battle of the bands

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(I’m applying for a certain position that requires you to tell a story. Here’s mine… almost. It’s all true, but as it stands, I can’t think of a way to end it. (Yes, that means I’m going to fib the end.) So, take a look, and if you have an inspired suggestion, please email me.)

This story provokes a lot of emotions, mainly humiliation (from me) and disbelief (from others). But it captures a particularly surreal period of my life, when strange things happened too often—usually my fault—and when foresight was for losers and the prudish. I wish I can say I learned a valuable lesson, or discovered something about myself, or even found true love, but… I didn’t. Yet, it’s a memory I’ll cherish, and, indeed, a memory that others will, too. I love this story mainly because it combines my favorite discussion topics: inane competitions, impossible ambitions, and chickens. And it’s a veritable gem at any dinner table.

The year after high school, my roommate Finch and I had a lot of free time. We were in Jerusalem, ostensibly studying religious texts and growing spiritually in yeshiva, but that only takes up so much of your day.

So we signed up for the Battle of Bands. This event was huge: a few thousand American students studying in Israel waited all year to cheer their respective yeshiva band. We weren’t natural candidates for such a venture—the musical experience between us amounted to (my) childhood piano lessons—but hey, we had three months to learn.

I bought myself a guitar, and rented an electric bass for Finch. I dutifully learned my basic chords and strumming patterns. Finch, however, was having more trouble, partly due to zero innate musical sense, and partly due to poorly reattached fingers (long story – Finch’s fingers were chainsawed off the previous summer). Nevertheless, the sounds we produced were slowly starting to resemble music.

Since it was a religious event, the organizers demanded the lyrics well in advance, to verify that the song was in good taste. Naturally, we procrastinated until a few hours before they were due, when, drunk and sweaty, we wrote the soon-to-be-classic “Noah and the Ark,” about… Noah and the Ark.

About two weeks before the concert, all the bands had to attend an early morning recording session, so the CDs could be sold at the concert. They didn’t give each band a specific time, and all of us — about a dozen bands, maybe fifty people in all– hung out outside the studio until called. The other musicians, being actual musicians, jammed and sang and talked shop, while Finch and I sat staring in the corner, realizing that we were not going to win this with our musical talent alone. We needed a little extra something. So we started scheming (and occasionally practicing)…

Flash forward to the night of the concert. The other bands are good. Maybe a little too sappy and ballad-heavy, but good. But—and herein lay our distinct advantage—all they did, those amateur entertainers, was play music.

Our turn. We climbed the stairs to the stage with some difficulty, as we were wearing flippers. And snorkels, goggles, bathing suits, and floaties, all attire that a song about catastrophic flooding demands. I had distributed about a hundred little screw-top bottles containing a water + soap mixture, each with a plastic ring on a stick, among the crowd. And, as per my instructions, they started to blow zillions of soapy bubbles as we started to play.

We played fairly well (the song was as basic in structure as can be imagined), the words were legitimately funny and entertaining, and there were bubbles everywhere – the crowd was loving it. Until the bridge.


I give the signal to our two henchmen, who then gently remove two chickens from a milk crate left at the foot of the stage, and—still gently—place them in the crowd. A good-natured bedlam ensues, everyone has a good laugh, and we handily win the Battle. (Maybe we eat the chickens in celebration.)


These two goons—one of whom, by the way, was Finch’s (evil) twin—took these chickens and mightily hurled them up and away, a parabola of feathers. I watched, facing the crowd, as a chicken grazed the forty-foot ceiling, flapping and squawking the entire way. I strum on. One chicken landed in the thick of the crowd, and a not-good natured bedlam ensues. Yells of “It’s a chicken!” and “It bit me!” can be heard above our crescendo. Is the chicken crowdsurfing? I can’t tell — it’s just a mess of frantic flesh and the occasional feather. I’m afraid someone is going to get trampled. I’m afraid a chicken is going to get trampled. I’m pretty certain at this point that we are not going to win. But, dammit, I will finish this song.

The other chicken landed on the judge’s table—a good twenty feet from the stage—and one of the prissier judges flips out and overturns the table, sending streams of papers — and a chicken — down into the crowd.

By now, security has come—it’s Israel, they’re kind of tense—and is trying to secure the room, calm everybody down. A gun is pulled, which does, unsurprisingly, very little to calm everybody down.

We finish the song, and get off the stage. Eventually, they sorted it all out (“The terrorist was a chicken?” I heard a security guard ask the organizer). We didn’t win. But, miraculously, we did get our chickens back, unharmed, and kept them as pets on our balcony for the rest of the year. They were cute. We called them our groupies.

(That’s it. Do you have a better ending?)

Written by menachemkaiser

25 September at 17:00

Posted in rants

One Response

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  1. i totally inspired you to tell this story. you know it’s true.


    25 September at 20:20

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