Tuesday, June 30, 2009
PUNY HUMAN: 10 YEARS LATER
A LONG TIME AGO, IN A GALAXY ACTUALLY NOT TOO FAR AWAY.
The other day my fiancée made a comment that she’d never heard me play drums. Sure she’d bore witness to me tearing it up air drumming but she had yet to actually hear me play. The chances of me being in another band were slim so that left the two Puny Human albums I played on which brought up some weird feelings. I hadn’t listened to either of those records since2004 when I was ousted out of the very band I started. Deciding it was time I heard those albums again I played them both for Sara, really listening to them for the first time in a long while.
It’s interesting what happens when you go back and listen to albums without the emotional baggage usually attached in the times they were recorded. I really enjoyed listening to Puny Human’s first album “Revenge Is Easy”. It was exactly the monster groove machine I wanted it to be. It was simple, solid and really good. Even the artwork was simple but insanely cool. Sara and I rocked out to all the tunes with me explaining the stories behind titles like “Stink Of Two Men” and “Raze The Leghorn Bar”.
It was with the second album that I began to really understand how Puny Human had fallen apart and how we as friends had ended up here. “It’s Not The Heat It’s The Humanity” is an overblown album that really exemplifies the inner turmoil the band was in without even knowing it. When we first got together it was just for fun, nobody knew or cared what would happen next and from that came some great tunes. With our second record it became obvious that everybody was working for different goals and the music suffered for it.
Josh and Jason Diamond (guitar and bass respectively) started wanting Puny Human to be more prog-rock oriented or at least way more complex than our singer (Jim starace) or myself did. I wanted to make badass rock n roll in the vein of MC5, Kiss, AC/DC and that ilk. The Diamond Brothers were entirely more vested in making us Tool or Yes or ELP or at least bringing seriously complicated elements into a band that hadn’t been started with that in mind. A friend of mine said it always seemed like they couldn’t be happy with the band even though people really dug us and I guess I’d have to agree with that.
Everything about the second Puny Human album was too much, especially for whom we were. Instead of recording it with just an engineer we flew in J Yueneger from White Zombie to produce the album. J Yuenger is an awesome human being and an incredible producer but we didn’t need him, we weren’t nearly big enough to bring in somebody of his caliber but we did. The album itself was filled with over-dubs, punch ins, pro-tool this and that and the bad ass rock band we were got lost in the fray. Instead of too many cooks spoiling the soup it became too many ingredients.
The other thing that became apparent though I fought to suppress this idea at the time was that The Diamond Brothers were no longer happy with me being in the band. I’m a meat and potatoes drummer, I groove, my time is excellent and I can do some tasty stuff but that’s about it. You stick me in a rock band or punk band and I kick ass, anything more than that and I’m lost. I never pretended to be anything but that and when Puny Human started that was fine. By our second album it was clear that to at least ½ the band I was a hindrance.
I think that was the primary issue that eventually led to what happened to the band. I wasn’t good enough to be in the Puny Human that The Diamond Brothers wanted because I’d never wanted Puny Human to be that. I suggested way back that we form a band because I had such admiration for how the two of them played, their skill. I still have that admiration I just think it’s too bad that they couldn’t be happy with Puny Human the way it was.
From there being in the band just stopped being fun. I always felt as though I was being compared to other drummers or that I wasn’t part of the “real musicians club”. I remember being out on tour with Fireball Ministry and their then bassist said after a show “Hey you made most of your fills this time.” When she said it to me I was really hurt but as I look back she was right.
We didn’t play much off of our first album and we didn’t really play the straight rockers off our second. Instead I was playing live with two people who hated so much my lack of flash that they tried to make up for it by flashing it up themselves. When the bass and guitars over play but the drummer doesn’t it just sounds, I don’t know, weird.
When I left for Boston it was the perfect thing for The Diamond Brothers. I would be gone, they could get a new drummer that they wanted and Puny Human would become the band they had always wanted. Part of the rub in that idea was me. I was too blinded by the actual brotherly love I felt for those two to see that my leaving was something they had wanted forever. Not seeing that I fought to stay in a band that didn’t want me.
If I had been less of the rage-driven person I was back then I would’ve forced a conversation and then maybe started a band in Boston. If the Diamond Brothers had been less bury-your-head-in-the-sand-and-hope-it-goes-away they might have leveled with me and maybe something could’ve been worked out. I could have recorded one song on the new album and then left the rest to the new guy. Oh and just so it’s understood the new drummer in Puny Human is awesome, a monster of a player and from what I remember a great guy.
Not understanding what was happening I think I focused too much on this all-for-one-one-for-all ideal that I thought we’d established long ago. A few years before all of this happened our singer Jim developed a medical condition and we thought he would have to leave the band. It wasn’t serious but it could’ve stopped him from signing. As a band we decided then and there that if any one of us left the band Puny Human would be over. After all it was a testimony to our friendship and without the four us it wouldn’t be Puny Human.
By the time I left the desire for my basic drumming style to vacate was so strong those words of all for one and one for all kind of fell by the wayside. The Diamond Brothers wanted me out and that was all there was to it. I think they expected to replace me, have me get really upset about it and then get over it. When I didn’t they had to save face so they began telling people they had always told me I was being replaced which simply wasn’t true. Once painted as the bad guy my horrible temper helped solidify the story.
When I was ousted I was a different person than I am now and going through a really black period in my life. Every time anybody said anything I didn’t want to hear I took it as some betrayal of my trust and flipped out. I burned a lot of bridges and made it easier for The Diamond Brothers to paint me as a reactionary nutbag who was simply throwing a year long temper tantrum. Years later when I told people I had extended several olive branches to the Diamond Brothers to try and work things out only to have them either ignored or slapped down they had no idea. Why include that in the story when all the Diamond Brothers had to do was wait for me to freak out again and say “See, see how he is”.
Looking back without anger or resentment the clues to what was really going on were always there. The Diamond Brothers never wanted me in Puny Human, I wasn’t good enough for their prog dreams and so I stopped being a friend and became a problem.
I used to wonder why, after telling me they had no plan to replace me, that our singer would do the interview with Varla where he said point blank that Puny Human had replaced me almost as soon as I left. I always saw that as a big middle finger to me. It wasn’t that, it was more that the Twins were singing from the rooftops that they found a sautéed fish with a nice lemon sauce and grilled Aspargus tips drummer to replace the steak and fries drummer they had
Further proof of that lays in the fact that their new drummer completely re-wrote the drum lines to the songs I did play on. That’s not usually how a new member works but to the Diamond Brothers it was sweet relief from listening to me play in the groove instead of being all flash swirly whirly.
For the longest time I totally disavowed my part in Puny Human because I was still angry with what I thought was a total betrayal of a friendship. This many years later I realize it wasn’t a betrayal but simply infant-like selfishness, which is incredibly hard to control. So many people have come up to me and said that while Puny Human is still good it isn’t Puny Human anymore so why still call it that. I couldn’t say I’m not in the band anymore. I do know that I’m now proud of the work I did on those albums and I also see it as a great learning experience.
If I had been less angry, less bitter and less hate filled I might have seen what was really going on and been able to do something about it so the whole breakdown didn’t become so messy. I still don’t know if the Diamond Brothers and I would have stayed friends because we just think too differently. To look at a good friend and say “He isn’t good enough to play with us” goes against what I think a band is about.
If I could have seen that without ego or anger getting in the way I might have stepped down or at least straight up asked if they wanted Puny Human to go in a direction I couldn’t be part of. They lied; I lived in anger bitter denial and exploded all the time in rage. When those forces are working together nothing positive can come of it and nothing did.
I’m glad these veils have lifted because I really enjoy listening to Revenge Is Easy and sharing stories of the good times I had in the band. As for The Diamond Brothers and I, who knows, life is a funny thing. My life is here with Sara, my job with kids, my comic book company, my friends and my upcoming marriage. Their lives are in New York with their kids, wives and even side projects outside of Puny Human. Our paths have crossed a few times but it’s always been stand across the street or room from each other and ignore the others existence. I never thought I’d stop hating them but five years later I don’t have any ill will towards them at all so who know what will happen in the next five years.
Regardless I can rock out to my band again and for that I’m eternally grateful.