Summer 1990. I was stationed at Howard AFB, Panama, but lived on an different U.S. installation altogether—Albrook Air Station. I credit Manuel Noriega for this lucky turn of events, his menace having motivated Uncle Sam to cram more airmen into the country than could be accommodated on Howard. (Got the assignment a few weeks before we caught the pineapple-faced bastard; arrived just days after we'd snagged him up.)
Living on the "South American side" had plenty of advantages, one of which was being in a dorm with a much wider variety of dorm mates than I'd have had living on Howard (all aircraft mechanics and cops, no doubt). One of my dorm mates, Dan H., was a DJ for the AFRTS* radio station located on a nearby Army post.
So, one evening in the dorm I heard someone playing the new Queensrÿche album, Empire. Not yet in possession of my own copy (being a DJ, he'd regularly have early access to coolness like this), but fairly sure what I was hearing was the 'rÿche, I followed my ears. And found Dan, with his dorm room open, jamming to "Jet City Woman."
Beyond digging the new music, and hitting it off immediately with Dan, I was astonished to see a giant rack of electronic gear in his dorm room: a MIDI keyboard, a Korg emulator, and an Alesis digital 8-tracker. Incredibly, Dan explained, he'd picked up all the gear so he could learn to play, and make his own music. I believe he may have had some piano lessons as a child, and seem to remember he could play a few things on the keyboard.
I was fascinated with his gear, and he showed me how to program separate tracks—as played on the keyboard, using patches from his Korg—into the Alesis digital recorder. Having already multi-tracked plenty of my own (analog) stuff, the concepts were already there, and it didn't take long to pick up on the workings of Dan's digital gear.
We were both huge fans of Rush, and pretty soon decided to put together a collection songs, calling the project "Slush" (our brilliant transfusion of "sloppy" + "rush"). These were to be Yankovich-like spoofs of actual Rush songs, my having programmed the 'band' into his Alesis, and Dan having sung all the goofy lyrics we'd written for them .
Our first creation was to be "Long Division," about the woes of a nerdy student having to do math homework for his classmates, all of whom had been spoiled by their TI-59s. I remember us coming up with the idea over a burger in the bowling alley on Albrook, and rushing back to his room to start the thing.
The first track to lay down, naturally, was the drum line. I'd spent probably close to an hour perfecting my best fingers/'Neil' rendition, stopping when I made a mistake, and "punching" back in where I'd left off. I recall the drum line being spot-on, destined to be a work of art in and of itself. Programming one of Neil Peart's closing fills for the song, I was a gnat's hair from wrapping it up... when the Alesis crashed.
Gone. All of it... gone. The whole thing. The Alesis' memory was completely wiped. Barren as a convenience store trashcan.
So we decided to write our own Rush-like songs, and stick with the "Slush" theme. The plan was modified to have me writing/programming original stuff, and Dan singing Rush-like lyrics over it.
Except Dan wasn't really into it anymore, and soon lost interest in the project. I'd programmed two "Slush" songs, incorporating a guitar part into the first, and a third song by "Slyx" - hoping to motivate him (he was a big Styx fan; the song itself was going to be "Ring Around the Collar Man").
But Dan was more content watching me do my thing, and very graciously allowed me to create more stuff with his equipment. Ultimately I'd programmed five more songs, in addition to the three spoof pieces I'd recorded, into his Alesis. The first was a "Slangelis" piece, followed by something I originally intended to be "Slood Sleat and Slears," but turned out sounding like nothing more than cheesy lounge music.
One of these last originals is lost forever—I'm pretty sure I left the cassette onto which I'd transferred that one in Dan's tape deck (yes, even the tape deck was his), and when one of us PCSed (transferred back to the States), it was a goner.
But the rest of it is here—straight to your ears from 1990, Albrook AFS, Republic of Panama. Enjoy!
* Don't spell it out — sound it out. All together now, "ay-FARTS."