Hardcore

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

The story of the rise, fall and redemption of a band in the 90s Brooklyn Hardcore scene. A fictional but accurate portrait of New York, the clubs, the scene and the people coming up at the time.




 

Hardcore



 

Johnny Barrett sits in a small closet of an office in a Memphis recording studio. With his feet up on the desk and a Dunhill dangling from his lips, he has the phone cradled between his ear and shoulder and is trying to calm the women on the other end with very little success. The call is cut short by the woman getting another more important call. This allows Johnny to get back to his lazy… Uh, busy afternoon of doing nothing. Nothing that is except to watch the clock and wait for a respectable hour to crack open a cold one from the mini fridge just to his left. Today he makes it all the way until 1:15ish before declaring out loud to no one at all, “Beer O’clock!” This is followed by the familiar and beautiful sound of the tab on a can of Original Coors being cracked open which is always louder in an empty room. A match is struck, another Dunhill is lit and Johnny Barrett leans back with his feet up and a self satisfied grin on his face.

Owning and running a recording studio these days is a tricky business. Almost everything can be pretty much done on a laptop and with auto tune. Christ you don’t really even have to be able to sing any more or have any kind of real talent to begin with. Studios are on the same road that dinosaurs went down. Except of course in Nashville and Memphis, these two cities are linked not just by proximity but also a rich musical history. When it gets a hold of you you can see and feel the music. It’s all around, steeped in the Blues all the way back to the pain of poverty and slavery. It’s the kind of thing not taught in school but maybe it should be? It’s in the air in Memphis. There is a pride and a work ethic in being a singer/songwriter or a session player. There is something about being a working musician in Memphis and there’s something special in being a Studio Rat as well and Johnny Barrett is certainly and unapologetically that and he Loves everything about it.

Johnny will stop and tell anyone who’ll listen that, “The nineties were very good to me.” Johnny Barrett grew up a Brooklyn Hardcore Kid in the nineties singing or more accurately yelling in a number of bands and working in a recording studio there too. He still finds the studio to be spiritual and a big live room to be a religious experience much like church only with cooler people and better music. Back in the day in Brooklyn there was a pretty strong live music scene with a circuit of clubs and a tight circle of bands who all knew each other, played together and showed up to see and support each other. These were the days of BioHazard, Life of Agony, Murphy’s Law and many others. The studio was the hub of it all. The center of the universe for up and coming bands and kids of a certain age who were into a certain kind of music.

Sledge Hammer Studios in Bensonhurst Brooklyn had an awesome vibe. Even if you weren’t in a band the place was just a cool hang. Sledge Hammer has long ago secured its place in the lore and history of Brooklyn Hardcore for about a dozen years from 92 into the early 2ooo’s some of the heaviest and most fiercely loved bands on the scene came out of that place. The bands and their fan base were all about loyalty, love and respect. They got it and they gave it back in spades. To each other, to the studio and to the borough of Brooklyn, the county of Kings. Loyalty, respect and pride are the basic principles and themes of Hardcore and all the bands involved worked hard to build up the scene and create a sense of community and family. All Johnny wanted was to be part of it and at the studio he was right in the middle of it. Johnny knew straight out of high school that college was not in his future so he never even entertained the thought. After going to Sledge Hammer with bands in high school Johnny opted for a trade school where he could learn audio engineering. He got out at 19 and from there worked live sound at a small club in Park Slope two nights a week and also bartended twice a week. Johnny always worked hard and hustled.

He was well liked and respected; he somehow turned that into a steady gig working at the studio also two times a week. The owner, a guy named Billy Fallon Liked Johnny right off the bat so he gave the kid a shot and was surprised at exactly how much Johnny actually knew and more so how much he was willing to learn. I mean, the guy would do anything, sweep the floor, make coffee and set up the rehearsal rooms. He even tried to clean the ugly old cum stained couches with powdered carpet cleaner. It all paid off though, 20 year old Johnny Barrett was making about seven hundred bucks a week, ALL CASH! That was a pretty good pay day back in 95 and it kept Johnny out of trouble simply because working three jobs doesn’t leave enough time to get in any trouble or do much of anything else either. At the time Johnny wasn't actively in any bands. He had sat in and jammed around with a few but nothing seemed to stick. That’s often the case when a particular genre or scene has been around for a while. Things can get a bit stale and everything starts to look and sound the same until something fresh and exciting comes along to shake things up and grab you by the throat.

To Johnny it was just cool to do what he enjoyed and even cooler to be able to say that he worked at the Mighty Sledge Hammer Studios. After all, this was the time of girls in baby doll dresses and Goth chicks wearing chokers and carrying around metal lunch boxes to use as purses. They were always hanging around the studio to check out their boy friends band or hook up with some long haired Metal Dude in the disgusting unisex bathroom that they had a crush on that week. Not that any of them ever really noticed Johnny. He had a lot going for him back then. Money and intelligence, charm and wit. He was a pretty funny guy but also kind of quiet and shy. It usually took him a little while and a few beers to warm up to people and be able to relax and be himself. This also unfortunately led to Johnny Barrett having the rep of being a really NICE GUY! Which all us guys know is a death sentence more than it is a compliment. Any girl in her late teens or early twenties if she's able to be honest will tell you she doesn’t want the Nice Guy, It’s always gonna be the Bad Boy. This always left Johnny and guys like him in the, “Just Friends.” Category and what guy wouldn’t love that title.

For as cool and awesome as the studio could be there were also times when it was totally dead and obscenely boring. This happened mostly on weekday nights and since Johnny worked on Tuesdays that means it happened to him A LOT! Billy was typically only there if a recording session was scheduled or if him and his wife were fighting and he had to crash in the office, which happened to him A LOT! Billy always told Johnny and the rest of the staff to look around when it was quiet because there was always stuff that needed to be done. This was true but it was also a matter of whether or not you actually wanted to do that particular stuff at that particular time. Mostly Johnny would use the time to read or write lyrics. He would get in at three and work until closing, somewhere around midnight or later depending on when the last booking was? Johnny knew Billy never wanted anyone to lock up and leave early just in case there was a late or last minute booking so he never even bothered asking. The worst and most annoying was always kids calling and booking time just to fuck around and not show up. There were also bands Johnny was friendly with wanting to come by and rehearse and when the time was up they would ask to owe the money or want to stay later both of those situations were frequent and both were also a pain in the ASS!

On a random rainy Tuesday night in January of 95 Johnny was quite enjoying the silence of the studio flipping through a Fan Zine with his feet up when the phone rang. Johnny answered, “Studio, can I help you?” A sleepy sounding lethargic voice on the other end inquired about getting a practice room from midnight til 2 AM and how much it would cost? Though not at all happy about it, Johnny answered the questions, took the booking and got the guy’s name and number. Tommy was the name he gave and something told Johnny to call the number back and check if it was legit. Tommy answered and Johnny came up with some Bull Shit questions about setting up the room to make himself seem legit. Johnny called back 20 minutes later with a question about drums and cymbals. Johnny would call the number three more times to be sure this wasn’t a prank. Each time Tommy would answer and each time he seemed a little more annoyed then the time before. In Johnny’s defense, he just didn’t want to be sitting around until 2 AM for no reason. It was a long enough bus ride from Bensonhurst all the way back to Johnny’s neighborhood of Marine Park as it was, let alone at that time of night or early morning depending on how you wanna look at it.

Finally! Sure enough, right around midnight Johnny sees in the monitor for the camera in the hall three figures trudging up the stairs. All of them were in fitted baseball caps, baggy pants and white Pumas with wife beaters  under their winter coats. Basically your standard issue Hardcore Kid uniform of the day. Tommy the guitarist is the first one to greet Johnny and shake his hand. Johnny is struck by his slight frame and small stature along with his closely shaven head. Mike the drummer is next nodding his head and saying, “What’s up?” Lastly, bass player Joe says only, “Hey.” Johnny leads them through three heavy doors into the rehearsal room. Before leaving them to do their thing he asks, “How many live mikes do ya want?” Tommy replies, “None we got no singer.” “Ok”Johnny adds as he is leaving, “If you need anything else I’ll be out there.” as he heads back out to the front desk.

Just under ten minutes in Johnny can make out the faint sounds of the band warming up and a faint whiff of something herbal wafting out from under the bottom of the doors. If you're paying thirty bucks an hour you can pretty much do what you want. The room is yours. You wanna smoke? Drink? Fuck whatever go right ahead. It’s all been done before and nobody’s gonna bother you. Shit, there’s even cheap beer in the soda machine if you know which botton to press. (It’s Hawian Punch, in case you were wondering.) The point is there was always a bottle or a 40 and a blunt floating around. Everybody shared and all were free to partake if they chose to. Johnny always liked checking out new bands and since no one was around he got the keys to the soda machine, helped himself to a beer poured into a Solo cup just to be classy of course and propped open one of the three doors to the rehearsal space to sneak a listen to the new guys in the next room.

What Johnny Barrett heard next was something very different. It was the build up to a groove, it was a slow, deliberate and grinding groove that was almost danceable. He had to have listened to at least three different original songs all with that distinctive groove but all also very different,very tight and stylized. At just about the halfway point of their time the three young guys emerged to take a quick break. They all lit Newports and sat on the couch in the reception area. The bass player with his bleached blonde hair and black tribal ink on his arm was putting his coat on to make a beer run for the second half of their practice. Johnny had to inform him that the deli around the corner was closed. He then told Joe and the boys about the secret stash of beer in the soda machine for which all three of them were grateful. Johnny made change, giving them singles and they put up two bucks a piece grabbing two beers each and heading back in for the second hour.

A few minutes later Johnny popped into the room asking, “ Hey, you guys wanna record this? I could throw a cassette in the tape deck? Some people like to have it to listen back to. It helps if you're working on new stuff.” Mike the drummer answered, “Cool,Cool, Thanks.” Normally bands would be charged five dollars extra for that but Johnny did this one for free. He knew what he was doing and he knew what he wanted to do. Johnny Barrett had a plan and it was already in motion. He set up the tape deck and turned the mike in the middle of the stage on to get a good recording level and as part of the plan to show off his voice without being obvious about it. “Check, Check Hey!!” Johnny’s voice boomed in a raspy guttural growl. He followed up with, “Ok, that should be good.” He then hopped off the stage. Tommy quickly stepped up to the mike and asked, “Hey, Can you do that again? Do you sing? Are you in a band?” Standing in the doorway Johnny answered, “Yes, Yes and No.” Joe then chimed in, “Wanna hang and try some stuff out with us?” That was it! That was the plan! That invitation was exactly what Johnny wanted and he jumped in head first right then and there.

Yeah, these guys got an extra free hour of rehearsal but they also got a singer who fit them perfectly. Johnny didn’t hold back. There was no hesitation at all. He was instantly comfortable. Even with limited, improvised lyrics off the top of his head, Johnny’s cadence, delivery and style were an almost perfect match to the sonic wave swelling up behind him to carry him away. As the night came to an end numbers were exchanged and Johnny was told, “We’ll definitely give you a call.” It turned out the three of them were neighborhood guys who lived like seven blocks away and all within a block or two of each other. They had all grown up together and formed the band about a year before just haven’t had any luck with the singer search. Seeing how late it was and hearing how far away Johnny lived, Mike was quick to offer him a ride home which Johnny very gladly took. Outside the studio they all piled into Mike’s ride, an old station wagon, the kind with the wood paneled doors. Hey it was good enough and the way Johnny saw it was a chance to keep the conversation going.

By car the ride to Marine Park was only like twenty some odd minutes. It beat the Hell outta an hour long bus ride at 3 AM! It was just long enough to pop the rehearsal tape in and listen back to what they had done. It also allowed Johnny to run down his Hard Core credentials, bands he was in, people he knew and everything he thought he could bring to the table. Working at the studio and at a club too had to make Johnny look good to these guys, right? Dropping Johnny off all four of them said things along the lines of, “Later, Thanks, Cool.” Then the station wagon pulled away. Johnny stood there for a minute, then went halfway down the driveway and in the house through the side door. Then down into his basement bedroom to crash, though he wouldn’t have much luck sleeping. Johnny still had to get up and work for a living. He had to be at his Bartending gig in time to open at noon. He had never been late or called out and he wasn’t about to start now.

It took a few long, nerve racking days for Johnny Barrett to get the phone call he was waiting for. Keep in mind, these are the prehistoric, pre cell phone days we’re talking about here. People were walking around with beepers and pockets full of change for pay phones! Remember those? Sunday was the only day Johnny had completely to himself with no place to go and nothing to do. He would sleep late and just kind of bum around in the basement while his mother and sister were upstairs doing whatever it is that they did. Johnny was rarely home and kept odd hours so he honestly really didn’t know what went on in the rest of the house. He could easily go days at a time without seeing or speaking to his mom or sister. Since meeting the new band at the studio he was driving his family crazy asking if he got any calls? Even calling when he was out or at work to see if anyone called? Finally on that Sunday around noon Johnny’s mother came to the top of the stairs and yelled down to him, “John, phone for you!” Johnny flew up the stairs, he swears to this day that his family was the last one ever to get a cordless phone. The only phone in the house at the time was on a small side table in the dining room which opened up into the living room so there was never any privacy but so what?

Johnny picked up and heard Mike, who wasted no time in telling him, “So Johnny, You’re In! You’re our new singer! If you want it?” Johnny almost bit through his own tongue trying to play it cool as he answered, “Yeah, Ok, Cool.” Mike then informed him, “We get together to practice in my garage around five on Sundays. You should come by if you can make it? I can’t pick you up but I’ll drive you home later.” After taking the address, Johnny said, “I’ll be there.” and that was that he was in! Johnny excitedly told his mom and sister that he was going to start singing in a new band. His mother was always supportive and encouraged his pursuit of music. His sister? Not so much. Whatever, that didn’t matter. Johnny had two mikes and a stand in the basement which he packed up along with an 8 watt bass amp that he used to sing through when there was no PA. After calling car service to transport himself and his gear, Johnny Barrett went. Off to Bensonhurst and off to a new band!

As he exited the car at the beginning of Mike’s driveway, Johnny could hear the beautiful racket of the boys setting up. He loved that noise and not being in a band for a while he missed being part of it. Making his way into the backyard and toward the open garage, Johnny was enthusiastically met by Joe striding toward him with an open beer in his outstretched hand. Johnny once again felt at ease and at home with these guys as he cracked open a Bud Tall Boy and thought to himself, “This is gonna be Good!” Before getting into it they all had a smoke and sipped on a cold beer. There was plenty on ice in a cooler by the drum kit and after a Blunt was passed around it was time to get to work. This is where Tommy took the lead. He suggested that they do a run through of some of their stuff and then Johnny can pick a few to jump in and work on. This seemed like a good introduction and first attempt at working together, so that’s what they did for the first twenty minutes or so of their first formal rehearsal together as a band.

After blistering through six songs, or at least what could be bits and pieces of ideas for songs three of them were settled on for them to work on with Johnny. Johnny had a notebook with him and flipped through some pages of lyric ideas and poetry trying to cobble something together that would at least temporarily fit. He was able to put enough odds and ends together to pull it off for the time being. The four of them worked the three chosen song ideas over and over for the next couple of hours and it was falling into place. They were all vibing together and just as they found the sweet spot it was time to call it a night. It was almost nine and Mike didn’t want to piss the neighbors off so they wrapped it up and hung out in the garage a little bit longer until Mike said, “C’mon Johnny I’ll take ya home Brother!” The night ended with Tommy, Joe and Mike all hugging Johnny as they said goodbye. This sealed it essentially welcoming Johnny into the fold, the family, the tribe. Whatever you wanna call it, it’s a powerful thing and a powerful moment. It feels good like acing a test you didn’t study for or having a great first date.

In the weeks to follow, the boys would develop a good work ethic and work flow. They would practice twice a week at Sledge Hammer where they got a discounted rate because of Johnny and still have a Sunday garage practice. In a matter of a month they probably had between eight and ten songs completed that they would play over and over, getting the songs tighter and more polished all the time until they became second nature. Johnny Barrett was by far the most experienced of the crew as far as being in different bands and knowing his way around the studio and the ins and outs of the scene itself. Johnny was plugged in, he was connected in ways that the other guys just weren’t since they were new to the whole thing and only ever played together. All his experience and exposure led Johnny to create a sort of formula for a successful band which he would share with his new bandmates while hanging out after one of those Sunday garage practice sessions.

The formula was in fact more of a timeline for the band to follow. Sipping on a cold Bud Tallboy Johnny laid out the breakdown, “I’ve learned a lot and I think we have the potential to go as far as we want. I just think we have to set some goals and the way I see it, step by step everything we gotta do should take about three months at a time. If we bust our asses and take this serious there’s no reason we can’t be signin’ a record deal a year from now.” The basic concept was to write and rehearse for three months straight, then record a demo and use that to book gigs. Next, play out as much as possible anywhere and everywhere to build a following. After three solid months of that Johnny explained, “Then we hit the road for a few days at a time. Up and down the east coast playin’ shows with other bands in other scenes and we sell demos and merch to pay for gas and food along the way. That’s how it’s done! I’ve seen it work before. If we want attention, if we want a deal? We do it ourselves, we go out and grab it! The other three guys were totally on board and a little impressed with how much thought Johnny put into this plan of his and the little speech he gave. They were ALL IN!

Being in a band can be a dicey proposition in the beginning. There is definitely a period of sizing up and feeling each other out. The personalities and roles of each member help to shape and establish the group dynamic very early on. It can be very much like a marriage, sometimes more like a gang or in some cases even more like a cult. As the outsider, the new guy Johnny Barrett took a risk in proposing his plan for the future of the band but, what the hell, Hard Core was supposed to be about Balls, Right? Johnny wasn’t trying to take control or assume power, he was offering direction. He wanted that to be understood, he felt like ideas should be shared freely and every one should have an equal say. Maybe leadership could be shared? Johnny didn’t want to take over the world. He just wanted the band to be big enough and do well enough that they could make a living without day jobs. It would be enough to just pay the bills as a band, as working musicians. For Johnny, that was the goal and it was not only realistic but also admirable. There was something respectable about that.

Before anything else could happen, the next order of business was a name. Joe’s idea was Mass…. Something??? Destruction something like that or initials that spelled out a word?? Whatever Joe! Johnny kept thinking of short punchy names one or two words. He kept coming back to Binge. That was it, Done! Maybe just because they needed a name or lack of any better ideas but that was it from then on they were Binge. Going to the studio was still fun and by May after four months together they had a good stock pile of material. Ten really good originals and three covers that they all liked playing. They chose four originals and practiced until they were perfect. Wanting to hit the clubs and start playing live that summer, Binge hit the studio to record it’s first demo. Recording the four songs took five days and cost the band seven hundred bucks but the result was a heavy, gritty, hard hitting brand of Hard Core with a raw groove. It was something that Binge as a band could be proud of and something that was sure to get them gigs. They dubbed their debut demo effort… First Offense named for the opening track. They next sent copies of both CD and cassettes around to the six or so clubs and dives in Brooklyn that made up the circuit for original, unsigned heavy bands and waited around in anticipation of their first live show.

The recording process brought the four boys of Binge closer together as they had not really hung out together socially and besides Johnny the other three had no experience recording. Each of them would find their own way and their own “Thing” when it came to playing in front of a crowd. It would be interesting to see how this well rehearsed studio band would evolve as a live act. It’s not enough to just work on the songs, you gotta work on the show too! When kids pay money to see you, you better give ‘em somethin’! Tommy was a good guitarist on the verge of almost great. Joe had a good look with his bleached hair, several piercings and more than a few tattoos. He was a decent bass player made better by the fact that he liked to move around as he played. He would very often stomp around in a circle with his eyes closed in direct opposition to Tommy who was as stiff as a stone statue. Mike was a good enough drummer. He played the same stock beats and fills for every song just at different speeds with varying, odd starts and stops. A style Johnny and Tommy would later call “Stutter Steppin’.” Mike was good enough, his efforts were serviceable and he had the station wagon. That was a big help in those early days. As for Johnny he had a powerful voice and on stage the chip on his shoulder became a boulder! He was more of a front man than an actual singer. Johnny Barrett developed a serpentine slither and strut on stage that was heavily borrowed from Axl Rose with some Mick Jagger swagger thrown in. Binge worked with what they had for those first few gigs. They pulled it together and they pulled it off.

Johnny knew the time had come to quit or at least step back from working weekends so he would be free to play gigs and focus on the business of Binge. He Loved the Low Lite, the Park Slope club/dive/biker bar where he worked live sound on Friday and Saturday nights. The owners were cool and understanding, Johnny stayed on as a bartender there and booked Binge there for back to back nights two weekends in a row. These first four gigs were basically just like being at the studio only in a different practice room. The Low Lite was a perfect Dive bar. It looked like you were going to a house party in a buddy’s basement. Binge brought in thirty to forty five people at each of those gigs and got three bucks a head from the five dollar cover. The house got the rest plus the bar. Not a bad deal for either side, a nice haul for those days. The band knew they would have to move on and spread out. They couldn’t just play the Low Lite every weekend. Binge was already bigger, badder and better than that. At least that’s how it was in the minds of its members and hey, perception is reality so fake it til you make it!

L’amour, the biggest Brooklyn Hard Rock club, the Crown Jewel at the time was still a bit out of reach for the scrappy boys of Binge. Places like Club 315 in Bay Ridge and the Crazy Country Club were easy to book. Johnny and Mike shared the responsibility of booking gigs, it was an endlessly boring and thankless task. Phone calls, call backs, answering machine messages and wasted time. On this, Mike and Johnny were united and like minded. Play gigs, sell demos, get a mailing list going. Just get out there and the crowds will get bigger. They both had an eye toward growing the band’s name, breaking out and getting bigger. They needed to branch out to Manhattan and then beyond. Going back to his time in trade school Johnny was friends with a drummer who lived in Jersey and played in multiple bands. This allowed Binge to jump on a few bills across the river and gave them an in. They brought some Brooklyn flavor to an exploding and diverse live music scene in New Jersey.

The big breakthrough for Binge was the Pyramid, Alphabet City, NYC. The Lower East Side was still gritty, sleazy and dangerous in the summer of ‘95 and the Pyramid was a reflection of its own environment. The place had a booking agent, a British guy named Neville with a thick cockney accent. He would listen to demos and then book bands in a handful of clubs in The City Starting with the Pyramid. That’s where new acts would get their shot playing in the basement of the venue first then hopefully working their way up and into other spots handled by Neville, such as The Bank, The Bat Cave and The Spiral Lounge to name a few. The Pyramid was an interesting joint because it had three levels and there was something different going on on each floor every night of the week. There was always a new band to check out in the cool stripped down basement space. The first floor was home to a rotating set of DJS spinning everything from retro 70s Metal to Goth or Glam depending on the night. The second or top floor was reserved for bigger more established bands ranging from Grunge and Alternative to the relatively new and exciting Techno Industrial movement.

Being an up and coming band, Binge was eager to win over new crowds in an effort to expand their audience; they were willing to play on any bill with any band. They had a take no prisoners attitude and took No Shit from the crowd. Depending on who you asked or how you looked at it, this approach worked at times with varying degrees of success and other times it was a miserable failure, an epic Shit Show of Colossal Proportions. No matter what the outcome, Binge was playing out more frequently and as a result they were getting better both musically and as a live band. They were starting to make a name for themselves and they were drawing bigger crowds, beyond just their girlfriends and their Buddies from The Neighborhood. People were actually showing up and paying to see them. By word of mouth from the ground up, Binge was building a legit fan base. One particularly rough night at The Pyramid Binge shared the stage with an Industrial outfit called Bile. They were the headliners, it was their crowd. Binge opened to a bunch of kids in make up like they were on the set of the Movie The Crow. The members of Bile looked the same and, like the crowd they largely ignored Johnny Barrett and the boys of Binge. 

A group of about fifty or so kids standing silently like statues with their arms folded. Some just aimlessly milling about engaging in side conversations or hanging back at the bar. Three songs into the set, the silent treatment got to Johnny. He assured the crowd, “Hey, don’t worry! It’s almost over.” He then added, “No hard feelings, we don’t like you either.” Joe, who had recently taken a liking to doing backing vocals at live shows staggered up to the mike in front of him on stage and added, “Yeah, Fuck This and Fuck All Y’all!” The thirty minute set lasted five songs, roughly eighteen minutes and that was just about enough for everyone involved. Including all of Binge who after exiting and packing up spent the next few hours sitting at the basement bar of The Pyramid with their unified mission being to drown their sorrows in cheap beer and make some Goth kids terribly uncomfortable. It worked like a charm! On that front at least, the night was a Smashing success! At least the guys had a laugh. Mission Accomplished! They were in on the joke and they had the Balls to stick around and stick together.

The next step would have to be expansion. It was time to leave the kiddie pool, take off the training wheels so to speak. Tommy had become more interested in venturing out when he started hearing a few other bands at the studio talk about putting together mini tours. Philly, Boston, Virginia and even DC were open markets for original heavy music. This was exactly what Johnny was talking about when he outlined his plan for the band back in the garage and now Tommy was totally into it. Joe would be an easy sell, he was always ready and excited about playing new places. Tommy informed Johnny that, “Mike is gonna be a Little Bitch about this but, no worries, he’ll come around. You work on setting it up. Make like it’s a done deal and he can’t say no. I’ll get Mikey on board, no problem. You just hook it up. Do your thing My Brother!

It was a tall order but Johnny was up to the task. Talking to members of two other bands that Binge was tight with, Johnny learned that if you wanted to lead the charge and fly the flag for Hard Core, the Buzz was coming out of Western, upstate New York. Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester was where the next wave was and two other bands that were establishing themselves, Backhand and a band simply called Pissed wanted Binge along to ride that wave with them. These largely overlooked and untapped Hardcore Hamlets were a hot bed and a haven for unsigned bands. The kids, the clubs, the promoters, the whole scene was all about being a home away from home for Brooklyn Hardcore. All it took was a few phone calls and the three bands had booked themselves as a complete bill in two Rochester clubs over the next weekend. The owners and promoters loved this formula because they didn’t have to do anything but open the doors and collect the cash. It was a simple blueprint for the bands too sharing the bill meant they could also share equipment and expenses. It also meant a weekend away and a good time. What could be easier or better? Oh yeah… The Free Beer!!!!

These three Brooklyn based bands embarked on their first upstate jaunt at the tail end of 96. Each band threw a hundred bucks into the kitty for gas, tolls and incidentals the deal with the clubs was a flat three hundred dollar payday for the bands to split and whatever they made from merch and sales of CDs they kept for themselves. Backhand actually had their own van, the guys from Pissed rented a U Haul and the boys of Binge invested in the purchase of a trailer to hitch to Mike’s wood paneled wagon which Mike wasn’t happy about. Then again that seemed to just be the case with Mike in general. He was usually a pretty unhappy guy about a lot of things. For the most part he was pissed about being the only one of the four of them who could drive and he didn’t like being told that his Smokin’ Hot little girlfriend would have to stay behind instead of joining him on the road and keeping his Bitch Ass warm for two whole freezing cold Western New York nights and the fact that he would have to take two whole days off from work. What The Fuck??? Suck it up Mikey! You’re a minimum wage counter guy at a Bensonhurst bagel store for Fuck sake!

Pulling up to that first gig on Friday night already felt like a triumph, at least to Johnny Barrett. The club was called Exile and it was, in fact, on Main Street! This little nugget of karma wasn’t lost on  Johnny, being a huge Rolling Stones fan he was prompted to comment, “I know it’s only Rock N’ Roll but I Like it!” To nobody in particular as he exited the wagon. The club was a small stand alone corner drinking establishment with its own parking lot. This was perfect as none of the bands thought ahead about booking any kind of lodging. At least they could hang out in the lot. The bands commandeered the empty space and staged a tailgate party of sorts. The club was flanked by a gas station with a convenience store and a strip mall across the way that housed a Subway and a Domino’s Pizza. Cases of late afternoon beers flowed and crappy fast food was consumed. Nick the frontman for Backhand always had a joint handy and was always more than happy to spark up his brothers in arms as they prepared to Seek and Destroy in the tiny town of what they would come to call ROCK CHESTER!

The bands were able to load in at 5 and each even had a sound check which was extremely rare back then. The Rock Star treatment was in full effect! After sound check it was decided that Pissed, being the youngest and least experienced band would open the night with Binge very comfortably in the middle spot. Leaving Back Hand as the Headliners. They were the senior and more seasoned of the bands on the bill. They played at Exile before and had a pretty good following. In the hours between sound check and the show the drummer from Pissed approached Mike and asked to borrow the waggon for an hour or so. Paulie Bags was a good enough drummer and a decent enough guy that Mike granted the request. Paulie Bags earned that moniker by virtue of being the Neighborhood Slinger of Bags of assorted goodies back in Brooklyn. When you wanted to procure anything back then they used to call it going on a “Run” or on a “Mission” Paulie at this point had a mission in mind but it wasn’t about pills and powders, it was more like pillows and showers. Keep in mind this is before Google and cell phones are rare. Booking anything online was unheard of so, when Paulie saw a Red Roof Inn about a quarter of a mile out on the way into town he figured, why not grab a few rooms?

Paulie Bags made an Executive Decision booking three Red Roof Rooms at the rate of 60 bucks a night for two nights each. There goes all your proffits! Plus now you’re 60 bucks in the hole! When he came back with the breaking news right before show time Paulie Bags dressed the situation up as an after party promising, “After we Rock the show, we can Rock the Red Roof!” Nobody cared about the money. Even Mike was pleased about the potential of playing the conquering hero/Rock Star. Later that night Mike would get a Blow Job behind a dumpster in the back of the club. He would regret and feel bad about this until the next Dumpster Blow Job, of which there were many.

The doors to The Exile opened at 7 with Pissed taking the stage at 8. They were not quite prepared for the 45 minute set plus the 15 minute set up and break down time. They had an hour to kill and only just shy of 22 or so minutes of music! Pissed was losing the crowd, after a weak Sex Pistols cover Tommy and Johnny jumped! Taking the stage right alongside Pissed  They launched into covers that they knew and made it look as if Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Man in a Box and the Social D classic, Ball and Chain were planned. That was a blistering, off the cuff, in the moment thing between Tommy and Johnny. There would be many more of those moments to come. Johnny and Tommy were becoming quite the pair and a dynamic songwriting duo at that. At the end of the night the Red Roof was Rockin’! This is exactly the point where the chemicals casually creep in and corrupt as they always inevitably will.

All Hail the conquering heroes at the Red Roof all the bands partied. They drank and fucked and indulged in everything. All manner of fun and debauchery was laid out in front of the boys from Brooklyn and Why not? They still had another show in another place and this was the life! Boys will be boys. That was the bottom line and at the end of the day you just moved on. Onto the next show. A place called The Castle, an old converted movie theater with a marquee and all the band's names in lights! The show was the same and the crowd was the same. Binge was also the same. They could never get any better or worse. Johnny and Tommy had a thing, a vibe that you had to see. Joe on stage was pure joy! He was all in and made the audience feel what he felt. If you saw Binge when they were good, there was nothing better. At a certain point they were like a slice of pizza, even when they were bad they were still pretty good! They were beginning to enjoy a hard fought reputation as a solid live band and a stand up group of guys as well. They had made it to a certain extent, earning a certain level of credibility and respect. Binge was in demand and playing out just about four nights a week earning them about a Grand a week. The tours were getting longer, up and down the east coast extending even into Canada and testing the southern waters a bit  with a few dates in Virginia and Florida.

They relished playing live, they loved the road and the lifestyle that went along with it but in early 97 it was time to get back in the studio and record some new material.The new tracks were largely written by Tommy and Johnny in motel rooms on the road. Johnny had a 4 track and a couple of mikes that he brought out with them and Tommy would play either on an old acoustic he always had with him or plug his Gibson SG direct into the board. Tommy and Johnny would bunk together and get song ideas down on tape when they had down time or were just bored. As a result they had rough cuts of six or seven new songs nearly completed by the time they hit the studio in March. Writing and rooming together brought Johnny and Tommy closer, Tommy also enjoyed learning about recording. Mostly when they were home Tommy liked buying new gear, he dug thye toys. He was like a sponge in the studio and it was also helpful that Tommy had a good ear as well. He couldn’t explain or understand it but he just knew when something sounded right to him. It was the same when something was wrong or off, he just knew. Music was very natural and intuitive to Tommy. Music is after all, more than anything else a language. You have to learn it and understand it before you can speak it fluently.

The sessions for the second demo were a live affair taking eight days to record 5 songs on a 2 track format. It was a laid back and experimental situation where the band took it’s time playing around with sounds and arrangements. Without planning on it they were really loose and fluid, stretching out and feeding off of each other. All the live playing experience had made them all very comfortable with improvising and changing things on the fly. All four of the guys were contributing, they all had something to bring to the table. It was a truly collaborative creative effort. This also marked the first time Johnny Barrett took on the task of being the lone engineer and co producer along with Tommy of his own bands music. Two of the new songs were more melodic but they still had the heavy groove that had become the Binge signature. This was a challenge to Johnny both lyrically and vocally. He could have just leaned back in that familiar pocket and phoned it in, just sit back and dial up the grit and the growl that was his bread and butter. He instead delivered aching, mournful lines singing in rich tones full of depth and range for How I Hurt and again in Shattered Glass. Then he flipped the switch on the other three tracks going back to the machine gun cadence and gut punch delivery that his voice was made for. All were happy with the end result and it was time to go to the next phase. It was time for Binge to get serious about the business end of the Music Business.

The guys promptly put together a press kit. Professional enough looking photo taken in the studio by Johnny’s cousin basically because he owned a camera. The band bio and copies of both demos on CD. Off they went to well over a dozen record companies. In those days there were a good amount of small independent labels that the band figured they probably had a pretty good shot at. Johnny and Mike worked on sending the packets out and keeping track of where they went. The way they saw it, it was a numbers game pure and simple. Some responses were surprisingly swift, within the span of a month Binge had enough rejection letters to wallpaper an entire apartment. The feeling within the band was one bordering on desperation. Something had to happen and sooner rather than later. They knew they were good and they felt they had proven themselves but being big fish in small ponds wasn’t good enough anymore. Binge needed a break to get to the next level. As a band they decided to tough it out until the new year and if nothing happened by the end of January 98 they would call it quits! Three years together is a long time in the life of a band. They worked hard and frustration was setting in. It had nothing to do with lack of faith or lack of effort. The boys of Binge just needed a little divine intervention. A little karmic cooperation from the universe couldn’t hurt.

Joe and Tommy wanted to get back out on the road, while Mike wanted to stick close to home. Mike would confess years later that he hated touring. He preferred playing locally and recording which explains why he was always such a Big Baby on the road! As far as Johnny Barrett was concerned it was all part of the package and he was perfectly happy doing any and all of it. At least booking shows and playing out was something, it beat the Balls off being bored, that’s for sure. Aside from recording and playing a handful of local shows here and there, things were getting a bit messy with the band members as individuals. Some of the habits from the road had followed them home. Joe had made a regular ritual of crushing up and snorting Xanax. That was quickly replaced by Crystal Meth followed by rumors of Crack use that were never confirmed. This was problematic for Binge because Joe had begun going off on his own and disappearing for days at a time. During this period Joe was locked up twice, once for breaking into a neighbor’s apartment and then for breaking into a string of parked cars. Johnny was drinking more at this same time causing him to have less motivation to write or even want to rehearse. Not a good look for  the frontman of an up and coming band with tons of potential.

Johnny was always a charming guy and back then, just like today he had a talent for explaining his behavior. He’s gone on the record several times to say, “I’m a drinker, always have been and I don’t hide it. I’m not an alcoholic! I don’t depend on alcohol, I just like it. I enjoy it. I can drink a few beers early on in the day and then go write some stuff, get some things done. Then I take a break, have a few more drinks and go run around some more. Then I have a few later in the evening before I call it a night. What’s wrong with that? I’m not falling down, passin’ out, pukin’ or pissin’ myself so what’s the problem?” On tour, Johnny has often been seen carting around a cooler filled with ice cold Original Coors Tallboys. Bottom line was sitting around waiting for something to happen wasn’t good for any of them. Tommy started to distance himself from the other guys too. He would spend days locked up in his room playing guitar and recording everything he could think of but he wasn’t sharing any of the new material with his bandmates. Johnny was legitimately worried that Tommy was planning on breaking out on his own. If something didn’t come along soon for Binge they could lose Tommy and that would be the end of the band. There was no doubt, there was no Binge without Tommy. Tommy felt the same when it came to Johnny. Binge was the two of them together and that’s the only way it would be able to survive and go on.

 Sometimes things just work out and you’re better off if you don’t question it. Such was the case with Binge and a phone call Mike got from out of the blue. It was the guy who handled bookings for the now long gone but legendary CBGB! So many demos and press kits had gone out that Mike had lost track and forgotten about some and who could blame him? The offer on the other end of the phone was for a slot at a Wednesday matinee showcase in two weeks. Mike of course agreed and took down the info. Mike knew this was big and the band needed something just like this to be excited about and look forward to. For the first time in a long time Mike was actually Psyched about a gig! He couldn't wait to tell the rest o0f the guys. He jogged over to Tommy’s place to tell him in person. Together they walked over and grabbed Joe out of bed. Then all three called Johnny together. They all immediately decided to set up an emergency band meeting and garage practice for later that lazy Sunday afternoon.

The word on these showcases at CBGB was that they were not to be taken lightly. Even though it was a weekday afternoon gig it was important for a few reasons. First off it was like an audition, if you were good you would graduate to a Thursday night spot and then the weekend gigs. Sunday shows started in the early afternoon and were over by 7 0r 8 at night but they were usually cool gigs. The other thing was you never knew who was gonna walk through the doors of this famous Bowery Institution at any given time. The still relevant Ramones were always in there. It’s rumored that Keith Richards and Mick Jagger took in a few showcases looking for talent for their own record label and would sign bands right on the spot. Binge was absolutely good enough for any of the small independent labels of the time but maybe they needed to be lucky as well. There’s something to the concept of right place right time, right? The band would get together and rehearse every day for hours at a time leading up to the show so that when the time came they were ready, More than ready, whatever a few steps above ready is that’s the level Binge was at for their CBGB Debut.

Binge had the third slot out of five bands which was a pretty respectable place to be in. There were probably twenty or so bodies in the joint also not bad for a Wednesday at barely even noon. There were a few Bowery Bar Flies and possibly some past their prime working girls in the mix. There were always the stereotypically sleazy A&R guys trying to snag free drinks or score with some left over, left behind groupie but it was all just part of the color and flavor of the place. CBGB was a true, pure and unapologetic Shit Hole! It was the Dive of All Dives, perfectly and achingly beautifully and brutally ugly! The esthetics were secondary, every dime that got sunk into the place went on the sound and it showed. Johnny knew before even setting foot on the hallowed ground of that stage that the sound system was superior to anything his band’s music had been put through before. They would have only a precious twenty minutes on stage so they had to make it count. Mike warned Johnny that his usual between song rap to the crowd would have to be cut. They also decided to try and squeeze seven songs in. A tight fit but if they went one right into the next faster than the tunes were ever intended to be played, it could be done. Except for saying, “We’re Binge.” and “Thanks A Lot.” Johnny stuck to singing and otherwise kept his mouth shut. The machine gun pacing of the songs made Mike mess up in a few spots but no one noticed, they didn’t know or seem to care in the slightest.

In the end the boys of Binge definitely delivered a blistering break neck balls out set! The guys decide to hang around for a while after the show to soak up some of the afterglow. A few beers later, enter Tony Roth half Jewish, half Italian and all Gangster. This guy is over six feet tall, at least three feet wide and pushin’ about three hundred and fifty in the poundage department. With his hair slicked back in a long ponytail and rings on every finger Tony would be funny to look at if he wasn’t so Friggin’ Huge! He’s a master manipulator and intimidator who is also fluent in flattery. He will use whatever works and do whatever it takes to get the job done. Tony Roth has a good ear and an eye for raw talent. He knows what he likes and he knows how to get things done. He’s a commanding presence and it’s obvious that he’s connected. So when he buys you a drink, you take it. When he hands you his business card, you take that too and when he says he wants to talk, you Shut the Fuck up and Listen! That’s exactly how it went, that first meeting between Tony Roth and Binge.

After that Tony was just around. He just started doing stuff and taking care of things for the band. Nothing formal or legal ever took place up to that point but there was definitely a kind of understanding between Tony and the guys. Having Tony around was like being a kid and having a cool, young uncle who buys you beer and lets you drive his car. That’s how it felt and that’s how it was from then on. Tony Roth took care of Binge, he looked out for the boys like family and all he wanted was the same in return from them. Fair is fair, why not? Work together in good faith, what’s mine is yours. That always sounds good when you have nothing. Feast or famine, we’re in it together! Hardcore was about work ethic and pride in the struggle. Nobody owed you nothin’, whatever you had you went out and got on your own and then you fought as hard as Hell to keep it. Blood, sweat and tears, it takes Heart and nobody can teach you Heart. It’s just one of those things. You either have it or you don’t!

Tony was an intimidating figure with a lot of hookups and a lot of juice which came in handy in the all too often cut throat world of Dive Bars and scum Bags that was all just part of the scene and par for the course back in the day. There was a practice among booking agents and club promoters at the time called, Pay to Play. A band would have to guarantee a certain number of heads through the door and sell tickets themselves in advance of the show. Let’s just say 25 tickets at ten bucks a shot, that’s $250 cash in the hand of the promoter or guess what? You don’t get to play! If you expected to actually get paid for the gig, guess what? You might get three bucks a head only starting over and above the 25 tickets you were forced to pre sell! What a Racket, Huh? Enter Tony Roth, he took it in his own hands to “Straighten this out.” Tony thought it was unfair to essentially charge bands in advance for the privilege to play at your venue. Binge as well as the guys from Pissed and Backhand never had to sell advance tickets or guarantee a number at the door at any club ever again! Nobody knows exactly what Tony did but they do know they never got Fucked with by owners and promoters again.

Tony Roth was no champion of the little guy, don’t get it twisted. He was no Saint, he had his own motives and his own agenda. It was a numbers game and Tony was good at playing the odds and the angles. He figured one outta these three bands was bound to hit it big. Then he would be in prime position to be rewarded with a cut. Maybe become Manager or producer? Money would be nice but it was power and prestige that Tony was really after. It looked like Binge would be his best bet and it would only be a matter of time before they, with Tony’s help of course, broke through and hit the next level. Until that time came, Tony Roth would be happy to be the Fixer. Besides he genuinely liked the boys of Binge and he was having a good time. It was fun for him to play the Gangster, the Rock n Roll tough guy. How much of it was real and how much was a put on? Who knows? What is true and certain is that in a weird world full of strange characters, Tony Roth stood out as a character among characters and that ain't always easy. At the time Binge was beginning to stand out as well. They were getting bigger and outgrowing the scene and the circuit. Not just in Brooklyn but the whole east coast.

The next step was another tour, this time playing their way across the country all the way to the west coast. Tony was up to it and he could make it happen. He wasn’t just a big guy or a pretty face, Tony Roth had extensive experience in the music business. He was a long time roadie for several big name heavy hitters throughout the late 70s and early 80s before settling down to become a top A&R guy for some smaller labels. The point is, Tony still had a name and a reputation. To some he was a thug, to others a prince. It just depends on who you asked. Either way, he knew enough people and had enough pull to get things done. Tony next invited the members of Binge Backhand and Pissed to the Bridge View Diner, a Bay Ridge institution and a place Tony Roth liked to hold court. He took the bands there for some late night greasy fare and to break down the tour plans.

In tow with Tony was his twenty year old son, Jacob. Jacob or Jake was known to the bands as he hung around Sledge Hammer Studios a lot. He published a Hardcore fan zine and would interview bands, review demos and shows too. He also had an old Dodge van and made quite a nice side business renting it out taking bands to gigs. He was then able to get into shows for free and make a few bucks at the same time. Tony had made up his mind that Jake was joining the tour as a driver and roadie, basically free labor and he was a nice enough kid so not a bad idea. The band Pissed presented a problem as far as touring, they were in Tony’s opinion too young and not experienced or good enough to handle the rigors of an extended stay out on the road. Tony’s will and his opinion were the only things that mattered at that table at that time. So, he led off with the bad news, Pissed was out!!! The kids from Pissed were exactly that but what are you gonna do? They just got up and left, they walked out without a word and that was that. Now down to the business at hand. The particulars of the tour went like this…

There would be a kick off show in Brooklyn at the Famed L'aMour, the Bingers would finally get to play at the Mecca, the Home of Brooklyn Hardcore! Then play a few shows on the way out west, Philly, Chicago, Detroit and Seattle before hitting the Bay Area and then Finally LA. The L'aMour show was on a Thursday night. The place was packed with friends and family of both bands. Also in attendence were members of Life of Agony and Type O Negative. This could have and should have been one of the best gigs of the guys lives but it didn’t go that way. It in fact ended up quite a fuckin’ mess! Two years together and on the eve of a cross country tour the cracks were starting to show. The wheels were threatening to come off before the bus ever even got a chance to pull away and hit the road.

Johnny would later admit that he started drinking early in the day and was semi sloppy by show time. Joe was worse off, whatever chemical combination he had ingested was causing him to nod out and slump over leaning on his bass rig for support throughout the entire show. Mike was understandably pissed off as was Tony Roth but there wasn’t much that could be done at the time . They had obligations and commitments in front of them. For at least that one night it was Backhand that were the stars of the show. Leaving Binge bitterly battered and embarrassed but the show must go on and so it did bright and early the next morning. The caravan would leave Brooklyn with Mike’s station wagon leading the way driven by Jake Roth with a trailer in tow. Tony had a surprise for the Binge boys, he pulled up in a converted mini, “Short” school bus painted black with home made bunks installed and all but two of the bench seats ripped out. Tony would drive the first leg of the trip to the Philly gig with Backhand following behind in their own van. This was the first time Mike didn’t have to drive to a show. The guys had all day to listen to music, smoke cigarettes and just relax so they could all be loose and ready for the show. Pulling up to the venue, a place called The Alley Tony surprised the guys again with a crate of cds and another one filled with tee shirts to sell. After acting as roadies and loading in all the gear. Tony stationed Jake at a folding table by the front door to sell Binge and Backhand merch.

Shirts and CDs went for ten bucks each and it was decided that the two bands would pool the cash for gas, food and motels along the way. The Alley was a small place and there was barely a crowd, maybe a couple dozen kids but the show went well and between the door and merch sales the bands made about two hundred bucks. Not bad, just enough for two rooms at the nearby motel 6 and a case of beer after the gig. Tony got his own room and Jake floated between the band’s rooms until Tony made his son ultimately sleep in the station wagon to keep an eye on the other vehicles and the gear. The way it worked in general on the business side of things was that Tony would put band expenses on his credit card and then pay himself back from the money the guys made at shows. Nobody seemed to mind and if they did they couldn’t say or do anything about it. Let’s face it Tony Roth ran shit and he ran shit his way. Make no mistake about it, if he wanted to help himself to cash from the lock box every night that’s what he was gonna do. Who was gonna stop him? That’s just the way it was.

Touring even under the best or circumstances is a grind. Long hours cooped up together, crappy food and a lot of time to kill. Boredom sets in easily and guys get on each other's nerves. Jake Roth was a good guy and he turned out to be an asset on the road. He liked figuring out how things worked. Taking stuff apart and putting it back together. Since shit always broke down on the road Jake was a handy guy to have around. On nights off Joe and Johnny would hang out together a lot. They liked finding a local bar in whatever town they were in and see what kind of trouble they could get in. They would often invite Jake to tag along, mostly so he could drive them around. Mike spent much of his free time on the phone home to his girlfriend which  also meant spending a lot of time scrounging around for change, hitting everyone up for quarters and looking for pay phones. All the other guys found this extremely annoying of course. Tommy spent a lot of time playing guitar and working on song ideas. Him and Johnny would room together and work on stuff late at night, recording ideas on a 4 track that Johnny brought out on the road and taught Tommy to use. By the time they hit Seattle they were all tired. Sick and tired of each other and of the road. Is it worth all the bull shit for 45 minutes on stage every other night? It better be.

The hope was that a new coast, new cities and a new scene would bring new energy and shake things up. The west coast did deliver that but it brought something else to the band as well. There was growing tension between Backhand and Binge. The guys in Backhand felt as if Tony was favoring Binge and that he was willing to do more to help them succeed. This may have been true on some level but Tony Roth was always good at hedging his bets and covering his bases. He felt like Binge was the better band and he invested a lot in them so far. He also knew their self imposed deadline for giving up and packing it in was fast approaching at the end of 97 so Tony was hustling to make something happen. The two Seattle gigs were good, good enough that the promoter booked the bands again on their way back east. The Bay Area shows were equally good with decent size, receptive crowds. The L.A. gigs, not so much. Backhand and Binge literally seemed to fall on deaf ears. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. L.A. just wasn’t good to them. You could basically call the tour a success for the most part. It was a good experience and at least it was fun. They played a handful of shows on the way back home and actually made it back in one piece with a little bit of cash in their pockets.

Once back in Brooklyn Tony started setting things in motion to secure a record deal for Binge. After being turned down by three more labels Tony got him and his boys a promising meeting with Interscope. The company eventually passed on Binge saying something about not seeing viable longevity or something like that. The anxious and frustrated band was at a loss and at a crossroads. How much more could they put into this? For how much longer? Before those questions could be answered or even asked Tony made an executive decision. He had a plan and it was time to put it into action.

Tony Roth is one of those guys who always has his hand in several things at the same time. Among his many business ventures was a little mom and pop record shop he opened in a storefront he owned on Kings Highway. Tony let Jake stock and run the place so the kid would have something to do and he could make some money too. The place was called Zig Zag, it was pretty much a hang out for Jake, it almost never turned a profit just about breaking even every month. Tony figured since all a record label really does is finance and market bands Why couldn’t him and Jake do that themselves with Binge. Tony could sell the Kings Highway building and put the money into the band. If he couldn’t get a record label to sign them he would just become a record label himself. How hard could it be? Right then and there in the basement of the Roth house in Dyker Heights Brooklyn Rebel Core Records was born, just like that. When Tony went to Binge and proposed financing their record and acting as their label the guys jumped at the chance. They liked the idea of doing it themselves on their own terms and Tony liked being the boss. Within a few days Rebel Core was incorporated and legit. Contracts were drawn up and signed and the Binge Business was off and running. Time to make a record!

Tony struck a deal with Billy the owner of SledgeHammer studios for the band to record there and have the studio under lockout conditions. Meaning, only Binge would be there and they could leave their gear there and have everything set up the way they wanted. It also meant the band could go there at all hours, day and night six days a week for as long as it took to make the record. They paid $700 dollars a day for all these rights and privileges, which of course Tony Roth would recoup right off the top of record sales before the band saw its first dime. Tony had himself and his son perfectly positioned on paper. Tony got seven points on the record as label head and gave himself another three percent by naming himself as a producer on the record. Jake Roth took the title of manager and the three percent that went along with it. The Roths owned a combined 13 percent of Binge right off the top but the way the band saw it they would probably never sell enough records to pay Tony back so they would just be under his thumb forever. What did they care? All they wanted was to make a record and that was about to happen. The studio had a great vibe with Billy helping Johnny and Tommy co-produce and engineer the project together and the Roths were a constant control room presence as well.

Binge’s self titled inaugural effort was a ten song EP that took ten weeks to complete and cost a total of Fifty Grand when all was said and done. What followed over the next few weeks was a short east coast run of shows and a sluggish start to record sales. Some quick, rough math by Mike informed the guys that they needed to sell five thousand copies of the record to pay Tony back. Tony Told them he wasn’t worried and he and Jake had some distribution set up through contacts of Tony’s on the west coast and in the midwest as well. In three months the band played about forty some odd shows and sold 800 records. In six months those numbers would jump to over a hundred shows and over 3000 records. Tony was well connected and respected enough to get Binge opening spots on tours with more established and bigger name acts. For the next year the band would criss cross the country jumping on and off tours a few weeks at a time. Both their following and their record sales steadily grew. By the end of the year Binge’s debut disk wound up selling over Thirty Thousand copies. It was a slow grass roots, word of mouth thing but it was working. Tony got paid back and the boys started making money for the first time.

They also started getting some attention from bigger labels with deeper pockets. Not wanting to lose his meal ticket Tony rejected offers from labels to even talk to the band without ever telling them that there was something on the table. Tony knew he couldn’t hold onto Binge forever but he wasn’t ready to let them go quite yet. He instead started steering them toward making another record and going out on another tour. Tony was aware the band was outgrowing his two man operation and they would be parting ways sooner or later but for the time being all he could do was keep them busy and distracted. Jake Roth could see the writing on the wall. Working with his father and being Binge’s manager was a clear conflict. Jake’s loyalties were being tested. If he wanted to be a manager for real and not just in title he would have to start acting like it. He needed to make a decision. Jake needed to make a move. He needed to be his own man. Just as Binge was getting together material and starting rehearsals for the next record Jake did something that took Brass Balls, he called a meeting with his dad and the boys and laid it all on the line. He explained, “You guys have a buzz building around you. You’re bigger than us. You need to go with a major label with real money and distribution and tour support. There are two very interested contenders who reached out to us. We don’t want to hold you back, let me handle the offers and hammer out a deal.”

Everyone agreed and walked out of Tony Roth’s home office on good terms and a major label deal was reached a few weeks later. Part of the deal included a buyout for Tony, he got a Hundred Grand to walk away from Binge. As for Jake the boys paid him  a flat Twenty Grand fee for working out the deal and they gave him a job as boss of their road crew. The band had a three record deal, they would leave their home base of SledgeHammer behind and start working at Propel studios in Chelsea. Part of the newly minted deal was a reissue of their first record which started moving right away. The new album was called Relapse, it contained twelve tracks and took three months to finish. After recording concluded there was a short break then it was time for the boys of Binge to hit the road again! Thanks to the release of the reissue the guys had two records out at the same time and they were both selling competitively.

An actual budget and an actual tour bus made life on the road a little easier and a lot nicer. The band hired a real road crew and brought Jake out to go along for the ride. No more “Short Bus.” No more station wagon, the food got better and the hotels got nicer. The booze and the girls flowed freely and then the Big Fat Royalty Checks started rollin’ in!. There was a lot of fun to be had and a lot to indulge in but it was still a business. There was still work to do, ninety minutes of work up on stage, under hot lights almost every night. People pay good money to see a show and you better be good! Binge was good, they enjoyed putting on a show and they were good at it. You get better and better at it when it’s all you do for weeks and months at a time. There are always a few shows that are off or a bad crowd but mostly the guys delivered and the fans responded. Not only did they show up at the gigs but they showed up in the record stores too! Both Binge albums were closing in on a half a Million copies around the same time. 

It’s a fact that every tour can go on just a little too long. Especially when you’re popular and your records are selling. That’s when boredom can get the best of you and substances can creep up and settle in. The guys had a new tour manager to help deal with this and any and all other problems associated with touring. The guy’s name was Ben Grant and he had been around for a long time. Long enough to understand that a tour manager was a glorified babysitter whose job it was to keep the band’s appetites and egos in check and keep the machine moving. Grant was good at keeping the schedule and keeping the roadies in line. He had developed a system over the years and it seemed to work. He kept his distance and let his artists be artists. Grant kept the band informed of changes and problems along the way, he also kept things simple. He had the boys out for three weeks at a time with a week off at home in between, then on the road again. This model seemed to placate and pacify everyone and the way Ben Grant saw it that was a big part of his job description.

On one of their weeks off the guys started spending some of the money that was piling up while they were away. Tommy and Johnny rented an apartment together in Bay Ridge,  this way they could work on writing and recording whenever they wanted. They paid the entire year of rent up front in cash so they wouldn’t have to worry about it. Mike bought a condo in Manhattan and his girlfriend moved in with him. They got engaged and were eager to get married and start a family. Joe bought a motorcycle without worrying about little details like a license or insurance. After another few weeks of gigs the band decided to take a real break. They informed Ben and the powers that be at the label that they were taking three months off, “To get our shit together and relax a little.” Nobody argued and the boys of Binge began some version of what you would call a, “normal life.”

Not all of Binge was happy about the hiatus. When sitting home idle, Joe was more or less a lost boy. If it were up to him the band would tour forever. Joe just kind of bounced around, crashing much of the time with Johnny and Tommy or staying in hotels. “Why buy a house or rent a place if you’re never gonna be there anyway?” He had a good point, at least in his own mind. Joe thought it wiser to spend his time and new found money on entertainment, namely strippers, booze and drugs. At the end of the three months the band sequestered themselves back home at Sledge Hammer to begin working on material for what would be their next record. Living together and writing together worked out well for Johnny and Tommy as they entered the studio with six songs very nearly completed and also the idea to throw a few cover tunes on the album just for something different. All Mike and Joe had to do was learn their parts and put their own spin on the songs. That’s the way it always worked.

Joe jumped right in with childlike energy and enthusiasm. He was just excited to have something to do. Mike was on the opposite end of the spectrum, he seemed bored and distracted. His playing was sloppy and uninspired, like he didn’t even want to be there. The prevailing feeling of the rest of the band was that Mike liked the money and the fame but didn’t want to put in the work. Mike was always honest and very vocal about hating the traveling aspect of things but hey, touring was part of the job. It’s what you signed up for. Mike would not be at all happy to hear that plans were in the works for a tour of Europe. There was also talk of the next record being done on the west coast. As is always the case in these situations, there are compromises to be made in order to get everyone on the same page. They would record in New York and mix the thing out west. Mike didn’t have to be there for the mixing sessions at all as long as he did his thing and nailed his parts during the initial recording. As far as the European tour was concerned there was no wiggle room, no getting out of that for anyone. It was all aboard and full speed ahead!

Johnny Barrett was about to have some problems and he knew it. He hated flying, he was in fact terrified of it and now he would be flying to California to finish the album and then flying to Europe to do a tour. That’s a lot of flying in a short period of time. The simple solution was, of course booze and pills. There was still plenty of time to sort that out. For the moment it was all just in Johnny’s head. The more pressing business at hand was the next record. Basic tracks for the record were done in three months, with 11 new tracks and 3 covers. This looked like a good time to press pause and not rush the record. Plus it made more sense to leave for Europe out of New York. That became the last minute plan and that’s what happened. Johnny and Tommy welcomed getting out of the studio to go play live. Neither of them cared for the producers and company types hanging around and hovering over their shoulders in the studio. Binge had gotten used to a small camp of tight and trusted friends, they now felt like they had run off and joined the circus. Winging off to Europe felt like being shot out of a cannon. No one felt this more acutely than Johnny Barrett as they boarded a plane to Germany.

Johnny was full of whiskey, beer and Xanax, along with whatever Joe gave him in the car to help him sleep. Johnny sat with Tommy and Jake playing cards while waiting to pass out and wake up in Berlin the next morning. As soon as they touched down they found the tour to be immediatley plagued with problems. This started with Johnny’s lost luggage and quickly escalated to Joe’s lost cache of prescription pills. Here We Go! Both of these problems were resolved easily enough, John had a change of clothes and some toiletries in a backpack that he took as a carry on. After a quick stop at the hotel, Johnny grabbed Ben Grant’s credit card and a cab and went shopping and day drinking! Joe was bouncing off the walls. Like any good addict Joe had hidden his stash so well that he couldn’t find it. The truth was, after Joe had hidden his pills which were prescribed to him and therefore perfectly legal to travel with, Grant moved the pills again to protect Joe from himself. When he revealed this to Joe the two men agreed that Ben Grant would be the keeper of the narcotics and rashen the pills out to Joe so they would last longer and Joe wouldn’t have to freak out.

Ben Grant was smart, he took control of the chemical consumption so that none of the crew would have to go cop street drugs when Joe inevitably ran through his carefully allocated and exact seven week supply. Holding for Joe ment Grant could also keep better tabs on Joe and better manage the risk of an accidental overdose by the Binge bass player. Joe was side by side with his tour manager for the majority of the dates in Berlin. Johnny Barrett would prove more difficult to keep track of and control. Johnny enjoyed going off and exploring during the day. He found that there was a definite and well established Hard Core culture in Berlin and he enjoyed his small time celebrity status. What Johnny enjoyed even more was the well established German drinking culture. He had a particular fondness for frequenting the ubiquitous Beer Gardens. Higher in alcohol, those beers hit harder! The increased indulgence would take its toll eventually but Johnny and the rest of Binge were having fun and they would worry about paying the price later. Right now they were all having a good time and the bill wouldn't be due for a while. The tour would next swing through The UK which would be easier in many ways compared to Germany but a Hell of a lot Harder in many other respects.

London, Birmingham and Manchester England of 98 was more about Post Punk and Brit Pop than Brooklyn Hardcore. Most nights the crowds were cold and the reception was a chilly one at best. Binge tried hard and played harder, probably winning over a handful of new fans. Every night was a battle and Binge fought in the trenches, standing shoulder to shoulder as a band and also a band of Brothers. The European tour made them a better band as well as better friends. The more they experienced of the world outside of Brooklyn the more they grew and began to change as individuals. The music of Binge was evolving and expanding around this time too. The tour was 22 shows in total with gigs in Italy that went very well and a few dates in France that are barely worth mentioning, let alone remembering. For Johnny Barrett the biggest disappointment was the cancellation of three shows they had booked in Belfast. Being the only Irish kid it was a bitter pill that the gigs were called off due to civil unrest at the time. Northern Ireland at the time was going through what’s known as “The Troubles.” It was an unstable place in the 90’s even in the bubble of being in a band it was potentially dangerous. So, the call was made to play it safe and pull the plug.

Back in the states the boys took a ten day break from each other and from being Binge before heading out west to resume and hopefully complete the work remaining on their next record. This third effort by Binge would be called Overdose, the titles pretty much wrote themselves at this point. Rough pre production demos were cut at SledgeHammer with basic tracks done at Propel in the city. Mixing, overdubs and final vocals and solos would be done at a Bay Area studio called the Hangar. It was a complex of old airplane hangars on an abandoned airfield. The old military outpost was actually a pretty cool place to hang and record. The guys thought it had a spooky X-Files thing happening. The fenced in compound created a self contained live/work space for the band. It also meant controlled access, nobody in or out without prior approval. The cameras and gates were meant to cut down on distractions. It was basically a lockdown, house arrest situation with a Rock n Roll summer camp atmosphere.

Jake Roth was around just because. Ben Grant was there to supervise and keep the train on the tracks. A new producer/engineer was brought on board to shake things up. Steve Hawkins, known simply as Hawk, had worked with several Big names including Motorhead and STP. He had a good ear and an open, experimental style along with a take charge attitude that would prove challenging to Johnny and Tommy. They didn’t like the feeling that the New Guy was being shoved down their throats. Hawk had a solid reputation, he had made his bones and he had Brass Balls. Hawk was in control, he was callin’ the shots and that was the bottom line! Like it or not, take it or leave it, that was the deal.

Johnny and Tommy had very limited input as far as mixing went. They were there to play guitar and sing. Nail their parts, do their thing and wrap the record up so everybody could get The Fuck Outta there and go The Fuck Home. That was the plan anyway. Mike was able to stay home as promised and he was perfectly happy back in New York with his recently pregnant fiancee. Joe was there for the mixing sessions but he didn’t have much to do. He didn’t have much to do in the outside world either, which was part of the reason he was there. Joe just liked working, he liked being in the studio and around the rest of the guys. Everyone slept under the same roof in an old barracks building where drinks and drugs freely flowed and female fans and friends were constantly in and out. So much for controlled access,  it was more like controlled chaos. It seemed like the reason for being there was fading into the background. When you don’t have a schedule or a place to be there is no sense of urgency. When everything can wait until later there is no motivation and very little work ethic.

Johnny Barrett felt that he was being treated unfairly by Hawk, feeling like he was being overly criticized and pushed too hard Johnny started pushing back. He usually got his vocals down in six or seven takes then he would double the track in two or three passes. Now he was doing well over a dozen takes of each song and complaining the whole time. All while drinking very heavily the whole time I might add. A sloppy, slurring Johnny would often throw tantrums and storm out of the vocal booth wasting an entire night. Then there were times he would go out of his way to pick fights with Tommy and Joe over nothing at all. It felt like all involved were just over it. There was nothing left to do until Ben Grant made a suggestion, “Vegas Baby!” A field trip to Sin City might be just what this crew needs. Grant included Jake and Hawk with the three Bingers and all six of them hopped a quick flight via private jet of course, for a three day Boys Weekend in the desert. Sounded like a good idea.

This merry band took up three rooms at The Hard Rock, where else? The Binge Boys all took one room together, Ben Grant snagged a room of his own, leaving Hawk and Jake to crash together. Grant’s plan was to have a “Family” dinner before they all hit the gaming tables and the bars and bottles. Everyone agreed to try and make it a relaxing and fun few days. The group all broke off briefly to shower and change before dinner. In the Band’s room Johnny had a surprise waiting, also a kind of apology for being an Asshole recently. He had three expensive suits custom tailored and delivered to the room. He also arranged to treat his bandmates to an old school barber shave complete with a straight razor and hot towel, right there in the room. The boys looked Killer, Classy by the time dinner rolled around. You wouldn’t even recognize these Brooklyn street kids decked out in silk and linen, ready to hit the town!

Dinner was a rather low rent affair, a complimentary buffet type situation but all that mattered was that Ben Grant got the job done. He broke the tension, broke the ice and got them all sitting around a table drinking, laughing, breaking balls and telling stories. That was the point and the night was a success! The tables were far less lucky for the lads. Joe crapped out on craps to the tune of two Grand, Tommy got raped at the roulette wheel and Johnny posted himself in the corner of a Fake Irish Pub until he almost passed out. Grant and Hawk both retired early and they all lost track of Jake who lost track of time and his wallet at a strip club inside the hotel and as they say, a Good Time was had by All. That was only the first night; by noon the next day with the hangovers and heartbreaks subsiding, Hawk invited the rest of the group out into the Nevada desert for the day. He had rented a camper with a driver and packed coolers with food and drinks so the plan for the day was decided and the lost weekend rolled on.

Their driver for their desert adventure was a Native American tour guide named Ray. He brought the guys to a spot he knew that had picnic tables, a fire pit and a grill. This made the desert less deserted for the boys from Brooklyn but no less beautiful. It only took Johnny all of about 45 minutes to get bored. He quietly cracked a beer and took it and the rest of the six pack by the empty plastic ring and waved over his shoulder as he wandered off by himself. Not being a Nature Boy, Johnny Barrett didn’t go very far. He found a cool looking rock formation about a football field away from the RV and there he sat with luke warm beers and the pad and pen from his shirt pocket just drinking, thinking and scribbling until he was hungry, hot and tired enough to shuffle back to where he came from. It was a short distance in a straight line but as Johnny got closer to the camper and the glow of the fire pit, he found himself being guided by the tone of Tommy’s acoustic guitar and the smell of burgers on the grill.

Not a bad way to spend the evening, around a fire, under the stars, eating,drinking and playing music and singing songs with your friends. Not something this group of guys would probably ever think to do on their own but Johnny had to admit it was a pretty cool experience. Something changed that night, there was a shift in Johnny’s position, maybe a pivot in his point of view? Whatever happened that night, that experience made Johnny Barrett see Steve Hawkins differently. By the time they got back to work at The Hangar Hawk managed to get on Johnny’s good side and the whole crew was on good terms. The rest of the sessions for Overdose took a couple more weeks but were relatively painless. The 14 track, third offering by Binge should never have taken almost ten months but maybe that was just how it had to go? Maybe that was just long enough for the band to find its way back and for the fans to be ready and eager for something new? Fate and fans can both be fickle, it’s the wait and see period after an album comes out that can drive a band nuts. It can take a few weeks, even a few months to gauge the response, get the reviews and see the reaction. It can take a lot out of you and it helps to have a thick skin, I don’t care who you are. Let’s face it, words hurt and bad reviews Suck!

This was an uncertain time both inside the band and within the record label. There was a lot of rumbling and grumbling centered around the future of Binge. Was there even to be one? There was much debate about that and the state of the band’s contractual obligations as well. On one hand it could be said that the band put out three records and that was the extent of their deal, leaving them free to walk away. That would be a fair and true statement. On the other hand you could make the case that the reissue of the first record doesn’t count and Binge has one disc left to deliver. This would in fact also be true. That leaves you in limbo and that’s what lawyers are for. Both sides have a point, both might actually be right to some degree. It’s muddy, it’s messy, it’s a gray area at best and that’s where compromise lives and deals are made. Send in the lawyers and let the bloodbath begin!

Mike had bigger concerns than playing drums for Binge, namely, his son Michael Anthony. Even Though the band was at a stand still, there was a new record out to promote and a tour was expected. Mike understood this and he submitted to his bandmates and the label what his willingness and limited availability for being on the road was. Tommy called it, “A Dick Move!” Mike proposed he would perform 20 live shows over a three month period, basically six or seven shows a month. The label agreed that some Binge was better than no Binge at all The rest of the band called Bullshit! They didn’t want some half assed, close to home mini tour. They were way passed that and who the Fuck was Mike to think he could dictate terms? His position was… They are free to go out and make a living as Binge but, what Mike wanted was to play a handful of local gigs and then get paid to sit home on his ass the rest of the tour. Basically his plan was to pick and choose and come and go as he pleased while filling his pockets the whole time. This was never gonna work. Before any plans for anything went any further all four members of Binge would have to sort this situation out for themselves. Just the four of them behind closed doors to clear the air once and for all. That’s what had to happen.

The meeting was short and bitter sweet. It started as Mike against Binge but ended with the whole winning out, being bigger and stronger than the sum of its parts. Johnny, Joe and Tommy wanted to get back out there, they needed to make the band relevant again and make some money. The clock was ticking for Binge to secure a future or get out of the way. Not willing to step aside for the Young Guns, they offered Mike a graceful and gradual exit. Binge was looking at fifty shows over three months and if their drummer played 15 of those gigs at their biggest, most popular east coast and midwest stops he could call it a Victory lap and say goodbye to the fans and the band with class! Feeling like that was the best way to go out, Mike agreed and that meeting triggered a chain of events that breathed new life into Binge!

Before striking out on the road the boys struck a deal. It was more of a contract extension, they had been around long enough and were big enough to warrant a live and a best of package respectively. That would mean two more records and maybe one more quick hit, small time farewell tour. The live stuff would be pieced together from the last tour and the Euro shows, the band always had the live gigs recorded. The tour for Overdose would be included especially the shows with Mike where the boys said goodbye and had him come out from behind the drum kit to say a few words to the fans. Johnny Barrett quipped, “Our Little Drummer Boy is leaving us. My Mikey, poor guy has spent his entire career behind the drums starin’  at My Ass for a Livin’. Trust me, Mikey didn’t like it! He’s only here tonight because he Loves all of You!” That was a fair and honest estimation for a band that put out three records in five years, they never broke up. Not for real and not in public anyway.

The dawn of 2000 brought the Binge Best Of. It was called D.O.A. 20 tracks from three albums, it included a couple of covers and three unreleased tracks that the band had laying around from a stockpile of songs that just never made it onto a record. Binge as a band had nothing to do with it except to compile the tracks and approve the final mix and master. The individual Bingers at this point were quite scattered about. Mike had two kids and bought a house in Jersey where he opened a Brooklyn Style Bagel store/Deli. Joe took to Nevada so much that he found an extended stay motel in Reno where he paid a year up front and enjoyed more than his share of more vices than virtues. Tommy vacated the Bay Ridge apartment in favor of something on the Isle of Staten with his former stripper, soon to be wife! Johnny Barrett had no problem wishing his bandmates well and having the Bay Ridge space to himself.

For Johnny it was all about the muted moments, when he didn’t have to be larger or louder than life. This included visits to a local bar when he was home called Connelly’s. He enjoyed being a regular there, stopping in a few times a week to sip a couple of pints and shoot the shit with the old timers. While it is well known that Johnny Barrett enjoys day drinking there was another reason for him to frequent Connell’s and her name was Kate Parson. Kate was a Bartender and an art school dropout whose true talent was found behind the lense of a camera. She struck up a conversation with Johnny because she liked his hat, a plaid peak cap that he always wore tilted over his right eye. Truth be told, Kate didn’t particularly like or dislike Johnny. She saw him as a subject with an interesting face that had a sadness to it but also had character and experience in it. Not exactly complimentary but close enough. They hit it off.

With the Best Of Record behind him and no tour in front of him Johnny settled nicely into normalcy. Going to the deli on the corner for a coffee and the paper, then later grabbing a six or a twelve pack for the night without being recognized or harassed suited him just fine. Hard Core as a genre was on it’s way out but Binge was cashing in on its last gasp. The Best Of was selling and they had the live record in their back pocket for later on down the line. The way that royalties worked, checks came in chunks. Every three months or so the boys would get eight, ten, twelve maybe even fifteen grand a piece along with a statement of sales and a breakdown of percentages. At some point they would each have to do something but at this point they all kept in touch and all seemed content that they would get together soon and deal with the live record and all other things related to the band.

Kate Parson had no interest at all in the band. She didn’t care for that kind of music, it just wasn’t her thing. She didn’t find it impressive, she was impressed however by Johnny’s writing much more than his singing or Brooklyn Tough Guy Persona. She did enjoy pouring over his old notebooks, reading poems and what would become song lyrics. She often encouraged his short story efforts, mostly suspense/horror thrillers that never did see the light of day. Kate saw the sensitive, quiet John Barrett. The one before Johnny Hard Core, the one his mother saw. Babs Barrett left this earth after bravely beating back breast cancer for several years. For years while out in the world Johnny threw money at his mother’s medical problems and helped his sister Pam and her family while record sales soared and the world got toured! Johnny was home to bury his mother and say goodbye in a simple quiet graveside ceremony complete with bagpipes. He made good on a long, long overdue promise, Johnny told his mother that when he scored a record deal he would buy her a Cadillac! He left a matchbox car Cadillac on her grave and that was that.

By early 2002 it was time for Binge to get back together! The boys had to at least sit down and settle up, even if they were no longer a band they still had business. For old time sake they met up at SledgeHammer Studios, they even plugged in and played a few covers and some old fan favorites for a crowd of about a half dozen in the little rehearsal room. It felt good and it was fun so they planned on putting out the long awaited live record and maybe doing a few gigs just for fun. The career spanning collection would come to be called Coma, a great title for a live album. It consisted of 26 tracks, 2 new, previously unreleased tunes and a few live versions of covers like Social D’s Ball and Chain and Let me stand next to your Fire by Hendrix.The rest was a straight up recap, a retrospective that came as close as you could to capturing Binge at it’s best. There were some things that needed to be punched up and polished with the help of some studio trickery which Johnny Barrett was extremely excited to roll up his sleeves and provide. It was the last thing they would do with their label which agreed to distribute and promote the record for a small percentage of course. Still the band was getting away cheap and the label had no say in the final product. That’s the best way to go out, on your own terms. There was no need for the entire band to have to get together in the same room and all be involved in the work that needed to be done either. Johnny took on the task as pretty much a one man show and a sort of labor of love.

Any studio anywhere would do  so Johnny took the rough, raw live recordings to a studio in Memphis to work on them. He loved Memphis and Nashville for the rich musical history and heritage and he had all the time in the world. Kate came with him and he brought Jake Roth in as an assistant and Gofer, also just for company. Joe tagged along just for something to do and Tommy spent a few days here and there fixing up some guitar parts as needed and going over stuff that always bothered him but could never be fixed live on stage in the moment. The quality of the raw tracks was fairly high and Johnny’s idea for a truly live sound experience was to mix everything down to two tracks, one vocal, one for music and then layer crowd noise and effects on top and underneath to fatten up the sound and create the live feel he wanted the record to have. It was a smart and ambitious approach, it could and should have only taken a few weeks. Maybe a month or two tops but Johnny was having too much fun hangin’ in Memphis and fuckin’ around with all the toys in the studio. He couldn’t help himself, he found it hard to finish up and leave things alone. When it was good enough he still wanted it to be better. He indulged every idea and tried every trick simply because he could and because there was no one to say enough is enough and reign him in. Johnny was also taking full advantage of where he was, hitting Beale street almost every night to take in live music and drink his face off! So the process for the project that became Coma took just over six months instead of six weeks.

Coma came out in 2003 and it was well received enough at least that the band was talking about getting together for some summer festival dates and maybe a few local tri state area gigs just for fun. It seemed like the guys were all in a good place and all on good terms. Without a contract and not wanting to actually have to work for a living, they were willing to keep their options open. In a weird way this opened the door to Binge being able to revisit their relationship with Tony Roth. Through Jake they learned the old man had opened a record store on Kings Highway called Swerve. He also started a mail order website where he would hunt down rare records, then buy and ship them to collectors. Tony saw the potential in the early days of the internet and made himself quite computer savvy. Jake explained that his dad always had the idea of a Binge Book, not a tell all, more like a scrapbook. He had tons of photos, flyers and ticket stubs from the early days of the band. Tony just wanted the boys to add quotes and captions. Maybe throw in samples of writing from Johnny’s notebooks of some of the original logos that Joe used to draw for stickers. The guys liked the idea and gave Tony the ok to go ahead. They even recruited Johnny’s girlfriend Kate to take new pictures of Binge as they were all fast approaching their thirties and also the tenth anniversary of the band so it all fell into place. The timing was perfect.

Everybody got on board, they all got together for a week or so in Brookly to work on the book, take the new pictures and just hang out for the first time in a long time. Mike was in Jersey and livin’ the dream of domestic suburban bliss. Tommy was still on Staten Island. He got married and had a daughter. He was playing guitar as a guest on a ton of records and working on getting a rap/rock hybrid project off the ground. Joe was still in Reno even though he looked like he should be in rehab. He was in and out of trouble, Joe had bad habits and hung with bad people but he was always gonna do what he wanted no matter what you said. There was no point in talking to him, it was useless. Johnny and Kate were still living in the old Bay Ridge apartment but Johnny’s jaunts to Memphis were getting more frequent. He was talking about relocating, maybe opening a studio or buying a bar, who knows? There were a lot of ideas and half assed plans floating around by the time the guys did their bit for the book and parted ways.

They all knew it would only be a matter of time before another venture presented itself and brought the band back together. There always seemed to be something, especially with Tony Roth back in the mix. He had no shortage of merchandising and marketing ideas under the banner and the brand of Binge. Tony wanted to keep the cash register ringing and the Bingers were open for business. Plans were percolating for a tenth anniversary tour, the wheels were in motion. Tommy and Johnny were talking about new material and Johnny singing and maybe being a producer on Tommy’s new project. Johnny invited his guitarist and writing partner to Memphis at least three times. Tommy in the past had just ignored the invitation, for the most part because he didn’t see the attraction, he just didn’t get it. Then one day out of nowhere Tommy got the itch to just get away so he called Johnny who, by this point was renting a hole in the wall above a Beale Street bar  and they made plans for Tommy to visit that coming weekend. Johnny Barrett was so excited he even booked some studio time in case him and his old friend felt like Jamming around a bit.

The Rock n Roll Roadside is littered with casualties. Some you can predict, you can see it from a mile away. Others can shock you to the core. a case where the bottom just drops out. Tommy would be in Memphis on Friday and Kate was gonna go back to New York on Thursday to let the boys have the weekend. Tuesday night Kate and Johnny went out, they had dinner and a few drinks. Kate had had enough and went back to the apartment just a block away and around the corner, leaving Johnny to finish his beer and watch the house band finish their first set. In short order a foul mood fell over Johnny. The kind of mood where he knew it was time to go! On his short stumble home he came to rest against a parked car for just a second. A second to long for the guy who owned the car as it turned out. The Gentleman helped Johnny off the car and onto the ground. Johnny Barrett took exception to that, getting to his feet he threw a punch that didn’t land. Followed by Johnny landing on the ground because, gravity and objects in motion and all that Bull Shit! The owner of the car drove off laughing as a bloody and bruised Johnny Barrett bounced his way home.

After struggling up the stairs Johnny crashed his way into the bathroom slamming and locking the door behind him. Kate Parson went to the door and Very calmly stated, “This is getting old John. You’re not Keith Richards or Jim Morrison. You’re not Johnny Cash, Hell half the time you're not even Johnny Barrett anymore! This has gotten Real Tired, Real quick, I’m sick of it and I’m done!” Johnny opened up the door but the sight of his busted lip and black eye did nothing to help his cause. There was nothing left to say. Nothing left but the slamming of the door behind Kate Parson as she walked out on Johnny Barrett. Kate had had enough. There was nothing left for Johnny to do but slump over the folding table in the kitchen with a cold beer, sitting on a folding chair wondering if his life had just folded up? Were him and Kate victims? Rock n Roll casualties? He sat there, sipping a beer and saying, out loud to an empty room, “And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’!” The only thought that kept Johnny going was that Tommy would be there on Friday and as far as Johnny was concerned Friday couldn’t come fast enough.

The arrival of Friday brought with it the arrival of Tommy. In honor of the occasion Johnny showered, shaved and put fresh clothes on for the first time in days. Johnny instructed Tommy to take a cab directly to the bar that he happened to conveniently lived above and so Tommy did. The reunited friends hugged and had a couple of drinks before Johnny showed Tommy upstairs. Surveying his surroundings Tommy reacted without hesitation, “Oh, Fuck no! No way in Fuckin’ Holy Hell Brother, I’m goin’ to a hotel!” That was that, they both went to the hotel and got nice rooms and then had a nice meal.

Johnny told Tommy about Kate. It was no surprise Tommy said, “It all takes its toll and runs its course. You’re a good guy Brother but we’re all just spoiled little kids, Assholes who never grew up because nobody made us and we didn’t have to.” Johnny found comfort in those words. Tommy spoke the truth. He spoke from experience and he understood. They talked about the good old days and the days ahead and then the conversation turned. Tommy was there for a reason, actually a few reasons. He had some news and he needed a favor. Tommy explains, “Nobody can get in touch with Joe. He usually calls me a couple times a week to talk about playin’ shows or see if he can do somethin’ with my new band. I normally blow the kid off ya know? Now record company accountant types are callin’ me sayin’ they send Joe's checks to some joint in Reno and he goes and cashes them but he hasn't done that in months. His mom is worried sick too! C’mon, do me a favor and take a ride with me?” The end result is Joe will most likely be found deep into a binge or balls deep in a stripper but whatever Johnny sure as Hell isn’t busy so it’s off to Reno!

The check cashing place was easy enough to find and they sure enough had a stack of checks there for Joe, about thirteen Grand in total. With some help from Reno’s Finest Johnny and Tommy are able to locate a string of motels, bars and casinos where Joe ran up bills and then ran out. Same story in several Gentleman’s clubs. Finally after three days they were steered to a place called the Oasis, where a cocktail waitress there knew Joe and said he was in the motel next door. The manager thought he skipped out but he was happy to let the boys in to look around once Tommy paid the past due balance on the room. Inside the unpleasant mingling odors of puke and piss greeted the guys. Mystery Solved! There was Joe naked on the bed with blood and vomit crusted around his nose and mouth. The soiled sheets were sprinkled and strewn with powder residue and drug paraphernalia. There was nothing glamorous or romantic here. Nothing elegant, not even tragic. It was exactly what you would and could expect from a life lived like this. A sad shame and a waste? Yes Very true but also true is that it happens every day. Money, fame, talent, status none of that can save you. It’s a dangerous dance and this is how it will always end.

The angry and bitter remaining members of Binge buried their brother and kept the details of his death quiet. Johnny and Tommy cleaned up that room as best as they could, getting rid of any suspect substances and gathering up crumpled balls of cash from every corner and crevice they could. They gave everything of value belonging to Joe to his mother. After a touching tribute and memorial service, Binge put out a brief statement. After that not much was heard from them. Around the time of what would have been the band’s tenth anniversary Tommy and Johnny put out two songs they recorded together. The covers of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and Shine on You Crazy Diamond were available for download with the proceeds going to a rehab center in Reno in Joe’s name.

Today the rest of the band have made peace with the past and moved on. With each of them content to fade into the folklore of the music world and fit into the fabric of everyday life. That’s the story of Binge. There are many similar stories out there that are equally worth seeking out and well worth telling. For every band you listen to and love there are dozens, maybe even hundreds that you’ve never heard of. Even if a band “Makes It!” There is no guarantee they will all make it out alive. It’s a life that is both surreal and sublime, charmed and cursed seemingly at the same time. There are victims and casualties, Heroes and Villains, zombies and the walking wounded. There is room for all the survivors and the lost souls. They can all have their fifteen minutes or their footnote. Who says cautionary tales can’t be fun and have a good soundtrack too? It’s an old story but a good one. The story keeps going on and getting longer but music is about moments in time and learning how to listen. It’s about memories and how you hold onto them. That’s why we take road trips, so we can roll down the window crank up the radio and get lost for a little while. 









 

 

 

 

 



 

 


 

 



 

 


Submitted: February 14, 2021

© Copyright 2021 John Nash. All rights reserved.

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