Battle of the Bands
In 1992, that group of friends and associates created a formula for disaster: we would pose as a sacrilegious, cross-dressing noise band that crashed a fraternity-sponsored music competition. In fact, our stunt was borderline suicidal, given that this was most definitely God’s country, a thirty thirty-minute drive from the border of West Virginia. The seven of us entered JMU’s annual Battle of the Bands, a slick and professional affair that I distained in part because I had recently dropped out of the music industry program at MTSU.
At an early age I realized that the sleazy music industry was something I didn’t want to participate in, at least in any official way. I couldn’t stand all the horrible industry-creeps-in-training who used the noun “music” interchangeably with “product”; they were a bunch of sharks learning to swim. The majority of our “band” couldn’t play any instruments, so we naughtily turned in someone else’s demo tape with our application. That demo contained a song whose chorus provided an intentionally lame band name: Don’t Panic!
Before the audience could process the fact that I was wearing a dress and was masked by a confederate flag bandana—remember, this was rural Virginia—our male dancer Chris began stripping down to bra and panties. Up until this point, we led the event’s organizers to believe we were an ambitious, mild-mannered alternative rock band, not a group of spazzes who were out to make eardrums bleed. Our performance consisted of trying—trying—to play the songs we wrote for the occasion, such as the ditty “Score Score Score: Do It In My Datsun.” The refrain went, “score score score/ do it in my Datsun/ score score score/ elementary my dear Watson.” Here is our performance of the song:
And here’s another original composition by Don’t Panic!, named “Wise Guy,” which I’m pretty sure Phil wrote:
Don’t Panic! was third in a lineup of six groups. The band that preceded us—who concluded its set with an emotional version of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me,” and ended up winning the competition—pretty much stole all our moves, though they per-formed those flourishes sincerely. Here they are:
I was simply a sarcastic asshole who spouted rock ‘n’ roll clichés (in my best high pitched hair metal voice and with foot planted on the stage moni-tor) such as, “How y’all doin’ out there?” and “There are a lot of pretty ladies in the house toooo-niiiight!” We also attempted a cover song, an inept reggae version of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” Here is that song:
At the end of the set our tall, imposing friend Sander Hicks—bare-chested with the word “DEAD” handwritten in block letters on his chest—walked onstage with a hammer and nails.
He brought with him a large wooden cross and he began mock-nailing me to the wood while the fraternity stagehands stood slack-jawed. The organizers squirmed in their seats. We completely offended everyone who wasn’t in on the joke, and then we played “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” As this song played on endlessly, certain audience members threw confetti in the air with the word “Satan” written on each one as I stood crucified. Soon after, the organizers literally and metaphorically pulled the plug on Don’t Panic! by cutting the sound and turning on the houselights. Here it is:
A week later, when I received the contest judges’ scores via campus mail, I was pleasantly surprised (actually, shocked) to discover that we came in second to last place. Despite the sacrilegious theatrics, crossdressing and lack of musical ability, we were not considered the worst band that played that night. Even stranger, while digging through used record bins later that week, I discovered an independently released LP by an utterly obscure San Francisco band that called itself Don’t Panic! (also spelled with an exclamation point!). My mind was officially blown.
And just when the judges and audience thought the madness was over, our friends in the late, great Sexual Milkshake performed: