Here and there, now and then, I’ve written music. Sometimes I’ve even been in a band. The first was The Figskinz. Danny Johnson, Pete Rinaldi, and I formed “rock’s most influential band” back in 1987 when we all went down to the Musician’s Trading Post on Ocean Street in Santa Cruz and purchased electric guitars. Rob Tranchina later joined us, first on drums before trading with Pete to play bass.
Among my favorite memories with the Figz was headlining Cow Chip Bingo at the Santa Cruz High football field (believe me, it was kind of a big deal) and playing during “Brunch” at Harbor High School on the East side of town. At that gig, in the middle of Sweet Child O’ Mine, I realized I had no business trying to sing as high as Axl Rose, so I turned to the other guys and waved my arms to get them to stop. Without missing a beat, Pete looked up at me and insistently nodded for me to continue, which I did, an octave down. It was an absurd rendition, vocally speaking, but it broke the ice with our erstwhile rival school. Now that we were human they started to cheer us on, even groaning when the bell rang and the administration cut our power while we continued to play an unamplified version of Blitzkrieg Bop.
Here’s an original Figskinz song called “5 Billion to 1”:
It’s a bit eerie to think that the population of the Earth in 1988 was roughly five billion people and today it is close to eight billion. The lyrics, written when I was 16, conveyed the sense of bearing the weight of the world and feeling alone: “It may surprise you there are some things we can’t mend. For example, life itself could end. We have the power to do it very soon. You know we could do it by this very noon…”
In my senior year, the Figskinz broke up. I’m not exactly sure why, but it had to do with the way people change. For my part, I got involved in the drama program, stopped doing sports, and started applying to college. I stayed friends with Danny and Pete, but things changed. I fell in with some other musicians – they were in the band who accompanied our school’s production of Godspell. Aron Wiesenfeld played guitar and was a creative wizard with a drum machine, effects hardware, and an 8-track recorder. David Isbister played keyboard really well and was an informed fan of every great 80’s mod rock band. We later recruited Andrew “Sticks” McGraw for our live performances. Our band was called “Stigmata.” (We later found out there was already a metal band called Stigmata, but we stuck with the name.)
Here’s an original Stigmata song called “Earthrise”:
I’m particularly proud of the lyrics on this one. I was thinking about the image of the Earth rising from the moon and what it could mean for our planetary consciousness:
Picture yourself hummin’ a tune while watching the earth rise from the moon / Strolling on the Sea of Tranquility like a giant soul hanging with fragility / Luna, standing on a crater, didn’t I see it sooner, runnin’ from the Creator
A dot on the edge of nothingness, you’re seeing it as one and having to confess / That it’s a speck of dust fallen from a broom, and you’re a dusty witness and you’re standing on the moon / Luna, standing on a crater, didn’t I see it sooner, runnin’ from the Creator
And in a hundred years our face has changed – it’s all torn up and so exhausted / And those before would think it so strange, that blinkin’ on the moon is enough to have lost it, that blinking on the moon could have lost it… / Luna, standing on a crater, didn’t I see it sooner, runnin’ from the Creator….
It was a long time ago, but these songs still echo in my life. I marvel at what we were able to do and say as teenagers just as I marvel at how my own teenagers live and move in the world today. I remain grateful to Danny and Pete and Rob and Aron and Dave and Andrew for being willing to make music with me so long ago.