Rock Bottom Bangor

Report from the Rock Bottom Remainders’ Concert
in May 1998


A dense fog hangs in the air of the Bangor Auditorium. Those in the audience may be inclined to first think of Stephen King’s “The Mist,” or perhaps of the remnants of one of Dave Barry’s exploding animals. Then, a jet of the stuff spurts from a machine behind the well-equipped concert stage, and the audience forgets for a moment the literary aspects of the evening. That’s a fog machine, those a real instruments, and this, just maybe, will be a real concert.

Suddenly, the house lights go down, and a spotlight from behind picks out the form of Roy Blount, Jr., a member of the Critic’s Chorus section of the Remainders, who doubles as emcee for the band. In a clipped Southern accent burbling with good humor, he announces the members of the band as they appear on stage.

First up is Dave Barry, an immensely funny humor columnist, at present wearing a T-shirt which reads Poupon U. He explains, “It’s from a mustard company!” As usual, Dave is two jokes ahead of the rest of us. He’s also on lead guitar, strumming and tuning away.

In rapid succession, Roy brings out the rest of the Critic’s Chorus. Joel Selvin (“If you rearrange the letters of his last name it almost spells ‘Elvis!’”), Dave Marsh (who has become a cross-dressing legend amongst the band) and two locals: Joni Averill of the Bangor Daily News and Ric Taylor, meteorologist for WVII-TV in Bangor.

Another Maineiac (and part of the Remainderettes this evening), the multitalented Tess Gerritsen, who not only writes medical thrillers and is an actual medical doctor (Stephen King: “She’s the only one of us who can prescribe Viagra!”), but also plays a mean electric violin. Rounding out the Remainderettes are Amy Tan, a well respected author specializing in multigenerational family novels (seen now in leopard skin and leather), and Kathi Goldmark, the “Band Mom” and media escort who began the Remainders and have been with them every step of the way.

Two band members actually have had some previous musical experience: radio host Mitch Albom (author of Tuesdays with Morrie and Elvis Presley impersonator) and Ridley Pearson (author of Undercurrents and Buddy Holly channelor) lend vocals and guitars to this already crowded lineup.

In a coup of stunt casting, the group has wrangled Warren Zevon, an actual rock and roll guy who’s had songs on the charts. He seems very much an excitable boy on the stage, constantly grinning as if in mixed joy and disbelief. Drummer Jim Christie and sax man Erasmo Paolo also lend some musical credence.

The last person Roy brings on stage needs no introduction, especially here in Bangor. Stephen King appears and the crowd goes insane. He’s a towering six foot two, in a cutoff Maine T-shirt. All eyes are on him, for it is Stephen King, and Stephen King alone, many are here tonight to see.

Then, the Remainders begin to play, and any such singularity promptly disappears. How they did it is a mystery, but it becomes immediately clear: The Rock Bottom Remainders really rock!

The band blasts through the first few numbers, including trademark covers like “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love” and “634-5789.” The energy in the audience percolates – people have begun dancing wildly in the aisles. Soon, though, for a few brief moments, the stage quiets and we are carried along by the voice of Stephen King, crooning a quite wonderful “Stand by Me.” (It truly becomes a rock moment when King breaks into a middle-of-the-song monologue: “I want you to put down that remote control, turn off that TV … because you’ve got two big strong legs … and you’ve got a big, strong man … and the only thing I want, except to get laid tonight … is for you to stand by me.” Cheers follow. This is so cool!)

The night is made of such moments: Dave Barry and his wife Michelle Kaufman bouncing through the Micky & Sylvia classic “Love is Strange.” Tabitha King, frantically dancing her heart out in the shadows behind the band. Kathi Goldmark taking over center stage with a kickin’ “Da Doo Ron Ron.” (The Remainderettes are hot!) Dave Marsh, dressed as a dead teenage girl, picketing King’s campy, tearful, and fearful rendition of “Teen Angel,” as the rest of the band consoles him. (Warren Zevon appears to break into sobs at one point, but I think he was trying to cover up his apoplectic fit of laughter.) Amy Tan’s wonderful solos: a weepy “Leader of the Pack,” sung to Maine governor Angus King, who sits astride (and subsequently falls from) a Harley in front of the stage; and a Remainders’ classic “These Boots are Made for Walkin’,” complete with Tan in a severe dominatrix outfit, eventually whipping the boys in the band and calling them all “very very bad.” King’s frantic rebel yell of Nazareth’s “Cum on Feel the Noize” sent the audience wailing (in a good way.)

Dave Barry actually wrote an original song for this show: “Proofreading Woman,” which is hilarious and actually a good song (the chorus: “She’s got a big dictionary / real good grammar / she never says ‘between you and I.’”)

The show closes with a slam-bang double-shot. The Remainders buzz through the infamous “FBI version” of “Louie Louie” (the only reprintable line is in the chorus, “Get her way down low.”) At the end of this, a surprisingly nimble Joel Selvin jumps around the stage in the rapture of a “scream solo” which lasts at least thirty seconds. The finale, King’s take on Zevon’s famous “Werewolves of London,” is terrific fun; if nothing else, the entire night would have been worth it to see Stephen King howl.

The show proper ends and people are getting up from their seats, when a frenzy of light and sound jumps out from the stage. The Remainders retake the room with their encore of Them’s “Gloria” (Dave Barry never sounded better). It’s one of the truly transcendent moments of the night. You can literally lose yourself in the power of rock and roll.

The Rock Bottom Remainders are not primarily musicians. They are a group of mainly writers with separate ideas and agendas, individuals who shape the world individually. But tonight, together, they formed something larger than themselves, something grand, something cohesive. They were a band, they were magic, and they were sure as hell born to run.

Rock on, Remainders.