Guitar Hero 2
-- Lester Bangs
Never mind that they came on like a bunch of sixteen-year-old punks on a meth power trip, SparkMonkey wasn't even in the running until the bitter cold fall of 2005.
But one October morning they met around the kitchen table at Julian Murdoch's house. Julian had picked the 3 with a purpose. They weren't, and would never be his best friends. He hardly knew Hahn Dauch, the big man who would become his drummer. Joe Spinks was his choice for singer only because Julian had heard him sing in the high school performance of Godspell. But Giles Murphy, a 30 year old hippie-wannabe pumping gas and dealing marijuana, was the most unlikely choice. Until Julian heard him play bass one night at his mom's Howard Dean houseparty.
No, these guys weren't going to be his friends, they were going to be much more important. They were going to be his band.
By the second pot of coffee it was over. These three unlikely soldiers were willing to give Julian -- an aggressive young high school dropout -- a shot at his dream. They met the very next morning in his garage.
They almost disintegrated (for the first time) when Julian tuned up. Shockingly, he'd never played an electric guitar before. His vintage Gibson Les Paul had been hanging on the wall of the garage since his father died. Merely taking it down and plugging it into the tube amp under the workbench risked being kicked out of the house by his mother. And yet, he did, and rock has never been the same. He grabbed a fake book, and despite a complete lack of talent, he started rehearsal.
At first, the band only learned a single set of 6 songs, easy ones. Covers of rock standards that rely more on solid vocal talent and a good drummer (which he had) than on prowess at lead guitar. They rehearsed for weeks. His fingers bled. They took any gig they could get -- community center dances, school competitions. On Saturday afternoons that spring they'd open the door to the garage and the neighbor kids would sit on their skateboards and heckle them at each broken chord and missed solo.
But they got better. They worked hard. And they got their big break in August of 2006. They got to play the Rat. That legendary cesspool of Commonwealth avenue, under the shadow of Boston University, home to such legends as the DKs, the Talking Heads, Thin Lizy and the Cars. They kicked it. They kicked it black and blue and all the way home. Yes, they stuck to the safety of covers, but the cranked the difficulty all the way to eleven. And if you're reading this, you know how this chapter ends. At the crashing finale, the encore of a hard-driving classic rock set, Hahn Dauch mysteriously exploded, leaving nothing but satisfied fans and the smell of bacon.
Partly because of the publicity following the band's spontaneous percussion combustion, the band shot skyward. Backed by new drummer "stubby" McGill, they ran straight for the top, playing the 500 seat venues, the festival circuit, and finally gestating into the arena band we know and love as SparkMonkey.
It wasn't an accident. Julian drove the band forward on a highway of pure adrenaline and ground down anger. He more than learned how to play, he redefined what we expect in a lead guitar player. He learned not only to mimic the styles of the great hard rock bands of the last 40 years, he adopted the styles of up and coming bands from around the country. He has become known as "Rabbit" for his ability to deftly jizjaz between styles and still leave fans feeling like they'd just finished the best book they'd ever read -- sad that it would never be the first time again.
But perhaps the most striking part of SparkMonkey's success is their continued reliance on covers. In the two years since the band took over rock and roll and graced the cover of this fair magazine, they have yet to play a single original composition. Does this imply that rock and roll has come to an end? Have all the good songs already been sung? Do we really need to hear Julian digging into the seedy underbelly of Ozzy and Sting?
Yes, we do. We do because it's where we come from. That great yawning soul-pit where we all develop our inner sense of the beat that drives us forward.
And then there's the future. I don't know what the future is, much less what it will mean. I know it's going to cost us. It's going to cost us blood and treasure to hear what's next. It's going to run through me like a freight train and I'll feel the pain. But I know that it's going to blow my socks off because of one man. One hero. Julian "Rabbit" Murdoch. The greatest guitar player of all time. He's licking up gasoline off the garage floor and spitting it back out in the hard hot breath of fire that only real rock knows.
Does it ever.