Herm at the Rat, 1986


(Photo of Brian "Herman" Hess at the Rat, Boston, 1986, by Tom Schneider.)

(Editor's note: Below is a reminiscence of a strange day that Brian "Herman" Hess and I spent in the fall of 1981 when we decided to write an album together and start a band. As you'll see, the album never got written. But we did start a band called Rods and Cones that performed and recorded in the Boston area throughout the 1980s. I wrote this little piece in the mid-'90s, and it appeared in a Williamsburg, Brooklyn-based "zine" called The Curse (paper, pre-Internet) that was published by Daisy DeCapite. When the piece appeared, I mailed a copy to Herm, and he seemed to approve, so I'll pass it along here. Herm passed away in 2004, so this goes out to him.)

Herm and I decided to write an album together. We talked about it at a party one night and made plans to meet the next morning. So when the time came, I went down to Allston and rang his bell with my bass guitar under my arm and a hit of LSD in my pocket.

He forgot I was coming over. It was a cloudy, dark day in November.

He plugged in his Wurlitzer electric piano, and I plugged into his amp. Then we split the hit of acid and ate it. We sat down and played for five minutes, then trailed off. Herm rolled a joint, and we smoked it. For inspiration, we put on Iggy Pop's LP "The Idiot" and watched the record spin around on the turntable. One of us said, "Feel anything yet?"

It was almost noon, so we went across Commonwealth Avenue, to the "package store." We chose a variety of imported beers, three or four apiece. We reflected that everything we had done that day so far was for the purpose of getting more and more wasted.

We went back to his apartment to play again, but it was no go. We decided to go into town. As we walked to the trolley, Herm observed that human beings are all self-contained, self-propelled units, a fact at which I still marvel today.

We spent the day walking all around Boston. It was dark all afternoon, a Saturday, I think, the first real cold day we had had. We saw a guy walking down Newbury Street in an enormous raccoon coat that he was showing off. As we passed him, we said, "Nice coat," then broke up laughing. We ran into that same guy two more times that day. We stopped every couple of hours to smoke another joint and comment on the passing scene. Forget about writing an album, the important thing is to make a band. We hashed out the band concept, tossed some ideas back and forth about what kind of band we would have if we could have anything.

Herm had recently returned from a trip to Egypt and Israel, and he was telling stories about that, how there was a bar in Cairo that had a tremendous jukebox that played rocking, greasy American rhythm and blues. I made some notes in a reporter's notebook that I used to carry with me.

We decided to "look for a guitar player." This afternoon seemed to be going on forever. We figured we'd find some guy playing pinball in a bar, he'd be our guitar player, and we'd be all set. We ended up in Beacon Hill, at a pub called The Sevens. We didn't find a guitar player, but we were still tripping quite nicely, sipping pints and throwing darts.

We wound up at a rock and roll club that night, a short-lived place in Allston called Streets, which would burn down a few months later. The Neats were on the bill, with their original bass player. It was 1981, and we were young. I went to the pay phone and called my girlfriend, who said she would join us there. When she arrived, she said, "Well, boys, did you have fun playing in the sandbox?"

(To be continued. I say "Part 1" because I'm sure I'll have more to say about this guy.)


daisy July 14, 2010 @11:06 am

I love this story. Glad to hear he got a copy of it. So sorry to hear that he's gone beyond The Velvet Rope. Hope you are well. xxx daisy

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