Get up everybody and sing

Wednesday was a different thing altogether. Of the ten songs we ran at practice, I’d never played six of them, and I had no approach strategy for five of those six. I’d never seen the drummer before, and one of the guitarists was a guy I’d met briefly at shows but never made any music with — actually, I didn’t even know he was a musician until February. This was a common experience for me ten years ago when I played with a bunch of outfits that were permanently in flux. Back then, I possessed improvisational skills that have now, alas, evaporated. In 2016, just figuring out where my hands go on the keyboard is enough of a challenge for me.

There is a school of thought that says this is the best way to run a band: keep things unpredictable, stay open to possibility, switch up the musicians constantly and see what happens. That school has not been getting much funding lately. Zappa, who was the headmaster, died in ’93, and superintendent Jerry Garcia went two years later; it’s all gotten more and more Common Core since then. Conformity to rock and roll convention is not the sort of thing that Mike has ever cared about, and I am glad he’s committed to making each Mr. Flannery And His Feelings show a discrete experience. At the first show we did, Mike was backed by several musicians from the Chamber Band, a really good, D&D-loving Brooklyn group he was then working with. Show number two was a free-for-all with what felt like thousands of people onstage at Pianos at once; I was at the very crowded stage right and had no line of sight to Mike or Eric Tait, who played the drums that night (I believe). After that, #3 was a total changeup: just me, Mike, and Chris Conley onstage. I think it’s a measure of the strength of Mike’s concept that nobody can decide which of the three shows was the best.

I’m pretty sure show #4 is going to be the best. It’ll certainly be the most audacious and eclectic: reckoning that there are more Mr. Flanneries in the world than one, Mike is turning the stage over to his brother Dan for three songs and then to his dad for another three. Turns out Ron Flannery — that’s Mr. Flannery The Elder — was in a psych/garage rock band in Long Branch in the mid-’60s. They were called the Inmates, and they put out a 45 on Columbia Records in 1966 or 1967; I should’ve asked. The a-side of that disc is a goofy Beatlesque number called “Local Town Drunk” that I really like and which has been stuck in my head for the past 48 hours, but the really fun numbers are the other two: “You Tell Lies,” a pure garage rocker with a “Paperback Writer”-style riff, and “More Than I Have,” a tripped-out psych song that could have made one of those Nuggets collections. This stuff is a blast to play, even though (or maybe because) the organist doesn’t have to do too much. If I make like Daryl Hooper from the Seeds and wheedle away in the upper midrange, I ought to fit in fine. The irony is that, given George the Monkey’s fixation on ’60s pop in general and the Four Seasons’s psychedelic period specifically, the three Inmates songs probably share more with Overlord than they do with Dan’s ukulele-funk project or Mike’s upcoming Try Your Hardest. Hopefully Ron Flannery will stick around for the Overlord set. I already talked it up to him, but if he doesn’t want to wait around in a cramped club on the Lower East Side when he can get back quick to the Jersey Shore, I can’t say I’d blame him.

I rode the elevator up to the fourth floor of Ultrasound with Ron Flannery, and asked him whether the split show was his idea. He told me that Mike had put him up to it, which certainly sounds like Mike. But once we got in the room and started playing — Mike and Ron on guitar, Dan on bass, me on the organ, and a kid I’d never met named Tomo on drums — it was clear to me that he was enjoying himself. Not only did he burn through his own material, but he happily added Stratocaster and good vocal harmonies to his sons’ not-uncomplicated songs.  Which got me wondering about me and my usual musical running-mates: how many of our own dads would ever do the same? My father was a celebrated doo-wop singer in the 1950s, but by the time I was old enough to take piano lessons, he’d left that part of his life far behind. It’s as difficult for me to imagine him with an electric guitar around his neck as it would be to picture him swinging through the jungle on vines. Dads — even former-hooligan dads — are supposed to be, at best, vaguely disapproving of the rocking activity of their children. If they ever do consent to sing together, it’s supposed to be moldy oldies, with the kids playing an earnest support role on a trip down Memory Lane. Certainly dad is not supposed to ratify the boys’ musical ambitions by singing along enthusiastically to unconventional new compositions. But here was Mr. Flannery the Elder doing just that.

Earlier this week, I heard some bad news about the father of somebody I care about. That particular dad can’t be much older than Ron Flannery is, yet it sounds like his body is betraying him. I don’t think he was ever the sort of dad who’d strap on a Strat and make psych-rock with his children, but if he was ever so inclined, he doesn’t have that option anymore. Many of the people who played during the period that we all still strive to imitate aren’t exactly in performance shape anymore. If it wasn’t for ’60s music, we indiepop individuals wouldn’t have anything to rip off but the new wave and the C86 — and that’s just not as good. I’m not a member of the Flannery family, but I’m still glad I’m going to have the opportunity to play these Inmates numbers for the same crowd that’ll be there to hear Overlord and the material from Try Your Hardest. I’m a cornball, I know, but these links to Jersey musical history always excite me. I should just open a museum already.