Guest Spots: The Bad Plus’ pinewood derby

The Bad Plus: Never StopThe Bad Plus: Never Stop (E1, 9/14/10)

The Bad Plus: “My Friend Metatron”

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Jazz trio The Bad Plus has made a name for itself by reinterpreting popular rock songs and jazz standards in addition to hammering out energetic originals. Unlike its earlier albums, the band’s most recent full-length, Never Stop, consists entirely of Bad Plus compositions. Its unorthodox, avant-garde approach to creative endeavors can be traced back as far as grade school, as this story from drummer Dave King demonstrates.

The Pine Wood Derby
by Dave King of The Bad Plus

In the autumn of 1981, I participated in a Cub Scout event horizon called the Pinewood Derby. Little cars made of pine that had to be assembled from a kit by you alone, not you and your dad.

You were given a block of pine about the size of a walkie-talkie and wheels. You had to carve it in a shape that would allow the car to go fast down a track. You also had to paint it and detail it with racing stripes or personal flair concepts.

I believe there was a manual that was handed out to guide you in the possibly unfamiliar discipline of aerospace engineering. I didn’t read it because I don’t think it actually existed, and my dad refused to help me because he FOLLOWED THE RULES. I pleaded to my parents that I was sure kids were receiving help on the design and carving front because, like any awkward kid, you are aware that your peers that sort of “have it together” are receiving mysterious guidance and LOVE from many sources not as readily available to you. The Cub Scouts is actually an organization wholly devoted to shining a bright light on these deficiencies and dispensing the insecurity thusly.

There were, by my memory, about 75 children dispersed in roughly six separate “dens.” That means 75 cars racing in organized heats starting within each den and concluding in a race between den winners.

Looking around at all the other cars, it became apparent that not only did every kid either have help from dad or had some sort of earthy, preternatural understanding of engineering rivaling Alexander Calder. My car, on the other hand, looked like a loaf of old banana bread that had been pecked at by crows.

I think I might have had access to a steak knife to do the carving, and the paint job was lipstick. A slutty shade of red that gave the car a John Waters kind of dark sexual energy, which, thinking back, might have done a bit better in a slightly less “square” environment. The flat-out earnestness of the scouting movement is truly an astonishing thing to witness with worldly eyes, I assure you.

The races began with a fervor known only to grizzly bears at the conclusion of a mass salmon gathering.

OK, SO I PLACED LAST IN EVERY RACE. I think the den masters (aptly named, when witnessed putting up tents and handling jack knives) kept me running in every possible race in either an attempt to get me to place at least second to last, or to enjoy my humiliation with a soul-smoldering darkness known only by serial killers and jazz critics.

Alas, when the night was over and the ribbons were handed out in a celebratory manner only known by the winning team of the fucking Super Bowl, I sat holding my lipstick car. The personal-flair googly eyes that I had affixed to the hood were slipping and looking a bit like Cookie Monster’s after he went on a low-grade speed wreck with Hunter Thompson across the hills of Vail. The fallout of the defeat began surrounding me like nuclear winter.

This sounds melodramatic, but here’s THE KICKER. It turns out that the Scouts have a microscopic socialist feather in their rule cap that I wasn’t aware of. EVERYONE MUST GET A RIBBON FOR SOMETHING.

What do we give to Dave King?? What could his ribbon say?? He was dead last in every heat! He redefined loss single-handedly in one nippy Minnesota autumn eve!! What can we inscribe for this child of RULE-FOLLOWING FOOLS!!!

In front of a crowd of hundreds, I approached the podium dead-last and late into the night………………… “DAVE KING …………………. MOST WHEELS”


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