One of the things I rememer about being 19 is how very important it was for every movement I made to be cool. And when stepping on stage to play a Battle of the Bands show at The Five Points Music Hall, it was especially important to look cool. Unwinding a cord? Cool. Plugging in an amplifier? Cool. And, for the record, I never would have called it an "amplifier" – rather, an "amp." My band Exit Io was always hopelessly out-of-tune, our ragged instruments always on the verge of breaking. We carried Duct Tape with us at all times, which we used to hastily fix our equipment. And we did it while trying to look cool.
At the competition, we played three songs and managed to mess up every one of them. We sped up our requisite power ballad. We started and stopped songs completely out of sync with each other. When we finished playing, I stormed off, certain we'd lost to that band where the singer had one of those annoying Eddie Vedder voices that everyone was copying in those days.
Actually, I stuck around after our "set" at The Music Hall long enough to hear one of the bands playing in the college division of the competition. They were called Drill and had a song where the chorus was, "Schizophrenia is what I need." Then, they had a song about trees. Which seemed then – as it does now – an odd juxtaposition. But then I left. I was sulking. I blamed our drummer. I blamed our singer (who, for the record, did not sing like Eddie Vedder). Then, I got a phone call from the only member of our band who had stuck around until the end. Apparently, we had done something right, because we'd won. Then we played City Stages and made $500 and a couple of years later we "broke up." And that was that.
I continued to play some music around Birmingham – though, to be honest, I was never really that good at it. Plus, I realized in about 2004 that I'm not very cool. See, I like to read too much to ever rock. Unless you play in The Decemberists, being well-read and liking history do not mix well with playing rock 'n' roll music. Did you know that none of The Rolling Stones can even read? OK, this isn't true, but you get the point. How can you have time to read when you're busy growing your ZZ Top beard? Even if you tried to read, your beard would cover the pages! I rest my case.
However, I bring up all of this because last Sunday I was asked to represent Birmingham Weekly as a judge in this year's Battle of the Bands. And the circle was completed. Actually, I had a blast doing it. Because I can no longer look cool, I tried to look somewhat important, a facade that quickly broke down once I spilled my drink all over myself and then nearly tripped while walking to the bathroom to clean myself up. The bands this year were all surprisingly good. From what I heard, the City Stages people all agreed that this year's Battle of the Bands was one of the best.
One of the best, but not the best. Because in my opinion (the humble opinion, by the way, of both a former winner and a judge), the best Battle of the Bands occured back in 1999, when a motely group of pimpled kids calling themselves Exit Io stepped on stage and played music that was moderately tolerable if hopelessly out-of-tune.
We were the Bad News Bears of local music. And we won.
– John Seay