by Jaime Klimek

Fall 1974, L to R: Jim Crook, Paul Marotta, Craig Bell, Jaime Klimek, Mike Weldon.
Photo: Steve Kornaczik.
When I was 15, Jim Crook taught me the D, G and C chords on this beat-to-hell acoustic guitar he had, and the rest is a blur...A year later we saw the Velvets at LaCave. I saw God, Jim saw Sterling (who played just like God, but was taller and had a mustache) and realizing that I needed only 2/3 of my vast musical knowledge to play Heroin, we were off and stumbling. Jim had learned to play from albums by the Byrds, Ventures, Searchers, Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion. I studied the V.U. Sub-Moronic Easy Guitar Book - just the easy stuff - none of those sus 13ths or dim 23rds. I picked up a Hagstrom 8-string bass but was so thoroughly inept (and confused) that I soon switched to guitar. Six strings are so much easier to play than eight - it's two less. We hung around and played together for the next two years, continuing our musical education at LaCave (theVelvets, the Hello People, Jim and Jean, Phil Ochs, Love, Tim Buckley, the Fugs) and Music Hall (a great triple bill of the Blues Magoos in glow-in-the-dark electric suits, the Who and headlining, of course, Herman's Hermits). On the turntable were all of the above (except for Herman), the Beatles, Electric Prunes, Thorinshield, Hendrix, Buffalo Springfield, Steve Miller Band, Troggs, Pink Floyd and the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band.

Then Uncle called. I said no, thank you, but Jim couldn't think of a good excuse and went to blow up stuff and smoke opium joints - which I heartily recommend, provided you have a straight jacket and an iron lung handy. After the army and other unfriendlies failed to kill him, Jim returned in April '73. By this time, having completely mastered both the E and the A chords, I was ready (Ha!) to play.

We started to hold auditions. A drummer named Jerry Moody (?) played with us a few times. John Morton showed up once to play bass. Paul suggests he may have been too technically accomplished for the rest of us. Maybe we had a premonition of him throwing us up the stairs, or down the stairs, or off the planet. Actually, and worst of all, he had a mind of his own and I wanted to nip that sort of thing in the bud.

We'd met Craig Bell at a Doug Yule led Velvet Underground (Velveteens) show at the Agora and since he was (a) only semi-employed (b) hot for my sister and (c) showed no dangerous musical tendencies (little did I know), we invited him to play bass. He started off by putting adhesive stickers with the appropriate notes on the frets of his bass. This was my first indication that this boy was gonna be trouble. Shortly thereafter Mike Weldon appeared in a puff of smoke after he rubbed two drumsticks together. We said, "Hi Mike, welcome to the band." Mike had started to play guitar while in high school, so naturally we asked him to play drums. "Sit there. Play 4/4". He did. Jim and I had begun to write songs, we'd done some home recording and with the addition of Craig and Mike, goddamn, if it didn't start to sound like a band.

It wasn't as if we intentionally set out to teach people to play, or would have refused any virtuosos as Christmas presents, but more that we wanted decent, funny, cool people to play with - no nut cases, assholes, artistes, and especially nobody that actually expected make any money. Again, not that we would have refused, but we knew what we were up against and it was more important to have people with common bonds and (somewhat) similar musical interests. Jim and I had been the best of friends for years, shared apartments and vanilla wafers, acid and fuzz tones, and God knows what. Craig and Mike knew each other from Lakewood High School. Craig brought a love of the Kinks, Fairport Convention and Barrett/Pink Floyd. Mike brought an encyclopedic knowledge of film, surf/trash music and the Rivingtons. We'd all grown up having our pop sensibilities forged by mid-60s AM radio, WHK, KYW and CKLW. Plus, we all, except Michael, really liked to smoke dope.

From the start, we rehearsed originals along with Velvets covers. The point is, aside from loving them, we did the Velvets because they were easy. We never touched any of their more difficult material. My songwriting style had evolved out of fairly simple, basic rhythm guitar structures. I mean, I loved the Who, but no fucking way could we play Pictures of Lily or I Can see for Miles.

We rehearsed for six years, or six months, thereabouts. Once we played for an acquaintance of ours and when we finished asked him what he thought. He paused, looked me straight in the eye, and said "Get a new singer." This was the first and last outside advice we ever solicited. Thus encouraged, we decided that we were ready to play out.

For me, finding places to play was never easy. Never particularly outgoing (pathologically reticent would be more like it) I usually prodded Mike and Craig to go out among 'em. We played the Lakewood YMCA twice, to an audience of 15-20 disinterested kids who had wandered in, including one who accompanied us, uninvited, on piano. (Hey guys, next time lock that piano up). The second time the turnout was so poor, the guy who booked us asked up to play in his rec room later that night - a bowling banquet party. We said, "OK, what the hell," and did two sets at the lowest volume we'd ever played. Dave E of the Eels did some guest vocals. This was the first and last time anyone could actually hear what we were singing. Fortunately, they were drunk and didn't care and it went over really well. We probably missed a bet by not tapping into the lucrative bowling banquet circuit.

Next thing we knew, goddamn, if Craig don't go out and get himself drafted. Very patriotic, some of these Mirrors. When Craig was defending our country (Lord help us - probably with a little sticker on the trigger saying "Pull here") Mike said he knew this guy who could record us and up pulls Paul in his VW mini-bus. Tape recorders, mixers, microphones and six miles of cables came flying out. Took us hours to set it up and we never did finish the recording but we got on well with him - he played guitar, keyboards, sang - man, he even understood OHMS. Plus, he liked to smoke dope. Another recruit.

In July of '73 we played a summer mixer at St. Joseph's High School (proper dress required). Milk (Brian Kinchy/Sands) played on the big stage and we set up on risers on the side of the gym. Knowing that Paul played guitar, banjo and keyboards, we asked him to play bass. We alternated sets with Milk. Afterwards, Jim Jones approached us and said "I think you guys are great, how would you like to smoke some of ... this?" and we said "That's it, you're in." So we rehearsed for a while at his house, way the fuck over on the east side, time split evenly between practicing and getting fractured and listening to his collection of (mostly stolen) records. After a while we had to stop going because of visa problems and the poor rate of exchange on currency.

Back in Lakewood we set the equipment up and one morning found Craig behind an amp. "Hi, I'm home on leave." "Nice hair, Craig. Let's record." So, off to Earthman Studios. Paul came up from Columbus to play awkward, bad and cheesy keyboards, as per my explicit instructions. Perfect. We recorded eight songs in a ten hour session. The usual fun and games ensued, near the end in one song you can hear the sound of the mic crashing to the floor. Not loaded, just spastic. Well, both actually, it had become kind of a tradition.

Craig escaped the army. He and I and Mike got a place on 65th and Lorain. We played a WLYT battle of the bands in Berea (guess who lost). It was god awful. A twenty minute set outdoors on a 30' high stage. Couldn't hear a fucking thing. Next, a Fat Glenn's noontime audition at CSU. Nobody even knew we were there.

Next at a club on Pearl Road (Jim Crook speaking) "Yeah, upstairs over the Karate Institute. Crocus (David Thomas writing for the Scene) came to see us and was smashed and didn't write anything about us - so fuck him. People thought we didn't like the Ubu crowd. Actually, we had damn good reasons not to."

Paul moved up from Columbus in the summer of '74. He moved in with us and played keyboards. More practice, including a night the sound of sirens drowned out our noise. "Man, am I high or what?" "Uh, no, I think the building next door is on fire." Time to move.

We relocated to a house at 52nd and Storer, on the west side in a brick and aluminum-sided converted commercial building. Craig and I upstairs, Marotta down, studio in the basement. We began our most intensive period playing out, mostly through a semi-residency at Clockwork Orange, Loose Lounge at 1812 Payne, across from Police Headquarters. We played once, sometimes twice a week for a while. The clubs we played in were fairly small. The Viking Saloon held between 75 and 100 people, Clockwork Orange had room for 40 to 60. We always played for the door. They never let us take it. Clockwork was the most fun. Clockwork Eddie (a hustler then and now) had taped aluminum foil to the walls for the ultimate in homemade psychedelic effects, and in that spirit was willing to try anything (as long as it didn't cost). Free Beer Night? Sure, buy a keg and we'll take it out of the door.

We were ferociously loud. I played a Gretsch Tennessean through a Vox Super Beatle and a Vox Buckingham. Jim played a Gibson SG through an Acoustic Amp, and a Fender Top and Bottom, Craig started with a Gibson Les Paul Bass, but soon got a Mosrite Ventures Model. He played through a Traynor top, a Kustom top and two cabinets, one of which had 8-10s...or...10-8s...or 180-1s. Mike had to set up on the side of the stage on the floor. Paul set up in front of the stage (with his back to the audience) with his keyboard array, violin and the PA mixers. A typical set would include originals, the Velvets' "Can't Stand It" and "Some Kinda Love," the Kinks' "King Kong," the Troggs' "Feels Like a Woman" and concluded with a spiffy medley of "Baby's on Fire/Here Come the Warm Jets."

In October we also played the Berea Fairgrounds with a slide show/mime dancer Jim described as "a weird black guy from the Post Office who wore a dress, had his hair done up like Alfalfa, and sucked on a Tootsie Roll Pop." Seventy-five cents admission. Sixteen paid. They sat on tables as far way from the band as they could get. Alfalfa must have scared them off. Or maybe they valued their eardrums.

Back on Storer things had gone from bad to weird. Craig moved out to engage in some weird voodoo sex thing with Charlotte Pressler (months later at one of Pete Laughner's parties, a totally smashed Pete (hey, sounds like a good band name) regaled one and all (like it or not) with the story of Craig shaving Charlotte's pubes in the shape of a heart. No word on whether they carved their initials inside).

Live gigs had been sporadic at best, but we had a couple lined up at the Viking - The Extermination extravaganzas. Craig had been eager to keep busy and play with other bands, and I didn't think anything of it until he started up with that darned eastside Plaza crowd. He was in (with Mirrors) for the Extermination gigs, but between them I wrote him a very nice, reasoned, thoughtful letter asking the musical question, "Are you nuts? Whyfore you wanna play play with those clowns?" It didn't seem to bother Craig any, but I got the nastiest letter from Pete Laughner, which accused me of violating the joys and camaraderie of musicianship, being close-minded and an all-around bad egg, and which concluded with his fervent hope that I would accomplish something worthwhile before my bad vibes poisoned me. Hey Pete, nobody died. Lighten up. Which was impossible for him; careening passion and the spur of the moment ruled. Pete was a suburban kid from an upper middle class family. I'd met him at La Cave and had a sporadic relationship with him. I'd gone to see his band, Mr. Charlie, play at Bay Village High School, and had come away semi-impressed. Pete could play. No question. The problem was that it was very hard to find HIM in the various projects he undertook. Let's see, there was Sonny Boy Lightnin' Pete, Peter Lou Laughner, Pete Thomson, Pete Verlaine, and more, but where was Pete? He hardly ever played his originals and even those seemed swallowed by his influences. I always wanted more from him. C'mon Pete, where's YOUR stuff? No reason not to try. We were playing the same places and at that time, if you weren't a mainstream FM cover band you weren't going to play a lot or make any money. So who gives a shit? Let's see your stuff. Mr. Charlie turned out to be his best band. He was in Rocket From the Tombs when we did the first Extermination Night and we were all amused/aghast to see him before showtime pulling out a pair of brand new jeans, and proceeding to cut holes in them for his stage outfit. Very "with it," Pete. What a jerk. A lost soul, but still a jerk.

Extermination Night. The big show. Three bands. Seventy-five cents. Mirrors, Rocket From The Tombs and The Electric Eels. Paul was playing in both Mirrors and the Eels. Dave E didn't object to Paul playing with us, but he didn't want him so visible. So a curtain patterned with the PHILCO emblem was hung to conceal our phantom keyboardist. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Jim Crook muttered, "This is bullshit" and tore the curtain down before we went on stage. We did our usual excruciatingly loud set, Rockets did their comedy routine and cut holes in each other's clothes, and the Eels (gas-powered lawn mowers, chain saws, meat cleavers, blow torches) exterminated one and all. That's entertainment.

When Craig left to moonlight as a barber, we recruited Jim Jones again. We played the Viking a few more times, then began serious rehearsals for recording. We drove to Owl Studios (1"-eight track) in Columbus and laid down ten songs over a three day period. Craig even showed up (clean-shaven) and we did a song of his called "Frustration" after we taught it to him, of course. The recording was the usual disjointed scene. Basic tracks (with Paul way the hell in the back), overdubs, including tympani, theremin, backwards guitars, vocals and, lest we forget, triangle (my original instrument) and lots of pot. Paul, Jones and I even managed to record two of Paul's songs.

During the summer, rehearsals continued in a more and more desultory manner. Jones lived on the east side, so transportation was a drag; Jim Crook had married and had one or two kids (still does) so his attention was split; and Mike was taking a correspoondence course from the Roger Corman School of Low-Budget Thrills. Paul and I had been recording in the basement studio and Jones began to play with us more and more, alternating between bass and drums. I'd begun to write some (slightly) more demanding tunes, and had become stymied (alfalfad too) by the band's (and Mike's in particular) lack of progress. I wanted to work with another drummer. (Be careful what you wish for - I got Tony Fier) The changeover continued throughout the summer, culminating in a job in a Case Western Reserve University Courtyard on September 18, 1975. The end of Mirrors, the birth of The Styrenes, and the revenge of the Eels.

It was time to move on. I'd become tired of the material, and weary of the grind. We'd done all we could and it had pretty much run it's course. Besides, I was the world's laziest boy. Have guitar, will travel (as long as it's not out of the basement). Paul's enthusiasm and encouragement had kept us (and the Eels) going for the most productive period in the band's history. I'd always liked his songs, the piano/guitar interplay worked really well, plus he had really good pot. On to worldwide fame and fortune with The Styrenes.

My thanks and appreciation to all the boys in the band. I miss playing with all of you (even Craig). I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

I'd like to apologize to any reader who finds any accuracies in any of the above.


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