Tuesday, October 06, 2009


It was a Saturday night early in October of 1985. We attended Mass that evening, as we anticipated the inevitable. Shortly after midnight, it began. And after seventeen hours in labor, a mother gave birth to a little boy.

Before that day, he was simply known as "Tad," which was short for "tadpole," a nickname given to this writer as a wee lad by an uncle. It was also sufficiently gender-neutral. Upon arrival, the baby was named for both of his grandfathers, and in the Slavic tradition of his mother, his middle name was the first name of his father. Thus was Paul David Alexander brought into the world.

His cultural upbringing was eclectic, to say the least. He was greeted at birth to a tape recording of the Meditation from the opera "Thais" by the French composer Jules Massenet (1842-1912). At eighteen months, he could identify eighteen makes of cars. By the time he was three, when he wasn't out climbing trees, his three favorite TV shows were Looney Tunes, Inspector Gadget, and Jeopardy. He loved to dance to Paul Simon's "Graceland" album. His first musical instrument was the harmonica, which he blew in and out in near-perfect timing, while his Uncle Paul played an eight-bar rockabilly classic on guitar.

I got a beat-up car, a new pair of shoes.
How can I lose with the stuff I use?
I'm a rockin' daddy.
Yeah a rockin' daddy.
I'm a rockin' daddy from Ding Dong, Tennessee.

(Original lyrics by Sonny Fisher, and recorded by Eddie Bond at Sun Records.)

On Friday nights, Mom got some relief when Dad took him along to the weekly contra dance. While Dad played banjo with the band, Paul found a place to lay his head on a blanket and pillow in the corner. He could sleep anywhere (and still can). At nine or ten years old, Paul was learning the violin. The culmination of that experience, other than the school recital, was on Christmas Day, when a truly original presentation of an Israeli folk tune, "Zing Gully Gully" was executed for the listening audience in Ohio, with his Dad accompanying him on banjo.

The two of us fell in love with a Toronto-based indie-rock band, Moxy Früvous, which had a notable cult following among recovering nerds in the 1990s. We would be there for them whenever they appeared in the area. I tried to get him in for a sound check once, and the band was delayed. But though his first meeting with them fell through, he eventually made two stage appearances with the band, who gave him the first of many stage names: "Virtual Boy."

His latest moniker is "Fender Splendor," the name under which he appeared as a finalist in this year's US Air Guitar National Championships. He placed sixth. But our hero is not content to rest on his laurels, even after reaching such heights as appearing on "B roll" for NBC's Today show. I was at home last night, when there began a conversation, which between TweetDeck and text messaging, went something like this:

P: the fine folks at jammin java reserved us front row seats for @AndrewWK!

D: yeah i checked this guy out, including a youtube interview. that boy ain't right. http://bit.ly/1iJWFh

P: he's actually a classically trained pianist and a musical genius, and he's playing right now with the calder string quartet. awesome.

D: i saw the website with the string quartet. also played samplers from gundam rock. he's prolific i'll admit ... i seem to recall carlos santana doing some work with tchaikovsky in the early 70s.

P: did i mention he's also a motivational speaker and he tours colleges around the country giving lectures? a gentleman and a rockstar!

D: does he look like he does on the twitter page with a bloody nose and all when he's a motivational speaker? why don't you ask him that when you use your backstage pass, playuh?

P: umm probably not. that's the cover of his debut album, it's a really famous picture. guess who has a tshirt with a massive picture of it now? don't think i'll need a backstage pass! pretty sure he'll be hanging out with US after the show.

(at this point, i thought he was just shooting off his virtual mouth. then i got this message during the night...)

P: i just got onstage and rang in my 24th birthday singing 'i love nyc' with @AndrewWK on the ivories! thanks for an awesome birthday! PARTY HARD!

(oh, and it gets better...)

P: i love...washington dc...oh yeah...washington dc!!! holy crap. best @#$%ing night ever.

Maybe he'll stay in DC after all, and I can have at least one family member around. In any case, Paul turns 24 years old at exactly 5:17 this afternoon. I'll be catching a bus about that time, so I wanted to get this out of the way.

Party on, tadpole.

(NOTA BENE: The first video clip was updated when the actual song, rather than a variation, was finally located. The fourth clip features Andrew WK performing "Party Hard" with the Calder Quartet at Coolidge Corner Theatre on the 29th of September last. Mild content advisory, sort of.)

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