Life is Good if You're a Nerd!
POINT PLEASANT - In his 44 years, Jim Garcia, lead singer and bass player for The Nerds, one of the most established Jersey shore bar bands, has never had a day job. Well, that's not entirely true.
"Sometimes we play weddings during the day," said Mr. Garcia, seated on a recent Thursday night in the food court at Jenkinson's, the open-air club with eight bars and lots of dance floor wedged between the beach and the boardwalk in this quintessential Shore town.
It was nearly midnight, and Mr. Garcia and the other Nerds had already sweated through their first plaid shirts of the night. But they were happy. "Jenkinson's," said Peter Oltmanns, the band's lead guitarist, is "a great place to be."
"There might not be a better place," he continued, "Being at the Shore doing this, yes, it beats actually growing up."
It might take a special breed of musician to gather it up and play the Shore four or five nights a week every summer, but Mr. Oltmanns and the other three Nerds think they have what it takes.
"If you can maintain your childishness in adult life, why get rid of it?" asked Mr. Oltmanns, 45. "I forced my kids to listen to classical music, but they like the goofy rock we do. Can't say I blame them."
The Nerds formed in 1985, and except for a change in keyboardists nine years ago when the original player died, have been together in rock ever since. Their gimmick is, yes, dressing as nerds - plaid shirts, unmatched plaid shorts, white socks, worn sneakers, heavy black-rimmed glasses. They play oldies of a sort, mocking the songs more than just covering them.
"We try to force a square peg into a round hole as much as we can," said Jack Yocum, the 46-year-old-drummer and senior member of the group, who supplements his black glasses with white tape over the nose of the bridge for extra nerdiness. Their sets often include, say, a "Mrs. Robinson" played at high speed or a "Summer Wind" with over-the-top Sinatraness or even an Eminem slowed down to bossa nova tempo.
"Basically, when we started, we wanted to be defiant to club owners, who had certain ways they wanted the music to be." Mr. Garcia said, "We started getting together from other bands we were in and had a female singer, doing it straight. It didn't work. We thought of the nerd gimmick, so we could get away with changing the music a bit."
It would be six months, they figured, before people would get tired of their act. But it has been 18 years, and the young Nerds have become middle-aged, popular and happy. They play 200 dates a year, in the summer, mostly, along the Atlantic from Connecticut to Maryland; and in the winter, inland bars and ski resorts, and for weddings and corporate events.
At one point, the band did their own material, and made a CD of their original work, "Poultry in Motion," which is for sale at their gigs. There is the ballad, "If B's Were V's," with the lyrics, "Then I'd ve in lobe with you/We could ve habing so much fun together/I'd neber leabe you vlue." And "We'd go out dribing in Fevruary/We'd have a lobe so true." And the inimitable "Great Big Chest." "She had a great big chest of memories./Locked up at the foot of her bed" and "She just kept on talkin'/About her life of misery/That's when I noticed she was talkin' to me."
"But we stopped at that," said Mike Spiro, 44, the white-haired keyboardist. "We decided that we were entertainers and what the audience wanted was the songs they knew. We just do it differently."
differently is apparently how the crowd at Jenkinson's wants it. On that recent Thursday, with the half-moon lighting up a deck that overlooks the ocean, and the electronic lights spinning on the dance floor, several hundred people from their 20's to their 60's seemed to know every nuance of the performance. A highlight was the mocking version of the Neil Diamond song, "Sweet Caroline," seemingly an anathema to serious Shore Rockers.
As the line, "touching me, touching you" emanated from Mr. Garcia, in Diamondesque warblings, the hundreds before him grabbed their chests ("me") and then pointed at the band ("you"). When the "ba-ba-ba" interlude came up, the band went silent and the crowd shouted the line out, punching the ceiling in unison.
I was getting a hot dog one day and the vendor had it on the radio," Mr. Garcia said. "I thought, 'Who hasn't heard the ba-ba-ba?' So we turned it into a ridiculous anthem." Such is the Shore and business, he said, familiar and fun. "But we don't get tired of it," he added. "We try to change it around when we can."
The material the group sends to potential wedding and corporate clients has a roster of about 400 titles, "The Nerds' list of songs they like to play and play well." The band has a Web site, www.starsproductions.com, and management, S.T.A.R.S. Productions in Newton, NJ. It's unofficial leader is Mr. Garcia. "Pretty much," he said, "because he runs around most on stage and sweats a lot."
While none of The Nerds envisions doing this at 65, neither do they deny that they might still be in the game. "We've already outlasted the Beatles," Mr. Oldmanns pointed out. "Why fight it?"
They each have families, and some have children in their late teens, thinking about playing music for a living, too. Mr. Garcia lives in Freehold; Mr. Oltmanns, in Ridgewood; Mr. Yocum in Carlstadt; and Mr. Spiro in Hopatcong.
"Yes, we don't get tired, just tired of driving," Mr. Spiro said. "I figure I put 45,000 miles a year. But it beats working."
Their latest CD is "Wedding," a semi-mocking set of songs that goes through a wedding ceremony - father and daughter dancing to Guns & Roses, for instance and "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe" for the salad course.
"Yeah, weddings," Mr. Garcia said. "We love them. Almost as good as the Shore."
He reminisced: "We did a wedding one year in Paterson, and the next year, we happened to be in the same place doing a wedding, and that couple was, coincidentally, celebration their first anniversary. Right then, somebody from one party tried to pick up someone at the other, and this big brawl started.
"Chairs went flying. Blood. I can remember the bride in her dress on her knees, pounding the floor and crying. "But this was my night. My night."
"We're an inspiration, aren't we?"
Great Moments in the HISTORY of
- Sold Out Carnegie Hall
- House Band for MTV
- Opening Act for Bruce Springsteen at Meadowlands, NJ on August 30, 2003
- Played South Street Seaport show for Labor Day NYC Bash
- Headlined at the PNC Bank Arts Center
- Played at Stone Pony for Opie & Anthony Show w/ Allman Brothers and Dicky Betts.
- Played at Z100's 4th of July South Street Seaport Concert
- Performed at Stuttering John's Wedding from the Howard Stern Show
- Played at "Taste of D.C." Show at the White House
- Played at Madison Square Garden's Winter Beachfest NYC
- Performed at the House of Blues Special
- House Band on the Carson Daly Show
- House Band for Barbara Walters' TV Show "The View"
- House Band for "Regis and Kathy Lee" Show
- Performed with John Bon Jovi, The Beach Boys etc.
- Sang the Star Spangled Banner for the Knicks, Nets, Mets, Rangers, Yankees...etc.
- Performed at Disney World, the China Club in L.A., and Bermuda's South Hampton Princess
- Received Rave Reviews from L.A. Weekly, New York Times, Village Voice etc.
- Performed Hundreds of Corporate and Radio Sponsored Events for the NBA, NFL, AT&T, Sony etc.
- Performed Political Rallies for State and National Republicans and Democrats alike.
- House Band for the Professional Women's Tennis Tournament.
- Received the Key to the City from the Mayor of Hoboken at the Italian-American Fest.
- Performed at Ski Parties from British Colombia, Canada to Killington, Vermont.
- Contributed to charity events including AIDS Benefits, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association etc.
- Selected as National College Band of the Year
- Played World's Largest Tailgate Party at Giants Stadium.
- Performed at the ESPN International Snowboarding Special.
- Played Jenkinson's on New Year's Eve.
- Played on stage with David Letterman's Band, Conan O'Brien's Band, and the Saturday Night Live Band AT ONCE.