"See, baby, I finally wrote a song about you," Dave Harris, the lanky bass player with the wild mane of brown hair, announces from the stage after his band, Rocket Park, finishes playing a new composition at their recent CD-release party in Blueberry Hill's Duck Room. "Now, what are you doing after the show? Do you feel like spending the rest of your life with me?"
With that, he fishes a little box from his pocket and pops open the lid, revealing an engagement ring. The spotlight shines down on the table in front where his girlfriend sits, apparently stunned. Harris jumps off the stage, gets down on one knee and slips the ring onto his newly declared fiancée's finger.
It's a tender moment, giving the future Mr. and Mrs. Harris a great story to tell for the rest of their lives together. And such a fairytale flash is perfectly suited for Rocket Park, because they so obviously believe that rock & roll is something big. They're classical romanticists, heroic figures of rock's redemptive qualities. They're also among the biggest smart-asses you'll ever run into, so you have to watch out.
Just take a quick look at the songs on Rocket Park's new CD, The Effects of Eating Too Much Television, out on the local Rooster Lollipop collective label. "Oh No, Not Love Again" cons us into thinking we're hearing a scary tale of a guy who can't help hurting the women he finds attractive, until the chorus intimates that, in reality, he's the one getting hurt. "Heavy Juju" might be the sweetest love song in years, with its image of the boy being kissed by the girl as he waits to figure out whether she'll let him kiss back, but on closer examination, it's more complicated, concerning itself with the way memory likes to idealize reality. "Praying for a Plague" hopes to eradicate most of the human race, "to put them out of my misery," and, though the song is in a minor key, it's still catchy. Then there's the answering-machine message that introduces one song with the words "I thought cheating on my husband was bad, but this far exceeds that."
Rocket Park are as likely to deflate a clichéd image as they are to embrace it. They know what a rock band is supposed to do -- look cool onstage, sing about the joys of love, that sort of thing -- but they also know there's something a little silly about doing these things just to live up to the image of a band. It's as if they have indeed ingested too much music television and are burping up an oddly familiar taste; the band simultaneously harnesses the power of rock & roll and keeps an ironic distance from it. Even their best song, a life-affirming, joyous pop confection called "Bagels in Bangor" was inspired by the taste of a good bagel in a deli located in Bangor, Maine.
Rocket Park has been in existence for a couple of years, starting when Brian Andrew Marek and Eric Moore decided to renew an old musical acquaintance. They had been in the band Popcorn, which broke up largely because Moore didn't have time to do it anymore. When his circumstances changed, he called Marek again.
"One of the first things Eric brought up in conversation was that we should record a CD," explains Marek. "I thought it was about time that I dedicated myself to a task like that, because I'd been playing in this town for 10 years and never had a band last long enough to record."
Because Marek could play keyboards, guitar and bass, and Moore was a drummer, they were able to begin work fairly quickly on this studio project. Eventually, though, it became obvious they needed a lead guitarist. "Anybody here can testify to the lack of quality of my guitar solos," says Marek. "'Manic' Myk Thompson and I had worked on and off over the years. So I asked him to do it."
Thompson, another alumnus of Popcorn, had the time and found he liked Marek's material enough to stick around. Before they could play out in public, though, they ran through a series of bass players, finally settling on John Sebben, who stuck around long enough to appear on the band's first album, 1999's Teenage Folklore," but not long enough to play at the CD-release party for it.
In came Harris, who was available because his previous band, Free Dirt, had just broken up. "It was one of the typical situations," says Marek, "when somebody's in a band for months and months, just sitting in, and suddenly he realized he was in the band. There was never an official moment when we told him he was in. He just gradually understood where we were coming from." Rocket Park as we now know them had come together, and they immediately took to saying yes to just about any performance offer they received. This led to such oddities as their opening for Saigon Kick, the Marshall Tucker Band and, at least on a side stage, Jimmy Buffett. Meanwhile, the band went to work on recording the now-just-released second album.
Teenage Folklore was a good starting point, but Too Much Television, despite the sluggish and confusing title, reveals a band in full creative flower. Marek's songwriting has grown by leaps and bounds as he's gained a greater mastery of melodic development. Harris also contributes two originals, which offer a rawer but hookish contrast to Marek's material. The band trots out a full range of dynamics to put together their deft arrangements, flinging power-pop styles up against thick keyboard chordings and the odd metallic crunch in the guitars while Moore's drums drive all over the place with a gusto and invention rarely heard any more on the instrument.
"To me," says Marek, "there's just no imagination to go into a studio, roll the tape and say, 'Make us sound like our live set.' Big whoop. I'd rather use our imaginations and pull out all the little pieces."
Rocket Park pulls out all the stops on "Bagels to Bangor," the kind of song that really could be a monster smash-hit single if the world was at all configured to allow such blasts of melodic delight to catch its collective ear anymore. Marek's song can be neatly divided into little sections, with sprightly tunes pushing their way to the unbelievably catchy chorus: "Doo doo doo doo doo doo/Doo doo doo/I want to eat bagels in Bangor with you." The band is practically skipping and running to keep up with the pure joy of the song, with Moore's demonic fills pushing things on harder and harder. Eventually something gives, and Thompson arrives with an extended guitar solo that's as engaging as the vocal melody.
"That was a song where the title came to me first," explains Marek. "I got married last year, and for our honeymoon we went to Maine. It's a beautiful state. We fell in love with it. It was one of the best getaways ever.
"One day, we decided -- because my wife is a big Stephen King fan -- to go visit Bangor, because we know Stephen King lives there. It's the second-biggest city in Maine. We hit a bookstore. We found where Stephen King's house was because we bought a book on sites in Bangor that inspired events in his novels.
"But one thing that really stuck out was this totally old-school East Coast deli that had Hebrew lettering on the sign above the place. There was a sign on the wall indicating which local rabbi had inspected their process to make sure it was really kosher. They were the best bagels we had ever eaten in our lives. It just kind of wrapped it all up -- happy to be in Maine, happy to be with somebody whom I really dearly love, enjoying things together, including something as trivial as really excellent bagels. And I liked the fun wordplay of 'Bagels in Bangor.' I had some music that I'd tried to write some lyrics to before the trip. When I came back, that's what it became."
A song titled "Bagels in Bangor" at first glance seems likely to be a completely ironic, humorous affair. But that's the beauty of Rocket Park. When you think they're going to be pulling the rug out from under you, they absolutely nail a stunning piece of musical perfection based on a pure state of bliss. Smart-asses, yup, but the members of Rocket Park know that rock & roll music beats to the time of the heart as well.