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Friday, February 3, 2012

Speaking of Michelangelo - The Back Story

Back in the late 80's - probably 1988 or so, I was playing in a band with Mssrs. (Michaels) Taggart and Lyon and a fellow named Chris Rogers, who now lives in Minnesota and likes to fish. The band was called the Hired Help and we practiced at Lyon's house in Tempe, near Broadway and 48th street. I was usually early for practice, as I am prompt and promptness is one of my more admirable qualities.

This particular day, I was early for practice and Mr. Lyon, being a Buddhist, was getting ready to chant. Since I was beleagured that day with a hangover, I took the news of his chanting in stride and flopped onto the couch and threw an arm over my eyes to keep the light out.

If you are not familiar with Buddhist chanting, it is just that - chanting. A simple phrase, repeated over and over again in a monotone that resembles, sonically, a hive of bees preparing for battle. "Nam, Myoho, Renge Kyo..." Over and over again. The phrase is one of devotion and is very pretty and even though I am not Buddhist, I found myself tapping my foot to the chanting's catchy rhythm.

I had been reading "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" by TS Eliot and had found myself intrigued by the line "In the room the women come and go, speaking of Michelangelo". As I lay on the couch, listening to Lyon chanting like a madman with a low-grade fever, I began to say the line from the poem in the same rhythm as the chanting - "In the room the women- come - and - go, speaking of Michelan - ge - lo..."

That evening, I picked up a guitar and wrote the song, blatantly stealing a couple of more stanzas from the poem and writing a third verse of my own and adding the chanting of the phrase in the middle. Later, Mike Lyon and I recorded a version of it in the practice room, where he played drums and I overdubbed all the other parts. It sounded something like this: Speaking of Michelangelo

The idea of a novel about a tragic rock star began playing on my mind sometime later and it eventually became the sad story of Benny Minus, whose luck ran from bad to horrible. I made Benny the author of a hit - "Speaking of Michelangelo" and walked Benny through the highs and lows of being a one-hit wonder with a predisposition toward the darker, shadow-world of show business.

While writing the book, I relied on memories of my own and learned a lot about the world of the music business from my friends Mark and Lawrence Zubia, who at the time were fronting and up and coming act called the Pistoleros, who had recently released their first album on Hollywood records and had tremendous insight to share from their experiences in the slick business of making records and touring to promote the efforts.

Looking back, both are great memories - the song came easily, the book was hard work. It is a particularly dark piece and writing the violent and sleazy parts made me uncomfortable at the keyboard. I may have drank some Scotch... If any young bands would like to cover a snappy pop-tune or any filmakers want to jump on Benny Minus' dark tale of tragedy, my number's in the book...

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