An 11-member Davis
-born musical group - also known, initially, as "those milk-drinkin' wizards." They began in 1987
as a ska
band, and ended up spanning so many musical styles that every record label
refused to sign them - most often claiming that they loved the sound but would not be able to categorize them for sale.
Lawsuit just increased in popularity year after year, eventually gaining fame
down the California
coast from Sacramento
to Los Angeles
They produced a number of albums, including the semi-eponymous Lawsuit EP, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip and Kind of Brown, as well as a multi-issue "audio magazine" called Preoccupied Pipers.
I grew up listening to Lawsuit. They were my first real concert, my first many concerts. Those concerts were the first place I dared to dance in public, barely more than shifting my weight from foot to foot in time with the music, bouncing up and down in time as the energy of the night rose. My friend Erin and I were painfully, excruciatingly shy young teenagers, listening to old Beatles albums and sharing Doctor Who reruns and novelisations when we weren't indulging this, our one foray into modern-day culture. It was our one peek into what we thought normal life must be.
The thing I remember most about them was the sense of closeness we got from knowing they had grown up in our town and graduated from our high school. Even though they were now big stars all the way from Sacramento to Los Angeles, they had once played at our junior high school, right in front of us, right before they made it big.
My favorite part was feeling like I was in on all the jokes. I remember a few concerts where they replaced one anti-smoking lyric with:
"I know it's cool and I hate to say this,
But there's no smoking in Davis!"
Fans who were in the loop somehow, who knew people who knew people (and in a town of 50,000 that's not so difficult) or who went to all the concerts, or read all the small print on the albums, ended up getting lots of little winks like that thrown in with our music. They would quote an old lyric in a new song; or have Jeri Sykes (or was it Marta?) sing "Fever
" in the middle of a concert, all smoky and dazzling, and then swing into the stomping intro of "Useless Flowers" as if the songs were made for one another; or launching a "geography contest
" around the elaborately nonsensical
(we thought) lyrics of "North Dakotachrome."
Now that was a strange song. It seemed to wander from noun to noun, stringing them together with the odd preposition like beads on a sentence.
I knew your kind, I dwell aware
But the main thing's for me not to care
A line, a line can tuck you into bed
And tear your heart into shreds
Oh, Ed meant tons to Louis Z.
And I know my place....
We were puzzled.
Then we read about the North Dakotachrome Geography Contest. There were place names hidden in the song, they explained, besides just "North Dakota." Mostly states, a few cities, maybe a country or two.
I don't remember what the prize was - CDs, I suppose. If anything. We puzzled over it for years, shouting out place names along with the song -
I NEW YORK! ind, I DELAWARE!
But the MAINE! thing's for me not to CAR -
OLINA line KENTUCKY into bed
And tear your heart into shreds
Oh, EDMONTON to LOUISI -
ANA! know my place....
It was fun. We were part of something for a while there. When I play their songs, on the old tapes I bought in the early 1990s
because I thought CD
s were just an annoying high-tech flash in the pan (cough, cough....)
, I remember deep in my body what it felt like to be in high school. I remember how strongly I knew who I was, how solid my core inside all the nerdy trappings
, how starry-eyed I was, and I feel that way again. It gives me compassion and understanding for who I am and where I've been. (Or is it the other way around?)
In 1996, Lawsuit members announced that "After nine years of legal action that would make Johnnie Cochran jealous, the band Lawsuit has decided to settle out of court." Several of the band members formed a new band called Broken Thing, which continued to perform for some time. One of the Broken Thing members and Lawsuit's lead singer, Paul Sykes, continued performing monologue shows and other theatre in various venues until his death in April of 1999 while rehearsing a scene.
Beverly Sykes, mother of band members Jeri, Paul, and Ned, has chronicled much of Lawsuit's history at http://wheel.dcn.davis.ca.us/go/basykes. There is also a partial discography at http://www.speedpick.com/Artist/Lawsuit, and the official fan site still shines on at http://alohi.ucdavis.edu/~len/Lawsuit/index2.html.
This writeup has been CST Approved!