On Tuesday morning, January 11, I got B’gocked.
Now, I don’t know what Fuzz of Deep Banana Blackout had in mind as the definition of this term when he used it to title the album he recently released with his “On the Corner” side project. However, I do know that, around Disco Biscuits circles, this term has become synonymous with the sort of things that this band does to the heads of their listeners. Let me explain: put simply, a “b’gock” is a bushwhack, an ambush, the equivalent of a Prussian Hussar receiving a swift kick in the side of the head from his trusty mule when he (the Hussar) least expects it. A b’gock is any act which violently disorients, confuses, injures, or surprises an individual. The term is almost universally applicable-just as easily as it can be applied to the feeling one has after witnessing a particularly amazing jam (i.e., the “Bisco B’gock”), it can also reference the way one feels after a particularly amazing blunt (the “Blunty B’gock”). B’gocks come in all shapes in sizes, are completely unpredictable, and can come from any direction. For instance, your grandmother can b’gock you with a frying pan if you diss on her brisket; your professor can b’gock you with an exam on the Monday immediately following a two night run at the Wetlands; an overzealous buddy can b’gock his new glass piece right outside of Legend’s Lounge by leaping from a seated position in order to demonstrate to you the urgency of a riff that Trey played during the Phil Lesh’s guest appearance with Phish at the Shoreline Amphitheater last September. All this aside, over the course of the past year, a year that, for some, will be remembered as the “Year of the B’Gock,” it is the Disco Biscuits who seem to have cornered the market on b’gocks in my neighborhood.
To be perfectly honest, ever since the Biscuits moved into the tenement next door, not only have property values plummeted, but the b’gock market in my neighborhood has started to more resemble a crack cartel than your average jam band scene. What once was a patchouli-scented community made up of innocently spun Deadheads and Phish Phans has, almost overnight, deteriorated into a ramshackle slum at the hands of the block’s most notorious pusher. The neighborhood is now populated by unsuspecting people from various walks of life, fundamentally good people who have sworn off normalcy in order to devote themselves to the pursuit of an inexpensive, highly addictive, and readily available intoxicant. As much as I hate to disappoint our critics, I’m talking strictly in metaphors here. Contrary to popular belief, the “average” Biscuit fan does not take any more drugs than the “average” fan of any other jam band. Rather, in our case, it’s music, more specifically, the music of the Disco Biscuits, that we’re cracked out on. In this neighborhood, it’s not a batch of cheap crank cooked up in a nearby trailer park that’s got us hooked, but the music of the Disco Biscuits, mainlined right into our brains, which had done us in.
For many readers, this analogy may seem highly fitting, not to mention humorously satisfying. I’ve read other columnists on Jambands.com describe how Discuss Biscuits, the band’s e-mail discussion list, surpasses other band-relating lists in the all-important “I was sooo fucked up posts-per-digest” statistic. Visitors from other lists have informed us that our “drug abuse” and “closed-mindedness” have made us the “laughing stock” of the greater jam band community. We’ve been called a “traveling ecstasy circus” by one club owner. We’ve also more than once been recognized for our role in having had a venue manager call whomever is in charge of booking talent for their club into their office for a “sit down.” At worst, we are derided as the black sheep of the jam band community. At best, outsiders nervously laugh us off as “cultish” and avoid us at festivals and on-line.
As a result the slamming we take regularly at the hands of fans of other bands, many Biscuits fans have come to recognize themselves simultaneously as members of and outcasts from the scene that this magazine targets. Being a Biscuits fan isn’t like being involved with another jam band. On the most superficial level, we don’t have drum circles outside the shows. We don’t make any pretense of embracing traditional hippie philosophies, and we don’t promote hemp. We, and the music of the band we love, are most definitely not “mellow.” Our band of choice does not celebrate its connections with the earth, with the mythology of the wild West, or with the folk roots of American music. Instead, we embrace a band whose music is decidedly urban, progressive, and violently intense, a band whose performances we evaluate on the merit of their ability to leave us feeling as if we had been physically mauled by the relentless barrage of futuristic sounds. We often leave shows limping and bruised, bearing more resemblance to someone who had just spent the past three hours sparring with an angry malfunctioning robot rather than attending a concert. We rally around a band that’s one part pro-wrestling, one part twisted Japanimation, and one part whacked-out futuristic summer camp, a band that taunts us from their web page with the motto “We Hope You Survive” and from the stage by hacking their compositions into fragments which they later reassemble them into complex palindromes, sandwiches, inverses, and reversals. When I consider the fact that I’ve heard people describe their favorite set as “pure, unadulterated Bisco crack,” or their favorite jams as “the sonic equivalent of being chased by a scary, child molesting clown with a mouth full of maggots,” it comes as no wonder to me why the rest of the jam band community might think we’re suck a bunch of weirdos. In fact, I’ll be the fist to admit it: We are.
Like I said, Biscuits fans come from all walks of life, having gravitated towards the Biscuits from a variety of musical backgrounds. Techno. Dead. Phish. moe. Pods. Hardcore. Jazz. Funk. Hip Hop. Whatever. As is the case with most jam bands, a lot of the eggs in this omelet used to be the “typical jam band fans,” or, to use more precise demography, “white college students aged 18-22 with at least one pair of Birkenstocks.” Beat into the mix a smattering of more experienced eggs- er, I mean, heads- and some of the most vocal and high profile members of the jam band scene: Robert S. Turners, David Saslavskys, Jesse Jarnows, Benjy Eisens, plus Gadiel and various Kartzmen. And finally, when it starts to look like your omelet is ready to serve, violently smash open a few of the ugliest looking, “D” grade eggs you can find, eggs no one could have imagined before, let alone thought about eating. We’re talking government surplus eggs here, the kind you’ll find drinking out of poorly concealed Coors 18 ouncers out in front of the venue before show time, or maniacally instructing the auditorium to “Feel the Love Music” during the quiet parts of your favorite song. Take these guys and throw them right into the frying pan, too, shells and feathers and all. Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it? “Wait a second-waiter, can I see a menu? What the hell did I order?” The Bisco Omelet, chock full of useless brain tissue and ground-up skull, hundreds of individual eggs, cracked beyond repair by Bisco. After all, as the saying goes, you have to crack a few eggs if you want to make an omelet.
Hey all, this is Marc Brownstein. As many of you know, there has been trouble in paradise. The end result is that the other three members of the band have told me that they do not wish to continue touring with me as their bass player. Thus, I have been asked to leave the band. Although I am shocked at this decision, I wish to emphasize that the last 5 years have been a most unbelievable experience. And, as I have been left without a choice, I have no regrets. I would like to thank everyone for their undying support and I will miss you all greatly. “One day you’re all locked up…the next day you are free.”
If there is any one event which signifies the end of 1999 for me, it was receiving this message, e-mailed to Discuss Biscuits by Marc Brownstein, the band’s bass player. 1999 as a calendar year ended with me in Philadelphia, throwing down like the world was about to end, on the sloped and sticky floor of the Theatre of the Living Arts. As House Dog, Party Favor, bounded its way out through the PA, over seven hundred of us held our breath as the east coast counted its way down to midnight, completely unaware of the fact that, rather than a computer disaster or an act of international terrorism, the greatest threat that we faced in the New Millennium was cake. Yes, that’s right, cake, as in the cake that, in mere seconds, the band and their road crew would be pelting us with from up on the stage. At the strike of midnight, the Biscuits cranked their way through a medley of Pomp and Circumstance > Here Comes the Bride > Hail to the Chief before proceeding to lob large hunks of cake at their audience. In retrospect, the memories I have of this night and the cake make perfect sense, especially given the masochistic tendencies which appear in the “average” Biscuit fan. However, the point I want to make is not that we Biscuits fans dig it when our band beats on us, be it with cake or with music, but one that is even more “profound.” If a year is more than a collection of vacations, sick days, and unexcused absences (as surely was the year that the airborne cake commemorated) then it was not flying baked goods, but an e-mail message which, for me, marked the end of the year in which my life was taken over by a jam band.
There’s no question: jam band fans are weird. We do a lot of weird stuff. At the most basic level, we’re weird because we follow bands around the country. I’m sorry, but that’s just plain weird. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best to just admit it and resign yourself to the fact that the rest of the world, including the members of your favorite band, thinks you’re a goddamn lunatic. When you don’t, the delusions you may suffer from can rival those which pull the spandex over the eyes of the twelve year olds who believe in the veracity of the WWF wrestling. I remember when a large portion of my reality rested on me believing that Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat had been gravely injured, that he was really struggling to re-learn to speak with recently reconstructed vocal chords, and that he would, without a doubt, be ready to defend the Intercontinental Title against Jake “the Snake” Roberts at Wrestlemania IV in two weeks. Now, a decade later, I find myself engaged in world not unlike that of the adolescent Pro Wrestling nut. When I stop to think about it all, I realize that I’m just as deluded now as I was then. The soap operas, the intrigue, the impromptu alliances, the rivalries and trash talking, the monstrously inflated egos, the walking caricatures, the ridiculous personalities, the garish costumes-all of these elements can be found in both the world of Pro Wrestling and at the Wetlands on a typical Saturday night. Thinking back to when I was twelve, I vividly recall watching the at WCW (the “other” wrestling federation of my day) in utter disbelief, completely dumbfounded at how its fans could fall for something so cheap, so predictable, and so utterly unoriginal. Then, I’d switch on the VCR, grab a Rockin’ Razzberri Hi-C drink box and a mini Snickers out of the kitchen and pop in a worn-out VHS tape on which I had recorded the match in which “Macho Man” Randy Savage betrayed his comrade and brother, Hulk Hogan, in front of a sell-out crowd at Madison Square Garden.
As much as I’d like to say that I’ve matured in the ten years since the Hulkster went to the mat at the hands of his former buddy, I’ve recently started to notice that many of the tendencies which defined my engagement with pro wrestling have resurfaced in my relationship to the jam band scene. Just as I could never believe that some of my sixth grader classmates could prefer the WCW to the WWF, these days, I often find myself at a similar loss when I try to understand what people get from the music of Max Creek. When I argue with a moe. fan about whose scene is less lame, am I really any more mature then I was when I slapped a vicious sleeper hold on B.J. Paruka for calling the Ultimate Warrior a sell-out? What is perhaps the most striking parallel between these two equally improbable universes is that my enjoyment of the Biscuits (or of any other jam band, for that matter) often relies on the same conscious suspension of disbelief demanded by pro wrestling. I want to believe that both are real and meaningful, and so, therefore, I make them real, and invest in them meanings that they often do not deserve. I want to believe that the amazing jams in the first set were spontaneous and unplanned, and so they are. I want to believe that the blood spilled by the “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka in that steel cage match was his, and so it is. I want to believe that the guitar theme that Jon is playing resembles the chorus of another song, and so it does, and I mark it as a “tease” on my setlist. Both worlds require me to suspend the rules of reality in order to indulge in a fantasy that I know is not real, a fantasy that, even though I acknowledge it has no currency in the outside world, is still incredibly important to me.
The term Camp Bisco initially described set of shows that was to take place in Martha’s Vineyard over the Summer of 1999. Rather than approach the shows like a normal run, the band’s fans decided to turn the weekend into a summer camp for Biscuits fans. Camp fires. Sing-alongs. A talent shows. A scavenger hunt. Tennis lessons. The premise was simple: Can you remember the feeling of being eleven years old, of being away from home, of being guaranteed at least one candy bar a day at a regular hour? No parents, no school, no homework. Just hundreds of kids, running semi-wild, in a rural setting which invariably involved a lake and an island which, even though we were too young to realize it, bore an unsettling resemblance to the locale in which the Lord of the Flies was set. Camp Bisco would have been the equivalent of a camp for the big kids who never quite were able to adjust to the concept of spending summers working boring jobs or thankless internships. Unfortunately, all our planning was for naught, as the shows which were meant to transport us back to the summers of our pre-adolescent years were cancelled when, ironically enough, the venue wouldn’t extend an invitation to these shows to the under 21 set.
So, the original Camp Bisco never was. Instead, we brought its core concept (that what people our age could benefit most from was to be shipped back to the kids-only world of summer camp) to the All Good Festival last May. Here, “Camp Bisco” came to describe both a physical location (Brownie side of the stage, past the last port-a-potty, hang a right at the patchwork Camp Bisco banner) and a group of kids varying in age from 16 to 35. Unlike the stage lighting rig, Camp Bisco survived that weekend in the rubbish-filled lots of Wilmer’s Park, both as a concept in outdoor recreation and as a way of describing the inhabitants of the fantasyland that is Biscuit tour. The actual event known officially as “Camp Bisco” ended up happening outside of Cherry Tree, PA three months later. To tell you the truth, I was in the process of driving across Montana, Idaho, and Washington that weekend, so I’m probably not the best person to tell you about it. However, the fact that such an event could even have happened confirms for me the appeal of the regression which Biscuit tour, or any other jam band tour, for that matter, encourages of its participants.
“Alright, remember when you were a little kid and you didn’t know anything about reality and you were always in your imaginary world? And now you’re like ‘Where the fuck is that imaginary world when I need it?.’ Well, here it is.”- Jon Gutwillig, from the stage of the Georgia Theater, 10.22.99
No doubt this quotation has the potential to raise the ire of that same crowd that balked at a promotional poster which identified the Biscuits as “Musical Shape Shifters for the Next Millennium.” Nevertheless, I would be hard pressed to come up with a better way to explain why the Disco Biscuits appeal so greatly to me and so many others.
Can you recall the freedom that childhood ignorance allowed you? Do you remember getting caught up, in a Pro Wrestling main event, in your camp’s Color War, in action figures, or in some other extremely meaningless and yet extremely absorbing pursuit? Sure, its kids stuff. But, still, even long after the point at which we’re officially supposed to have outgrown such foolishness, most adults still harbor the same ability to become completely caught up in meaningless pursuits. Anything can b’gock your life, can take control of it, mix it up, and spit it out into a paper napkin. For some its professional sports. For others its Beverly Hills, 90210. For me, its camp. Camp Bisco, that is. Camp Bisco is just like real camp, but it’s a little better Why? Because, unlike at real camp, at Camp Bisco, the campers actually were allowed to try the crazy stuff that they advertised in the camp brochures. Stuff like archery and riflery and SCUBA diving with harpoon guns; you know, the obscure but exciting stuff that they would say was “currently unavailable” once you actually got to “real camp.” In addition to swim meets, capture the flag, and macaroni art, as campers, we created our own rituals, secret languages, and instant mythologies. We gave each other nicknames, inflated our counselors into hilariously grotesque caricatures, and each developed and nurtured our own “camp personalities,” personas that often had little to do with the way we were in “real life.” Biscuits shows served the same purpose for us that spirit nights or talent shows did for the kids I attended summer camp with back in the day, inviting us to perform in front of a collected crowd of our fellow campers. Before half of 1999 was through, things had gotten to the point where each show meant two performances-the one on the stage and the one in front of it. Which performance was more interesting could vary from night to night. It was as if the campers had wrestled full control of the camp’s operations from its directors and counselors, and that the children had been let free to roam wild. One thing was certain, however-something weird was going on at Camp Bisco.
Somewhere along the line, that something weird came to be known as “The Disco Biscuits in the Nine Nine” by the inhabitants of Camp Bisco. Even though it stuck and later was plastered across both a best-selling tee-shirt and the band’s official web site, throughout the time that it described, the slogan never struck me as being that profound. However, ever since Marc Brownstein’s departure, this phrase has grown more and more meaningful to me. For, in addition to recognizing the year in which I and those around me got b’gocked by jam band, “The Disco Biscuits in the Nine Nine” also identifies the events of last year as finite, as ending, as limited to the period between the beginning of the last Winter Tour and Marc’s departure. Days before the announcement was made, I was still high on the same child-like optimism that I had gone to bed full on as a 12 year old the night before Wrestlemania, or the night before camp started. It was the excitement that came when I knew I still had the privilege of immersing myself into some crazy imaginary world, a world completely lacking the urgency and responsibility that “reality” entailed.
As this calendar year began, I was still at camp, at Camp Bisco. I was still glued to my TV, absorbed in the drama of a wicked WWF tag team bout between the Killer Bee’s and Demolition. I was contemplating the next show that would get me and my friends on planes, crossing the country for another long weekend of music and b’gocks. Now, that optimism has been replaced by a nostalgia for the “simpler days,” for the times when I could still see the Biscuits with the ignorance and innocence of a twelve year old who finds nothing strange with staying up all night to watch wrestling on TV. However, on the other hand, I now also can find a lot of optimism in a phrase that, at one point, had no real meaning for me. For, perhaps just as there was a “Disco Biscuits in the Nine Nine” there is also bound to be a “Disco Biscuits in the Oh-Oh,” in the “Oh-One,” “Oh-Two,” and so on. That part of me wants to believe that summer camp meets pro wrestling thing can and will continue.
Surely none of the b’gocks which the Biscuits pulled on me could have ever prepared me for the one which dropped when I found that Marc was no longer a member of the band. Nonetheless, I think I might have convinced myself that the experience has been far less traumatic than it would have been if, for instance, at age twelve someone had told me that “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan’s victory at the Summer Slam had been rigged. So, instead, I’ve chosen to mix metaphors, and to look at what’s happened as signifying the end of nothing more than another great summer. As everyone who ever went to camp might recall, the best thing about the end of summer was counting down the months until the next summer began. Who knew what new activities and stunts the directors and counselors had in store for us when we would return to camp the following June after eight months “normal” life? Not me, that’s for sure. Who knows what the Biscuits will have in store for us when they return to the stage in their next incarnations, after three full months off the road? Again, you got me. However, I would be willing to gamble that one thing is for certain: whatever happens, it’ll likely b’gock the Carharts off of me, give my life another massive shake-up, and leave me feeling like I had just survived a thirty man, steel cage battle royal.
(Between you and me, I’ve got a feeling its going to be one hell of a b’gock.)
Bret Maxwell Dawson would prefer it if you did not call him Bret or Dawson, but just plain Maxwell.