“And I forget just why I taste
Oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile
I found it hard, it’s hard to find
Oh well, whatever, never mind”
Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Senior year was going fast. We made the most of our days, joy-riding my jeep through the soccer fields, squirting passerby’s with my broken back windshield wiper and raising hell in the classrooms. Adam and I spent more and more time together, playing music, flirting with girls and playing in the band he started, Iris.
Our friend Stephan played lead, and April, a cool soccer standout with a voice like Stevie Nicks, joined as the singer. We covered pop, contemporary alternative and played originals influenced by quintessential nineties bands: Gin Blossoms, The Wallflowers and the Goo Goo Dolls. Sometimes we’d branch out and do Creedence Clearwater’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” or Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”
I was greatly anticipating our show at Accented Motions Dance Studio, especially since Chad’s band was on the bill. I’d only seen him once since he’d come by my house, and it was brief. He and Adam stopped by the grocery store I worked at and Chad purposely drove his piece-of-shit-truck into some shopping carts while I was on cart duty. They got yelled at by the manager, and so did I.
“Those kids are hooligans,” said Mr. Weed. “Hooligans.”
After September 11, life started going slower. Every day had a weight to it, like we were all part of history. We were. It struck a chord in all of us. Although it’s not abnormal for a senior class to get closer in the last year, the nation’s response to the attack contributed to our bond, uniting us in surprising ways.
Adam decided he wanted to piggy-back on the 9-11 unity and turn the dance studio showcase into a fundraiser for local emergency services. Iris was slated to play second at the concert and Down on Hayley, a pop-punk group modeled after Blink182, were slated to close the night out. State of Bliss would open.
Although they were the newest of the three bands, DOH had the largest following. They consisted of Hamilton Southeastern football players and wrestlers, and they brought the jock crowd.
We had a jock following, too, thanks to April. Our crowds were relatively diversified, and people were liking what they were hearing.
“Y’all got star quality,” said Bobby Summers, a talent scout who once toured with Babyface. He gave us some tips at the Walker Hotel in downtown Indianapolis. “You got somethin’ here.”
That’s another story.
Our world had not expanded to Indianapolis. Our lives were consumed by Fishers – an opulent Indy suburb lacking in originality and flavor. Most of the kids at our school were into what was hot on our two leading pop and rock radio stations: Sum41, Sheryl Crow, Semisonic, Creed, Dave Matthews. People were starting to lose interest in grunge staples like Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.
Chad didn’t care. He lived in a trailer in Noblesville, a town HSE students often referred to as “Nobletucky” – the hick town of Hamilton County. Chad didn’t care about that, either. Social class, social norms and social graces didn’t mean much to him. He had no interest in labels or cliques. He lived his life and let the chips fall where they may.
SOB played in the corner of the hardwood dance floor, a glass window separating them from a smaller studio room.The drums and bass bounced off the walls, but Chad’s vocals and guitar were prevalent and powerful, his roar bouncing around the low-ceiling, walls and dance floor.
Wearing a white Misled Truth shirt and playing a black Gibson SG, Chad kicked things off with an the SOB original, “Better Days,” a fast-paced rocker reminiscent of early Pearl Jam.
As I watched Chad play and sing, it hit me that he was a rock star in a way the rest of us weren’t. He wasn’t trying to sound like anyone else, and he wasn’t trying to be anyone else.
Danny, SOB’s tall, skinny, quiet bass player, let out a half-smile as he sped up Silverchair’s “Israel’s Son.” Chad led the way with a room-shaking, growly edge. He let out a scream that sounded untamed, scaring some of the sheltered. He was unfiltered, expressing uninhibited emotion.Whether or not you were watching him, you felt him. He was like a boxer in training, unleashing everything he has into a punching bag, but his fight was inside, and his fists were his vocals.
He let us have it, letting out rage and angst in ways both raw and melodic. Fierce, ferocious and cold-blooded, Chad kicked his guitar stand and screamed into the mic, his hair covering his eyes. He was in a zone, a place of serenity and insanity all at once.
I was there, too, transported away form my surroundings, and was suddenly reminded of what it feels like to be alive. Looking around the studio, I assumed everyone else would be just as mesmerized. But, to my surprise, many were talking amongst themselves, hanging out in the carpeted hallway or smoking outside the front door. No one was dancing. Some were standing, moving their heads up and down, getting into it, feeling it, but that was a handful at best.
SOB faced the burden of being the opening band outside familiar territory. A good amount of people who got to the studio in time for them didn’t seem to care that they were playing. People came to hear their friends’ bands.
By the middle of Seven Mary Three’s “Cumbersome,” Chad had grown more aware of the waning audience, and I could tell it was getting to him.
“We are State of Bliss,” Chad said to the crowd of high-schoolers.
The response was weak. A few cheers and a holler from his HSE girlfriend, Elizabeth.
“Aneurysm,” Chad told Danny, switching up the set list. The guys were a little surprised, but they went with it. They didn’t have a choice. Chad went right into the riff. Danny lifted an eyebrow and looked over at Jeremy, the drummer, to make sure he was ready to come in. They nodded at each other and jumped nailed their entrance, pounding their instruments aggressively. Chad stared at Danny, his eyes wide open, nearly about to burst out of his head. He shook his body around and then started banging his head, hitting power chords on his SG violently.
More people were paying attention, especially those knowledgeable enough to know they were playing a Nirvana song.
“Come on over, do the twist,” Chad sang. It was more like a wail, really, a wail that sounded a lot like Kurt Cobain.
As he let out a barbaric yawp, three underclassmen girls in the back looked scared. Sitting near them was Elizabeth, who couldn’t get enough. She was glowing, smitten, in awe. You could see her smile from across the room as she proudly pointed Chad out to some of her friends.
Chad was losing it now, practically falling into the ground as he shook and twisted and spun. As he continued to do it, more people moved their heads up and down. Some looked like they wanted to leap, but they stayed on their feet. If this was a larger venue, there’d have been a mosh pit. SOB was inviting one.
Screaming all the way to the end, Chad woke everyone up, letting them know who SOB is and why they’re here: unadulterated Indy teen angst done right.
As they crashed the song home, a loud applause started, and Chad realized he’d won over the doubters. He smiled under his hair and let out one more yawp.
Fuck the Gin Blossoms, I thought. That’s the kind of shit I want to do, but I didn’t have all that angst in me. I wasn’t there. I could try, but it’d be forced. What was that? Was that for real?
I couldn’t believe it.
After that performance, I thought we all needed to take a breather. I did, at least. I stood up and walked over to the water fountain near the hallway and looked over at Chad talking to Danny.
“Hey, Chad, what’s next?” Danny asked.
“Good question,” Chad said, taking a drink of water himself. “Not anything they want to hear, apparently. We should give them something they recognize.”
“Avril Lavigne,” Danny joked.
“Yeah, Danny, Avril. We’ll do ‘Complicated’ and never play again.”
Chad addressed the crowd.
“So, we’re going to slow things down a bit,” he said. “Sing along if you want. Or not.”
As Chad softened, so did the vibe. People stopped and listened. Recognizing the song, they also recognized talent.
Chad had them where he wanted them, which lifted him, elevating his vocal confidence. He hit Eddie Vedder’s high notes effortlessly. Adam, Stephan, and I were singing along, so was April. Even the Down on Hayley guys were into it.
, Danny moved over close to Chad, moving his head back and forth to the beat.
“You nailed it,” he said.
The momentum, however, would not sustain itself.
Chad wanted to be a star, but he didn’t want to mock himself. He didn’t want to pretend to be anyone else.
The fact that it was a Pearl Jam song that got people excited didn’t thrill Chad. He’d prefer that kind of response from an original.
He especially wasn’t crazy about his encore performance at the dance studio when we called him up to sing “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
“Do it, do it, Chad,” Adam said. “Come on, man, you sound just fuckin’ like him.”
Chad shrugged. He even started to walk outside, but Adam wouldn’t let him.
“Hold my guitar, Troy,” he said, handing it to me as he ran after the SOB singer.
Stephan then grabbed the mic (as he always loved to do) and told the audience Chad from State of Bliss was returning to the stage to pay tribute to Kurt Cobain. April seemed into it, too, but she could tell Chad (and the crowd, for that matter) seemed apprehensive.
Nevertheless, Adam grabbed his guitar from me, cranked it and started playing the instantly recognizable riff. Our drummer, Geoff, giddily nailed Dave Grohl’s fill, and we locked in.
Holding the mic, Chad looked at the crowd and looked at us, smiling nervously. Without his guitar he looked unnatural, a little lost, like a sober guy doing karaoke.
“Load up on guns and bring your friends,” he sang, his voice lacking its earlier intensity. He was singing out of obligation. It was a job, an unwanted request. He thought he was done for the night, too, and all the nerves and anxiety he felt earlier came back. He wanted no part of this moment.
Sensing his discomfort, April – who wore a tight white shirt and jeans and had hair about the same length as Chad’s – danced over to him and yelled along, putting her arm around him. It helped. Chad got louder and sounded a little more like the late Nirvana singer, but after we butchered our way through the bridge, he got lost again, looking at us like we were boarding a sinking ship.
“And I forget just why I taste, oh yeah, I guess, it makes me smile,” Chad sang, jumping to the third verse instead of the second.
That’s when he stopped.
“I don’t know the words,” he said to me as I held down the bass line.
“Just make something up,” I said. “Isn’t it something like…”
“…oh yeah, whatever, never mind,” Chad mumbled, coming in late but getting back on track.
April helped him on the chorus again as Adam, Stephan and I jumped up and down, trying to get people into it.
Some were, but – as was the case for most of the SOB show – a lot of people were talking in the hall or smoking outside.
After doing the chorus once, Chad dropped the mic and walked off the dance floor, choosing to have no part in the deafening, scream-fueled climax.
Adam, Stephan and I tried to cover for him by doing it. Chad laughed as he went and sat down by his girlfriend, but he looked distant. He looked like he didn’t want it, like he didn’t care, but he did.
“Leave them wanting more” is one thing, but wishing you had delivered when you had the crowd in the palm of your hands, that’s something else. To be successful you have to know the difference.
At the same time, Chad’s reluctance, his “too-cool-for-school” apathetic approach is what made him a rock star.
And as Adam, Stephan and I screamed “a denial” over and over, we were only pretending, wishing we had what he had.