The Worst Band in the World

They were, by all accounts, the worst band in the history of the world. The accounts themselves were few, of course. If there had been too many, they might have ascended above their categorization on the strength of sheer numbers. Instead, people–they really had no fans–talked to me and told me about the times they had heard them play. Only one of the subjects I spoke to had heard them play more than once, which made sense, because, as Hank said, why would anyone see them twice?

They weren’t enjoyable in any way, and it’s important to note this, since I live in, and am writing for, a post-ironic age. If you attended a show for the purpose of ironic appreciation, a phrase that is here being appropriated to mean “actual appreciation that comes from extra-musical elements, but can’t be admitted without utilizing irony as a ten-foot pole with which to touch the object of said appreciation”, you would be disappointed, as several, not many, were. Having heard that a very bad band–no one knew yet that they were the worst, because if they had, the audience for superlatives may have, as mentioned earlier, pushed them up a rank or two–was playing at some dive downtown, Greg and Amy had gone to hear them. They stood close to the stage and listened for maybe three, four minutes, two songs, and then, across the bar, saw Ed and Gina who waved them over. By the time they’d crossed the small room, they’d forgotten a band was even playing. When I interviewed them, they had to be reminded of the night. It was also the night Ed was hit by a car.

No one remembered their name except the members. They were called The Heads, which, while not the worst moniker ever bestowed upon a subpar bar band, was certainly among the least distinguished. Alan told me that they had considered “The Screaming Wombats”, “Alan and the Architects” and “Danger, Will Robinson!” but had opted for The Heads because it took far less time to stencil on Harry’s drum kit. Harry himself told me that it took longer to take off than to put on. He took it off the day before they broke up.

The Heads biggest show took place downtown, at a festival intended for the young but populated mostly by the old. The most involved audience member was an old woman in a wheelchair, who sat close to the stage all night, not moving except to adjust the tube to her oxygen tank. Jenny, the bass player, told me that she had interpreted the woman’s occasional movements as some esoteric dance. It provided her with the only burst of joy she received during her entire three month tenure in The Heads. Two days later, a seventeen year old kid was dancing in front of the stage, dancing like crazy, until he fell down and seized up. The EMTs told Joey, the keyboard player, that he’d been so full of heroin he probably hadn’t know his own name, and that the kid was deaf anyway. Joey’s keyboard had been on the fritz anyway.

The Heads never really settled on a style, but they were capable of making anything their own. They started, according to Jack, the tambourine player, as a psycho-billy post-punk mashup, but, upon learning that their singer couldn’t yell due to throat polyps and their guitarist couldn’t play the pentatonic scale due to a lack of skill, they tried their hands at everything: freak-folk, ambient, post-rock, strummy acoustic rock, country, atonal wailing–anything that required very little in the way of skill or tonality. John’s parents, who had bought him the mandolin and indirectly started the whole thing, said they couldn’t really tell the difference between the different iterations of the band, which The Heads took as a compliment on their unique sound.

Their final show, which took place in the basement of Casa Roca High School during a blackout, was an acoustic set of Neil Young covers. Eden, their DJ, couldn’t plug in her turntables, so she raked her abnormally long fingernails against the chalkboard to similar effect. “I wasn’t worried,” she told me in our interview. “they were fake anyway.” It was attended by the members of the band, the janitor, and two students who had fallen asleep in each other’s arms, who, when I asked them, claimed they hadn’t woken up until the power came back on.

The Heads split after three months together, citing differences. Although Jake attributed his lack of interest to the paucity of interesting piccolo parts in The Heads’ music, the official story, not that anyone heard it, was that The Heads had accomplished all that they wanted to accomplish, and also that Ted, the percussionist had lost a foot.

Only Travis, the singer/songwriter,  seemed upset about The Heads breaking up. After the split, he’d attended at the conservatory for several months, until his vocal teacher informed him that, although spirit was important, it was not all that was important, and gently implied that Travis might find a better way to spend his money. Travis took this as a sign and enrolled in an Creative Writing MFA, hoping to parlay his experience writing lyrics into a career in letters. Two weeks after enrollment, during the “critique” section of the class period, a fellow student told Travis that his poems weren’t that bad. He followed up by affirming that he was proud of Travis for taking up writing, even though English wasn’t his first language. After class, he put in an application at Subaru.

I got the band together one more time, sans instruments, at Patino’s Pizza, and over a meat-lovers, we discussed their short career. There were no grand statements, no proclamations of broken dreams and crushed ambitions. Roger summed it up best, when he said, “There were a lot of bands that wanted my xylophone. But most of them were good.”

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