The Firenze Cafe is on north Eleventh Street in downtown Philadelphia, between Race Street and Cherry Street. If memory serves, it's right across the street from the new convention center; certainly it's no more than a block away. That's a seedy, seedy neighborhood there, which is why it's just right for a convention center where sysadmins and orthodontists go for a few days each year and sneak out to the peep shows.

The Firenze is a narrow, dim little bar where halfassed rock'n'roll bands play loud, halfassed music. It was just right for us. I walked in there one evening with Dave, my brain-damanged, attitude-prone bass player. We gave our demo tape to the guy behind the bar, and he told us that another band was already called the Rocket Scientists, and that furthermore they were so horrible that we'd be happier keeping our distance.

We spent the next week back in band-name-arguing hell, and ended up calling ourselves the Vagrants. The guy at the bar called and asked us to play on a Wednesday night. Wednesdays are dead, so they let unknown quantities come in and do their worst. If they're not too hopelessly incompetent, they get invited back on a better night. Either way, everybody in the band gets two free drink tickets each, and the whole band gets twenty bucks to split among 'em.

The bright lights of stardom indeed. We stapled flyers up all over town, beautiful groovy flyers: I drew an annoyed robot scratching a brainless dinosaur behind the ear. I don't suppose Dave recognized himself in that witless, drooling dinosaur. I don't suppose anybody noticed the flyers at all.

On the night, the lead guitarist, Ben, brought his brother Joe and Joe's road manager, Dan; Joe was in a real band that actually paid the rent, if only just. They were good, too. Joe and Dan gave us good advice: Tell them you've got five or six people in the band. You get more drink tickets that way. It was already too late. I was naïve. I'd told the truth. I'd learned in college not to drink before playing, so I still have one of those drink tickets, a little dark-orange ticket like for your elementary school carnival.

There was another band, but we won the coin toss and went on second. We carried our gear in through an alley that bums used as a privy. It stank. I can still smell that stink. We put our gear in the back room: There was a wino back there; they'd given him a bottle to watch the gear. Ah, security. Good thinking. He may have woken up at some point.

When the other band finished, we went on. It was a tiny stage, barely room to stand. Dave plugged his amplifier into a shaky outlet, and the plug promptly fell out. I said, "Better plug that into another socket." Yes, he really did need to be told. He was intoxicated by stardom and told me to fuck off.

Now, I'd made a fatal mistake a few months earlier. Our drummer was one of those incompetent amateurs who can only cope with one or two beats, at one or two tempos. Out of an hour set, we had two songs that fit his narrow range of abilities. Rather than ditching the set and writing a new set that worked with what the band could do, instead I decided to try to rehearse them and master what we had. It was a very bad idea: Training the rhythm section was not an option, because the rhythm section was untrainable.

We were loose as hell on most of the songs. In a bar, a tight band can get away with some average material in the set, and we had a great lead guitarist who did lovely, colorful things and never overplayed. We could probably have made it work, if I'd faced up to our weaknesses, but I didn't. We were sloppy. A sloppy band isn't worth much. I don't mean a bit loose; I mean all over the place. We couldn't get up and walk.

The first song in the set was the one the drummer was best on. In the verses, the bass and the two guitars would bash through a rising chromatic riff in unison and it worked, oh, it worked. We'd count off and crash into it. It moved like a train and it worked.

So I counted off and we started the song. About two bars in, Dave tripped over his power cable, unplugging his amplifier. There was nothing to do but to keep playing while Dave scrabbled around on the stage trying to get the cable squared away. He finally got it plugged in just in time for the first chorus, and then it fell out again. And again. After that, he took my initial advice and tried a different socket. That one worked.

Meanwhile, I'd learned that the monitors weren't plugged in. I can't sing well to begin with; if I can't even hear myself, may God have mercy on the audience. Most bands in Philly had rotten singers back then, so I guess they were used to it.

The rest of the set wasn't any better. The bar guy called us a few weeks later and asked us to play first support on a Friday night. Dave and I had reached the end of the road by then, and there was no band any more.

You couldn't drag me back there with a hook in my neck.

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