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Jason Toews and fifi (the band)

fifi History 1: Live and Rabid

NOTE: Citing my notoriously faulty memory and my tendency toward “mendacious untruth” (not my words), various fifi alumni and supporters have graciously added corrections and additions where necessary throughout this series. If there are no corrections in the article below, that must indicate that my recollections are without error.

fifi, Blind and Naked, Ventures Forth
into the Uncomprehending World

fifi_bw_01

“Well… it’s interesting, but it’s not really ‘music,’ is it?”
My father, upon hearing an early fifi recording.

“Typical. White males get to be rock stars even when they have absolutely no talent.”
My wife, after hearing a fifi recording for the first time.

“Jesus, you guys were awful!”
Ex-girlfriend, after hearing a fifi recording for the first time.

“Yeah, and what else do you want me to lie about?”
Same ex-girlfriend, 30 seconds later, when I complained that she had hurt my feelings.

“I just think we should start seeing other people… oh, for God’s sake, please stop crying.”
Same ex-girlfriend, two months later.

What We Are Talking About When We Talk About fifi

In 1984, Eric, Paul, Joey and I formed a band. We spent a lot of time talking about music in that obsessive, slightly creepy way common among teenage boys, and we made each other laugh quite a bit; clearly, forming a band was the next logical step. Our decision-making process went something like the following:

“I’m telling you, Alex Lifeson’s solo in ‘La Villa Strangiato,’ completely blows away anything by Eddie Van Halen.”

“Are you serious? Eddie plays ‘La Villa Strangiato’ to warm up before playing ‘Eruption’.”

(brief pause)

“Hey, we should start a band!”

To us, it was that simple. The conversation probably included someone quoting dialogue from a Monty Python sketch, but basically, that was it.

For months, we would talk excitedly about all the great things our band was going to do. Our band’s very existence, we felt certain, would be a slap in the face to all those who had previously mocked us. The balance of power would be irreversibly tipped in our favor. That football jock who called me a “dick-licker” and shoved me into the duck pond would have no choice but to recant his testimony and acknowledge our awesomeness. Spurred on by (increasingly bizarre, completely unwarranted) visions of fifi ascendant, we spent countless hours at each other’s houses after school, collaborating on lyrics, sketching album art, taking pictures of each other “in character” and discussing possible band names.

Soon, however, we grew tired of this purely conceptual circle jerk of a band and forged onward toward a future in which we might record some actual “music” in an actual “studio.” Following this line of thought to its logical conclusion, we realized that we would need to purchase some actual “instruments.”

The Requirement of Suitable Tools

We weren’t completely without resources: Joey had a drum kit painted with black-and-white stripes to look like Alex Van Halen’s, and his mom owned an out-of-tune and cigarette-stained upright piano.

I had a box full of pharmaceutical industry sales cassettes that my dad had salvaged from the dumpster behind a psychiatrist’s office, plus I had access to a vast collection of Radio Shack microphones, audio connectors, and mono cassette decks, all of which were normally used for recording sermons at our Kingdom Hall. Without elaboration, Paul produced a previously-unmentioned bass guitar. Paul was always doing stuff like that.

Joey: First off, nobody calls me “Joey” anymore; my name is Joel. Second, I always believed that I provided the bass to Paul…

But we had no usable lead guitar, and – based on our comprehensive knowledge of rock history – we were fairly certain we were going to need one of those.

At this critical moment, Eric stumbled across a Korean Les Paul “Encore” knockoff at a rummage sale held behind a local grocery store.

Eric: It was actually at Ralph Munro’s house, I do believe. The Encore Les Paul copy carries a whopping 1.0 user’s rating at harmony-central.com; that’s only nine points short of perfection!

A couple of choice quotes from the Harmony Central review:

“PICKUP: could have blindfolded my 10 y.o sister, gave her some tin foil, glue and a few nails and she could have made a better pickup than the one it came with!!!”

“…one piece of advice to anyone who see’s another one of these things…buy it and burn it! rid the world of these blocks of wood with strings!!! THEY ARN’T EVEN GOOD ENOUGH TO BE CALLED GUITARS!!!”

Lacking strings, there was no way to test it before purchasing, and it seemed a little heavy (25 pounds or so), but the gold top looked pretty sweet, and you couldn’t beat the $20 asking price. For a moment, it seemed that the planets had aligned and the gods were smiling upon us, but then we tried to put strings on the guitar; the neck was badly warped, causing the strings to lay flat against the fret board. (For those of you unfamiliar with the mechanics of a standard guitar: this defect rendered it unplayable.) Not fazed in the slightest, we un-strung the guitar, tore the neck off, chiseled some wood out of the neck socket to correct the angle, re-attached the neck, and triumphantly re-strung the guitar. Now the strings were a full inch above the fret board. “Not a problem!” we exclaimed as we tore the neck off for the second time, and jammed some chopped-up baseball cards in there to partially un-correct our previous angle correction. We had to disassemble and reassemble the guitar several times that day, but eventually we hit on something that looked like a standard neck-to-body alignment, and we moved on to the next obstacle, whatever that was.

Before you start complaining: Yes, I realize that I’ve given an excessively detailed account of this neck-alignment fiasco. That’s simply because – to me at least – this one episode is symbolic of so many others. Time after time, seemingly insurmountable obstacles would present themselves – lack of musical ability, lack of funds, lack of transportation, lack of emotional support from friends or family, broken instruments, stolen instruments, disappearing band members, disappearing master tapes, disappearing studio owners, unemployment, divorce, military deployment to Panama – but, strangely, none of these ever had the effect of making us reconsider “The fifi Project.”

Our designated bass player (Paul) has never touched a bass guitar in his life? No problem; just keep the songs simple, and teach him the fewest possible notes, and he’ll (probably) figure it out. Or we’ll turn the bass down in the final mix to hide his mistakes. Or we’ll just pretend that we intentionally had him play out of tune – you know, satire? All of the lyrics to all of our songs disappear a few weeks before we’re scheduled to go into the studio? Re-write ‘em. No money for studio time? Hold a bake sale.

In the end, this perverse tenacity – this youthful refusal to acknowledge that the universe didn’t seem to need or want the art we produced – is the thing of which I’m most proud. Putting it another way, the act of describing the absurd difficulties we overcame while recording one of our albums is much more satisfying to me than having you listen to the album itself. Which might indicate a promising line of questioning for my therapist, but it doesn’t say much about fifi, so let’s return to our history lesson:

Blame it on the Mountlake Terrace Fine Arts Commission

The name “fifi” had two sources. First was a poster in the Drama room at Mountlake Terrace Senior High; an enlargement of a Lynda Barry comic strip panel, advertising a non-existent movie titled “Poodle with a Mohawk.” The tagline for the movie was “You’ll never call him FiFi again!” which we thought was pretty funny. Second, the bald, mustachioed Chief of Police in “Mad Max” was incongruously named Fifi MacAfee. So there you go; mystery solved.

Backtracking for a moment: In the year or two preceding the “fifi epiphany,” we had generated and then discarded several other band concepts, all of which were not really “bands” per se, but simply frameworks for the lyrics and artwork we were constantly producing. These bands had names like “Möldy Crüd” or “Judas Yeast” and had one consistent feature: a Band Mascot. We had always admired bands with some sort of iconic character to represent them, like Iron Maiden’s “Eddie” or Rush’s “Bare-Assed Man.”

Our pre-fifi band “Bludgeon” had the most fully developed example of this trope: a horrifically-scarred, Mohawk-sporting, mallet-wielding abomination named “Freddy.” Bludgeon had a fake album entitled “Gonna Duke Ya!” and our proposed tour t-shirts depicted Freddy punching some unsuspecting guy in the head, beneath the words, “Freddy’s Gonna Duke Ya!” Ah, to be young…

Anyway, we continued this trend with our latest band concept, and went with the obvious choice for a band named “fifi”: A pink-dyed and perfectly-coiffed Miniature Poodle (artwork stolen from the Webster Dictionary), lips curled in a demonic snarl. Our logo took the form of the poodle’s teeth, with the initial “F” and the final “I” curving downward in the shape of blood-tipped fangs. Awesome!

Inspired, I wrote a poem entitled “Death Poodle” and entered it in the 1984 Mountlake Terrace Fine Arts Commission Poetry Contest. The poem described a bloody revolution led by “the one known only as fifi” and I had every expectation that it would be summarily rejected. In fact, I was kind of looking forward to receiving a rejection letter, which would tangibly demonstrate that the rubes on the MLT “Fine Arts Commission” were not sophisticated enough to handle my uncompromising vision.

As it turned out, I was wrong in every possible way – not only was “Death Poodle” accepted to the competition; it also won first prize. In hindsight, this probably indicated that I was the only entrant, but in the moment, it felt like glorious public validation. My estimation of the MLT Fine Arts Commission’s sensitivity and insight was immediately elevated. Winning the accolades of forward-thinking art world sophisticates, I realized, was almost as gratifying as cruel rejection by aesthetically uninformed hillbillies.

Joey: Ironically, I later served a two-year term as Vice Chair of the MLTFACPC. And please stop calling my Joey. It’s Joel.

MLTFACPC blue ribbon in hand, we faced the next challenge: Eric now had a guitar, but no amp. As would happen time and again, the solution arrived swiftly, and from an unexpected source. Thanks to her coveted position as Popcorn Booth Attendant at Sears, Eric’s mom was eligible for a modest employee discount on the $19.99 Tronix “Mini-Amp” which Sears carried at the time. The Tronix “Mini-Amp” looked just like a full-size professional guitar amp, but shrunk to approximately 6 inches high and 3 inches thick, and with shitty sound. It was powered by a nine-volt battery or an AC adaptor (not included), and came helpfully equipped with a belt clip so you could stroll around the house in your underwear and jam (if desired). Of course, wireless transceivers were another solution to this same problem, but the advantage of the Tronix “Mini-Amp” was that you would never accidentally stroll “out of range” because the amp was actually strapped to your hip.

Joey: I think I was the last to join the fifi party. Jason played me a tape of “Sorry ‘Bout That,” which was, at the time, the only song that the band had fleshed out in any detail. It was about as simple as a song could get – except for a totally incomprehensible rhythm. I’m not sure if Eric was attempting to mimic the middle-eight from an obscure track off of a mid-70’s Rush album and thought an 11/17 time signature would be “cool” or if the tape recorder just had a sticky rubber wheel. Regardless, the rhythm of the tune (or lack thereof) was stilted, to say the least.

The important bit was that it gave me a clear idea of what Jason, Eric, and Paul had hoped to accomplish: simple – nay, Neanderthal music as a vehicle for (mildly) amusing lyrics about dogs, home appliances, and food.

That night, I wrote the music for “Death Poodle” on my father’s 1950’s vintage acoustic guitar – the one with the name “Jim” emblazoned upon it in big black antiquated lettering. No, my father’s name was John. I have no idea who this Jim guy was. Anyway, the guitar was missing two strings, which was a blessing: chords were just about impossible. Now, while “Death Poodle” was much more complex than “Sorry ‘Bout That” (thirty percent more complex; it had NINE notes instead of just six) it was still at a difficulty level that guaranteed playability by any high school galoot.

When I made the first recording of the song, I realized that, like all good music, it would need a wanking guitar solo, preferably of the “shredding” variety. Not possessing any real guitar skills, I just sort of plucked the lone high string in a random fashion to fill up the space. In the course of protecting my prodigious ego and upon playing the song for the rest of the band, I was sure to point out that I “wasn’t really trying. You can put something good here, Eric.” I’m not exactly sure what the distraction was, but Eric, clearly, didn’t hear what I said. In fact, I think he must have thought that my guitar solo was pretty awesome, because he devoted what had to be a relatively significant amount of time learning my throwaway note for note. Jason, also, was apparently unaware of my intention because he then went and sang along to the solo (“throw down your rhinestone leash and collar now…”). No, I don’t intend on reminding the reader of THE DEFINITION OF SOLO. Let’s be charitable and call it “collaboration.”

Also notable: The opening of “Wood” is a remarkable knockoff of “Runnin’ with the Devil.”

And: “Polly,” by Nirvana, is a remarkable knockoff of “Yogurt from Another World.”

Eric: We should sue.

Money Changes Everything… or it Would, if We Had Some

We had a band name, some MLT Fine Arts Commission-endorsed lyrics, a general idea of what the songs “sounded like,” and the traditionally-required instruments… at last, the cogs were beginning to mesh. Now all we needed was money for studio time.

Someone (probably Joey) suggested holding a fundraiser at the annual MLT Senior High School Carnival (May 1984), and, during a lunch period brainstorming session, we concocted a game called “Fifi Hoop Cakes” wherein contestants would vie for baked goods (made by the members of fifi and/or the local Olson’s bakery department) by tossing a stuffed poodle into a small wicker basket, placed just out of comfortable range.

We thought we had a surefire moneymaker with the “Hoop Cakes” concept, but when Carnival day came, participation at our booth was discouragingly sparse. In a desperate bid to lure potential “marks,” Joey brought in his enormous bass amp, plugged in a microphone, and began loudly harassing passers-by: “COME ON DOWN TO FIFI’S HOOP CAKES! EVERYONE’S A WINNER! I’M TALKING TO YOU, PRETTY LADY! DON’T IGNORE ME!” etc. All of this was broadcast at a volume level painful within the echo chamber of our high school gym; people complained, and we were asked to leave. Instead of complying, Eric seized the opportunity and announced that we would leave the gym only if someone gave us 10 carnival tickets. Within 20 seconds, someone (possibly Bob Meek) handed over the requested tickets, and threatened unspecified physical violence if we did not shut down and leave immediately. Momentarily defeated, we hauled the mammoth bass amp, baskets of unclaimed baked goods, and $10 in gross receipts back to Joey’s house.

There was idle talk of playing a live gig at some guy’s party to raise the much-needed cash, but that never materialized. Seeing no other option, each member of the band contributed as much as their conscience dictated, leaving us with a respectable nest egg of $80. Joey was elected as Band Treasurer and entrusted with the bankroll and our second most important asset: the only extant copy of the handwritten song lyrics. Both of which he promptly lost.

Eric: I remember when we arrived at his house. He was asleep and had left the money sitting on the (open) windowsill.

Around this same time, I took a two-week train trip across Canada to visit my grandmother, whose health was rapidly failing. Accompanied only by my cousin Kris, this trip was notable for a bunch of reasons, mostly related to Canada’s reduced drinking age, but I should probably save that for a different story. As much as I would like to tell you about what happened one night in a moldy trailer in Olds, Alberta, while Duran Duran’s “Reflex” video played on MTV and my dying grandmother wheezed noisily in the next room, it simply is not relevant to the current story. What IS relevant to the current story is that I spent all of my free time on that trip – apart from the free time I spent making out with my cousin – re-writing the lost lyrics. Problem Solved!

Joey: There was an official fifi bank account opened at whichever bank operated out of Olson’s – Cascade, perhaps. I think the original deposit was actually in the neighborhood of $230. That sort of balance was enough to earn us the GREY faux vinyl passbook. Did I really lose the lyrics??? Man, I suck. Again, though: It’s JOEL.

Some months later, we found the original lyrics sitting in the windowsill of Joey’s bedroom. After the initial elation wore off, I actually read them, and it became clear that the “Canadian Versions” were superior. So we tossed the originals.

Somehow, the money problem was also solved; probably by me getting a job and paying for everything.

Preserving Our Legacy for Future Generations

In August or September of 1984, we recorded our first album, “Live and Rabid.”

Eric: Recorded in August, released in September.

Metrix Studios, located in Everett, Washington, had been recommended to us by my first girlfriend, Grace. Months earlier, she had utilized the Metrix facilities to record a “studio version” of her hit talent show monologue, written from the perspective of a naughty girl who winds up gnashing her teeth in the everlasting flames of eternal torment! (Full disclosure: At the same talent show where Grace performed her “Slut-Goes-To-Hell” monologue, I was planning to perform a monologue from the viewpoint of a fetus being aborted. Yikes.)

Based on Grace’s glowing review, we met with the owner of Metrix, Doug Williams. He seemed like a pretty laid-back guy, plus we had no idea where else we could go, and the price was right, so we booked some studio time. (I loved casually dropping that into conversations: “Yeah, we booked some studio time up at Metrix…”) To be precise, we booked one 8-hour day to record and mix the entire album. At the time, we assumed that would be more than enough.

Eric: It was very logical; Led Zeppelin’s first album was recorded in a single day, and the Beatles’ debut was recorded in less than five hours! If they could do it, why on earth couldn’t we?

The fabled “Metrix Studios” complex turned out to be, more accurately, “Doug’s Garage,” with egg cartons stapled to the walls for soundproofing, and one area the size of a closet partitioned off as the control booth. If you wanted to use the bathroom, you had to leave the “Studio” and walk outside, then take your shoes off and knock on the front door of Doug’s house, after which Doug’s wife would hopefully let you in and escort you to Doug’s bathroom, all of which was not very “rock and roll” but whatever; it only cost us fifteen dollars an hour, and we didn’t know any better.

Tory, a friend of ours, dropped by the studio for about 20 minutes around lunchtime, and we thought that was pretty nice, so we credited him as the Producer: Tory “Mutt” Holmberg.

The album was supposed to be “live,” so, on one of my treasured pharmaceutical sales tapes, I had created a 30-minute loop of applause and crowd noise stolen from Rush’s “All the World’s a Stage” LP. (For you Rush fans, it was the long section just before the encore, which I think was removed for the CD release.)

By the end of the day, though, we found that all of the available tracks were filled up with stuff like guitars and drums and bass and vocals, leaving no room for the crowd noise. What to do? From the beginning, the album had been conceived as a live recording, and the vocals I had recorded were replete with the usual audience-interaction nonsense (e.g. “I wanna thank you all for coming out tonight…”). Not only that; the big showstopper, “Sorry ‘Bout That” included a lengthy drum solo, which is something you normally don’t hear on non-live albums, so WTF? Luckily, our engineer made the brilliant suggestion (to a group of 17-year-old studio greenhorns like us, just about everything he suggested sounded brilliant) to add in the applause track “on the fly” as we were mixing down to the 2-track stereo master. This worked perfectly, and, when we were done mixing, I guess I just… threw away that cassette containing the crowd noise, since we wouldn’t ever need it again. Right?

Joey: No account of the trip to Metrix would be complete without reflection on the one thing we spent the bulk of our time doing: waiting for Eric to tune his guitar. I seem to remember patience running quite short as the high-E string got just another little tweaking. As it turns out, one reason the music holds up so well is the particularly melodious harmony that he coaxed from those six tightly-wound strings.

Eric: Since Joey brought it up, this looks like a good place to elaborate a bit on the guitar issues which arose just before and during the recording session. The guitar was experiencing serious tuning difficulties – a problem encountered by many other Encore owners before me. In my case, the “machinehead bushings” were missing on several of the tuning posts. Any time one of these strings got close to being in tune, the gears would slip and the string would drop way down in pitch. We finally found some spare bushings in a little hole in the wall guitar shop off 80th NE in Seattle. Everything seemed to be taken care of, until Doug noted a minor problem: While my guitar was perfectly in tune when I played an E chord, it was way off when I played an A chord. Apparently, we had yet to exhaust the Encore company’s capacity for missing key quality points. Not only were the machinehead bushings only approximate fits, but the neck was badly twisted and bowed as well! Doug (or his engineer) decided to tune the guitar to a “happy medium” between the chords, so E, A and D all sounded almost in tune, but none were painfully out. Therefore, what you hear on Live & Rabid would be described best as a “special tuning.” You know, like Sonic Youth.

Jen: Listening to “Death Poodle” on this site made me realize that I had not (as I previously thought) lain my copy of the Fifi tape on the seat of my mom’s car for too long… that is how it’s SUPPOSED to sound. I mean the wavery, out of tune-ish, messed up sound thing. Cool. Also it’s neat how if you add up the piano intro, and the incessant barking at the end of “Death Poodle” the actual song is like, less than those two things combined.

Joey: One other thing to notice: Jason’s vocals throughout “Live and Rabid” are doubled. It’s typical for a singer to record a “scratch” vocal track that helps to keep the band on the same page. Usually, the scratch vocals are replaced with a more refined version after all of the music is recorded. Jason’s vocal takes were nearly identical to each other, however, and when mixing the tape, nobody noticed, at first, that there were two vocal tracks playing simultaneously. When it became clear that Jason was in (slightly out-of-sync) stereo, we all decided that we liked it that way, so we left it. There are a few places where the duality of Jason is particularly clear, however: “Sorry ‘Bout That” is a good place to start (“I kicked your Mom in the FACE/LEG!”).

Everybody Loves the “Rooster Dance”

In October 1984 (I think), we took advantage of another opportunity for self-promotion. We were pretty stoked to find out that school officials were looking for a student-led rock band to play at the MLTSHS Homecoming Assembly. “Why not fifi?” we thought, without a trace of irony, and prepared to bask in the adulation of our fans. But then they told us about the rules: we would have to a) play something “Homecoming-related” and b) audition for the “Homecoming Assembly Entertainment Committee.” Coming up with some shameless rah-rah Homecoming propaganda bullshit wasn’t a problem. We quickly re-tooled the lyrics from our song “Wood” into a rousing MLT-is-triumphant anthem, which wasn’t all that difficult since most of our rival schools’ names conveniently ended in “-wood” (LynnWOOD, AlderWOOD, etc.). After someone (probably Eric) came up with the brilliant idea to combine the new “Wood” lyrics with the existing music from our signature hit “Sorry ‘Bout That,” we knew we had a winner, despite Joey grousing that his drum part was “too complicated.”

Joey: “Sorry ‘Bout That” requires some drumming acumen – “Wood” does not.

To further demonstrate our School Spirit, we even showed up for the pre-Homecoming “Poster Party” and created a giant “FIFI Sez The Chiefs are Dead-WOOD!” poster, which was displayed in the gym with all the other cleverly worded anti-Lynnwood Chiefs posters designed to – you know – get people psyched for the Big Game! Or something. Look, I’m not really a “football guy,” so I’m just guessing here.

Jeff: “Lynnwood Chiefs”? I think you mean the MEADOWDALE Chiefs.

“Homecoming-related”? Check. We had no qualms about shamelessly prostituting our art for The Man, if it would score us a live gig. The Entertainment Committee audition, on the other hand, could prove to be fifi’s undoing. This committee was comprised of the “Vice Principal in charge of Punishment,” Elaine Klein, who hated us (long story, but one time we stole a television from her), and (probably) a bunch of members of the Lettermen’s Club. They hated us too, which was ironic because I was also a member of the Lettermen’s Club, but I lettered in Drama, and “letters in Drama don’t mean shit, because Drama is strictly for faggots.” (I was informed of these previously-unknown facts on the day I showed up for the Lettermen’s Club yearbook photo shoot.) As luck would have it, student-led rock bands were in short supply that year. In fact, apart from the traditional “Rooster Dance” segment led by one of the male cheerleaders (known universally at the time as “cheer queers”), and the Def Leppard “High ‘N’ Dry” lip-sync performed by members of the football squad, student entertainment pickings were slim for the 1984 MLT Homecoming Assembly. The Entertainment Committee had little choice but to accept fifi, especially after we aced the audition by dressing in our Sunday best and by playing a much slower, much less abrasive version of our hastily rewritten song. When the MLTSHSHA programs were printed, fifi was officially scheduled as part of the 1984 Homecoming Assembly Entertainment.

Eric: Actually, it was also our luck that, when it was time for us to audition, the only committee member available was Jason’s old flame, Grace. We all walked down to the band room; we played “Homecoming;” and Grace put us on The List. In retrospect, maybe this is the true reason she hates me so much. Her professional reputation could not have remained unsullied after this debacle. I only hope she can forgive me for ruining the rest of her life.

On the day of the assembly, we waited backstage for the “opening acts” to finish. The Def Leppard lip-sync had run a bit long, as had some of the call-and-response cheer segments, not to mention the inspirational speech by the Auto Shop teacher, and it was looking like fifi might be cut from the program altogether. And after all that preparatory work! We had (re-)written that new (old) song, we had each put together a special wardrobe for the event (except for Paul), and Eric – realizing that the 9-volt Tronix “Mini Amp” would not provide adequate volume for this particular gig – had convinced a musician friend to loan him a much-too-powerful guitar amp PLUS a wireless setup, enabling him to roam freely about the gym floor as he played. In point of fact, if Eric did not stay at least 20 feet from the amp at all times, or if he failed to strum his guitar constantly, the amp would erupt in shrieking, intolerably loud feedback. Eric also had to get used to playing a half-second ahead of the rest of the band, due to the time lag of the fledgling wireless technology. After all the effort we had invested, it seemed incredibly unjust that fifi might not be allowed to play.

But then we heard Ms. Klein announcing the next act and HOLY CRAP IT WAS US! and we ran down the short corridor from the dressing room (i.e. “the boy’s locker room”) to the stage (i.e. “the floor of the gym”). As we passed Ms. Klein, she hissed loudly that we were only allowed to play for three minutes, but we had no idea how to shorten our five-minute song, so we pretended we couldn’t hear her and prepared to kick out the MF-ing jams.

I was wearing a bunch of torn-up t-shirts, one hand-painted with the fifi “poodle fangs” logo. In silent tribute to the sartorial genius of David Lee Roth, I was also sporting approximately one gazillion bandannas tied around my ankles and neck and wrists and thighs. Over the torn-up t-shirts, I was wearing some kind of sweater to momentarily conceal my rad-ness. At the microphone, I politely asked the audience if they were “ready to RO-O-O-O-O-CK????” in my best tonsil-damaging Klaus Meine screech, after which I tore off my sweater to reveal my rock-tastic fifi shirt and Joey kicked in with the drums and Eric’s guitar was alternately chugging out the song’s blistering riff and squealing like a dying thing and Paul… well, Paul actually sounded pretty good. In fact, it seemed like we all sounded pretty good, for the minute or so before the riot started.

Joey: JOEL. J-O-E-L. What is so hard about that?

Jen: At the Homecoming concert, Jason and I were not yet an item, but nearly. I almost peed on the gym floor when I saw him in his splendorous torn shirts! The bandannas! The sunglasses………. ahhh.

To this day, I don’t know if it was spontaneously incited by how hard we rocked the house, or if people were just riled up by the “Rooster Dance,” but suddenly – in brazen defiance of MLTSHS Homecoming Assembly Guidelines – the entire student body rushed down out of the bleachers and – I shit you not – attacked us. The Homecoming Prince and Princess were knocking over Joey’s drums! The ASB President tore off part of my shirt! Members of the DECA Club were slam-dancing in my personal space! Someone touched my Bathing Suit Area!

Jen: First of all… I cannot deny the thrill, the awesome power of DATING A MEMBER OF FIFI in high school. Yes, it meant that all of the actually cool people would never talk to me again, and I had firmly aligned myself with the drama goons… but such is life. My locker was a SHRINE to the band, and its ideals. Which were… taking pictures of themselves and photocopying them, I think. I don’t know, I just know I was IN LOVE WITH A CRAZY ROCK AND ROLL RETARD. Plus, my family hated Jason, so it worked as rebellion on alllll of my various social fronts. I wore fifi hats. I made fifi shirts. I lobbied for fifi to play at the Homecoming Assembly. I tore Jason’s shirt off during the concert, and still have the piece of it and IT STILL SMELLS LIKE ROCK AND GODDAMN ROLL.

Ms. Klein screamed at everyone to return to their seats in an orderly fashion, but it was much too late for that. Eric, meanwhile, was stuck at the other end of the gym, separated from his fifi comrades by a surging mass of (mildly) rebellious youth. Terrified, we threw down our instruments and fled the building.

Eric: I remember only a couple things from all the ruckus of that fateful day. Jason is correct about the squealing feedback; I pretty much stayed across the gym. Even so, this only delayed the feedback for about two more seconds. Second, I feared that the crowd might be a little indifferent to our performance, especially after being whipped into a revivalist fervor by the Auto Shop teacher. In order to get the audience a bit more energized, I started flail-dancing to Joey’s intro. When I saw the seats start emptying, I got scared and decided to make my way over to the rest of the band. I felt I had to keep it cool though, so I kept dancing. At mid-point I turned to see an ocean of teenage bodies about a foot behind me and advancing. I immediately curtailed my gyration and ran to join my bandmates, only to be cut off at the corner of the performance area. Within thirty seconds of my arrival, Jason dropped the mike and fled.

The next day, Ms. Klein informed us that fifi would never again have the pleasure of playing live at Mountlake Terrace Senior High School. She said this with an imperious tone, implying that there was a long list of bands competing for the posh gig of playing the MLTSHS gym. We knew better but, all the same, we were kinda bummed. I mean, I’m big enough to admit that the next time we were banned for life – after the cafeteria riot, with its multiple student injuries and destruction of school property – we probably deserved it. But this time it seemed patently unfair.

Video

  1. “Sorry ‘Bout That” Documentary, Part 1A
  2. “Sorry ‘Bout That” Documentary, Part 1B

Audio

To download any of the songs individually, just right-click on the desired track in the playlist above and select “Save link as…”

To download the entire set in a .zip file, click here.

Lyrics

In case you’re interested (and also because Robin says she can’t understand what the hell we’re singing), the lyrics for this album can be found here.

Proceed to the next chapter in the spellbinding fifi saga.

3 Comments

  1. Couple comments…

    I was two years out of school at this time and the ripe old age of 20 when all this “rebellion” was going on, so I can’t speak to much of it.

    But I can say this…I was in the studio doing the video (see photo above of me with camera). This was an actually pretty nice camera but it came with a free VCR. Camcorders were not that hip at the time, or the ones that were actually all one unit were WAY too expensive. So this camera I had came with a “portable” vcr and really little tapes – that you couldn’t buy anywhere. Once recorded, you then had to actually dub the tape onto a VHS tape to actually watch it.

    Another comment. Yes, Ms. Klein was a bit of a psycho freak. What made her so annoying was that she kind of considered herself a drama teacher (or so I think) when we had a fine drama teacher in Ms. Eling. What this meant was that Ms. Klein would show up at our drama rehearsals and give us feedback. This wouldn’t be so bad if she didn’t bring along her daughter who she dotted over like some little princess.

    Her daughter, being treated like a little princess, would strut around on stage and get in our way and her mother would NOT DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT. And she whined…oh did she whine… We would all grit our teeth as Ms. Klein would wipe her butt up and down the theater.

    One afternoon during a rehearsal Ms. Klein showed up again with her daughter. This time her daughter had brought a bunch of balloons filled with helium. When they went out to lunch Ms. Klein, surprisingly, let her daughter leave her balloons at the theater tied to a chair.

    Moments later we untied them from the chair and let them float to the ceiling just to see the reaction. Well…it was priceless. We, of course, pleaded innocent of the crime of untying balloons but little Ms. Klein Jr. went ballistic, screaming, crying and carrying on. Ms. Klein promised to get her more balloons and we all watched as the Vice Principal became this little girl’s Bi-YOTCH. “sweetie, it’ll be okay, we’ll get you more balloons, please don’t cry, stop crying, it’ll be okay, baby” Of course, this also meant them leaving – which was our ultimate goal anyway.

    Years later (we’re talking 10 years later) I have a co-worker named Gina who grew up in the North End and I’m chatting with her about this episode and she says to me: “Elaine Klein?” And I’m like, uh, yeah – “I KNOW HER! Her daughter was a friend of mine in High School.” So I explain the spoiled rotten thing and she concurred that it continued long after the “balloon incident” and there was another story she told me about Ms. Klein and some hook-up with some guy in Hawaii but I won’t get into that story here…

    Lastly…Jason, if it’s not too much trouble, could you point out who the people are in the photos, as best as you can remember (I don’t need no recognition) but isn’t that Ms. Klein standing at the back of the gym with ?? next to her? (with arms folded).

    One last question: Was Eric using the doctored guitar through all these initial stories? In the gym, in the cafeteria, in the studio?

    Great story.

  2. I will NEVER forget that day! I was so proud when all the kids came crushing out of the stands.. I couldn’t really hear any music, but I didn’t care.

  3. Technically, this was a “Concept Album”.

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