"Man, we were hot tonight!" Lucas stepped out of the gymnasium and onto the outdoor basketball court of Norup Middle School in Oak Park, Michigan. He squinted in the sunlight, a sharp contrast to the dark gym lit only by the Norup Hawks scoreboard and a few strings of Christmas lights. "Aw man, that hurts," said Lucas, shielding his sunglasses with his hand. But rapid change is nothing new for Lucas: in fact, it has been the one constant in his life lately. Lucas is the lead singer of Codependent Gnome War, one of the most promising young bands to hit the junior high school circuit this year. "It seems like only yesterday we were practicing out in (drummer) Steve's carport. And now--I mean, we're doing, like, a new town every day. It goes so fast, you know? I can't even remember where we were yesterday."
"Livonia, man," answered Steve.
"Oh yeah, Livonia," Lucas said, taking a deep draw on his cigarette. "Tough crowd."
With the help of two hall monitors and select group of lucky 8th graders, Lucas and Steve and Oscar and Slater, the other members of CGW, began loading their equipment into a trailer hitched to the back of Lucas's car, a blue 1989 Hyundai.
"Just like in the Beck song," Lucas told me proudly as he took an amplifier from a pale, dark-haired boy in a Nirvana t-shirt. "Yo, thanks man."
I asked the boy what he thought about CGW: "They're not really my style," he admitted, "but my girlfriend likes them." He pointed to a willowy blonde 12 year old who waved back shyly.
Lucas looked over and whispered to Steve, "Whoa, that blonde isn't wearing a bra."
Around 4pm, I met up with CGW at Denny's, only a few miles from their latest afternoon gig. Still dressed in their performing clothes--Lucas in a silver shirt and black leather pants, Steve in a t-shirt proclaiming "ROCK STAR", the others in jeans and t-shirts advertising local indie bands, and all four in sunglasses--CGW stood out from the other patrons, mostly senior citizens in for the early bird special. I wanted to hear about the real heart of CGW--their music.
"That's what it's all about, man," said Lucas. "The music."
Described by the Pleasant Ridge Junior High Spectator as "a dissonant post-alternative homage to 90's grunge pop" and by local language arts teacher Nora Rubin as "hauntingly ungrammatical," the music of CGW is more complex and subtle than the band's rock star image suggests.
Lucas: "We see it as New Kids on the Block meets Radiohead."
Steve: "Meets Pavement."
Oscar: "Plus a dash of Atari Teenage Riot."
"A 'dash'?" jeered Lucas. "What are we, baking or something?" Lucas scooped whipped cream off his waffle and into his mouth with a look of disdain.
Critics across the North Woodward area have noted that fame seems have increased tensions among the members of CGW, who have been friends since their high school days at nearby Berkley Senior High. Privately, Oscar told me "This middle school stuff is fine, but really, we need to expand. Get out of southeast Michigan and really tour around, maybe try Indiana or something. Maybe even a few high schools. And Debra? Lucas's car? Christ, couldn't we at least get a minivan or something?"
And of Lucas, Steve told me, "Fame is really going to his head. He broke up with his girlfriend Kelly--sweetest girl in the world, and hot, too--because she told him not to quit his job in the cd section at Meijer's. Which was where they met, by the way. I think she just doesn't have the image he's going for now. And he's getting caught up in the money and forgetting about the music. At our practices, all he wants to talk about is merchandising. And between you and me, he does not have the butt to wear those leather pants."
At Denny's, though, all the band members listened and supported Lucas's ideas, which included producing gnome action figures with the faces of the band ("So the kids can have their own gnome wars at home") and book covers they could sell after concerts. When I spoke to Lucas about intra-CGW problems, he dismissed them.
"Slater is just pissed because he thinks the gnome action figures make his face look puffy. Big deal. You have to make sacrifices for your art, right?"
And Kelly, Lucas's ex-girlfriend? "She just isn't rockstar girlfriend material," he said with a slight quiver in his voice. "She wouldn't get a tattoo or anything. I even drew one for her: a gnome holding a little rose. She said it was ugly, some shit about how her body was a temple and they don't have ugly gnomes on temples." Dabbing at his eyes and mumbling about the "fuckin' onion rings," Lucas then excused himself to visit the men's room.
Tension should be nothing new for CGW, though. Lucas remembered, "Around the time we first decided to do junior high schools, things were pretty rough then. Tyler thought it was a bad move, thought we should try to play some bars instead." Tyler, the band's former bassist, left CGW in April. "He wanted us to get a manager and try to put out a cd. We just don't want to be tied down like that. We're still evolving." Indeed, CGW's latest music illustrates the band's transformation. "We've stopped putting so much emphasis on making the words rhyme," said Oscar, who writes most of the band's lyrics. In the music department, Lucas told me "We don't worry about melody and harmony and all that crap. We just go where the guitar takes us," he concluded, wiggling his fingers mysteriously in front of his face. The band has retired some of its older songs, some dating as far back as 1999, in favor of new ones. As Slater told me, "'Got No Date for the Prom' just isn't where we are anymore. Musically speaking."
"And we replaced 'Kelly' with 'I Love My Hot New Girlfriend,'" Lucas added emphatically.
So what does the future hold for Codependent Gnome War? Lucas: "The 8th grade graduation dance in coming up in June. That would be our dream gig. Keep your fingers crossed, man." Will do, man. Will do.