It's a breezy night at Club Rio in Tempe. The courtyard in the back is framed with lazy, swaying palms. A stage is set up at the east side of the patio. In front of the stage, there's a large, ornate fountain gurgling water on itself. Behind the stage are two Budweiser banners stretched across a pair of otherwise regal palms.
On the stage is a guy in a jumpsuit sporting frantic, bleached-blond hair. He takes a deep breath and belches into the microphone. It's his way of introducing his band's next song.
Glenn DeJongh, adolescent emeritus of the local scene, is ready to rock.
DeJongh and his latest punky-pop band, the Einsteins, spend the rest of the evening revisiting old New Wave covers ("Tainted Love," "Whip It," "I Wanna Be Sedated") and breaking out a slew of goofy but catchy originals. The songs are all played with considerable pep and DeJongh makes for a busy visual presence, his wiry body bouncing from one side of the stage to the other as he rattles off pithy guitar chords one minute and chirpy lead vocals the next. Between songs, DeJongh occasionally, inexplicably, lets loose with a stream of gibberish in a curious, cartoon/baby-talk mode (think Alvin the Chipmunk doing a Popeye laugh). Then DeJongh's off again, singing songs about barf bags, songs about "girls who've stalked me," and songs like the little ditty titled "Love Is the Word," which he dedicates to "all the guys who couldn't get the L word out of your mouths because you're a goddamned pussy!"
Most of the collegiate-looking "guys" at the midweek show are oblivious to DeJongh's antics. And they're too busy comparing physiques and golf scores to notice the other gaudy vagaries of the Einsteins' live act. Like when guitarist Mo Cox, bassist Gino Arce and drummer Dave Marshall don phony noses and glasses for an impromptu synchronized dance routine. Or when drummer Marshall later performs an erotically challenged act that makes it look like he's on the receiving end of a phantom fellatio session at the front of the stage.
But most of the evening's attention is focused on DeJongh. His decidedly sophomoric high jinks continue unabated until halfway through the show, when the various Einsteins suddenly stop playing, dead in their tracks, smack-dab in the middle of a song. DeJongh has apparently hit the song's second chorus a half-beat early, and everything skids to a stop. DeJongh turns self-conscious for the first--and only--time of the evening.
"We're the Einsteins," he announces sheepishly. "The only band in the city that can fuck up a three-chord song."
The next night, DeJongh sits at home and smiles a big, toothy grin. He proceeds to utter one of the more massive understatements in local rock history.
"I don't like being one of the crowd," he states. "I need to be a star."
With that, DeJongh leans back and prepares to recount his long, scattered quest for rock 'n' roll stardom, a quest he's chased with near-manic intensity for the better part of 15 years.
DeJongh is lounging on a sofa that dominates his small room in the Einsteins' Tempe band house; the tiny enclave is cluttered with stray clothes, albums and videotapes. There also seems to be an inordinate number of magazines lying around--magazines with titles like East Coast Swinger. DeJongh explains that most of the porno mags carry ads for the 1-900 sex-line service he invested in less than a year ago. He claims his share in the East Coast-based operation nets him enough to forgo a day job.
Indeed, DeJongh says his sex-line profits afford him the time and resources to fuel his relentless and long-standing pursuit of fame. That hunt began in the late Seventies/early Eighties, back when New Wave was new. DeJongh, a New Jersey native who moved to the Valley as a high schooler, started a power-pop trio called the Spiffs, a band that adopted the short, sharp style of the day and was rewarded with lines of fans around local clubs. But the Spiffs survived about as long as a three-chord pop song. By 1981, DeJongh had hooked up with another local trio and formed the Urge, an equally popular band that devoted half of its shows to covers of the Beat, Joe Jackson and other trendy, topical New Wave fare.
The Urge was a mainstay on the local scene for three years, playing a variety of clubs up to and including cowboy bars with mechanical bulls at the side of the stage. But DeJongh remembers the Urge falling out of favor once popular tastes in music "started going to that Duran Duran keyboard shit," as he puts it.
At the time, DeJongh, ever the opportunist, assessed the situation and decided to go with--what else?--a take on Duran Duran keyboard shit. He put together successive bands (Another Pretty Face and Wall Street) that celebrated synth-pop with calculated enthusiasm. And predictable results.
"We spent a full year writing songs," DeJongh says of Wall Street. "And let's face it, we were a flop."
DeJongh took a step back. He decided for once to ignore gambling on trends and play the kind of music he always wanted to play. The kind of music he says suited his style and personality.
He started a bubblegum band. He named it Bob.
"We did a few originals, but we mostly covered the basic bubblegum stuff," DeJongh says with pride. He rattles off song titles like "Chewy Chewy," "Sugar, Sugar," "Mony Mony," "Hanky Panky" and other less poetic classics of the genre.
"Our biggest gig was a KOOL-FM party," DeJongh says. "We went over like gods there."
The general public wasn't quite as impressed. Bob broke up. DeJongh then got out of the music business for a while and, with the help of a friend, became a stockbroker at a local securities firm. ("I'd always wanted to do that kind of thing, and now I had the time.") DeJongh's dabblings on the market ended when he got a call from former Fleetwood Mac bassist Bob Welch, who was living in Phoenix at the time. Welch was trying to resurrect his solo career and was looking to build a backing band.
"He called out of the clear blue," DeJongh says. "He auditioned 21 bass players, and he winds up picking me. It was amazing. This guy's my idol. I remember I used to look at his French Kiss record cover and think, 'You're such a god.' And then he calls me out of the blue. I was just ecstatic."
DeJongh quit his stock-market gig and went on tour with Welch for about a year. DeJongh proudly notes that he's got a song credit on a Welch retrospective released three years ago by Rhino.
Welch eventually moved to Nashville to try writing country-music songs. He still lives there. "We talk all the time," DeJongh says. "He gives me a lot of advice. And a lot of contacts."
DeJongh, indeed, is an expert on the cultivation, care and feeding of contacts. Through Welch, the Einsteins, according to DeJongh, have the ear of an executive at Island Records, which produced Welch's French Kiss back in 1978. DeJongh says he's also made friends with local millionaire Geordie Hormel, the eccentric heir to the Spam empire and, claims DeJongh, Hormel is an enthusiastic Glenn DeJongh fan. So much so, Hormel's personally written letters of recommendation to a number of labels, including Geffen, which apparently caught the attention of the label's executives. DeJongh says they promised to listen to his tape.
Actually, the folks at Geffen were familiar with DeJongh already. Two years ago, DeJongh and his previous band, Box of Cherries, drove to L.A. and picketed outside the gates of Geffen, Warner and Capitol.
"We had signs that read 'Starving Band Will Work for Record Deal,'" DeJongh says, his Jersey accent going strong. "It was so cool. We parked outside the front door, speakers on our van blaring our music, and I'm standing on top of the van playing air guitar." DeJongh says Geffen's president asked for one of the picket signs as a memento.
Such flair for self-promotion is considerable, to be sure, but one of DeJongh's PR brainstorms came back to bite him in the butt. It happened with the aforementioned Box of Cherries. DeJongh figured an adventurous band photo was needed to help attract attention. So he went out and got some half-naked models to pose ass-first, in exceedingly suggestive fashion, in front of each band member for a group shot.
The photo succeeded in attracting attention. All of it the wrong kind.
"We got such a bad rap because of that picture with the butts," DeJongh says, noting that the photo got international press. "Rockbeat magazine said, 'We'll never be writing anything on the Phoenix band Box of Cherries because of their cheap, trendy, sexist picture,' blah, blah, blah. I don't even know how they got the picture."
DeJongh's photo met with similar disapproval among record-industry types.
"I found there are so many women in charge of things in L.A. And they were really offended," DeJongh says. He adds that local clubs were also starting to pass on the band because of the photo.
DeJongh pauses and shrugs. "I kind of thought it was a good picture, myself."
With much of the music industry actively avoiding Box of Cherries, DeJongh had to think of something fast.
"I said, 'Fuck it. We'll just change the name of the band and get haircuts.'"
And with that, the Einsteins were born. DeJongh also reinvented his band's sound, going from petrified, soft-metal dance-rock to punk-pop, the most popular sound of the moment. "I heard Green Day and said, 'Cool,' and so I wrote all new songs in one week," DeJongh says.
Coming up with material for the newly named Einsteins was especially easy for DeJongh, because the Spiffs were doing Green Day-like songs 15 years ago. The Einsteins even resurrect a few Spiffs songs in their set, including "Here Comes Trouble," "Wink Tonight" and the sensitive "Kill You."
DeJongh doesn't seem to mind that he's recycling his older material. He is touchy about his age--"Let's just say I'm 28, okay?" he says, ignoring that such a time line would make him about 12 when the Spiffs first played out. But he claims he's not bitter about being unable to get gigs at certain clubs in town ("It's impossible to get into Long Wong's"), while the Green Days of the world make millions with the kind of act he gave up on 15 years ago.
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"No, because back then we were huge locally," he says of the Spiffs. "I just never tried to get a record deal. I was so content to be a big fish in this little pond, getting laid all the time, whatever."
DeJongh adds that if he were in his current frame of mind back then, his destiny would've long since been realized. As it stands, DeJongh's still pretty sure he was put on this Earth for one reason: to be a star.
"The day that really convinced me I was born to be a rock 'n' roll star was one night a few years ago when I was at the China Club in L.A. I was with Bob Welch at a private show by (ex-Doobie Brother) Jeff Baxter. Within 20 feet of me, the guys from Skid Row were there, Ed Begley Jr.'s there, Tony Danza, Eddie Murphy. Lou Rawls is on the stage and Peggy Bundy [Katey Sagal] is singing with Micky Dolenz. All these people were right there, and I fit right in. I mean, I was so comfortable. I never felt out of place. Three killer blond chicks came up and hit on me. That was the night, I swear to God, that I knew being a rock star's where I belonged."
The Einsteins are scheduled to perform on Friday, June 23, at Club Rio in Tempe. Showtime is 9 p.m.; and every Thursday night at the Dash Inn. Showtime is 10 p.m.