me, martin zellar, one of my college roommates [st. thomas, may 1998]
austin, minnesota, in the late 1980s to mid 1990s, had to be -- to me -- the most romantic place on earth. anyone who has ever seen the movie "all the right moves" knows that there is nothing sexier than a blue-collar town, and no place in the world lived up to that expectation better than austin, 45 minutes from rochester, home of spam and the infamous hormel strike of 1985.
austin pacelli's varsity basketball team was comprised of actual men with muscles and athletic grunts, as opposed to the lourdes eagles -- a collection of gangly elbows and oversized ears. it was like a holiday when the shamrocks were the visiting team, parading into the school like letter jacket models. sometimes we sat with the opposing fans on the other side of the gym. our school spirit easily broken by their green and white short-shorts. steve rogne, marty woleski and rob garry didn't necessarily instigate puberty, but they certainly coaxed it along. [editor's note: yes, i remember their names. no, i did not know them. apparently in high school i was creepier than i previously suspected.]
but bigger than austin pacelli's boys basketball team, if possible, were the gear daddies. one of the original bands to be described as having that "college sound." they seemed accessible: like on the right night, maybe they would set up shop in your garage and play your graduation party. maybe a cop would show up wielding a billy club, say something like "okay, boys. pipe down."
bassist nick ciola would charm them into one last song, promising "then we'll wrap it up." the gear daddies would get a mischevious glimmer, crank up an extended version of "boys will be boys," and half the puritanical neighbors would charge the stage, while the other half shielded the youngens ears. martin zellar would fling the final lyrics from the window of a metallic blue muscle car, and they would skirt along back roads out of town leaving legions of boys emasculated and the girls practicing cursive "zellar"s after their first name.
i know this is is how it would happen because there is a moment on the cd "can't have nothin' nice" during the song "the color of her eyes" that zellar forgets the lyrics and says "shit."
the gear daddies broke up in 1992, promising one final show in their hometown of austin. my friend hinz, then going into her junior year of college, invited princess linda and me to go to the show. princess linda got the okay. i wasn't even allowed to watch mtv, so i didn't even bother asking to go. i pictured the austin pacelli basketball team in street clothes at the concert, solid, basketball-palming hands dwarfing cans of old milwaukee. maybe tossing a football and busting out a few lyrics to "drank so much (just feel stupid)."
at some point it had rained and the photo that ran in the rochester post bulletin the next day featured muddy music fans, who had turned the venue into a slip n slide. whipped handfuls of mud at each other. danced wildly in the guise of anonymous bog monsters. sent the gear daddies out right.
i knew i'd regret missing that show for the rest of my life. and frankly -- so far that has proven true.
now broken up, i showered all of my gear daddies loyalty on martin zellar, who was performing solo gigs -- sometimes doing exclusively neil diamond covers, sometimes revisiting the gear daddies, but usually mixing the two.
random fact: for my entire 19th year, the song "bored and 19" was my anthem.
as long as he was playing within an 80 mile radius and i had seven dollars for a cover charge, i was at every show: aquarius club, o'gara's, rookies ... he played at st. thomas for our senior sendoff. my bib overalls were almost as doused in beer as my liver when i climbed on stage with him and posed for a photo.
i got a little snotty about my zellarness. i was in the front row at a small show, dancing with a stranger, when a man behind us started screaming for zellar to play zamboni.
my dance partner and i turned around, stunned. damn-near tackled him.
"he HATES that song!" i said.
"how can you not know that?!" the other dancer asked.
"he's sick of playing it!" i admonished him.
the guy quietly slinked away.
the show continued.
out of college, this fanaticism continued. by then i was greeting him after each show.
me: martin, will you play my wedding dance someday?
martin: by the time you get married, i probably will be playing wedding dances.
this routine never grew old for me. i'd coo, and journal about it when i got home. i can imagine he cringed when he saw me coming. in his head i'd turned into the neighbor who says everyday: "cold enough for ya?"
the last time i saw martin zellar play was the weekend of my 30th birthday. he and the gear daddies did a reunion show at the minnesota state fair. the first two-thirds of the show was boring. suddenly, six beers later, it started to rock hard enough that my then-roommate had to pull over in moose lake, minn., on the way home so i could barf.
the point is, martin zellar played bayfront park last night. it was a free show. i had a previous commitment i didn't try to hard to get out of. but at one point i broke away from the group and went outside and heard most of "zamboni" and feverishly regretted not being at the show.
i hate missing the good stuff.