If you grew up watching MTV or listening to the radio in the ’80s and ’90s, chances are between losing yourself in the music and catching yourself in the commercials you heard about quite a few music-based contests for various record label and band promotions. Perhaps you may have even participated in a few by either trying to be the seventh caller in order to win tickets or entering your name, age, and address somewhere at AOL Keyword: MTV. This was a bizarre time in American pop culture when Nickelodeon’s Super Toy Run, a sweepstakes where the ultimate prize was the chance to win all the toys you could fill into a cart in five minutes, raised the bar for excessive wish-fulfillment absurdity. There’s no harder truth than the disclaimer “Many will enter, few will win.” In the summer of 2002, because of one of these contests, I had the tremendous fortune to actually have my favorite band play my garage.
I’m originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. For a music fan, it’s an excellent place to grow up. Along with a plethora of diverse music stores and accessible concert venues, it’s also home to some of the most fanatically beloved musicians of all time–Prince, the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, The Andrews Sisters, The Time, Atmosphere. With no shortage of options in front of me, my obsession in my formative high school years was a flashy band called Flipp.
New Yorkers may remember Flipp frontman Brynn Arens from his time in the ’90s as part of Lower East Side favorites Rattling Bones. Or perhaps you have memories of wild nights with his earlier groups Obsession or Funhouse. In the mid-90s Arens happened to win a contest of his own when delivering his homemade video of his band Flipp performing a Sonic Youth-inspired cover of The Who’s “My Generation” guerilla style to the MTV offices, inadvertently entering them the network’s “Warming Up the Zombie” contest that saw the group open for White Zombie in Detroit. The band subsequently landed a deal with Hollywood Records.
I discovered Flipp as I was just entering my teenage years through their cameo appearance in the 1999 Troma film Terror Firmer. My interest in Troma coincided with the time that I began becoming excited about music, so going online and discovering these show-stopping showmen with catchy hard-rocking tunes coming from my hometown floored me. I was still a few years off from being old enough to attend their shows at various Twin Cities clubs, but luckily the group fancied enough public stunts like performing on the roof of a coffee shop and playing outside of a downtown post office on Tax Day, that an eager underage fan like myself could catch one of their shows.
And what a show! With their stylish outfits, sing-along friendly anthems and additional mayhem like elaborate audience participation and cereal tossing being some of their trademarks, who wouldn’t want to see that show up close and personal? Thanks to the band’s 2002 essay contest, in honor of the forthcoming release of their album Volume on Everclear’s Art Alexakis’ Popularity Records, I had the opportunity to have the best seat in the house for a Flipp concert. Just outside my house, in fact, in my garage.
Rock band contests tend to be pretty out-there. From Pink Floyd giving away a plane to scoring a motorcycle trip with Aerosmith, even when you know what to expect, you never know what to expect. I asked my mother’s permission before submitting my “Why Flipp Should Play My Garage” essay, and she gave her full blessing. Years of studying “TRL” allowed me to differentiate between appropriate expressions of fandom and creepy obsessive ramblings, so sticking to the “I really want this” blueprint and emphasizing the friendliness of the neighborhood put my essay in a pretty good light. Once I got the call confirming my essay had won, I made sure to ask my mother again. Being she was just as adamantly a local music fan at my age, citing how she used to follow hometown favorites The Trashmen and would have been thrilled had they played her garage, she gave it the OK. There would have been nothing worse than your favorite band showing up at your house and your parents saying you couldn’t come out and play, so getting her approval was a must.
After I called all my friends (as in manually, one-by-one, on a landline) and told them the Earth-shattering news, it was time to ready the arena. I doubt in the entire annals of history there’s any record of a teenager that excited to clean his garage. After three tireless days of sweeping, stacking, tossing and putting up a dartboard and some posters I received as part of Go Kart Records’ street team, I felt my garage was good to go. Granted, the term “Garage rock” conveys something of an implied messy aesthetic, but I wanted to maneuver the Christmas lights and 4th of July decorations just right to maximize my garage’s acoustics.
I hadn’t woken-up that early on a Saturday since the days of watching “X-Men.” Of course, while I was buzzing all morning, the adrenaline really began to kick-in once two giant trucks full of all the equipment for a major rock show pulled up to my driveway. This was going to be no garage unplugged, this was the real deal. Once the crew began unloading the amps, tapping into our circuit breaker, positioning the soundboard and readying the instruments, the reality of what an undertaking this was going to be really set in. In the blink of an eye, dozens of strangers looking to rock and confused neighbors began swarming the garage. When things looked ready to go, the band in full rock attire emerged from their transportation and asked “Where’s Chaz?” After some quick introductions, they burst right into their opener “Clone Me” and the neighborhood block party was on.
I was four days away from being legally old enough to drive a car, but this was the far bigger milestone. Twice Brynn pulled me with the band to sing the bridges of their songs, took a request to perform “Hairdo” (which included a cover of Replacements’ “Bastards of Young”) and, for the closer “Half a Brain” invited me to play guitar. I’d never played a note of guitar in my life, and there’s few things as intimidating as learning guitar in front of a live audience, but after some brief instructions, I played two notes passably. Being that this was in front of all of my friends, most of my acquaintances and a surprising number of ex-girlfriends, I considered not falling flat on my face to be something of a victory.
What was also really cool was how much Flipp engaged with the entire neighborhood who came out. I had some relatives and neighbors attend who, let’s say, comfortably sat at both ends of the age spectrum who had the chance to play and sing with the band as well. Unfortunately, as anyone familiar with “Kids Don’t Follow” knows, after about a half-hour the police came to break the show up and the band took time to kick it with everyone there before heading off to perform at the garages of two other winners that night. That same day I went to a wedding as one of a neighbor’s sister. What did the bride’s elderly mother spend the entire reception discussing? Flipp. It’s been 12 years, and she’s still talking about it. And so goes the magic of a strong neighborhood community, entering contests and rock’n’roll.