Only Me

Mark Warwick.

The first glue-sniffing party at the Shirley’s barn may have inspired Phil Mayall to start a journal, but it also inspired Mark Warwick to write a song that soon replaced Jim Cole’s “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” as the Finchley Boy’s signature song.

You can tell from the artful pose that Mark had quite a lot of style. Those wide surfer-stripes were considered super-cool at the time. That’s about as long as his hair got back then, as he was the only member of the band who submitted to haircut rules. Mark was exceptionally talented and his psychedelic masterpiece, “Only Me,” expressed a firm belief in the intoxication of sacred substances as the true path to enlightenment.

It’s hard to explain today, but the garage-rock movement was an intensely spiritual event, more powerful, in fact, than our exploding libidos. And while the Finchley’s were all about scouting the fun vibe, they also reached deep into their hearts on occasion. Sure, Cole could make the girls swoon with a Stones ballad like “Lady Jane” (a phenomenon Flick Ford would later call “the pooey meter), but when they rocked hard, the band was more like an icebreaker or Sherman tank, leading our forces into the battles of the Generation War. It was at those shows that our tribe first collected and realized itself. Lots of people make the mistake of thinking vibes are something individuals control, but actually the most powerful vibes are always group emanations. That’s why great artists initially emerge from tribes. The really great bands are injected with energy from the crowd and become reservoirs of that energy, which is why all the girls wanted to rub up against the Finchley’s so bad.

Remember I told you there were two paths at the birth of the ’60s?  (See “Reflections on Older Brothers.”) Well, Faber and Cole represented those paths perfectly. Warwick was on a similar path as Faber.

Please don’t think any of this stopped those guys from being best friends, and nobody was aware of these energy fields back then, but Mark’s song was clearly suited for Faber, not Cole, and Faber would put an incredible spirituality into the song. He’d recently gotten a copy of a book on yoga, and was into health food and meditation. The song was so powerful it quickly moved to the encore slot, and Faber would start by assuming the famous “Tree” position. I was instantly transported to a most reverential church-of-my-mind. I’m sure any adults that might have been attending might have considered us  hypnotized zombies, such was our devotion and zeal during this song.

I’d be amiss if I didn’t also point out that the drummer, Mike Powers, was a tremendous part of the success of “Only Me.” In fact, he opened the song with a drum solo on mallets, and eventually added a large gong. Mike would take a long solo with mallets at the climactic moment of the song. He was a important part of the song’s spirituality.

Not Like Everybody Else

Jim Cole stopped by Eric Swenson’s house and discovered this clean-cut kid (Mark Warwick) with a red guitar playing Beatles, Stones and Animals songs with Eric accompanying on drums. Since Cole already had experience singing along to some of these records in his bedroom, using a hairbrush for a mic, he convinced the two to start a band with him as the lead singer. Mark soon enlisted another guitar player (Steve Dyson) and a bass player (Tim Anderson) both of whom went to high school in Champaign.

According to legend as I know it, Tim was singing “Hey, Joe,” during a very early rehearsal when he started channeling some deep force inside. It’s a song about a murder, and Tim lost himself completely while rampaging through the house, standing on furniture and jumping around. It may have been the first inclination that these young kids actually had the power to become a real rock’n’roll force. Once Tim stepped up to the plate, others would quickly follow. Eric was at the end of a tortured love affair, having just been dumped, and he wrote a weepy ballad begging this girl to come back. Cole played drums on that one.

Right away, people who were dropping by began to take notice. Among the first were George Faber and Larry Tabling, who offered to build speakers for a PA system. They volunteered to be roadies on the spot. George had already tried to start a band with his friend Bob Carpenter, but Eric’s outfit was clearly on another level. Eventually, a student at the University named Bob Nutt came by to hear the band, and volunteered to be their manager after hearing one song. He booked their first gig in front of the Co-Ed movie theater on Green Street. I don’t know if they got paid, they were set-up on the sidewalk, and everyone was really nervous, but it was a huge success. Cole had tremendous sexual charisma, even at the age of 16 and clearly had the makings of a rock star. Eric, however, did not like the gig, and was not up for the rigors and realities of being in a band. He just didn’t have the personality, and his moods could be a big stumbling block, so Nutt quickly located the best high school drummer in town to replace him, Michael Powers.

Unfortunately, Tim was the next to go. I guess his grades weren’t that good so his dad made him quit as soon as it became obvious the Finchley Boys were going to take off. I’m sure that must have crushed Tim. But that opened the door for Larry Tabling to step in on bass.

The name of the band was lifted off the back of a Kinks album. (The original Finchley Boys were a street-gang in England who got into fights with the early Kinks.) That’s Jim Cole (above) in 1967, at one of the early gigs. His version of the Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” became the signature song of the group, and Cole sang it with a lot of passion. The lyrics spoke directly to all of us on the front lines of a Generation War that was already in full effect.

True Origins of the Finchley Boys

I might never have met Eric Swenson if my big brother Paul hadn’t decided to learn to play the cello. My mom wanted Paul to have the best teacher possible, so pretty soon he was going over to the Swenson’s house for lessons, where he discovered his teacher (a member of the famous Walden Quartet) had a son his age also attending Urbana Junior High.

Eric and Paul joined the Dramatics Club that year and got speaking roles in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The star of that production, however, was Brian Ravlin, who at age 13 was already an elfin creature from another dimension perfectly cast as Puck.

But talent-wise Eric towered over everyone; he matured faster and developed his immense artistic energies in multiple directions at once. Unfortunately, Eric’s mom was bipolar (long before any of us knew what that word meant—we just called ’em “crazy” back then.) She also had a serious drinking problem. She’d stay up all night several nights in a row, then go bonkers eventually and start banging pots and pans at 3 AM just to annoy Eric’s dad.

Eric told me he and his dad got so pissed they urinated on her while she was passed out on the couch after one of these all-night sessions. Eric laughed when he told the story.

She disappeared one day, and you thought things would get better, but Eric quickly inherited the illness from his mom, going into rages, smashing everything in sight.

He wasn’t like this often, just an hour or two every three months or so. His father padlocked his bedroom and let the rest of the house turn to total shit. The sink was filled with the same dirty dishes for months on end. Most of the other interior doors were broken off their hinges. You understood the depth of Eric’s demons when you realized he could tear a door out of its frame. Eric stopped going to school and started eating all his meals at the local diner, Mel Roots, where his father covered the tab.

Eric had a life we all envied, following his every fantasy wherever it led, staying up as late as he wanted, doing whatever he pleased all the time. The nearby University of Illinois provided a lot of stimulus for him to explore. He was a rising star in the local community theater at 15, playing roles twice his age with ease.

He developed a comic alter-ego named Swafford, named after a detested math teacher at Urbana Junior High. (Many years later, I’d stumble onto Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry, the pioneering work of absurdist theater and realize Ubu Roi was an exact replica of Swafford–right down to being based on a middle-school teacher of Jarry’s).

Eric invented incredibly complex Swafford routines and acted them out in Swafford’s inimitable voice, elements of which were influenced by The Three Stooges. Some of these were so popular we made Eric perform them over and over, and they got more complex and more hilarious the more he worked on them. One of the grand episodes concerned a foreign-exchange student coming over to Swafford’s house for Thanksgiving, but when the turkey came out of the oven, Swafford’s immense greed was instantly activated and he quickly turns on the student in a rage rather than share his food. I remember snot flying out Swafford’s nose after he removed the imaginary turkey from the imaginary oven, smelled the aroma, and then flipped into a paranoid frenzy.

Swafford was the sort of character who’d stare you in the eye and say “the sun is shining” when it was pouring outside. You couldn’t trust a word he spoke and Swafford was always hustling some con-job.

When the Beatles arrived, Eric had become an instant fan. He liked Ringo the best, so he got a set of drums long before any of the rest of us had real rock instruments. One night in 1966 at the Tiger’s Den, Eric was watching a local band with Mark Warwick, when they both discovered they were practicing to Beatles’ records at home on their own. They decided to get together the next day at Eric’s. They were both 15. It was the beginning of the Finchley Boys, who would eventually become the most famous garage band of central Illinois, although Eric’s participation would end after just one gig.