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So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star

Jim Amidon — With the smell of a hot griddle and oil from sausage patties and pancakes hanging thickly in the air, I worked my way through a crush of people to find myself a spot near the stage. There were kids, ages 3 to 13, sitting at the feet of the band — literally — and their parents, a bunch of 30- and 40-somethings, sat in eager anticipation of the evening’s featured event.

I had found myself at St. John’s Episcopal Church, site of "Cafe St. John’s," a fund-raiser for the church’s youth group. The idea is to feature the talents — music, poetry, and short fiction — of the church’s members. All I knew was that I was there to see the oft-hyped Wabash faculty band Skrymir at one of its first public shows.

I’ve always wanted to be a rock critic. These guys — Patrick Myers (classics professor and guitarist), Dan Rogers (Spanish professor who plays bass), Stephen Morillo (medieval historian turned keyboard player and vocalist), James MacDougall (guitarist and husband of English professor Joy Castro), and Joe Laskowski (drummer and husband of the Center of Inquiry’s Jenn Laskowski) — want to be rock and roll stars. Well, maybe not "stars," but they do like getting together to play the music of their formative years.

I hear that mathematics professor J.D. Phillips plays a mean guitar but is taking a break from the band because of what they say is a too-full schedule. Phillips is said to be too busy with the presidential search and taking a class trip to Prague over Spring Break. Yeah, right. As a diligent rock critic, though, I’m digging deeper on this story. I’ve heard rumors of creative differences and too many lead vocalist wannabe’s. I’m checking it out.

On this night, though, with that darned smell of pancakes permanently enrobed in my sinuses, I can’t get the great Tom Petty tune out of my mind: "So you want to be a rock and roll star." Even as Skrymir begins with a tribute to Fat Tuesday — "House of the Rising Sun" — I’m thinking about the "agent man" and how there will soon be Stephen Morillo action figures, James MacDougall Hawaiian shirts, and a whole line of Hot Wheels products modeling Dan Rogers’ pick-up truck. Will these guys sell out, even as they play their way through middle age?

"Rising Sun" got the crowd going, and like all bands that take themselves too seriously, Skrymir ditched the covers and went into back-to-back original tunes that led some of the kids back to the table for more pancakes and sausage.

But then the band did what it does best: it returned to a cover tune, this one a wonderful Velvet Underground song called "Rock and Roll" with Laskowski doing an incredible Lou Reed on lead vocals.

As I snaked my way through the crowd, now going wild with applause and shouts of "encore, encore," I thought to myself, "Maybe I do wanna be a rock and roll star." See, I was headed back to write a story and edit my photographs in my lonely office. The band got to sign autographs and fight off scores of groupies (even if said groupies were their own children).

Check out photos of Skrymir by clicking here.