"Thirty per cent of the Harvard Class of 1972 are uncertain of their eventual vocation, a significant increase over previous years." Report on the Class of 1972
"Why am I in rock and roll? Because when you're a rock and roll star you can walk naked in the rain and get away with it. You can talk about stuff like nature and people, and people think you know what you're talking about," says George.
"Tell them my favorite color's blue. And I like girls," says brother John the younger.
The class of 1972 at Harvard sent 54 of its members to business school, 242 to law school, and 170 to medical school. Two of its number live in a four story, rambling structure in Arlington Heights known as "The Ranch," a completely distinctive home filled with hours of table hockey played to its limit, five dollar fines for every minute missed of a daily episode of All My Children, and debates on the relative abilities of Sherlock Holmes and Columbo. The overriding feature of 46 Westminster Avenue, however, is good music. This is the home of Special Care, a group comprised of Harvard and Williams graduates who play every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Charlies's Place on Massachusetts Avenue. The lifestyle and ambitions of this band represent a significant contrast to that of the three-piece suit, Ivy League stereotype, for they are serious artists with a remarkable degree of talent for songwriting as well as sheer musicianship.
This seriousness is reflected only in their preparation, for their performances are marked by an audience rapport unequaled in the Boston area. Their act is highly polished and professional, yet it shines with the vitality of those who truly enjoy their work. The large repertoire encompassing everything from Beach Boys and oldies to Cream and original numbers caters to all tastes primarily because their own enthusiasm is so infectious as to draw in all but the staunchest musical purist. "There were two girls who spent the whole second set the other night just laughing at us," says George Kincheloe '72, bass player and primary songwriter for the group. "When we asked them why, they just giggled some more and said it was because we looked so, well, so WHOLESOME. But people really like us just because of that. We've begun to get a pretty good following at Charlie's, and I think it's primarily because we play good music, but we get even more of an audience because we are so obviously having a great time playing it. And we play it for them; we play what they want to hear, but we don't play any song that I don't love. We know a lot more than most groups, and we're just musically good. We can pick up new stuff every day, and we just don't go in for the hype and the 'heavy' kind of junk that you get at the dating bars in Boston."
The audience is comprised mainly of middle class working people from the Cambridge area, most of them in their early twenties, but older people do account for part of the regular crowd, as well as occasional visits from Boston Bruins. Special Care has rarely, if ever, failed to please its audience, but this extremely close rapport and concern for the enjoyment of the crowd can cause problems, for the group has no real desire to remain a group for bars. The expertise they exhibit and pains they take to make their Beach Boys and oldies selections as true to the original as possible can overshadow their talent for original work.
GEORGE WRITES the major part of the original compositions in the Special Care repertoire, and once again he is concerned with audience acceptance. "My songs mean something to me, but that's the main focus of their message. They're all based on my thoughts and emotions, and I want to make them good listening for an audience. Take 'Ben and Me': it's really a song I wrote about a mouse after reading the story about Ben Franklin and the mouse he kept in his hat. The message is pretty simple: 'Don't judge others by what you think is right, it's only going to cause one more fight.' But the music is more of a table-pounding, beer-drinking song, so that people don't necessarily have to listen to the lyrics. It's hard to get people to listen to our own stuff, because a bar group doesn't listen unless they've heard it on the radio. The only real way to make it is to record. But people have started asking for 'Ben and Me' and 'Long Haul', so we must be getting somewhere."
It is never a struggle to make an audience respond to Eric Walsh '72, lead guitar player and songwriter of the group. His white guitar, trimmed in gold with ebony frets, is quickly becoming a legend among the few who comprise the consistent following of Special Care. Professional musicians who have given the group a serious hearing have favorably compared Eric to the finest guitar players in the country, and his clean, wailing solos provide a consistent testimonial to his remarkable knowledge of music and dextrous rapport with his instrument. This talent is also reflected in his original compositions, such as "Sixty Cycles", a song whose transitions and intricate chord patterns are a tailor-made vehicle for his abilities.
Joe Knowlton, John Kincheloe, and Jim Skyrms round out the performing members of the band, while Ty Cobb '72, handles the job of manager. Each has a distinctive vocal style which provides great variety and range in performance. Skyrms, a Williams graduate otherwise known as "The Great Cahuna", consistently thrills those who get their kicks from the surfer act with his composition. "Little Dead Surfer Girl," while Knowlton's facility with oldie lyrics and Beach Boys numbers sets the tone for this segment of the nightly fare. John Kincheloe, twin brother of George, is a superb drummer who demonstrates his ability to carry the show with a driving solo on "Sympathy for the Devil." Cobb is the featured performer on "Honky Tonk Women," a number on which audience participation is encouraged.
"WHEN WE WERE undergraduates, we always knew it was possible, but here it is nirvana," says John of the Ranch. And perhaps for the present it is true, but as one listens to the band talk about their music and way of life, one comes away with the impression that a constant battle is being fought against the encroaching reality of society as it is, that the classmates who went to law school might eventually have then way. Each rancher has his own thoughts on the subject of the future of the band, for each has individual concerns in his personal life: marriage, security, and satisfaction. They are successful in that they have achieved an alternative life style to that which so many recent college graduates find abhorrent. They work four nights a week at something which gives them great satisfaction and enjoyment, rather than the nine to five grind which claims so many veterans of higher education. The house is a home stocked with love and companionship a haven for countless friends and children of the neighborhood, a small community whose population is impossible to estimate. Behind this joy lurking in the paradise, is the real possibility of making concessions to the world outside the door. Once again, George speaks for the band; he sits in a living room lit only by the television, surrounded by guitars, music, and friends. The hockey game clicks away; the strains of the new electric organ drift downstairs; some of the children, or "rats" wander through the open door; this is home.
"We don't want to live much better than this, except maybe for some heat. I'd like to get some money to pay back my parents, maybe have some things. As for me, I just want some respect for my songs. I guess what I really want is for people to say. 'Hey, that George Kincheloe, he's a songwriter,' or just 'That's a good band.' I'm in the business to stay, for ten years at least. I don't know about the others. Eric's talking about music school, John's talking about getting married. I'm not planning to play in bars for my whole life. I'll either bully my way into a recording contract or just not away somewhere. But right now I'm having an awful good time with the band. I've got a lot of faith in my songs, and I think my singing is getting better every day. I certainly don't feel like I'm wasting time. It's just a question of doing it and staying happy at the same time. Otherwise, we might as well be selling insurance. Well, I guess I'm not really afraid of that."
It is difficult to conceive of these individuals going on disparate paths, yet it is equally improbable that they will be able to maintain themselves at their present status without the tie of great popular success. Perhaps these are the observations of an outsider to this way of life; perhaps the frantic undercurrent is more imagined than real. For Special Care, the promise has been realized through trying, and a certain level of success has already been achieved.
"It anybody asks me what I'm doing this year. I just tell them I'm having a hell of a good time. Wish, you were here."
The wish is real as well as symbolic, and the measure of success can be neither time nor money. It is rather a pragmatic dream.
Life's not made of thinking