November 17, at Rebecca’s, 3015 Juniper St. in South Park.