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ETC, etc

Most onlookers expected Randy to punch out Lawrence Footnote right away when they saw each other at the Samsa Music Awards.  In fact, a lot of the people hoped that Randy would punch Lawrence.  The rivalry between ETC and the etc’s was well known, as was Lawrence Footnote’s reputation as a pain in the ass.  But Randy had a drink in his hand at the time, and that might have been what kept him from punching Lawrence.  Besides the drink, the meeting really hadn’t been all that confrontational, which also probably staved off a fight.  Lawrence, clearly drunk, said, “Randall, looking good.”

Randy gulped down some of his drink (seven and seven, according to one of the bartenders at the awards), and said “Fuck you.”  Randy then spit in Lawrence’s face.  The Virgin Bombs, who were nearby, snickered, but it’s hard to know whether Lawrence noticed them or not. Not that it would have made a difference.

So, Lawrence shrugged and wiped off his face.  There were only a few tense seconds before Lawrence walked away, mumbling to himself.  The crowd that was just starting to form held their ground until Randy walked off in another direction.  The crowd dispersed, but as they did, the buzz about a possible fight grew.

Lars, ETC’s lead guitar player, was the first to hear about the etc’s.  He was answering some of ETC’s early fan e-mails.  There were only eight messages, and most of them were from younger fans who just e-mailed to say that ETC kicked ass or rocked, but there was this one e-mail from some graduate student in a history department somewhere out East.  He kept talking about their concept album, Afterthoughts, and the way that he could pick up on the little hint of bluegrass that kept their alt-prog sound from being stale, but still kept it as part of a large musical history, which fit with the overall project of the etcs.  The fan also had sent an attachment of some essay he wrote about “the dissemination of bluegrass in working class fanbases that is all the more clearly marked by the splintering off of the folk movement into a more bourgeois fanbase, while country’s more blue-collar crowd strayed from the progressive questioning of the hegemony to a flatter, dissatisfied brand of conservativism.”  Lars printed out the e-mail (he didn’t bother to open the attachment), and showed it to the rest of the band.  Randy read through it and said, “What the fuck?”  The rest of the band pretty much agreed with that.

Lars thought it might have been someone from Fat Astronauts fucking with them, but he was still curious, like the rest of the band.
But Buddy, ETC’s rhythm guitar player at the time, noticed that the fan kept referring to the band as the etcs, in all lower case.  Lars went back to the computer and looked up “the etcs”, with no period or capitals.  After some sifting, he found a bunch of websites talking about this indie rock band that had put out two EPs Afterthoughts and Mid-Season Replacement.  Buddy, Lars, and Rob Throb all looked to Randy.  Randy was just running his tongue along his teeth, not even making eye contact.  So Jack, ETC’s bass player, said, “Ah fuck it.  How big is another indie rock band going to get anyway?”  Had Jack been right, that could’ve been the end of it.
The night of the Samsa Music Awards, that night where everyone expected Lawrence Footnote to get punched out by Randy, Rob Throb ran into Kitty Irrelevant.  Rob Throb was ETC’s drummer, and Kitty was the bass player for the etcs.  A lot of people were within earshot, but neither Kitty Irrelevant nor Rob Throb seemed to notice.

Rob Throb recognized her, so he went up to her and asked, “Why’d you guys call yourselves the etcs anyway?”

Kitty Irrelevant looked at him.  Rob Throb couldn’t tell if she knew who he was or not, but she got a little bit of a smile on her face.  She said, “Well, it’s like Lawrence’s side project, the Also Rans.  We’re kind of a side note.  Like my name, we’re irrelevant.  A talented but forgettable entry in the grand narrative of music history.”

Rob Throb laughed.  “Do you guys say all that shit in your liner notes?”

Kitty Irrelevant laughed back.

“Do you want to get a beer with me?”

She declined, although that first singer from Momentary Collapse says she looked back at Rob Throb as he walked away.  There were a lot of whispers after that.

Most of ETC tried to quit thinking about the etcs after that first e-mail, although they started finding articles or interviews online as they were checking up on their own fans and reviews.  Once, Randy got an e-mail from, Vinnie, who’d been in Run Down with Randy before Randy had started with ETC.  He’d put a link to a story about the etcs first full-length album, Happy Campaign Trails.  Each song was about a different losing candidate for the ’72 Democratic Presidential nomination.  On the link was a clip from “Ed Muskie”, a slow, creepy song.  Vinnie had only written two things in the e-mail:  “What the hell are you guys doing?” and “Why’d you change the name?  It’ll fuck up the logo”.  Although Vinnie had never been talked about as being a member, he had stayed in touch with Randy, and he’d always told him how cool ETC’s logo would look as a tattoo.

ETC picked out their name when Lars, Buddy, and Rob Throb were in college.  The rest of the band had gotten lousy jobs after high school or a couple years of college. Before they settled on ETC, the band had kicked around a bunch of names.  Rejection got some serious discussion, but they eventually turned it down in case it would make anyone think that they were a Rollins Band cover band or something.  Buddy suggested Dour, and they all liked it after he explained what the word meant, but they knew they couldn’t really explain it to everyone as they heard the name, even though it did sound cool.

They were stuck, which meant they couldn’t really promote themselves.  Then Rob Throb came in with a logo design.  It was kind of like Superman’s symbol, like a shield.  Instead of just an “S”, he had sharply angled the letters “E”, “T”, and “C”.  The T’s top stretched over and slanted down past the E and C.  Then, at the bottom, the T had a little arrow on it, too.  The rest of the band really liked it.  When they asked him how he’d come up with it, Rob Throb said that he was bored in English class when the TA was trying to make them think about what was really there in the “absence, implication, and equation” of an “etc”.  The band was quiet for a minute, then Vinnie said, “That’s cool.”  Everyone agreed.  And that’s when ETC was really born.

In fact, settling on a name has taken on an almost mystical moment in ETC history.  Even the band was surprised by how much of an effect the name had.  The first song they wrote after picking the name, “The Ones Who Go Unnamed,” rocked.  Jack and Lars had come in with the music one night, and by the end of the next practice, Randy already had the lyrics polished and memorized.  The chorus was, “Our names are never thought of, our voices are not heard / we’re not seen as worthy of so much as a word / Not seen to be spit on, not even defamed / we are the ones who always fucking have to go unnamed.”  The rest of the song was mostly about homeless people.

ETC wasn’t really a political band.  None of them paid attention to the issues or anything other than the basic presidential elections, but they’d all seen the homeless out on the street.  And they all basically knew that the homeless would never go away.  That’s what ETC would do:  just tell the world that it was fucked up, and they’d never be wrong.

Talking about the song in Randy’s place, they all felt good about it.  Like it had some weight to it, more than their other songs, but it was still flat out cool.  When they recorded “The Ones Who Go Unnamed,” which was the same day they recorded “What We Tell the Fuckers,” they were talking about where the songs might go in their set list.  Buddy and Rob Throb wanted to lead off with “The Ones Who Go Unnamed,” but Lars and Randy wanted to finish with it.  They felt like that would make it an easier transition to first encore in case they ever got big enough to have an encore.  Lars said that it would be a bonus for the people who’d been on board with ETC from the beginning.  They’d think ETC wasn’t going to do “The Ones Who Go Unnamed,” then ETC would come back on and bust it out right away.

Rob Throb started to ask about how the songs would be ordered on the first album.  The rest of the band all said that they didn’t like it when bands’ set lists and album song order was the same.  Then they got into a big fight about whether or not to let their favorite cover (that 4 Non Blondes song that none of them knew the title of, but was probably “What’s Going On?” even though it wasn’t a cover of that Marvin Gaye song) onto their first album.  Jack, their bass player, grabbed a beer and went to google “ETC” and “cover” to find that one fan’s review that said it was the best cover ever.  He remembered the fan saying they were geniuses for catching how pissed off the song really was, but he thought maybe having it in print would help his argument.

Instead of finding the fan’s review, the first result up was some fan’s blog about one of the etc’s shows a couple months back.  It kept talking about the third song in and what a great reinterpretation it was.  “Fucking Wilco,” said Jack.

He drank half the beer that was left in his can, then threw it up at the ceiling.  “Fucking Wilco and the fucking etcs.”

The can landed on the floor.  Randy came in about three seconds later.  When he saw the can on the floor, he said, “What the fuck?”
Jack just looked at Randy, so Randy grabbed him by the arm.  Randy had the size and attitude of a metal band’s front man, Jack looked like a bass player.  “I’ll get it,” said Jack.  He went to Randy’s kitchen and came back with paper towels.  When he got back in, Randy was sitting at the computer.  He looked back at Jack and said, “God damn it.”

The rest of the band filtered into the room.  Randy told them to read the blog, and he even started to help Jack clean a little.  Rob Throb kicked the computer stand a little.  Randy looked over at him.  Rob Throb looked away, towards the ceiling.  Before Rob could say anything, Jack said, “Now all our fans are going to think that we’ve turned into a bunch of hipster faggots or something.”

Lars just kept drinking.  “Nah, not our real fans.  Our real fans’ll know.”  Everyone got quiet.  No one argued with Lars, but no one was happy with the Wilco thing, either.  People who listened to Wilco were assholes.

At some point on the evening of the Samsa Awards, someone must’ve convinced Lawrence Footnote that it’d be funny for him to go back and play games with Randy.  People in the know thought that it must’ve been Smitty Non Sequitur, who’d been offered a spot playing zither in the etc’s original line up.  Smitty had sat in for almost a month, but before they played out anywhere, Smitty and Lawrence got into a fight about some combination of drugs and Betty Lou Forgotten, the back up singer in the original line up.  Legend has it that Betty Lou was passed out in Smitty’s bathtub at the time of the fight.  Either way, the fight got out of hand and the etcs decided that they could do without a zither player, but Lawrence Footnote would be tough to replace and would go out of his way to get them banned from playing certain clubs if they kicked him out.  That was Lawrence.

A few weeks later, Smitty Non Sequitur had started a new band, The Tangents.  He sang and played xylophone.  Betty Lou left the etcs to play tambourine with The Tangents.  Lawrence and Smitty had been rivals since then, though they’d also get high together when they both felt like it.  Smitty liked to get Lawrence in trouble, and he could talk Lawrence into things when Lawrence had been drinking, which was a lot of the time.  The point of all of this is that Smitty Non Sequitur having talked Lawrence into going back is a strong possibility.

But there were competing theories.  1218, the lead singer from Before Columbus had been seen talking to both Lawrence and Randy in between the first yelling and the end of the night, although 1218 talked to just about every other lead singer that night, too.  He’d killed himself two weeks later.  Because of this, most people think he was just getting philosophical about what a lead singer “was” and whether or not you could legitimately have multiple voices working in a band with just one singer.  He posted something about that on his blog a couple of days before he’d overdosed on heroin. When he was found, he was wrapped in an American flag blanket with “smallpox” written on it.

The other real contender was Andrew Portman.  People found out that Andrew visited Lawrence Footnote the day after the night of the Samsa Awards.  The story goes that he asked how Lawrence’s nose was, and then as soon as Lawrence finished answering, Andrew asked him if he’d be part of the Andrew Portman Project.  The Project has gotten a consistent buzz over the years even though it’s never come all that close to happening.

Whoever talked to Lawrence, they really worked him up before he went to talk to Randy again.  People had overheard Randy talking to Vinnie, from ETC’s early days.  They’d both been very calm.  Randy had been asking Vinnie about his time with an earlier band, Stampede.  Vinnie was saying that he remembered opening a couple of shows for a band with Memphis Ennui.  The band had been called Regionally Famous, and at the time Memphis Ennui had just been Memphis Phil.

Vinnie had talked to Memphis about playing guitar.  He had often said that Memphis was a genius, but he just got really bored with his own solos.  That group hadn’t lasted long anyway, and Memphis changed his stage name to Memphis Ennui and joined the etcs.

Randy was mostly saying, “Really,” and “I’ll be damned.”  Everything was fine, and then Lawrence stumbled up to Randy, put his hand on Randy’s shoulder (which Randy shrugged off), and said “Randall, I think we have something that belongs to your band”.

Randy looked from Lawrence to Vinnie.  Vinnie frowned, but he didn’t do anything either.

“What we have,” said Lawrence Footnote, “is a letter from one of your fans.  We got it by mistake.”

Randy started to back away, Lawrence followed, Vinnie didn’t.  Lawrence continued, “We could tell that it was one of your fans, because it was written in crayon.”

“Fuckknob,” said Vinnie.  Lawrence rocked on his heels, turning partway around to look towards Vinnie.  Lawrence looked like he was about to say something when Randy cut him off.  “We can tell which letters are from your fans, because they’re all typed on the back of their unfinished, meaningless dissertations, because that’s the only way anyone will bother to look at the shit they write.  And there’s usually a letter yelling at us for having some of our members go to college, because everything’s just bullshit anyway, but first you have to be a poor, tortured drop-out genius to get that, right?”

Lawrence took a sip of his drink.  “It was a red crayon.  I think your fan figured that you’d tell him it was totally awesome because it looked so much like blood.”

Everyone turned their heads as Randy got right in Lawrence’s face.  “We’re not a Satan band.”

Vinnie slammed the rest of his drink.  “Fuck this,” he said, and he walked away.

Lawrence laughed, almost falling over.  “That’s almost the same level of articulation and coherence that your fan used in his letter.”
Randy squeezed the glass his drink was in until it popped.  People backed away, and a lot of them were checking out his hand for blood.  There was a little there, but not like you might think.  Randy shook the blood and glass off his hand, and he grabbed Lawrence by his shirt collar.  “Listen you prick, make fun of me or whatever, but don’t keep ripping on our fans.  They’ve been good to us.”

Lawrence wriggled, but he didn’t really shrug off Randy’s grip.  By all accounts, Lawrence Footnote did turn white and look around.  Even as drunk as he was, he must’ve noticed that everyone was watching him.  Lawrence licked his lips, then shrugged.  Neither man moved for a few seconds.  Then, Randy looked at his drinkless, slightly bleeding hand, made a fist, and punched Lawrence right in his face.

Before either of them really got big, Lars from ETC had sent a long e-mail to the contact on the etcs website.  He talked about the visual look of ETC’s symbol, how they were having trouble getting bookings at some metal venues because of the name confusion, and how it would just generally be cool of the etcs to change their name or at least mention ETC in an interview or two to let people know that they were different bands.  He gave a few suggestions for alternative names.  Some of them were:  TBA, random number generator, I Forgot, and the replicants (which Lars thought about hanging onto himself in case he ever wanted a side project).

A few days after he’d sent the e-mail out, Lars got one back from The Ellipses, the etcs’ bass player.  The e-mail said that Lars’s e-mail was hilarious, “a display of satiric and comic genius”.  The Ellipses then thanked Lars for sending it and listed some upcoming tour dates.  Lars had been drinking when he got the reply, so he sent his own reply back telling the “pigfuckers” to change their name.  A few more days passed, and an e-mail from Lawrence Footnote came in.  It simply said, “Dear Dullard, No.”

Lars printed out the series of e-mails and showed them to the band.  Randy read them, said “jerk offs,” and tore up the paper.  But after the next band practice, Randy and Lars had some beers and put up a statement about what a bunch of pricks the etcs were on ETC’s website and on Randy’s and Lars’s blogs.

That was the end of that for about a week.  The Ellipses sent Lars an e-mail complaining that he was getting ten e-mails a day, all calling him a prick and telling the etcs to dissolve as a band.  The Ellipses told Lars that he needed to call off all his “dickhead fans”.  Randy sent an e-mail back saying, “Dear pricks, No.”

After Randy punched out Lawrence Footnote, total mayhem broke out.  Each band went to their respective singers, and a huge crowd formed around them.  The Andersons, who opened for the etcs on their first tour, started cheering when Lawrence Footnote’s tried to get back up and couldn’t.  Lawrence had often left insects and bodily fluids in the Andersons’ food when they were lucky enough to get food from the venue.  Sven, the Andersons’ drummer and cut up yelled “Footnote got his ass kicked” in a kid-chant kind of a way.  That freaked out the lead singer from Head Cheese, and he yelled, “Piss off you thug.”  Both ETCs, the Andersons, and Head Cheese were yelling, but they were also at least starting to split up when that asshole bass player from Penny for Your Thoughts whipped his drink into the crowd.  For a couple of seconds after it clunked Rob Throb on the temple, there was total silence.  Then, all of Naugehyde rushed in to the fight.  All of them, that is, except for Terry, who was talking to the members of Gut Rot.  Gut Rot was probably going to kick out their rhythm guitar player, and Terry felt like Naugehyde was really holding him back because they were too aggressive.  So Terry just held his ground and drank his drink.

Naugehyde had rushed in, but before they could do all that much damage, Tony Fredricks, the spoken word artist who’d never won anything in all his years at the awards, tackled the lead singer and held him down.  Security broke it up from there, and some kind of order returned, although everyone was still pretty on edge.  Kitty Irrelevant ran into Rob Throb again before the end of the night, and she said, “You know, the funny thing is that it probably wouldn’t have gotten so out of control if Randy would’ve just punched out Lawrence while everyone was still kind of sober.”

Rob Throb nodded.  His head still hurt from that asshole bass player’s drink.

After the Samsa Awards, there was a lot of talk about lawsuits, but nothing ever materialized one way or the other.  ETC didn’t want to be the kind of band who would go to court, and, after three days of arguing, the etcs couldn’t decide what to do.  Randy did write a letter of apology to the Samsa Awards Committee, and the rest of the band signed it on his behalf.  It was brief, just saying that he was sorry for his actions, he sincerely hoped that it wouldn’t be held against the band as a whole in the future, and if ETC was lucky enough to be a part of the awards the next year, then he hoped that he and Lawrence Footnote could be scheduled so as not to see each other.

The etcs sent a number of independent letters.  Lawrence Footnote’s mainly talked about his generosity for not suing anyone.  Kitty Irrelevant apologized for Lawrence Footnote’s behavior, and for his letter.  She also mentioned the possibility of separating Randy and Lawrence at subsequent events, though she also admitted that Lawrence should really be separated from most of his peers.  The Ellipses and Memphis Ennui wrote a letter together saying that if the etcs were allowed back, they would make more of an effort to keep an eye on Lawrence and his drinking.  None of the letters were read very carefully by anyone on the Samsa committee, but there were many exchanges on Facebook and Twitter after each person posted his or her letter on his or her blog.

There was talk about what would happen at next year’s awards, but only a month after Randy punched Lawrence, the etcs went their separate ways.  They all claimed that breaking up after they got big was their plan from the very beginning.  In fact, the etcs’ last group act was to publish the band’s charter, which noted the general futility of producing new art and music, the awful burden of talent in an oversaturated marketplace, and the overwhelming abundance of art sharing and trading.  Part of the charter did say that they would break up before becoming memorable, but there was a lot of debate over what was kept from the original charter and what was added in by band members or publishers looking to sabotage or cement the etcs’ place in history.  Most of the etcs’ fans said that altering their history was all part of the philosophy of not respecting their own history.  The members of ETC thought that was stupid, just an excuse for egghead fans to excuse their favorite egghead band’s bad behavior.

The charter was published in The Avant Guardian.  In that same issue, Lawrence also had a letter discussing performance in what he called “the post-fame era”.  The rest of the etcs didn’t like him trying to overshadow them like that, but they didn’t bother to write a letter of complaint.  Instead, they got together at a bar and trashed Lawrence behind his back.  Witnesses say that was quite a night, too, though no punches were thrown.

ETC continued to put out work, and they got their national tour.  Once the members started having kids, the band slowed down, though they’ve never officially dissolved, and no one started a full-fledged side project.  When they play shows now (which is locally, most of the time), Lars likes to tell the crowd the story of Randy punching out Lawrence.  He usually does it between “Bring This” and “The Usual Need”.  When Lars tells this story to the crowd, Randy always steps back from the mic for a beer or a smoke. The crowd always laughs and cheers.  Randy just stays in the back, where no one sees what he’s doing.




Twitter – @zekjar,

My blog zekedotjarvis.wordpress.com


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