In the mid-2000s, I was
a third-year student at the University
of Florida in Gainesville. I was walking home from class
when I ran into my friend Brian, whom I knew from the dorms and going to shows
“Did you see Dave’s want ad on Gainesvillebands?” he asked.
Gainesvillebands.com was a local message board where we used to talk about shows, sell gear, and start bands.
“Yeah, it was kind of weird,” I said. “I mean, I like No Use For A Name and all the Fat bands he wanted to imitate, but what was with him listing Rush Limbaugh, too?”
“Dave really loves conservative talk radio.”
“That’s really weird. I didn’t know that about him.”
“Yeah, he rushed fraternity too,” Brian said. “I think it would be really funny if I started a fake conservative punk band before he did.”
Hearing the words “start a band” was like hearing the secret phrase in a television show. Sirens blared and ticker tape and balloons dropped from the ceiling in my brain. I had spent my last two years in Gainesville trying to start a band without much success—and by that I mean I was a spectacular failure. At this point, I had nearly given up on starting a band of my own. Not only was I desperate to be in a band, but I loved a good gimmick.
“Let’s do it,” I said with enthusiasm. “Let’s make it happen.”
“Okay, okay,” Brian said. “I’ll think about it.”
On my walk home, my brain went into creative overdrive. Besides the usual mess of guitar riffs that would get stuck in my ear, which I would typically butcher as soon as I got near a guitar, I kept thinking of all the awful songs we could write.
Recently I learned that Smokey the Bear wasn’t just a cartoon character to teach kids about environmentalism—he was a real bear that survived a forest fire and became the mascot for the US Forest Service. He died in the 1970s, and I thought the shock that Smokey was dead could be a great jumping off point to satirize President George Bush’s disregard for protecting the environment.
When I got to my apartment, I hopped on AOL Instant Messenger and left Brian a message while he was in class.
Me: I really want to do the conservative punk band. I had a great idea for a song, “Smokey the Bear Is Fucking Dead.” It’s a pro-deforestation song about not giving a shit about the environment.
Brian responded a few hours later.
Brian: If you can get a drummer, I can get a bass player.
Me: Sounds like a plan.
Bringing the Band Together
Brian brought in his friend Dan who already had experience with political satire. Dan ran what can only loosely be called a third-party run for UF student government. As The Iron Fist, he presented himself as an aspiring dictator promising to seize control of the fraternity-dominated government body with a bloody coup. He organized his friends to wear matching t-shirts, display communist party-inspired propaganda with posters of his face as the subject, and hand out flyers with campaign promises that included:
- Converting UF’s nuclear reactor to manufacture weapons-grade plutonium
- Launching a preemptive strike against rival school FSU in Tallahassee
- Sending a student to the moon
- Seceding from the United States
- Building a 120 story tall parking garage to fix the campus parking shortage and to serve as a monument to his divine rule
Of course I voted for him. I hated my on-campus parking spot and he seemed like a real go-getter.
Brian also had experience running for a student government seat. He stood outside our dorms for hours every day during the campaign, talking to people to drum up votes in an underdog campaign. He lost the race to the fraternity-backed candidate, but Brian said he managed to pull off one of the closest races in the election, and I respected his hustle.
I brought my friend Chris in to play drums. He was the only real talent we had in the band. Besides playing in punk bands since high school, Chris was also a music major, which meant he actually knew what he was talking about. One time at practice, I was trying to throw in a dissonant chord and Chris reacted by stopping what he was doing on his drum kit.
“You’re using diminished 7ths?” Chris asked. “That’s awesome.” Chris punctuated his remark by hitting the crash on his kit.
“Umm, yeah, I guess so,” I said while surprised that Chris was able to audibly identify the weird garbage I was trying on my guitar. “I don’t know the name of the chord.”
“Well, that’s called a diminished 7th,” Chris said. “And that’s still awesome.”
I don’t want to make the band seem better than we were. Our humor didn’t always land and our music wasn’t always exciting, but by the end I really felt like we were getting tighter as a band, and the parts that did work are worth remembering.
We called ourselves The Factor after Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor, and we gave ourselves the tagline “The Most Ultra Conservative Punk Band in the World.” (For those of you not in the United States, “The World” is slang to mean just the continental United States, which means Hawaii and Alaska don’t count either.)
Brian would bring his lyrics to the band and we did our best to set it to music. For Brian, Dan, and I, we were all pretty inexperienced when it came to playing music together. Chris mentored and pushed us all to get better, which is how playing in a band with your friends should be. We didn’t get out there and write music to sell records or shirts, which we completely failed to do. We started The Factor to have fun, which is also an excuse for not being good, but we definitely had a good time anyway.
We modeled our stage names after conservative icons:
- Brian was The Fox, named after the infamous Republican propaganda machine.
- Dan was RUSH (all caps!), named after animatronic garbage disposal Rush Limbaugh and the band Rush.
- I was Cujo Nixon—a combination of my punk name Wolfman Will, Richard Nixon, and in some small way an homage to Mojo Nixon.
- Chris was C-nonymous. He was reluctant to take a stage name, but I like to believe his name was an homage to the Republican voter who votes R down ballot every election but would never admit it.
At our shows we set up a literature table with conservative books Brian and Dan bought for a dollar at a Friends of the Library book sale. Our favorite was a biography of Ronald Reagan where the author claimed that Ronald Reagan was the greatest President of the United States. The book was copyrighted in 1981, which was during the infancy of Reagan’s first term.
We also distributed mini Bibles at our shows, which Dan had acquired through eminent domain when a campus preacher tried to distribute them to UF students on campus. Dan walked away with a whole box and stashed them under his bed, unsure of what to do with them for a whole year before we started The Factor.
Outside of practice I spent my time practicing and lifting rock’n’roll riffs from The Meteors, The Clash, bands in the TKO Records roster, and whatever psychobilly crap I could steal from torrent files. (I couldn’t afford spending twenty bucks every time I wanted to import a psychobilly CD from Europe.)
On stage we all wore the Republican uniform: khaki pants, long sleeve button down dress shirts, and ties. Later I ripped the sleeves off my dress shirt, because you know, punk.
We opened our sets with a surfy, sped-up, rock’n’roll version of “Hail to the Chief,” which was an idea I cribbed from PCU (the movie has not aged well). Brian used this time to hype the band and introduce our alter egos before getting our set started.
We wanted to set the tone for the rest of the show and introduce ourselves as a bunch of patriotic, flag waving, Fox News-watching, Republican Americans. The kind of Americans who love their country and never think too deeply about the ideals those symbols stand for. You know, real Americans.
The music for our next two songs was written in the fifteen minutes I was late to our first practice. Our theme song spelled out the letters in our name, cementing our conservative positions (my favorite line: “R is for Ronald Reagan, more holy than the Ghost”), We ended the song repeating the refrain “The Factor is Watching” as a warning we’re totally okay with big government expanding federal police surveillance powers through the Patriot Act, as long as we can weaponize government power to hassle rival political groups and not do something like pay more taxes or solve systemic issues that drown American families living beneath the poverty line.
“Shoot Him Again, Dick” was about the time Dick Cheney accidentally shot a hunting partner with buckshot, which we gleefully reveled in. We also covered The Misfits’ song “Bullet,” which made for two songs in our set about shooting Democrats in the face (Dick Cheney’s victim wasn’t actually a Democrat, but it made for good stage banter).
We also wrote a doo wop-inspired love song to swamp monster Ann Coulter. I knew her name at the time, but I didn’t have the misfortune of reading her newspaper column until a few years later, which was far more openly xenophobic and hateful than the neocons in power during the Bush administration. In retrospect, I wish we were far tougher on her.
My favorite song was “Give Peace a Chance, Bomb France.” When I asked Brian about the name of the song, he said something about spoofing John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance,” and then I tuned out whatever came next because I heard enough about The Beatles for one lifetime.
This was the first time I had a strong hand in writing our music. Brian wanted a Bo Diddley beat for the chorus, and I added some of my own flavor by introducing staccato and imitating The Beltones the best I could.
Our last song poked fun at hometown heroes Against Me!. Brian called it “You Can’t Lose Touch If You Never Had It” after their song “Losing Touch.” (We mimicked their songwriting by switching to open chords, adding more staccato, and copying their drum beats. I also opened the song with a slowly strummed A minor chord, which was similar to the song “Miami” and from the same album as “Losing Touch.”)
One of the conflicts I had with the band was that I was worried people wouldn’t get the joke. Satire only works if you successfully mock your targets, and I didn’t want to give the appearance that we were uncritically celebrating them.
Some of our early flyers hyped us as an ultra-conservative punk band without a hint of irony. After our first time playing 1982 bar, I heard that the owner became angry when we were playing, and the sound guy had to explain to him that we were a joke. We played there two more times, but thinking about that makes me wonder now if Masked Intruder have a similar problem where people believe that they’re actually wanted criminals with long rap sheets (spoiler: Masked Intruder aren’t wanted criminals… probably).
At our last show at Common Grounds (now High Dive), someone got drunk, hit up our literature table, and started chucking our mini bibles at us while we were on stage. He hit me real good on my shoulder, which didn’t bother me, but I was bummed he didn’t get the joke and thought he was really sticking it to actual Republicans.
After playing a few shows in town, we got invited to the local punk radio show with Totally Hot Leigh Scott on 100.5 The Buzz. Chris and I weren’t there, but I was able to download the radio show online and upload it to MySpace (RIP everything on MySpace). Brian and Dan were in top form going through their list of over-the-top media talking points (my favorite: Why does UF have a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences? Why can’t we have a College of Conservative Arts and Sciences?).
I ran into Leigh Scott at Fest IV a few weeks later and he told me he was thrilled with how the show went. He said he never warned his co-host that we weren’t actually Republicans, and they continued to get angry letters as people were downloading and catching up on his show. Eventually he filled in his co-host, but I’m not sure he ever responded to the letters to fill in his listeners, too.
The Party Split
My friendship with Brian began to break down. The details stopped being important a long time ago, but I will say that arguments went beyond having opposing ideas for where to take the band. Our arguments got heated and personal, and Chris had to convince me more than once not to quit. I carried my frustrations with Brian for months because I didn’t have the skills to process those emotions in a healthy way.
In retaliation, I took that anger and pulled the most jerkass, rockstar, scumbag move of my life.
Brian came to practice one day downtrodden, sulking as Dan and I were setting up our guitars in Chris’s garage. Chris and I razzed him a bit, and he revealed that a few days ago he broke up with Jane (fake name), one of his girlfriends. I didn’t press him for more details. I didn’t care.
The next night, I got invited to go dancing with friends at The Atlantic, one of Gainesville’s longest standing venues. Dancing wasn’t my thing, and The Atlantic wasn’t a place where I’d normally spend time, but I was happy to hang with friends and get legally wasted on $2 PBR tallboys.
I loosened up after a few drinks, got on the dance floor, and tried my best to not look like a drunk idiot. Or look like an idiot at all. Hopefully I would dance just badly enough that no one would pay attention to me.
When I looked over to the restaurant-style booths next to the dance floor, I saw Jane sitting by herself. We made eye contact, and she shouted to me over the music “Do you wanna dance?”
Her question was more than just an invitation to dance. This was an invitation to break the golden rule of friendship: not getting involved with your friend’s exes. And I abide by this rule. I’ve turned down my friend’s exes before, but this time, I was willing to make an exception.
“Sure,” I said.
We danced through a few songs. I apologized for being a bad dancer, and she reassured me that I wasn’t, but she still led me through every song.
Afterward we talked about music, living in Gainesville, the time someone wheeled out a grand piano and set it on fire in the middle of 3rd Ave during a late-night block party, and eventually we made our way to talking about her breakup.
I wasn’t rushing to trash talk Brian. On principle, I don’t like bad mouthing people to folks I barely know, but the breakup was still raw for her and she was looking for someone to vent to.
Without her having to say it, I knew exactly why Jane picked me to dance with her: She wanted to get back at Brian. Seeing her hurt and wounded over the break up made me feel sympathetic, and it inspired me to help her one up her revenge and let me have some fun, too.
“Tell you what,” I said. “I know why you asked me to dance. Let’s set our relationship status to In A Relationship on Facebook. Brian would hate that. No strings attached. If you don’t want to see me after tonight, that’s totally fine.”
Jane’s jaw dropped. “Really? You would do that?” she said, shocked at my proposal, knowing full well that all our friends would see that online.
“Yeah.” I said. “It’ll be fun.”
I crossed paths with Brian a few days later when we were both walking through The Plaza of the Americas, a common area in the UF Campus where you’d find students hanging out and eating vegan food served by Hare Krishnas. I was looking forward to seeing how he would react when he saw me, but I wasn’t prepared for what would happen next.
“Hey Brian,” I said in a friendly tone as I approached.
“Hey,” he said while passing me on the sidewalk, keeping his head down and continuing on his way off campus.
I stopped and turned around to try to re-engage him. “Hey Brian, do you want to talk about what I did?”
Brian stopped for a moment and turned around halfway to look at me. “No, I’m good,” he said, lingering for a moment.
I paused to take in his answer and his demeanor. At first, I didn’t understand why he wasn’t lashing out at me or calling me an asshole. “Alright, I’ll talk to you later,” I said.
As he was walking away, that’s when I knew I fucked up. I fucked up hard. My heart sank. When people get mad at me, I’m used to blowups, anger, yelling, raging. Brian didn’t do any of that. I wounded him so badly I became person non-grata. To him, I didn’t deserve his anger.
I don’t know how other people can make a habit of being hurtful and petty, because when I do it, I don’t like the person I become in those moments.
I knew then what I had done could jeopardize the band and I was anxious for days leading up to our next practice. I was hoping we could hash it out. He could be pissed at me, then we could move on like we always do.
On the day our next practice was scheduled, I parked my car illegally in front of my apartment complex, which I rarely do, loaded up my gear, went back inside for a quick snack, and came back to find my tail light smashed and shattered glass covering the road. Judging by the angle, I was hit by someone pulling out from the house across the street. They didn’t bother to leave a note.
I called the police to file a report for insurance (in retrospect that was probably not necessary) and then called Chris to tell him I would be late. I was anxious the entire time I was waiting for this ordeal to be over so I could get to practice.
An hour later, I avoided a parking ticket, swept up the road, got in my car, and called Chris again.
“Hey, I’m on my way to practice finally,” I said while cradling my cell phone with my neck and keeping both hands on the wheel.
“There’s no practice,” Chris said. “There’s no band.” I could tell Chris was angry and trying to keep his composure.
“What do you mean there’s no band?” I said as I moved the phone into my left hand, causing my car to almost hit the curb.
“Brian called it off. We’re done.”
“We can’t be done,” I said while pulling off the road. “I didn’t get to talk him down from what I did.”
“What did you do?”
“His ex-girlfriend and I are pretending to be an item to get back at him,” I said.
“What the fuck did you do that for? He’s your friend!”
“He’s not my friend. I wanted to piss him off, but I didn’t think he’d quit the band over it!”
“Well, what did you think was going to happen?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Not this.”
A driver behind me started honking their horn. I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings and found myself blocking a one-way path to an ATM. I pulled forward to get out of the way, ended the call with Chris, and went home.
I hadn’t considered how my actions would affect Chris and Dan, and I didn’t blame Chris for being mad. Dan was more diplomatic about the split, but I could tell he was disappointed. I’m grateful they’ve forgiven me and have remained my friends. I wish I had the conflict resolution skills then that I have now, but I can’t dwell on what I can’t change in the past.
I don’t think Brian ever forgave me, or at least he acted like he never did. For the last few years we lived in Gainesville, he’d actively walk by me at shows and ignore me.
Years later I saw Brian at a wedding, which caught me off guard because I was told he was living in China. I walked up to give him a hug.
“Brian, I’m happy to see you.” I said while moving in for a hug. “I’m sorry about what happened,”
Brian threw up his arms defensively, rejecting my advance. “Okay, okay, don’t worry about it,” he said.
I wasn’t sure if Brian didn’t like hugs or just didn’t want one from me. Later in the night, Brian and I were seated together at a table along with my wife and a bunch of strangers while all our friends were at a separate table. I strained to make conversation with Brian, so I gave up and joined our friends at their table.
Sometimes I still think about songs I could write for The Factor, or how we could have improved the songs we already had. I never bother to jot down lyrics or record my guitar riffs because that’s not a concept I want to revisit in anything more than a memory.
Not to minimize the awfulness of Bush’s presidency, but today’s political climate feels uniquely toxic, and making jokes about slowly sliding into a fascist dystopia is not what I want to be doing. I’m happier donating to direct action groups like Black Lives Matter, bail funds, and the NAACP and leaving satire to the professionals.
Will Kenneth lives in Jacksonville, Fla. ALL > Descendents. (Facebook | Instagram | w o l f m a n w i l l [@] g m a i l)