Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My high school band: The Goatays

I've never been hesitant to talk about my age. I'm 41 and proud of it. Honestly, I just refuse to take part in a culture that is so youth-oriented to the point that people feel embarrassed about being over 25. It's ridiculous. First, I didn't know shit when I was 25 (as I easily see from my perspective today), so I don't know what's so great about being young. Granted, people tend to look good at that age, but without going off on an ego rampage here, I honestly think I look better (and may be in better shape both physically and mentally) today than I was in the mid-90s. I'm certainly happier now, and I have the advantage of a bunch of experience and knowledge I've gained since then. I've also gained some weight and wrinkles around my eyes and a few gray hairs, but the trade-off is worthwhile.

Why the hell am I talking about this? Well, when I got up this morning, I got a fascinating email from my old friend Michael Gale. Mike and I were bandmates in our high school days and beyond. My very first band was formed while I was still in middle school, but it was more for practice and fun than anything serious. By the time I was a junior in high school, I was already a pretty experienced musician. I also developed friendships with some of the other musicians at school, and at some point our informal jams turned into a real band.

We were all between 16 and 18 years old, with our entire lives ahead of us. It's a fun time of life, when you're figuring out who you are and what you want to be, with all the choices wide open. At that point, in the mid-80s, we definitely hung out with the party crowd in school, and our band became synonymous with the big "ragers", "keggers", or whatever you call a gathering of 200 teenagers getting wasted and hanging out. We started performing at these parties nearly every weekend, calling ourselves The Goatays.

I should probably tell you who was in this band. The leader was our singer, Mike Gale. I call him the leader because we practiced at his house, and he was the one who really booked the gigs and put a personality in front of the band as our lead singer. I was a multiple threat on guitar (mostly rhythm), keyboards, and occasional vocals (backing and lead on a few tunes that were out of Mike's range). Mike Burns was the hotshot lead guitar player, and he was immensely talented for his age. John Simundich handled bass duties. John was a super nice kid at the time. We shared a love for The Police back then. Finally, on drums, we had a guy who was probably my best friend at the time, John Williams. John was the wild card of the band. If he didn't like the song we were doing, he was apt to start throwing drumsticks at Mike and I from his position in back. John liked his alcohol, and it was always a bit of a dice roll in terms of John's moodiness and level of sobriety when we were scheduled to do a show or a practice.

The Gotays in 1984. Left to right: Mike Gale (vocals), John Williams (drums), Zak Claxton (guitar/keys), John Simundich (bass), Mike Burns (guitar). Yes, I think I weighed 130 pounds at that point. I'm still the same height and about 40 pounds heavier now. Time happens. Photo courtesy of Mike Gale.

The band didn't have a long half-life. We started it when Mike and I were in 11th grade, and it burned out when we all went our mostly separate ways to start college and life beyond. Really, it was only from 1984-1986 that The Goatays flourished. But what a couple of years it was! Afterwards, as time went by, Mike and I would form other bands, wrote and recorded a lot of songs together, and would also go on to do lots of musical activities apart from each other. But because of our ubiquitousness in that magical period of the '80s, there are literally hundreds of people for whom their cherished memories of those days include the sound of us blasting our way through cover songs by the Doors, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, the Cars, the Police, the Stones, Pink Floyd and the like.

Another pic from the garage where we practiced and partied. In back, you can see the Marshall amplifiers (one black, one red) that Mike Burns and I bought on the same day. Photo courtesy of Mike Gale.

All very interesting, right? But again, you ask yourself, "Why is Zak writing about this?" Especially considering the fact that I'm not a person who looks back very much (too much happening now to be focused on the past), it's not often I regale you with stories from several decades ago.

A rare pic of us playing live, this time on the lawn of our high school. That's me out in front with my white Stratocaster, taking a guitar solo. Photo courtesy of Mike Gale.

As I mentioned earlier, I got up today to find an email from Mike Gale in my inbox. Mike and I have stayed in touch and remained close over the years, though our lives with our respective careers and families (and distance between us) have had us doing our own things for a number of years. But Mike has recently heard from the guy who is putting together my high school's Class in 1986 25-year reunion, scheduled for summer 2011. And the guy had an idea: a Goatays reunion show at the class reunion.

Well. That was unexpected, to say the least. My first thought was that it would be hard to bring us together. John Simundich, the bass player, had moved to Hawaii shortly after high school. The two Mikes, Burns and Gale, both have family and work obligations that are as strenuous as my own. And John Williams, the drummer, had fallen off the face of the Earth, apparently. The first indication that this might actually be feasible was that John S. had said that if we got the other guys involved, he'd fly in from Hawaii for the gig. The next step was Mike G.'s enthusiasm that we really try and get this rolling.

As of the time of this writing, they are trying to get Mike Burns to agree to the plan. Mike, like me, has continued with his career in music. Also like me, he's had a busy dual life in his work in software design, but he's been involved in film scoring and movie producing since then. I'll bet that he's into it, and I let them know that if Burns was in, I was in.

The one part of this completely out-of-the-blue reunion plan that will most likely not happen is the participation of our original drummer. While I'd love to see John W. again, it would seem that his life has not been easy since those days. Stories I've heard from mutual pals paint a pretty grim picture, and regardless, none of us are able to get in contact with him. So, it's already been determined that without John, another friend (and bandmate for many years), Danny Silva, would be filling in at the drummer's throne.

It's been fun, just having a reason to think about those days. I'm no fan of nostalgia; truth be told, while I did go to the 20-year reunion in 2006 and had fun, it's likely I would not have gone to next year's shindig without this Goatays reunion in the works. But I find that looking back on my days as a young musician, enjoying the camaraderie and creativity in a group setting for the first time, brings back more good than bad memories. Many more.

So, that's it for now. If all goes well, in Summer 2011, the Goatays will take the stage for the first time in 25 years. I, for one, think it might be really cool.

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