My buddy James would have said it was all just a little too on the nose.
I first met him around ’75 or ’76 in a class on Surrealism. He and his brother Dave were both in the class. I didn’t get to know them then. I don’t even remember talking with them. I think I complimented them on their final project: a four handed piano duet of the theme from Exodus — with each keyboardist playing in a different key.
It was… uh… challenging listening.
A couple years later, I would be in a local cover band dive drinking semi-cheap beer and listening to some surprisingly good pub rock from a band called the Daily Planet. It was a decidedly unhip room with a decidedly unhip crowd, for the most part, but I noticed a party of 8 or so trendy looking twentysomethings — well, they had short hair and dark clothes — not locals, I decided.
No One Said Nothin’
more music links at end of post
When a pretty young blonde appeared by my elbow as I watched the band and asked me to dance I decided this was not a typical cheap beer Thursday. When she invited me to join her party I thought it was getting interesting.
As we sat at the table, she leaned conspiratorially close and whispered, The guy at the end of the table is my brother. He doesn’t like people to make any fuss which is why we came here. Do you know that band, The Knack? (The insipid but ingratiating “My Sharona” was inescapable on the radio at the time.) My brother is Doug Feiger, the lead singer.
I looked at him.
He did look eerily familiar. Kind of like Feiger. But eerily familiar.
I decided to play it blase.
You know who that is, don’t you? She asked. She seemed just the slightest bit offended that I might not.
I assured her I did — but I bit my tongue rather than follow my first impulse and launch into a frank evaluation of the song’s merits, possibly leading to a tirade on existential burden of its oppressive ubiquity.
It was not every day, after all, even then, that a pretty blonde asked me to dance and join her at her table.
The people at her table all seemed glib and glamorous… too cool, I thought at the time, to be associated with a band like The Knack.
And, at what clearly was the head of the joined tables was the guy I just couldn’t quite believe was Doug Feiger, flirting with the women and verbally jousting with everyone. He was assured, witty, sophisticated.
Clearly, he wasn’t Doug Feiger.
In fact, it would turn out that he was one of the two brothers playing that tweaked out four-handed Exodus I’d heard in my Surrealism class several years earlier. He’d recognized me from class and prodded his younger sister (drinking on a very fake ID) to bring me back to the table. She came up with the Doug Feiger gambit on her own, I guess.
James was then 21 and still at the university. I’d find out later that the huge, sharp Caddy he was driving belonged to his employers, ultra-wealthy Newport Beach nouveau riche types for whom he was a sort of butler/personal assistant/retainer.
(I’d later find out that the boss on that job was an utterly infamous investment scam artist who’d been on full page ads on the back of Sunday supplements and on late night commercials for years working his ultimately rather uninmaginative but surprisingly effective pyramid scheme. Years later, after the investment scammer hard died, James would be hired to rewrite the book for the widow who was preparing a new round of book blitzing as the memory of her late husband’s sins faded. He’d end up doing three times the work and getting 1/3 the pay he expected… no writing credit and no residuals, of course. It goes without saying.)
James Norling was a fine singer, a strong rhythm guitarist, and at his best a great — if not ultimately prolific — writer. I’d been in a couple punk bands and a no wave dance band but I was really anxious to do something else. I’d been listening to a lot of Joy Division and Magazine and when I found out that James was into much of the same moody, art-damaged music I’d been listening to (he had a truly amazing record collection… Eno, Can, Faust, Cale, old Pentangle) I felt like I’d really found a musical soul mate.
It seemed natural to introduce James and my buddy Rick Black, who lived about a 30 second walk away from the house James shared with his sister Sheila, the pretty blonde I’d danced with that night.
At the time Rick was just finding himself as a guitarist. He had speed and power but unlike a lot of guitarists of the era, he also knew how to play in between the notes, how to bend and sing notes lyrically.
Rick was the fauvist bluesman, I was the fervid, mic-swallowing punk, and James was the urbane sophisticate… what I guess you’d call your metrosexual kinda guy. I was surprised, at the time, when I found out he’d never been to Europe. But then I had to remind myself he was barely into his twenties.
Like any new band of the era, it took us a while to find a drummer. After some false starts and dead ends we ended up with a young guy named Marty, who was just out of high school and going out with James’ sister.
Marty brought a muscular, tom-heavy punkish tribal drive to the band. With Rick riffing and occasional twisting off into soaring or searing feedback-edged solos, me playing a usually overdriven bass (and switching off to lead guitar every third or fourth song — every bass players dream), and Marty’s pounding polyrhythms, it was left to James’ rhythm guitar to somehow anchor each song with edgy backbeats and quirky chopping rhythms.
First we were the Dogmatics. For a week we were the Wacky Wabits, and finally we settled on Machine Dog* — inspired by the needlepoint illustration of a particularly classic English Bulldog on the wall of our practice space in the back of a furniture store in Orange. (*Not, not not to be confused a certain set of latter day poseurs who no doubt came up with the name of their band independently — around a decade later.)
We played through most of 1980 and into 1981 — even through a fall where first James had a nasty carwreck where he broke his ankle and ruptured his spleen removed… or was it gall bladder… one of the ones that isn’t that big a deal. Gall bladder. I dunno. Anyhow. Bummer. We played as a 3 piece for a couple weeks unitl James came back. That was August 23, 1980.
A precise month later, Marty the drummer got in a fight in the bleachers of his old high school when one of his ex classmates and class rivals gave him a hard time for cutting his hair to be in a punk/new music band. Marty easily to the best of the other guy bur somehow ended up with his ankle caught in the bleachers and broke it. The ankle, I mean. James and Rick and I played three weeks without a drummer. His accident was September 23. Like I said, a precise month later.
One more precise calendar month later, on the night of October 23, I was riding my motorcycle home from a Mexican restaurant about 4-1/2 miles from my apartment when a driver t-boned me, breaking my femu, my hip — and my ankle.
(Rick and his girlfriend [now wife] were away on a trip up the coast. I said a little prayer for them — but I figured the real vortex of improbable patterns would make November 23rd the real threat. Happily, Rick, by staying very very still in a very safe place, was able to avoid calamity, thereby breaking the jinx and perhaps saving the world as we know it.)
Our buddy Steve Becker, a fine guitarist and harmonicist in his right, filled in for me on bass — and when I got out of the hospital two months after my accident, I was back at practice a week later. In a walker. But there.
part 2, coming soon…
Today, September 22, at 9:03 pm, PDT, marks the Autumnal Equinox, the moment in the year when day and night are closest to equal in length.
It is also the anniversery of A Year of Songs.
My “Someone Said Something” was probably my friend James Norling’s favorite in my songbook and he insisted — no, really, he insisted — that he or I or, occasionally, our pal Jose Alba perform the song at almost every party, barbecue, picnic or poker game where a guitar came out. It became a running gag but it never really ended.
Until this last week.
James Norling passed away unexpectedly. He lost consciousness and never woke up. He was 49, if I’m doing my math right.
I’ll offer this wordless version of “Someone Said Something” as my final song for A Year of Songs. Well… this year of songs.
This one’s for you, James.
No One Said Nothin’