Wednesday, November 25, 2009

We've Been Good, But We Can't Last

“God damn it, stop the tape! What the fuck are you guys doing?” Hot anger poured out, his voice getting squeakier and squeakier. “Get your shit together, right now!”

The other band members looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and put their hands in the air. Here we go again, another tantrum. What else is new?

“I can’t take it anymore, really. You guys want to cut this record the right way, MY WAY? If not, we can stop right now, because this is bullshit!”

“Alvin,” Dave spoke quietly, soothingly, from the engineer’s booth.

“No, Dave, no. I’m the star here; I’m the one that carries all the weight.”

“Alvin.” A hint of testiness emerged in Dave’s voice.

“Fuck it, man, just fuck it.”

“AAAALLLLLVVVVIIIINNN!!!!!!”

“You know what Dave, this time it’s not okay!” Alvin threw his headphones on the ground.

Dave left his seat behind the mixing board and came down to talk, face to face. He and the boys had been put through the wringer lately by Alvin’s unseemly behavior. Simon and Theodore were aware that their brother was into some hard stuff. Sometimes, when they sat down together to eat, a pill would fall out of the shell instead of a nut. Alvin would glare at them, daring them to start something, but they wouldn’t. Simon was too smart to provoke a fight, Theodore too sweet. But now they both had the sense that it was all going to blow up right here, right now. Simon removed his round frames and rubbed his eyes.

“Dave, if I may interject for a moment,” Simon offered professorially, prepared to help clear the air.

“Come off it Simon, you four-eyed fuck. I don’t want to hear any more of your ideas or your clever plans.” Alvin was unreachable, his enormous front teeth menacing. The Chipmunks had been together for over a decade. Though uncredited on David Seville’s number one single “Witch Doctor,” it was their background singing that caught the public’s ear and, a few months later in the fall of 1958, they broke through with “The Chipmunk Song.” Hit followed hit and, unlike most of their peers, they survived the British Invasion of 1964. Hell, they were so big they could cover The Beatles’ hits and still sell a pile of records.

Simon was undeterred. “If you look back, you can plainly see that Alvin changed dramatically during the recording of Chipmunks a Go-Go in 1965.”

“Hmm, Simon, I believe you’re right,” Dave agreed, as Theodore enthusiastically nodded his head. It was true. Four years before, when the band was recording “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Alvin began acting strangely. It was the mushrooms. It wasn’t odd that a chipmunk would eat a mushroom, it’s part of their diet, but Alvin was dipping into fungi of a distinctly hallucinogenic variety. No big deal, Alvin thought, everyone was doing it that summer. Not Simon and Theodore; they were too straight, real squares. It was then that the three began to drift apart.

They managed to hold it together for their next album, The Chipmunks See Doctor Doolittle, but the band was coming apart at the seams. In an attempt to regain their sense of unity, the three went on a spiritual retreat to Indiana, where they sought to find their inner rodent through meditation. It was pointless and they found themselves going around and around in circles, spinning their wheels. They learned nothing.

Arriving back in L.A. late in 1968, Alvin separated further when he began to spend all his time with a new girlfriend, Cathy Bara. She was trouble, always telling Alvin how he was the only talent in The Chipmunks and that he didn’t need the other two, or, for that matter, David Seville. Worse, she was into serious shit and introduced Alvin to poppies. It became more and more difficult to get Alvin to concentrate, his upper lip often dotted with residue. It proved to be a habit that would trail him for years to come.

After Alvin promised Dave he would be a good chipmunk, the band decided to try it one more time in 1969, and, it was during the recording of The Chipmunks Go to the Movies, that everything unraveled.

“I don’t have to take this shit from you two. You’re nothing but dead weight.” Alvin hastily grabbed his long red sweater with the large capital “A” on the front, and his red cap, and began to leave.

“See you in the funny papers,” he snickered as he pushed open the door.

Devastated, Dave looked at the other two. “What do you think we should do next?”

Simon spoke first. “This is an utter disaster, Dave, an utter disaster. First, Alvin gets into drugs, and now he has this horrible Cathy telling him what to do. It’s terrible.”

Theodore looked towards the ceiling, and then spoke. “I think she’s nice.”

“Theodore, just because she brings you food doesn’t make her nice. Plus, she’s not even a chipmunk. She’s a Mongolian gerbil,” Simon argued.

Theodore thought about that for a minute. “Well, I think bringing me food does make her nice.”

“Speaking of food,” Dave pressed forward, ignoring Theodore, “Alvin is the front man for the group and, without him, I’m not sure we can still be successful. Do you guys still want to perform? Simon, would you want to do the singing?”

“Oh no, Dave, no.”

“Theodore?”

Looking nervously from left to right, then right to left, Theodore quickly said, “Me neither, Dave, me neither.”

Dave sighed. “Well then boys, I think we’re through. What will you do?”

Simon was cool as ever. “Dave, don’t worry about me. I have lots of other things I can do in the music business. In fact, I recently invented a tiny silver disc that contains music that is read by a laser beam.”

“That’s great Simon, just great.” Dave was proud of this boy, a genius who gladly went along for the ride to help his brothers achieve their dream. He wondered if Simon had been held back from doing great things. “And you Theodore?”

But Theodore was already gone, chasing after Alvin in the hope that there would be food.

The Chipmunks broke up in 1969 after the recording of The Chipmunks Go to the Movies. David Seville died in 1972. For most of the 1970’s, Alvin would battle his addiction to psychedelic drugs and go in and out of rehab. Finally clean by decade’s end, Alvin emerged on TV with The Alvin Show, a midseason replacement on NBC. The show was a return to form and garnered Alvin his best reviews in years. Talk of a reunion ensued and, in 1980, Alvin, Simon and Theodore recorded Chipmunk Punk. Hailed by critics, it was a huge success and The Chipmunks were back on top. They’ve been together ever since, on record, on Simon’s patented invention, the compact disc, and on television and movies.

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