A Fight At the Opera

Seems like only yesterday the Goods were "the best live band in Miami." Blowing everybody away at Miami Rocks, tearing up Churchill's. "If only they could get it on tape..." was the rap against them. Then came 1990's Too True to Be Good vinyl EP and the single "I'm Not Average," and a major-label recording contract seemed inevitable.

In fact, a development deal was worked out with one of the majors (hint: their top executives now eat with chopsticks), and the local boys were flown out to L.A. for some serious wining and dining. Fab -- except for one problem. Our heroes refused to play the musical compromise game, and quicker than you can say "Sid King" (the band's patron saint) they were back in Miami, wondering where they had gone wrong.

It was a strange and awkward time for both the band and their supporters. Many had come to count on the Goods as a fountain of youthful exuberance, the keepers of the rock-and-roll flame, the best and the brightest. It was hard to see them defensive, insecure, bummed.

Why do the kids dig us but the suits don't? Is it somebody in the band? What are we doing wrong? they wondered. The four Goods were overwhelmed with self-doubt. After much soul-searching, they concluded that perhaps the problem wasn't them, that all they needed was to get back to the basics and worry about making music for themselves and their fans. Forget about deals and dotted lines.

So, like any good band should, they wrote their way out of the rut. But in typically unpredictable Goods fashion, they weren't content to write just a few songs and put out an album. No, they had to do something special, something really ambitious and grandiose, something to serve notice that the Goods were back. That's how the idea of a rock opera came to be.

Either that or it was because they told somebody at New Times -- in jest -- that they were going to perform a rock opera at Chuchill's as the climax to a week of gigs with a different theme every night. New Times printed the half-truth as fact, and it became a self-fulfilling prophesy. Or some combination thereof.

The Goods do things like that. They once captivated a Monday night acoustic audience at Washington Square with tales of their trip to Mexico and renditions of songs they had written there, including a mariachi-flavored sing-along that had everybody in the attitude-heavy club dropping their guard and chiming in. Only trouble was, the band had never been to Mexico.

More recently they closed a gig by lip-synching and playing air guitar (even trading instruments during the song) to the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Suck My Kiss." They went at it with such enthusiasm that several people congratulated them afterward on how well they had played the tune, with no clue that it wasn't actually the Goods supplying the music.

So now they've got this rock opera, written mainly because they promised somebody at New Times they were going to perform one at Churchill's, and the question becomes: What to do with it? Perform it? Record it on tape, call it a phase and forget about it? Release it as a CD?

If you picked Door #3 (release it as a CD), you're beginning to get the picture. On October 31 the Goods officially released 5 Steps to Getting Signed. Musically, it is an incredible piece of work: confident, accomplished, versatile. As good as anything any rock band from Miami has ever done. Lyrically, it's another story, a compendium of witty anecdotes and clever potshots at the music industry drawn from the band's roller-coaster ride through the biz.

Not surprisingly, this unique enterprise has elicited some chatter in the loop:

"It's their experience, not everyone's," says Quit manager Ralph Cavallaro. "The music's great, but I don't know what they can do with it."

"I'm all over the album," says TCA's John Tovar. "But I think it's funny. I find their sense of humor to be a lot of fun. Musically, it's great. I really like it."

"It works brilliantly in spots," says Mary Karlzen's manager, Rich Ulloa. "I love it, I play it constantly, I have a lot of fun with it. I can't make comments in terms of the business side, just how it affects me personally. It might be a reach, a shot, and maybe that's why I like it so much."

And what do the Goods have to say about all this? Following is an exchange between us and the four Goods, John and Jim Camacho, Tony Oms, and Kasmir Kujawa:

Let's start with the tough one. Everybody seems to agree that musically 5 Steps to Getting Signed is the best thing the Goods have ever recorded. Some have gone so far as to call it the best local album, period. Yet there are many who feel that the subject matter, the trials and tribulations the band has faced in the music business, limits its market potential. Not to mention the fact that of the two most obvious singles, one has lyrics about being "fucked up" and "fuck it to hell," and the other is deconstructed and intercut with dialogue to make a point. How do you respond to that criticism?

Goods: First, the idea was to put out some music, for ourselves and for our fans. To put something out there. This is what we're about at this particular point in time, this is what we know best. It could have been a story about four baseball players. The point is to take something that could be viewed as a negative and turn it around, make it positive. Everybody can relate to it. Drug kingpins. Garbage men. Clinton. Instead of being bitter, which, looking back, we probably were to some extent, turn that experience into a positive. The message is to stick to your dreams.

And that certainly comes across. But there's still a lot of sarcasm, much of which is directed at music industry archetypes in general and selected, easily recognizable locals as well. Isn't that biting the hand that might feed you?

It wasn't written as a stab at the music industry, if that's what you mean.
That's part of it. It's not like the ideal subject to send to an A&R person, an entire CD essentially dissing them...

It wasn't necessarily intended as a calling card.
Yet it seems to be generating quite a bit of, pardon the expression, buzz...
It definitely seems to have touched a button. Something's affecting people, hopefully in a positive way. If they're listening to it and trying to figure out who different characters are or whatever, that's fine. It's always better to have people interested and involved. The worst thing would be for everyone to sort of just shrug and toss it in a pile with the rest of their CDs. It's like Taxi Driver -- when they made it, they had no idea if they had a total flop, but they knew they had done, or tried to do, something great. We wanted to do this, we had the luxury of doing it. It could flop, but we know we've done something great.

So where to from here? Anything in the works?
We want to do one big performance of the opera someplace special, make it an event. We don't want to do it at a club because a lot of our fans are under eighteen and can't get in the clubs.

Are you working on any new material, or just planning on playing the opera for awhile?

Our next record's already in the works.
Will it be an opera?
No. There's no unifying concept as yet. We just jump in. That's how we get a lot of our best stuff.

What are your goals with 5 Steps?
To sell 10,000 copies. On our own.
Is it getting any radio play?

Some. 'KPX, mostly. 'VUM lost their copy of the CD. Gotta take them a new one.

Any plans for a video?
We're all actors. Could you imagine us on video? We'd change the pace of MTV forever.

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Todd Anthony
Contact: Todd Anthony