Have you ever done something seemingly insignificant... that later turned out to have affected your entire life?
In late September 1971, in the lobby of the student lounge at Carnegie Mellon, I posted a note on a bulletin board.
(This was back when "bulletin boards" were framed pieces of cork. You would write your message on a piece of paper, and then, using a thumbtack, you'd stick your message to the board. People would walk by, and see it!)
My brother John and I were forming a band and we needed a lead singer.
(This was back when "singers" actually had to be able to sing.)
I didn't spent a lot of time on the note. And I didn't expect great things. I certainly didn't expect to be writing about it forty-one years later.
(Although, when you're young, you don't expect to be doing anything forty-one years later.)
The message read: "Wanted- lead singer for new band. We're into The Kinks, The New York Rock Ensemble, and JPG&R. Call Carl 621-4734."
(Back then you didn't have to use area codes to dial locally.)
A few days later I got a call from a guy named Lane Ruoff from the Drama department. He said he was a singer, and sure enough, he was. We formed a band, did a few gigs, and then broke up.
(I don't know why we broke up. Hey, how am I supposed to remember what happened forty-one years ago?)
Since I was in the Math department I didn't often cross paths with Lane, so I was surprised to get a call from him in January 1972. He had just joined a 1950s parody band with other members of the Drama department. They had a gig booked in the student union, and their drummer canceled at the last minute. There was no time to rehearse, but we talked through the songs, and I did the gig. Since I had never played any of their songs before, I played it straightforward and simple. Apparently that was preferable to their other drummer, and the following week they asked me to join. I wasn't crazy about the band's name, Zit Blemish & The Hots Rods, but since I was a Math major and they were Drama majors, I figured they knew more about show business.
It wasn't long before the band started to take off. It turns out that they really did know a lot about show business, especially Zit himself.
(His actual real name: Glenn Super. Yes, "Super." I met his Mom, Dad and the entire Super family, from Great Neck, Long Island.)
We played all around the area (here is a newspaper clipping) and in the summer of 1972 we moved to New York City. I stayed with the guitarist, Mitch Weissman.
If you remember Woodstock... or if you were there (like Scott)... you might know that in the early 1970s there was already a famous 50s parody band, named Sha Na Na. But some people thought there might be room for another. Unfortunately by the end of the summer it became obvious that the second-most-famous-50s-parody-band would not be Zit Blemish & The Hot Rods, but rather our competitors, Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids. So, we broke up and I moved back to Pittsburgh.
(It wasn't a problem. I wanted to finish college anyway.)
I stayed friends with Mitch, though, and often visited New York City. And I loved looking at the used guitars on display in several guitar stores on 48th Street.
In 1976, Mitch and I saw an ad in Greenwich Village for "Beatle lookalikes." I don't look like anyone (well, maybe Ozzy) but Mitch was born to play Paul. At the auditions I mentioned to the producers that I had a few Beatle instruments and I'd be happy to look for more. Mitch got the job on Broadway, and I spent the next year or so buying guitars for the Beatlemania show.
It was so much fun buying instruments that in 1979 I opened Pittsburgh Guitars.
Meanwhile, backtracking a couple of years... Zit Blemish & The Hots Rods made a lasting impression on Pittsburgh booking agents. In 1974, after the band broke up and I moved back, I got a call from a local agent. He was booking yet another 50s parody band, The Blades, from McKeesport. (Apparently there can't be too many 50s parody bands!) He asked if I could manage them. When I started to work with the band, one of my first recommendations was that they add a female singer. A few weeks later they hired Debbie.
And a few months later, The Blades self-destructed. But I was impressed with Debbie, so I again formed a band with my brother John, this time with Debbie as lead singer. That band, Fragile, played a thousand gigs. When we eventually broke up, my brother married Debbie.
And they had some kids, one of which is an astrophysicist of some sort. And he was recently heavily involved in launching a new satellite, NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). This satellite will use high-energy X-rays to measure black holes around the universe, including one that is located 2 billion light-years away at the center of another galaxy.
So, to sum up this story: I put a small piece of paper on a bulletin board. That led to meeting a guy. Months later, he got me in his band. That led to me meeting Mitch, the guitarist in said band. That led to me buying guitars for a Broadway show. That led to me opening Pittsburgh Guitars, and selling guitars to three generations of Pittsburgh musicians. Meanwhile, the previously mentioned band also led to my brother meeting his wife. And that led to them having a kid. And he is now helping NASA analyze black holes both inside and outside of our Milky Way galaxy, answering questions about how the cosmos behaves and evolves.
Yep. I wouldn't have predicted that when I made that little sign. But that sign sure had a long-term impact.
Has this happened to you? I don't mean the day you won the lottery, or the day you met your spouse (although those were certainly great days). I mean the day you did something that, on the surface appeared to be small and insignificant... yet it ultimately led to far greater things than you could ever have imagined.
Well, that's life for you!
See you soon,
PS: I never got a chance to thank Lane Ruoff. We lost track of each other after the band broke up. And when I searched for him online today, I found that he passed away in 2010. I wish I could have thanked him.
PPS: I did see Mitch last week though! He was passing through town playing bass for the "Happy Together Tour 2012" with Gary Puckett, Mickey Dolenz and the Turtles (Flo & Eddie). They were at the Carnegie Library Music Hall in Homestead. (A very nice place, by the way.)
PPPS: Thanks to everyone who responded to my recent "then-than" email. I'm sorry I wasn't able to reply to you all, but I appreciate the fact that so many people are on the side of correct grammar.
PPPPS: The grammatical errors I complained about in the previous email were all examples of folks substituting "then" for "than." But one reader, Steve G., sent a photo of a sign in a Butler auto shop that went the other way! Here it is!
PPPPPS: Now scheduled: Night Of The Singing Dead #20! The twentieth edition of our wacky Halloween show. In the words of Sherman Hemsley, this year we're movin' on up... to the ballroom of the Rivers Casino! More info soon! Meanwhile, here's a link! Here are some pictures from last year's show!