by Bessie The Cow
Chapter 2: Rick Plays the Snare Drum With His Head
Not too many people know that robotic bovines care about giving the best possible performance we’re capable of, night in and night out. That we take our responsibility not to let the rest of the troupe down seriously. But we do.
In the euphoria following our smashing Blue Note debut, no one thought to clean out the milkstuffs sent swooshing around my innards when Kinn Konn hoisted me triumphantly airborne. These remained, damp, dank, and mildewing in my papier-mâché stomach. My mental health was not exactly optimum after languishing for a week at our rehearsal space unattended. I was miserable beyond belief.
When he’d finished trysting the nights away with a bevy of willing milkmaids, Kinn Konn finally got around to seeing how his new best girl was doing.
“Hey, Bessie, how’s it goin?”
Hmpf. Didn’t he know?
“It’s about time you recalled my existence.”
“Now, don’t go getting all existential on me. . . whoa! What’s that smell?”
“There’s a little chore you might want to attend to, buster . . . a little chore you might want to attend to right around . . . NOW!” I followed that up with my loudest, most insistent moo. It had the desired effect.
“Sure Bessie. I’ll get right on it. I’m real sorry I didn’t tune into your wants and needs. You know, I’ve never had custody of a robotic bovine before.”
“Well, you’ve got custody of one now!” I let out a more sympathetic yet still emphatic moo, just to see how it went over.
“Ummmmmmmmmmm ...." Kinn staggered at the unexpectedly awkward situation, "first of all, no one ever explained your care and maintenance to me. You may recall I never laid eyes on you till five minutes before our debut. Secondly, while I do remember ordering a robotic bovine with the ability to talk and sing onstage, I don’t recall your that functional specifications included providing for the ability to talk all the time.”
Oh. So that was it.
“Well, I can talk all the time, but what I’m looking for right now isn’t a lively debate. It’s something altogether different. Mooooo. Mooohhh. Muohhhoo.”
“OK, OK, I’ll grab some towels and hot water and get you all cleaned up. I’ll try to do better.”
“That’s more like it.”
I hoped he meant it. He clamped a clothespin on his nose, then went about the business of sanitizing me gently and meticulously. Kinn was always compulsive about details. I liked that, cause I have a compulsive streak, too.
I let out a more sympathetic series of moos conveying contentment.
“Would it be okay if I asked you a question?”
I’d only been in the world a little more than a week, but I recognized diplomacy when I heard it.
“Well, Ms. Robotic Bovine…I mean Bessie…can I call you that?”
“I wish you would.” Politeness was a lot easier sans milkdew.
“While I can sympathize with the discomfort you've experienced during this regrettable episode, an episode for which by the way I take full responsibilty for, I'm still getting used to your loquacious nature. It’s going to take some time. I hope you’ll be patient with me. Having a talking bovine around could actually prove quite advantageous. But I would appreciate it if you could be a little less sassy in our future dialogs. I try to reserve cynicism and sarcasm for those occasions that truly warrant them. I don’t want to have that sort of dialog with my friends. And I’d like to consider you one of my friends. One of my best friends, in fact. How would that be?”
I wanted that too, so I issued moos of assentment. I was really blushing now. Kinn was correct. Having the capability to switch between verbal mode and moo mode definitely had its advantages.
Kinn was good to his word. He did do better, show after show, a dozen in all, as we became the darlings of “New Wave Mondays” at the Blue Note. You wouldn’t think the whole town would turn out to see “a cow act” on Monday nights, but it did despite the fact none that neither Kinn or Silva admitted any affiliation with a “new wave” movement. Maybe the place would empty out by the third set, but by then our point had been made. But, hey—if the effects of being pigeonholed as “new wave” were sold-out shows and idolatry, who was going to argue with that? The giddy Blue Note management treated us like visiting royalty. Why not? Their Monday night attendance and revenues were bigger than their weekend take.
A lot of factors, myself among them, went into making The Milkmen the most lovable band around. But if you wanted to really pinpoint the integral reason why our live show had won over a dubious public, the reason was that we had Ric Parnell sitting on our drum chair and everybody else didn’t.
Sure, Kevin “Chocolate Milk” Jackson was a rock on bass. Silva Soulmine was an exceptional guitarist. Kinn Konn wasn't short on vision and creativity. But when it really comes down to it, a band is only as good as its drummer. The Milkmen were the best band around for the plain and simple reason that the tall, angular Brit beanpole with the quintessential, brooding rockstar looks, was the best drummer around.
In point of fact, by the time we emerged from our studio cocoon and began flitting about the stages of Boulder, Ric Parnell was the best drummer around LA. He’d moved there and immediately become a first-call session man. But the Milkmen already knew what the rest of the world was just discovering. Before he took on LA, Parnell had already played on three separate Milkmen sessions comprising fourteen songs in all. These sessions produced “Late Night Delivery,” “Desmond Grey Go Away,” “Lolita,” and many other gems. They propelled The Milkmen into semi-stardom. It helped that very few people believed we could ever recreate our studio complexity in a live situation and coughed up their hard-earned money to see us exposed. That’s why Kinn Konn and Silva Soulmine flew Parnell back to Colorado to perform at all our gigs. Parnell was an insurance policy against mediocrity. He was the x-factor providing a professional gloss that set us apart from our competition.
I knew that Parnell derived his illustrious pedigree from his famous sire. Jack Parnell was a bandleader whose popular weekly variety show on BBC TV had the entire Isle of Britannica glued to the tube for over a decade. The elder Parnell was often referred to as “the Lawrence Welk of Great Britain.” He was also an alcoholic prone to bouts of mania. The relationship between offspring and sire was often strained. While he would not be eligible for the “Good Dad Hall of Fame, at least Jack made sure young Ric was properly drilled in every known form of drum technique. That’s why the adult Rick could play anything and everything with no strain whatsoever. Which meant there were no limits to the styles of music we could tackle.
Despite his pampered childhood in tres-chic St. John’s Wood, teenaged Ric was more attracted to commoners, commoners like nascent heavy metal rockers Atomic Rooster who recognized his ability and offered him the opportunity to tour America. A ticket to Chuck Berryland was every Brit musician’s sweepstakes win.
I learned all this just listening to everyone around me gossip about each other. I discovered that I had just about totall recall of every detail I heard, every story that was recounted. It was also apparent that I was learning how to ask simple open-ended questions that resulted in very detailed answers.
As I observed the deference and reverence accorded Parnell, I was naturally curious about how the Parnell/Milkmen alliance originated. So I asked Kinn.
By some weird coincidence, a college student named Kinn Konn was one of about 25 souls who had paid to see Atomic Rooster play St. Louis’ 2,500-seat Keil Auditorium in 1970. Rooster’s gothic, organ-drenched mortuary music didn’t go over too well with the sparse midwest crowd. But the band’s macabre theatricality and costummage including tights, frilled shirts, and swashbuckling coiffure were duly noted by young Kinn.
Eight years later, the next time Kinn Konn set eyes on Ric Parnell, the limey skinpounder was rehearsing at a Boulder warehouse popular with the local bands. He’d landed in Boulder as a member of Nova, a progressive rock band consisting of four Italians and him. Friends of Kinn rehearsed at the same warehouse. While Nova was making way for the next rehearsal band, Kinn noticed Rick breaking down his kit, the drummer’s lot of life.
“Where have I seen you before?” Kinn asked him.
Parnell mentioned a succession of bands including Three Man Army. Kinn didn’t recognize any of them.
“If you didn’t see any of those bands, you would have had to have seen me in Atomic Rooster, and the odds of that are a million-to-one since we really bombed in America.”
“I saw Atomic Rooster play St. Louis!”
That was that. They became fast friends, owing to several shared interests, a mutual affection for herbage being the first one that springs to mind. Kinn and Silva were also confessed Anglophiles, which paired well with the typical British musician’s love of all things American. It turned out there was also a Lady Parnell, Cindy – pronounced “Ceendee”—a flaming redbird from the Canary Islands. Kinn and Silva immediately began referring to her as Your Ladyship, which made her giggle hysterically. She made sure to flex her considerable talents in grossness and vulgarity at every turn. We soon found out that "His Lordshit" or "Rick the Dick" as Her Ladyship referred to him, was especially skilled as a raconteur. He found a perfect audience in Kinn and Silva, spinning tales about his fellow Brit rockers for them and Her Ladyship whilst he assembled cannabis and tobacco spliffs in the European fashion. Narratives about his stormy encounters with arch-enemy Ginger Baker were a prime source of hilarity. In those early days, Parnell was a Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore and Peter Cooke rolled into one.
It should be obvious by now that Kinn and Silva had always worshipped British rock and British rockers. Now one of them, one of the most talented ones of all, was not just in their midst, but he'd become one of their best buddies. Parnell loved The Milkmen concept. He was full of flattering things to say about their material. In truth, he was the first person who had made any mark in the music industry whatsoever that had confirmed what at that time was something that existed only in their minds: they really were coming up with excellent material.
It was weird that no one else on the Boulder scene saw Parnell’s special talent. There were at least seven bands not to mention all their hangers-on on sharing the warehouse. You’d think some of them would have approached Parnell to sit in with them, but none of them ever did. The rest of Boulder’s music scene was either still stuck in a county rut or looking for seats aboard the New Wave train. New Wave was attractive to wannabes because in that genre it didn’t seem to matter if you displayed any particular mastery of your instrument as long as you were enthusiastic about thrashing abount on it. I suppose the virtuosity Parnell displayed in his progressive rock band simply went over people’s heads. That can happen when you're playing in exotic tempos like 17/8 and band members were going off on 20-minute solo excursions.
But Kinn and Silva had heard tapes of Parnell playing simpler styles of music, tapes which sounded absolutely fabulous. And absolutely fabulous was exactly how they envisioned the backlog of material they were dying to record sounding with him on them. It seemed obvious to them that His Lordshit should and would provide the drum parts.
The results of having a world-class drummer lay down their bottom tracks (with Silva Soulmine rising to the occasion on bass) were increasingly spectacular. Parnell had a gift for elevating songs to their highest levels. All you had to do was compose something vaguely in the form of a song and Parnell’s embellishments could carve it like the Pieta. If your song was good, he’d make it great. If your song actually was great already, Parnell made sure it was instantly recognizable as a timeless classic. He could hear a song once, make a mental blueprint of every change, and lay down a perfect studio track the next time through. I’m not just talking about technical perfection, I’m talking about technical perfection combined with verve and panache unlike anything anyone in country-drenched Boulder, Colorado had ever seen, heard, or imagined in 1982. Parnell was a god from the Planet Drum, ready to show the mortals how it was done. And his godly qualities transferred smartly from the studio to the stage.
While there were obvious benefits to flying Parnell out for gigs, it was an expensive proposition. It was even more extravagant paying for Lady Parnell to fly out with him. But if Her Ladyship wasn’t around to chaperone, you were really asking for trouble. Hubby would stray in every conceivable way. At first, his womanizing wasn’t a distraction. It was expected. But then he’d start hitting the bottle and he’d become erratic.
I sensed another change coming over Ric, even as the Milkmen scorched the Blue Note with triumph after triumph. His changing personae coincided neatly with his decision to supplement his longterm historic interest in herbology and his secondary interest in alcohol with a new-found predilection for pharmacology that he’d acquired in LA. Dabbling in cocaine produced a rash of unpleasant side effects. He seemed a lot more edgy. His drumming took on a manic quality. He began finding opportunities for fills that weren’t really there. On a personal level, he wasn’t nearly as funny or as endearing or as entertaining to be around. But only we knew that. To our fans, Parnell was still a major attraction, an aristocratic powerhouse manning our drum throne.
There was also change brewing at the Blue Note. Apparently the club had been sold the very same week our long-term engagement at the hotspot was scheduled to end. The new owners weren’t familiar with The Milkmen. They scheduled us for a Saturday night instead of our traditional Monday night slot. That was supposed to be a step up—but we wondered how smart it was to mess with a good thing. How this gig went would have a big influence on our future relationship with the new management.
For whatever reasons, probably because Kinn and Silva felt like economizing instead of paying Her Ladyship’s way, Ric flew out solo. On the night of the gig, there was already more backstage tension than usual when I overheard a conversation between Kinn and Silva.
“What’s up with Ric?” Silva asked.
“I was out with him last night. We picked up these milkmaids after the show (at Max’s in Denver) and went back.to their place. One of them looked like Jane Fonda in Barbarella. The other was a plain Jane. We were both competing for Barbarella. She was a dancer. I sought to impress her with my ballet moves which would have worked until Ric fought me off with his limey charm. But I didn’t see why I should should give up my own hot streak with les demoiselles du lait. The competition waged deep into the night. We were dancing, drinking and snorting all night, locking horns for the desirable female. Neither one of us wanted Plain Jane. I finally surrendered at 5AM since I didn’t want to suck tonight because I didn’t get any sleep. I forfeited the prize.
“Barbarella brought Rick back around noon in her BMW. The smug bastard gave me a thin-lipped smile and demanded feed. He obviously hadn’t slept, and neither would I have if I was him. I felt like socking him one but restrained myself. I wound up taking him out to brunch at his favorite feed station. You know how he loves Rocky Mountain Joe’s? He ordered three pieces of chocolate poison cake and gobbled it down in about five seconds. Has he eaten anything else since he’s been in Boulder?”
“As far as I know,” Silva concurred, “that’s all he’s been eating for the last week.”
Just then the bartender came into our dressing room. In the custom of the day, he began spelling out his own name in cocaine. Parnell strutted in and immediately pointed to the powder.
‘I say, is that blow?’ quoth he.
Parnell and the barkeep loaded up. And kept loading up. The custom was too new for Kinn to know what effect it had on stage performance. It didn’t seem to help his songwriting any, so he declined.
The show began. We could do no wrong. It seemed like the band was finally on automatic pilot, able to concentrate on our performance without worrying about the mechanics of singing, how we looked on stage, whether or not my auditory and lactosary facilities would function correctly, and so on. The audience was impressed when they were supposed to be impressed, amused when they were supposed to be amused, incredulous when they were supposed to be incredulous.
Things sounded tighter than they had in recent shows. It seemed Rick had toned down his recent tendency to live up to his own mythology through overplaying. Did he feel guilty about taking Barbarella from Kinn? Who knows. What I do know is that through the first 3 or 4 songs, we stayed right in the pocket. The entire crowd was dancing, no one was sitting around. Then, around halfway through the set, I began to notice that Ric’s playing had gone from simple but grooving to increasingly minimalist. As we attempted “The Ugly Duckling,” there was very little activity going on around the o'l drum kit. All hi-hat activity had ceased. Bass drum activity was nonexistent. All I could hear was some unusual timbres emanating from the snare drum. When I turned around, Rick was nodding out, playing the snare drum with his forehead! For a while he nodded out to the beat, then he was just nodding, then he was O-U-T!
A tremendously embarassing stoppage of the performance ensued, followed by a hasty retreat to the dressing room. We’d done so many wacky stunts on stage, the audience couldn’t tell if this was part of the show or not. They knew soon enough. Numerous amateur ER attempts failed to revive the blacked-out skin pounder. My milking was going to be delayed, which made me antsy.
Resucitation efforts continued. We poured ice water on his head. We forced coffee down his throat. We slapped his cheeks. The new owners were very, very grumpy. Finally, Rick exhibited signs of life. He could talk and seemed somewhat coherent. He indicated he was ready to continue the show. We went back out to mumbles, lukewarm cheers and wisecracks from an audience that 20 minutes ago thought they were viewing the second coming of The Beatles.
The revival lasted about thirty seconds. Then we were trudging back to the dressing room, dragging Rick’s body like a fallen soldier. Another new Rick milkmaid, “Beko” by name, attended to her fallen knight—to no avail. The show had to be aborted. The new owners had to refund everyone’s money. Of course as band leader it was all Kinn’s fault, so we never got paid. We would never be welcome at the Blue Note again, as patrons or performers. Obviously, The Milkmen would have to turn elsewhere for future gigs. Ric Parnell would likewise have to turn elsewhere for future gigs.
This is where the story gets really interesting. A few months later, we heard that in LA he’d somehow stumbled upon a role in a Hollywood movie. The film had something to do with spoofing the heavy metal genre. All we knew about the film was that it would mark the directorial debut of Rob Reiner, ‘50s funnyman Carl Reiner’s son, whose claim to fame was playing “Meathead” in the nation's #1 sitcom, All In The Family. Any film directed by a character named “Meathead” had to suck, didn’t it? That pretty much went without saying. A few more details about the movie surfaced. Apparently Rick's role was playing “Mick Shrimpton,” a "detonating drummer" in a heavy metal outfit called Spinal Tap. Everyone agreed that here was a truly rotten idea.
A few months later, Kinn and Silva were out in LA. The learned that This is Spinal Tap was having its gala premier. Lady Parnell got them on the guest list. When they returned from El Lay, they told Chocolate Milk about how Ric the Dic’s flick fit into cinematic history.
“It sucked, right?”
“Well, I can see how you could think that it sucked,” Silva began, “I certainly expected a suckfest. But it was like the funniest film I’ve ever seen! We laughed ourselves sick.”
“You’re kidding, right? How was Rick?”
“He said they cut out all his best lines, but he was perfect.”
So it was that Rick Parnell was kicked out of The Milkmen and into immortality as the exploding drummer in This is Spinal Tap. Immortal or not, there’s no comparison between the tasteful chops he exhibited as a Milkman and the perfunctory coke-fueled crapola he gave Spinal Tap.
Flash forward to April, 1999. Kinn Konn attended another film gala, this one the opening night soirée at the Taos Film Festival. Who did he run into at the shrimp bowl but comedian Harry Shearer, aka “Derek Smalls,” Spinal Tap’s bass player.
“Yo, Sex Farm!”
“Do I know you?”
“We have a drummer in common—Rick Parnell. He was kicked out of our band, The Milkmen and into your film.”
“Rick Parnell was in your band? That fucking scumbag? That fucking scumbag that sold the $15,000 drum kit we gave him to buy blow? Then you know what we were dealing with! He was supposed to use that kit on our tour. What really pissed me off is he was so good we had a hell of a time replacing him.”
Parnell’s replacement in Spinal Tap was no less a drum god than Mick Fleetwood his own self.
What a character. What a dickhead. What a waste of talent.
Not too many people know that robotic bovines really care about giving the best possible performance we’re capable of, night in and night out. That we’re aware of our responsibilities and do everything we can not to let the rest of the band down. But we do.
Chapter 1: Dashing Dairymen
Chapter 2: Rick Plays The Snare Drum With His Head
Chapter 3: Tim Takes The Stage
Chapter 4: Meet Mr. Watts
Chapter 5: We Open For Missing Persons
Chapter 6: Conquering Colorado
Chapter 7: Rick Sees His Successor
Chapter 8: Westward Ho!
Chapter 9: A Cow Writer Co-Writer
Chapter 10: Welcome To LA
Chapter 11: Madame Wong's or How Quickly They Forget