Big Fat Love

by Thomas Beller

05/31/2006

230 W 100th St, NY, NY 10025

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

It started in a house. A bunch of guys playing music.  It turned into a rambling, on again off again musical adventure, with numerous incarnations. The band’s only record, Hell House, was released in 1997 by Grand Royal Records, thirteen years after most of the material that appears on it was recorded.

John Berry, an original member of The Beastie Boys, played bass on all the tracks and sang on a few, along with Bosco (more biographical info follows). The band, however, went through several subsequent incarnations and recorded numerous songs after the 1984 sessions at Secret Society studios.

Here is Piscataway Freak. The band that plays on it is composed of Bosco (guitar and vocals, Eric Huebel (guitar), Tom Cushman (bass), and Mike Diamond (drums). Cushman and Diamond co-wrote the song.

Click here to listen to Big Fat Love’s Piscataway Freak

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Like many rock bands, Big Fat Love was organized around a particular living space, in this case a house, where several of the band members lived and where, in the mid-80’s, an amorphous and slightly derelict group of people spent time. Big Fat Love didn’t move to the house as a band, they just sprung up out of the house the way that, in the right conditions, a random bit of plant life springs up from a crack in the sidewalk.

The house was a large ramshackle wooden structure which had collapsed in on itself slightly, as though from exhaustion, and so had the distorted angles and strange perspectives of a fun house. It looked like something one might find in the middle of a field, surrounded by farmland. Instead it sat, somewhat defiantly, on 100th Street and Broadway.

I first approached it on a hot summer day in 1983. I was with Mike Diamond, who was clutching a small black and white television to his chest. The black electrical cord dragged along the pavement. It was, he explained, a housewarming gift. He did not say whose house was being warmed.

I had met Mike at St. Ann’s school, specifically in in the small, closet-sized space that had been designated “The Drum Room,” where we both spent our lunch hours. Mike’s style was a sloppy, rumbling style. He hit the drums in the spirit of someone opening all the kitchen cabinets and throwing the dishes on the floor. We would alternate. In this way we became friends, and he began to take me around to various places, nightclubs, his house, other people’s houses, etc.

One thing he almost never did was introduce me to anyone. Hanging around with Mike I was simply left to gather what I could and make the best of it. I was a recent arrival at our high school, the sort of establishment were it was not unusual to be at work on some huge cubist self portrait in the lobby, or simply standing around with a crew cut and wool cap and Doc Martens looking surly and unemployed in a faintly British way (Mike).

So it was that I found myself walking along Broadway with Mike on a hot day in 1983, just after graduating high school. He had said we were going to visit this house on Broadway. Some of his friends lived there. He was bringing a television. The rest had to be inferred.

The door to the house was a slab of beat up gray metal with several locks drilled into it, on which was written the words: “No peepee aqui!” They had not been heeded. The first thing I saw when we approached was that the mail slot was being held open from the inside, and two bright, gleaming, and rather menacing blue eyes were staring out through it. Someone was crouching there, waiting anxiously for a delivery of some kind.

We knocked, and were let in. There was a long narrow flight of stairs, and at the top loitered a scruffy dog. The living room was large and open. We sat around drinking beer with a guy with lanky blonde hair who was happy to get the television. After a while I recognized the man from the picture on the back of the Beastie Boy’s first record, Pollywog Stew. He was John Berry. But the face was different from the one on the jacket photo. In the photograph he had an obsessive and slightly homicidal expression. Now he looked much more laid back. He wore a plaid shirt and jeans. The leaning farm house on Broadway was his.

I began to frequent the house, where there seemed to a party of some kind constantly in progress, and where various deliveries of beer and other substances periodically arrived to keep the party going.

Among the crowd of people who hung out at that house was an exuberant and very skinny man named Bosco, who had been the bassist in the West Coast punk band UXA, and then bassist for the Darby Crash band. He possessed a kind of hobo cheer, a sort of Woody Guthrie meets Iggy Pop vibe.

I first saw Bosco on St. Mark’s Place, among of a group of people hanging out, and the most salient detail about him, besides the fact that he wore a painter’s cap with the bill turned up and small oval sunglasses that had fallen all the way down his nose, like bifocals, was that at some point he disappeared. A station wagon pulled up to the curb, and he began to talk with the occupants. This itself wouldn’t have been remarkable except for the fact that I had the distinct impression that when the station pulled up, Bosco did not know anyone in it. After a few minutes of leaning into the window and talking, he got inside and the car drove away. No one seemed to think that this was remarkable in any way, as though Bosco was always disappearing without a trace and could be counted on to reappear again in due time, welcome or not.

Various spontaneous jam session were always taking place at the old house. In addition to more conventional rock and roll instruments, Bosco played the accordion. John Berry played bass. Mike or myself or whomever would bang on something. A drum set made its way to the living room. Eric Huebel was frequently hanging around with his guitar and slide. His father had won a Nobel prize for physics, but his career was on a decidedly different path. A band was eventually formed, Big Fat Love.

Berry had taken to referring to Bosco and himself as the Punk Rock Has Beens, but this was never a contender for a name. Huebel was in favor of Swamp Gas. Bosco wanted The Road Apples. Big Fat Love was a name that had been floating around–an old Berry invention–and it was decided upon. The first songs were recorded at 171 Avenue A, a studio set up in an abandoned building, where The Bad Brains, The Beastie Boys, and others had recorded their first records. Soon thereafter, the band began to play shows–The World, The Pyramid Club, CBGB’s, Danceteria, and, less auspiciously but with equal fervor, the back of a falafel place on MacDougal Street.

Like many bands, the line-up changed and evolved a fair amount over the years. Berry, the co-founder of the group, left the band, and Tom Cushman, of Brooklyn, The Beat Brothers, and Honus Wagner, played bass and co-wrote a few songs, most notably Piscataway Freak with Diamond.

A man named Eric took over the drums after Diamond left. I myself sat in on drums for what was probably the band’s low point. We opened for Urban Blight at a club called Downtown, on Bond Street just off Broadway. We played as a three-piece – Bosco, Diamond, and me – and, after about twenty minutes, they literally pulled the plug on us. The sound just went cold and the lights went down right in the middle of the song. A hook woul at least havebeen, don’t know, funnier. For some time after that I was instructed to be rude to the guys in Urban Blight during bump into on street type encounters, but what was the point, they’re good guys, they’ve got their own thing going on.

In 1997, Adam Yauch decided to release a record of the old tracks recorded a decade earlier on the Beastie Boys label, Grand Royal. The record, fittingly, if a little darkly, is called Hell House.

October, 1996

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