PermaLink The Band07/11/2008 02:24 PM
Not a lot of people know some of the other things I've done in my life, other than fool with computers.

Back in the 1980s, I worked for the "old AT&T," in South Plainfield, New Jersey, on the 800 number supporting their old line of PCs. As things went, they were pretty good old machines, basically XT clones with slightly-weird configurations. There used to be a lot of machines like that, the "somewhat compatibles" relabeled by big-name old-tech companies trying to horn into the PC game. Xerox and AT&T both sold rebranded Olivetti PCs (though Xerox's high-end PC -- the 6085 -- was more like a little Star workstation, complete with a fabulous custom Mesa processor that should have ruled the world but didn't), NCR bought their brand from who-knows-who, there were Wangs and Burroughs and, weirdest of all, at one point Exxon sold electronic typewriters! AT&T also had a neat little machine called the PC 7300, which wasn't a PC at all, but a clever wedge-shaped Unix machine running genuine Unix System V. It also had a phone built in. And it was phenonenally expensive.

But at AT&T, if you called the 800 number during 1986 and part of 1987, you were likely as not to get me, or Bob Johnson, the acerbic guy who sat next to me.

The contractor who supplied people to AT&T laid some of us off in the early part of 1987, and I took a job at a small community college in western New York. Put all my stuff in a van and went up there to live near Jamestown and fool with early IBM Token-Ring, Ventura Publisher on GEM 1.1, laserdisc-based training kiosks and a bunch of other strange tech. What was really interesting about that job, though, was the community itself, particularly surrounding the college. With an active theatre program run at the time by Skip Broska and a radioactive music program still run by Mike Kelly, it was very easy for a staffer to get pulled into all sorts of musical and theatrical stuff. And so I was.

Somewhere along the line I ran into a bunch of students who had formed a band called common man. At the time, 10,000 Maniacs were just about to break out into worldwide prominence, and there was a really rich alternative-music scene in the area. Some would say there was fuck all else to do, at a time when the old industries around town like toolmaking, woodworking and logging were running down and nothing had jumped up to replace them, but all the same, there were probably a dozen bands around town I knew. It so happened common man was looking for someone to run their sound at gigs, and I volunteered. It was... amazing.

Back then I still had the energy to stay up half the night in hole-in-the-wall bars dodging spilled beer and guarding the sound board, and I did. We played all over western New York and northwest Pennsylvania, everything from college-student-association "battle of the bands" to late-night bars in Buffalo where your big crowd didn't show up till the steel plants let out the midnight shift. I think I got them a good sound without being intrusive, and I saw what it was like for an unknown local band getting started. It wasn't easy.

I was thinking about the band today when one of their songs, "Must I Stand Alone," came on the rotation on the iPod in the car. common man played mostly originals, with a few choice covers from REM, 10,000 Maniacs, The Church, and the Smiths thrown in, and this was one of them. It was what Eric Zweig, the writer and guitarist called "your typical common man three-chord song," alienation as theme, all that. They also had a song called "Picking Up Nickels," about how homeless people suddenly had something to do all day when New York passed its five-cent-deposit container-return law in the 1980s. Both of these songs got picked on when I came up with the idea of an album:

common man sings songs of condiments. "Picking Up Pickles." "Mustard Stands Alone." You get the idea.

I mentioned this to the band. Michele Merwin, the lead vocalist and keyboard player, said, "quit pickin' on us!"

When I moved down here to Maryland in 1990, the band had largely spun down. Eric Zweig (sometimes seen as Eric Zwieg, I could never figure out which was right and he didn't say), the guitarist, moved to the Atlanta area, where he still plays, writes and sings, once upon a time for a band called Duke Fame. Mike "Noodle" Sudul moved to Atlanta and, partly through my getting in touch with him on the net, got back in touch with Eric and in addition to doing software stuff, has played with Duke Fame as well as sometimes with a band called The Stooge Brothers. Not sure what happened to Michele Merwin or the bassist, the infamous Larry Johnson. I assume they're all out there somewhere.

And I'm here. Eventually they'll Google themselves.

Everybody does.

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Blabber :v

1. ddddd10/25/2015 11:37:33 PM
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2. The Turtle11/18/2014 01:35:26 AM


Well, I'm still hoping Eric surfaces on Spotify.




3. eric zwieg07/25/2008 06:22:37 PM
Homepage: http://www.myspace.com/yourformerlover


weirdly flattering.




4. Bill Brown07/14/2008 08:46:13 AM


I was wondering what they had been up to the other day. I saw someone picking up nickels and started singing the song. Karen thought I was weird. I wish I had a recording of it.

"Maybe she IS the red light district."




5. Nora07/11/2008 05:59:53 PM


I do hope they Google themselves.




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