HAVING FUN ON A WATERSLIDEI went to a school where we said prayers before lunch and received detentions for sloppy homework assignments, wearing colored socks, and chewing gum. There were 30 students in my grade, 22 girls to eight boys. We had school dances with the lights on, and the only black kids I knew were members of the church where I fulfilled my 50 required hours of community service teaching them to read. I studied Latin, French, Spanish, Bird watching, Physics, and Woodshop. Sometimes my friend's father would drop her off at school in a Lamborghini. My other friend's father was Jon Bon Jovi. I grew up in fucking La La Land.
By Phoebe Holiday Ryan
Around 7th grade I began to see that, but it would be an exaggeration to say I was rebellious. Compared to my peers, yes, I was the rebel, but that's like saying Marsha was the sluttiest of the Bradys. Once a month we'd have casual Fridays (no clothes with lettering, no shirts without a collar, all shirts must be tucked in, jeans must be worn with a belt, no heels over one inch) and one time I wore black. All black. It really pissed everyone off. My friends accused me of indirectly making fun of them, my brothers called me an embarrassment, and my teachers notified the principal who said, as long as I wasn't breaking dress code rules, I could wear any color I wanted. I wore that same black outfit every casual Friday from then on. Rebellious, maybe, but I was still student council president, voted "Most Friendly," and the lead role in every school play.
Eventually, wearing all black wasn't enough, and I started listening exclusively to Slayer, Bring Me the Horizon, the Blood Brothers, Bright Eyes--music that everyone in school despised. I burned CDs for my friends and smiled when I found them piled in the trash. They hated it, and that's why I loved it. It was the first time I really felt a separation from my peers, and it was incredible. I reveled in the idea that maybe someday I wasn't going to be one of them, a citizen of La La Land. It didn't stop there, either. My eighth grade year was fucking bizarre. I was kicked out of a formal school function for showing up in a cow costume, I went streaking down the hallway, twice, and at my eighth grade graduation party, I forced the DJ to play "Burn, Piano Island, Burn" on repeat until my father intervened. I didn't mean to cause trouble, I just had to prove that I wasn't settling for their whitebread lifestyle.
Sophomore year, sixteen years old, my fucking life started. I transferred to an art school with a population of 3,000 students, white being the minority, and it was seriously mind-blowing. On the first day of school I saw two girls punching each other in the face and I almost pissed myself, I was so excited. Black, Hispanic, gay, disabled, stoned, drunk, delinquent . . . For the first time in my life, I was exposed to teenagers who grew up outside the confines of my sterile little world, and I couldn't help but feel an immediate and intense infatuation with them--especially the musicians. I had never met any musicians before! They were in bands together and practiced in basements. They played shows on the weekends and sold T-shirts with their names on them, and I thought that was the coolest fucking thing I had ever heard.
There was a core group of older kids who seemed to lead the troops, throwing the most ridiculous parties you could imagine, and not exclusively for their rock star crew. Everyone went, and no one gave a shit if you were a theater freak, jock, stoner, A+ student, or drug dealer. If a band was sober enough to play, there was live music. If not, they would crank the sound system so loud you couldn't hear police sirens in the driveway. For me, it was heaven. A chaotic, vulgar heaven. All I wanted to do was be a part of it, fight for their cause, whatever it was. I didn't want to listen to Slayer anymore; I wanted to listen to what they were listening to. Unanimously, it was Gil Mantera's Party Dream.
You had to hear stories about the band before you actually heard the music; it set the stage, prepared you for the ridiculousness coming your way. I overheard conversations about their live shows constantly--all the drugs I'd never taken, body parts I'd never seen, behaviors I'd never witnessed--and honestly, it all seemed a little much for me. But when a friend insisted I give Gil a chance, I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. We drove around in his car, windows down, blasting a recording from one of their live shows. I really thought it was some kind of a joke. It sounded like bad 80's karaoke at an Irish pub, the singer carrying on like any drunken asshole with a microphone, shouting incoherently over the backing track. I didn't know what to think. I told my friend I wasn't sure if I liked it, he dropped me off at my house, and I assumed that was the last I'd hear of it. Next morning in homeroom, I had a small stack of burned CD's on my desk: Best Friends, Once Triangular, and Bloodsongs. And that's exactly how this legacy grew at my school. Gil Mantera's fans were fervent, out to convert all the nonbelievers.
Gil Mantera's Party Dream was a tag team of two self-proclaimed brothers, Gil Mantera and Ultimate Donny. Rumor has it they started the band as an intoxicated joke, playing impromptu gigs at the local bar in their hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. Gil was the silent synth man: one hand on the keys, one hand holding a cigarette and/or beer. He sported dual eagle tattoos swooping across his chest, platinum blonde locks, and danced like a horny, fucked-up aerobics teacher. He sang using a vocoder that made him sound like a robot programmed solely for sexual misconduct. Gil never spoke on stage; Ultimate Donny had enough personality for the two of them. Donny brought stage banter to a whole new level. It was gregarious, confusing, offensive, and really fucking hilarious. Donny would bellow at the audience:
"NOW. ONE THING I ALWAYS GET ACCUSED OF, A LOT OF PEOPLE DON'T KNOW THIS EXCEPT FOR THE PEOPLE THAT ACCUSE ME OF IT . . . THEY ACCUSE ME OF BEING TIMEZONE-CENTRIC. I NEVER UNDERSTOOD TIMEZONES. IF IT'S 4:00 IN NEW YORK AND IT'S 4:00 IN YOUNGSTOWN, THEN IT'S 4:00 EVERYWHERE GODDAMNIT. MAN, WITH THAT APPLAUSE YOU REALLY ARE MAKING ME FEEL LIKE MICHAEL HUTCHENCE. THAT WASN'T EXACTLY THE SMARTEST THING TO SAY. WASN'T EXACTLY THE COOLEST OR THE FUNNIEST. BUT YOU GAVE ME PROPS FOR IT. AND JUST BECAUSE YOU GAVE ME PROPS, I MIGHT KILL MYSELF IN ABOUT FOUR MINUTES. WE GOT PROBLEMS."
When I think of electropop singers, I think of a whiney, effeminate voice whimpering about mean-hearted girls and deadbeat dads. That nasally Postal Service shit. The band A Love Like Pi hailed from our town, and listening to their music for five seconds may also shed some light on the stereotype. Compared to the meek little uttering of ALLP's Lief Liebmann, Ultimate Donny's voice is a backhand to the face. A sweaty, hairy, manly backhand. It's the sound of a wet brick wall, the capability to be gentle, and the sense to fight it. Sometimes a lion in mating season, sometimes a veteran begging for quarters in traffic. It dominates the countering jumpy synth lines with strong, unwavering melodies, persistent as a barrel tumbling down a hill. Keep in mind, this is all mostly in reference to the studio recordings. In live performance, he'd be incredible until the acid he swallowed backstage took effect.
Not surprisingly, LSD played quite a large role in their performances. I didn't know anything about acid back then, still don't know anything about it, but I knew the band was doing it. There was always that point in their set when things would get weird. One time Donny went this insane rant about challenging Oprah to a game of Frogger, started grabbing himself, and asked the sound guy to buy him a cheeseburger. Most of my older friends dropped acid before the shows. Turner Halsey, who was a freshman in college at the time, was notorious for supplying the LSD to our friends. His brother sold the stuff. When I asked him about his experiences with the Party Dream, he was more than willing to share his stories...
"The first couple times I saw them were a blast. Usually really drunk or on some LSD. Yeah, we all took LSD the first time we saw them. I snuck at least 10 tabs of it in there. That was weird, at the old Knitting Factory. I was tripping so I was mostly just weirded out by everything going on. The Party Dream was just everything I could've imagined, just totally drunken debauchery, stripping on stage. But they were actually rocking out and playing the songs well regardless of how sloppy they got. One time at the old Knitting Factory I got waaay too fucked up, and I jumped off the second floor balcony. I remember no one wanted to take me home that night because they all thought I was going to die in their cab. But yeah, Gil Mantera, a lot of fun. Must have seen them like six times in that one year and a half. I also remember one time they were so drunk at Sin-e in the Lower East Side and Donny got upset about how many chipped teeth he had from Gil ramming the mic into his face and what not. They started beating the shit out of each other and choking each other out on stage until someone through a bouquet of roses up there. They laughed it off and finished the set. Most of it's a blur. I used to drink a lot. The Party Dream was a Party Dream"
Turner's best friend Mike Maio was responsible the infamous Party Dream Party. It was the first rave I ever attended, and of course, Gil Mantera-themed. By that time, I was really digging the music, but I hadn't seen GMPD live. I still didn't really understand what it was all about. In fact, no one had seen them live except for Turner and Mike's group of friends. Billy Moore, Ruben Chicas, L.T Prins, Amanda Bender, Brian Amsterdam, and all the other cool older kids set the mood by arriving in metallic spandex, helmets, cowboy hats, fake mustaches, gold chains, and rhinestone sunglasses. They brought enough costume pieces for everyone. GMPD's Bloodsongs was blaring all night at top volume, everyone was hammered, and I sat in the corner watching, completely dumbfounded. I didn't drink because, even then, I was getting used to the idea that I was free to act however I wanted. There was now a group of people around me that were just as bizarre, repressed, and frustrated as I was for all those years. I didn't need to resist them anymore, I needed to join their forces and revolt against the same shit every teenager should inherently want to revolt against: parents, teachers, standards, grade point averages, curfews, homework, law enforcement, and being treated like a child.
I saw Gil Mantera's Party Dream live a few months after that absurd gathering at Mike's. The younger crew who hadn't seen Gil yet had been restlessly waiting for a show, and when one was announced at the Knitting Factory in New York City, we all bought tickets weeks in advance. There were over thirty of us on the train and we drank liquor concealed in paper bags the whole ride up. It was my third or fourth time ever drinking, and I was excited to do it, but only because I knew Gil and Donny would be proud. We showed up to the venue early to take over the whole front of the room. I cannot believe we didn't get thrown out. Hillary and Amanda were smoking cigarettes inside, Joe Conlin was passing around an open bottle of Southern Comfort, and I saw George Stroud, fifteen at the time, stealing people's drinks off the bar. That night, I puked in public and threw my bra on stage. I was one of the best nights of my life.
The Party Dream has this ten-minute track on Bloodsongs called "Emotion Road," and in the middle, everything drops out for a minute and a half and they chant "WE ALL GOTTA DO WHAT WE GOTSTA DO, WE ALL GOTTA DO WHAT WE GOTSTA DO . . ." When they played it live, we kept that chant going and going. They had to start the next song to shut us up. It was the ultimate teen gospel; simple, unremitting, righteous. Their lyrics always had those little moments of truth. Using repetition, they made sure to get the point across so you'd never miss it, no matter how messed up you were. Their formula was nothing new. They would take a bunch of nonsensical lyrics, use them to fill up the verses, and save the heartfelt shit for those catchy hooks. But they did it with serious flare, for example in the song "Alligator Missions" by creating verses like "You see, I never learned how to properly agitating a goblin" and punctuating it with a chorus of "I know I'll be all right! The sky's so outta sight, yeah yeah, but I know I'll be all right! I know I'll be okay!" You can't find their lyrics online, so you have to listen closely to decode them. Sometimes Donny's boozy grumbles don't help much, but Gil's vocoder is slow and clear as a telephone operator. On the track "Bunz Therapy," Gil meditates:
"I'm having fun on a waterslide.
I'm feeling great and I'm getting high.
I'm having fun on a waterslide.
Life is hell but I'm getting by."
The music itself I would describe as electro-pop-synth-alternative-grunge-disco-blues-rock. Gil's synthesized melodies roll around on the floor, get a little dirty, rise up, and shoot for the stars. They are playful and sassy, but keep their eye on the prize. When Donny comes in with his guitar riffs, usually at the climax of the song, he is the Pied Piper. Layered and heavily distorted, the guitar beckons you to get off your feet and feel it. Stand up to get down. The percussive elements were mostly renditions of the noises you'd get from an old school 808 kit, but they threw in bits and pieces of their own handclap, doorbell, and moaning samples. Sometimes it strays from the four on the floor feel characteristic of disco, but the syncopation of the bass line is always present. Donny sings in a way that follows no standard blues meter whatsoever, but there is an undeniably large amount of blues there. If you catch that quaver in his voice, that strained delivery, and those improvised howls of grief, you'll know what I mean.
Without ever setting foot in our town, Gil Mantera and Ultimate Donny were our hometown heroes. "They hit us at the perfect time," my friend Max explained. "They showed up when we were all freshman and we totally grew up together through those years." By the time I was set to graduate, they weren't even a band anymore, and no one was upset about it. My buddy Shane added, "Gil was ours. If they didn't break up, it wouldn't have been right. They arrived when we did, they had to leave when we did." And that was that. For that brief, critical time in our lives we had music that perfectly told our story and shaped our strange voyage into young adulthood. For too many years I used music to keep people away. GMPD taught me that it's more fun to get a whole bunch of your friends together in a room for a crazy dance party. Never take yourself too seriously.
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