Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Michael Chabon Once Sang in Punk Band Here

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Michael Chabon Once Sang in Punk Band Here

Article excerpt

Back in the early days of punk in Pittsburgh, before ProTools and home studios, tons of bands came and went without a trace - nothing captured on tape.

It just happens that Michael Chabon's one venture into punk rock was unusually well documented.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such books as "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" and "Wonder Boys" only spent a few months in The Bats, but not only is there a studio demo from the band, there's also a live recording of his one show, at the famed Electric Banana from May 23, 1984 - the night he turned 21.

When a Bats track surfaced on the Internet in 2006, the author praised the band, then said of his own performance, "Thank God I never pursued that line of work any further!"

Now, both the studio session and full live concert have been released as part of the archival series from Polish Hill-based Mind Cure Records.

Back in the early '80s, Mr. Chabon was a fixture at the University of Pittsburgh, but not because of his musical exploits. He was known for working at the Backspace literary magazine and also as a kind assistant at the legendary Jay's Bookstall.

As longtime friend and Bats bassist Lee Skirboll explains it, Mr. Chabon's entry into the band was purely spontaneous.

The Bats was a band formed by guitarist Sam Matthews, who had left 96 Tears (fronted by future Cynics singer Michael Kastelic), his then-guitarist girlfriend Ruth Ann Schmidt and ace drummer Mark "Magee" Miller. Like many a bassist, Mr. Skirboll was badgered into it.

"I had never played bass," he says. "Sam said, 'There's nothing to it.' I said, 'I don't even own a bass.' They're like 'We'll get you one.'

"The only thing I'd ever done," he explains, "is the Plastic btls, which was banging on sheet metal and doing our Throbbing Gristle act."

The Bats were practicing in a leaky, rotting basement of his house on Chesterfield Road and sounding half decent with their diverse influences.

"Sam was like totally three-chord rock," the bassist says, "Magee was like a prog, non 4/4 kind of guy, very intricate. So, I'd have a Joy Division-like bass line and Sam would have three power chords and Ruth Ann would have some jangly thing and Mark would be progging out."

What they lacked was a singer, because, as Mr. Skirboll says, "My voice is really low and weird, and Sam is like a kid screaming out."

One day, in February or March 1984, Mr. Chabon was at the house when the Bats were practicing and, Mr. Skirboll says, "He grabbed the mike and started making up words. We were like 'Whoa! You're in.' "

They worked up a set of songs and made their debut at the Electric Banana that May night with Rape of the South and Half Life.

"I had done performance pieces," Mr. Skirboll says, "but to get up and play real music - nice music that you wanted people to like - was a new thing for me. …

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