The Flawless Waffle
by Flynn Washburne, February 17, 2016
I was very excited about the inaugural gig of my new band, Flawless Waffle. It was a sort of fortuitous accident that we'd arrived at the point of playing out, as I'd never really had those aspirations for FW; it had started as a drug-inspired "what if" concept and grew legs when I happened to mention it within hearing of a couple of guys demented enough to consider my vision worthy of further exploration. Even then, we'd thought to limit the Waffle's presence to our own rehearsal space, recording some YouTube videos and perhaps doing a little busking. As it happened, someone heard the music, spoke to someone else, and somehow we were invited to play at the Headlands.
The Flawless Waffle concept was as follows: choose classic albums from the rock and punk canon and recreate them in their entirety as spare, minimalist acoustic arrangements using nonprofessional, nontraditional instruments. Toys, really. Toy pianos, guitars, and drums, kazoos, ocarinas, slide whistles, xylophones, anything on which you could play a scale or bang out a rhythm. The closest thing we had to a real instrument was an old Casio sampling keyboard from the 80s. My bandmates were a couple of old duffers named Pinckney and Salvatore who had made up the rhythm section of a popular local band back in the early 80s and were now more of the strumming-on-the-front-porch type of musicians, living on disability checks and hydrocodone.
My pitch energized them, though, and they both lit into the project with admirable fervor and creativity. I had a long wish list of albums I wanted to tackle. Never Mind The Bollocks, Sgt. Pepper, Back in Black, How Could Hell Be Any Worse, Exile On Main St., Group Sex, Paranoid, Never Mind, to name a few. But I elected to start with the Clash's eponymous debut album.
Not overly complex, it nonetheless rocks with unflagging intensity and is socially and politically incisive to boot. And, I knew every note like my own name. Having chosen the material, we set up a rehearsal space in Pinckney's garage and got down to business. A couple of days in we started treating it less like a goof and the songs began to take on some real character and dimension; by the time we got to "White Man In Hammersmith Palais" I was quite pleasantly surprised at what we'd wrought. The pink and purple plastic Barbie guitar that anchored the band did a fine job of echoing Mick Jones' scratchy reggae riff, and I recorded it for our first video.
Sal showed it to somebody who showed it to somebody else, and by and by I got a call from a nice lady representing the Headlands coffeehouse asking if we'd like to grace their stage two Sundays hence. I told her that the Waffle would be honored and there with bells on (literally— part of our percussion section was muted sleigh bells strapped to my strumming arm). Excellent, she said, and invited us to stop in at some point during the intervening time to work out the particulars.
"We got us a gig, boys," I said to Sal and Pinckney. They gave each other a look, and shrugged. The following week we jumped into Sal's Country Squire and chugged on over to the Headlands.
"Okay,” said the nice lady. "You’ll be going on at 6:00, right before Jim Shaw. Now, if you—"
"Whoa, whoa,” I interjected. "Hold on just one second. I realize I'm getting on in years and my hearing is not what it used to be, but it almost sounded like you said we'd be opening for Jim Shaw."
"That’s right, he plays here quite often. He’s a guitarist, she said.
"Jim Shaw? Wife of local polygender social worker and Chelsea supporter Anna Shaw?"
"That’s the guy. What, do you know him or something?"
"Oh, no, this won’t do, not at all,” I said. “Quite impossible, I’m sure. I'm going to have to insist on some kind of reorganizing here."
"What’s your problem with Jim?" she asked.
"Well, you referred to him as a ‘guitarist’,” I said. "Let me tell you that having a guitar doth not a guitarist make. You may as well refer to me as a swordsman because of this rapier on my hip, but I assure you it's purely decorative."
"When Jim Shaw ‘plays’ guitar, it sounds like someone throwing cheese through the strings of a poorly tuned harp. He’s legally bald. He wears a leather motorcycle jacket as he pedals his pink Huffy girl's bike to the drugstore to buy scalp polish and estrogen. He took his wife/husband's name. He is, in all respects, an affront to taste and decency, not to mention theology and geometry. Flawless Waffle may not have much experience, madam, but we do have our pride and I'm afraid that this arrangement will not stand. Here are my alternative terms.
First, Shaw goes on before us. He must play facing the back wall so that no one has to look at his stupid face. After he's done, he must introduce us with a heartfelt seven-minute encomium delivered from a submissive position, like a Muslim at prayer, after which he will scuttle backward out the door and into the alley. Those are our terms, and they’re non-negotiable."
"Hey, wait a minute,” Pinckney said.
"Shut up, you,” I snapped. "Drummers do not speak."
"Well, do we have a deal?" I asked, turning to the nice lady.
"Even without speaking to Mr. Shaw, I think I can safely say that we will be unable to accommodate you," she said. "It's too bad. I thought you guys were really fresh and interesting."
"You're very kind to say so, and I will say that apart from your perverse attachment to that vile excrescence Jim Shaw, you are a sophisticated and discerning woman, and I thank you for your time. I do hope you'll call us if a more favorable spot opens up."
We took our leave and as it turned out, Pinckney and Sal didn't really care for my powerful and decisive leadership style and elected to break up the band. I was devastated and began cycling through the classic stages of grief right there on the sidewalk in front of the cafe.
First, denial. "Break up? Of course we’re not broken up. I decide when we break up. Now let's go practice, we've got a lot of work to do."
Then anger. "I’ll kill you both! Nobody walks out on Flawless Waffle! Get your worthless asses back here, you sons of bitches! Don’t you start that car! Aaaaaaah!"
Next, blame. “This is all Jim Shaw’s fault. After I kill Pinckney and Sal, I'll hunt him down and string my dulcimer with his connective tissue."
Bargaining. "Hello, Sal? Hey, it’s me. Listen, perhaps I was a little hasty. I promise I'll be more reasonable and even let you talk once in a while, whaddaya say? We good? Did you hang up on me, you sonofabitch? I’ll kill you! Aaaaaagh!"
And finally, acceptance. "Oh well, screw it and them too. I'm gonna go get stupid wasted and forget the whole thing."
As I strolled meditatively down the street, it occurred to me that Flawless Waffle and I, Flynn Washburne, shared the same initials. I was the Flawless Waffle and the Flawless Waffle was I. There was only one thing for it, and only one man to do it, and that man was me. I put my plans to render myself insensible on hold and rushed home to implement a new plan to reinvent the Waffle as a solo act. After a couple of fruitless days assembling various unsuccessful configurations of instruments, I decided that the project was lacking two things: chemical stimulation and a second brain to help put the whole thing together. I called Tattoo Sean and explained my dilemma.
"Dude, I need a big sack of dope and some assistance turning me into a one-man band. You in?"
"Hell yes. Get your ass over here,” he said.
That’s the (one?) good thing about tweakers— get them high and you cannot make a request absurd or dangerous enough to be refused. Like, "Hey. I need you to do this shot and then remove the tumor from this cat's head."
"No problem. Shine that light over here."
Sean and I got properly amplified and went to work. Plans were drawn up, prototypes cobbled together, failures littered the floor, and a sense of discouragement permeated the project. We went out scavenging every second-hand store, garage sale and dump in the region for parts and equipment. Finally, after a hugely successful nighttime raid on a donation box at a thrift store, we managed to fabricate a structure worthy of the name Flawless Waffle. I was all over surrounded by a sort of armature or exoskeleton composed of repurposed wire hangers. Attached to one section of the wire were 12 chromatically arranged rubber bands. Two rubber balls under my armpits connected via tubing to wind instruments duct-taped to the wire. There were cymbals on my inner knees and drum pedals screwed onto both my heels. Various noise and music makers sprouted from my guitar. I went down to the Headlands on the day which was supposed to be our debut but now featured only the jackleg bungler Jim Shaw.
I opened the door, resplendent in my musical appendages, and looked in on the fiend in there committing offenses against Euterpe, attended only by a couple of homeless people and his mother. "Screw you, Shaw,” I said, giving him the finger. "One two three four!" I closed the door, launched into "Clash City Rocker" right there on the sidewalk, and I don't mind telling you that what emerged was not so much music as: a rattling, banging, twanging, cacophonous clangor guaranteed to make infants wail and maidens fear for their virtue (I believe that some of the frequencies I attained were able to permeate certain bio-membranous material). It sounded like a bunch of musical instruments had been thrown into a spinning cement mixer. And it still sounded better than Shaw.