The Bats' Compound

Here's a funny story I've never told— the night, in late 2004, when Mike Land and I acted as "roadies" for The Bad News Bats, Abby's band with Liz McDermott. As an initial tangent, I find it interesting that Abby's years with the Bats ('04-'06) coincided with her great period of artistic fecundity. However rough-hewn and hard-edged the Bats' nexus was, Abs felt loved within it. That Liz ran the band with an iron fist didn't seem to disturb this. It's also worth noting that the Bats did get a standard write-up in one of the major Philly weeklies at the time; and that the lovely elfin Bats space cadet was also painting The Skaters and The Lost Twins then was lost on Mike and I and (I'm guessing) everyone else too. When Abs was painting her masterpieces, she was also playing her cards close to the vest; was, in astrological terms, moon in Capricorning. Had I seen what she was painting, Mike and I would've gone to great lengths to get her to show (as we had shown Mary Harju) at the Highwire Gallery in the now-razed Gilbert Building on Cherry Street, where we were doing our Free School shows. Indeed, the reason we were acting as roadies for the Bats on this particular autumn evening was that we were courting them— we wanted them to do a Highwire show with us in December. Liz was perhaps the greatest empress/tyrant in Philly rock history, so it wouldn't occur to her to just say yes— we had to demonstrate devotion first. So, there we were at the Bats' compound, a few blocks from where they were to play that night (at Tritone, 16th and South.) The first thing I noticed was that Abs was upset about something, and it had to do with Liz. Liz was storming around the house, doing assorted Liz-type, operational tasks; she decided, for example, that Mike and I needed to hear Bukka White. From her. The other two bats, Mary-Beth and Virginia, were lounging around, and were nice enough to share their weed with us.

Once we were properly stoned, and as Mike and I later discussed, we got lost in a labyrinth of insinuations going back and forth between the four Bats. They weren't trying to be insular, but they were naturally, organically insular at the time. When it finally got to be time for us to move the Bats' gear, Liz directed and monitored our movements. Luckily, Mike and I had a good amount of physical stamina, and it wasn't difficult to follow Liz's instructions, especially as the car-ride was short. Nick and Jeremy showed up before the Bats played, and I tried to make some introductions; but Liz was lost in her private maze of secret huddles, low-worded debriefings, and symbolic silences. Abs already knew all of us, and Mary Beth and Virginia, both good-natured loafers, were companionable. The Bats onstage were about equally quirky and ferocious in the mid-Aughts; Abs added layers of polish and sophistication to Liz's she-girl/banshee approach. Tritone was mid-level crowded for the show, and at least one other band played, who I don't remember. I do remember that the Abs/Liz "Glimmer Twins" vibe was intense— they were good at generating tornadoes of energy around them. I also generally noticed, in the last months of '04, and despite the awfulness of the year's election, that something was coming unhinged in Center City Philadelphia— some kind of Pandora's Box had been opened, and the spirit/genie of abandon and the Dionysian in general had been loosed. What redeemed all the casualties which were to come is that whatever glue was holding us together worked— whatever we were in, we were in together. The basic "geist" unearthed was a magnetic one, rather than the repulsive-up-close NY/L.A. vibe around so much advertised American art shenanigans. The worst thing you can say about Abs at this time is that she was radically compartmentalized— no one, in relation to the quality of her paintings, knew where they really fit in with her. But in this case, the art so justifies the life, who cares?