The Short, Strange History of Skeptic Slang

by Bill Brenner on April 6, 2010

The author is tells the story of his 2 years as lead singer of a little-known band called Skeptic Slang.

I avoided this for as long as I could. I don’t like to admit that I used to sing in a band. For one thing, my singing really sucked. For another, the band never went anywhere.

But some pictures of me from around that time have been unearthed, and people are starting to talk.

Here’s the picture of me with hair halfway down my back, in the center:

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I’m bald now, but I still have all that hair on my back. Erin doesn’t mind, so neither do I.

The other thing that has sparked curiosity is this poem I found in an old foot locker last month. It was written by a long-lost friend, Joy Affannato, before she married my best friend, Sean Marley:

“Blessed and Black Clad, Dedicated to Bill Brenner”

Clad in black

with a black-lined heart

like the charred edges

of our burnt society

Gathering the ash

to sift through and find

some satiating solution.

…A poet

with a doctrite of humanity

But, no one really has the answers:

Every question is relevant

And using words of metaphor

he transforms the WRITTEN WORD

At the bottom left of the page she scrawled the logo for Skeptic Slang.

So ok, then. Let’s talk about this band.

Members:

Bill Brenner: Vocals

Chris Casey: Guitar

Elias Andrinopolous: Bass

Joe Gentile: Drums

We got together in the spring of 1992. It started as me and Chris. We’d sit in my basement and write songs, thinking we were the shit. I was going through my chip-in-the shoulder angry phase and was writing all kinds of lyrics about how much I hated my mother and hated that my brother was dead.

There was the song “Knife,” with this jolly refrain: “Knife… You’re my best friend.”

The songs about my mother were called “Tunnel Vision” and “You’re Dead” The song I wrote about my brother was called “Rest.”

Let’s fast-forward for a second: I should point out that today I do not carry a knife and I don’t hate my mother. I love her, despite our inability to get along.

Back to the past: Chris and I were smoking buddies with a lot of the same anger at life. We were a natural fit. Then Elias came along; a peaceful, friendly soul who was in many ways the opposite of me. Joe joined later, but he was older than the rest of us and was in and out of the band.

At the time, I was also working at the legendary Rockit Records, and being a musician was sort of an unspoken bonus.

We went out and bought a bunch of gear at Daddy’s Junky Music on Route 1 in Peabody: Amps, a mixing board, PA system, monitors. We didn’t know how to use any of it, and we were on a payment plan as if we had purchased a new car together.

But it looked cool and made us loud in the bomb shelter beneath the garage that we practiced in. This was in the house in Lynnfield, where I lived from late 1992 to late-1995.

We wrote a lot of songs and practiced. And practiced. And practiced. Elias was the least experienced on his instrument, but quickly became the best musician of us all. I was the worst. I couldn’t sing to save my life.

But I could write lyrics, and that was all that was required.

When it was time for a break, we’d go out into the woods and smoke pot. In fact, the last time I smoked pot was with them. I stopped when I started dating Erin.

We played a couple acoustic sets along the way at Roosevelts, a hang-out in Salem. We did a couple performances at North Shore Community College in Lynn.

Then we did a battle of the bands event, and it was a disaster.

Elias’ bass was way out of tune as we launched into the opening song. Instead of just rolling with it, we panicked. it was all hell from there.

We retreated to the bunker and did more writing and practicing. Those songs would never be played live. Joe had a kid and had less and less time for the band. Chris burned out and left. After awhile it was just be and Elias. We tried to keep it going with a new guitarist, who played wonderfully but could never settle on anything. We kicked him out, and Elias and I continued on for awhile longer.

Then it just sort of stopped.

But I’ll tell you what: That band, bad as we were — or I was, anyway — was a Godsend. I was going through a lot of depression back then and clashed with everyone.

The band gave me an outlet to vent those emotions. It couldn’t save me from my addictions, but it saved me from my worst instincts, one of which was to go out and destroy things, whether that meant kicking a dent into the side of my dark-blue 1985 Monte Carlo or throwing stuff around in my father’s warehouse.

It wasn’t meant to last, but it was there when I needed it most.

After the band disintegrated, the music store bought back all the gear, Elias went on to study classical guitar and I went frantically forward in my pursuit of a career in journalism.

A tape of our songs is probably kicking around somewhere. Someday it will surface.

We’ll listen and have a good laugh. Not at the guitar, drums and bass, which were very good. But at the rest of the package.

To Chris, Elias and Joe: Thanks for the memories.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

gregg skoorka February 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Hello. I have been trying to find joy affannato for a very long time. How funny that you found one of her poems and posted it. I was wondering if you could let her know that Gregg Skoorka is looking for her and I would really like to talk to her.

Greg March 15, 2012 at 7:56 am

I’m a Skeptic Slang groupie!

Eli October 28, 2012 at 12:48 am

Thanks for the post, Bill! It brought back memories!

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