When you are in a touring band, you will do anything to pass the time on long drives. Headphones and iPods will only get you so far. When listening to music or watching movies on a 3 inch screen becomes too tedious, the earbuds come out and interaction starved, claustrophobic, sleep deprived van dwellers will yell out the windows at pedestrians, set off smoke-bombs in the van, or stagedive on fellow band members.
During one such van ride, a beautiful game was created. We were in Germany, our Sprinter van had been on the road for a few hours, and there were a few hours still left to travel.
I have no idea how this idea was sparked, but I begin to invent a tour game. It wasn’t something that I had thought out completely, in fact the rules sort of took shape as I verbally layed them out to my fellow travelers. I could see the horror in their eyes as I explained how the game worked, and the violence involved. I could also see their curiosity and intrigue. I knew that a classic was being born: Classic Combinations.
- Classic Combinations requires a minimum of three people to play, although four to eight is ideal
- It is played in rounds, with each person in the circle having a chance to alternate between the three roles: “the Aggressor”, “the Impartial Third Party” and “the Chooser”
- The round begins when the Aggressor chooses three separate classic combinations. A combination is any part of their own body, and any body part of any playing member (with the exception of the Impartial Third Party). EXAMPLE: the Aggressor could say, “My fist, and person A’s thigh” or “My heel and person B’s foot” or “My open handed chop to person C’s sternum.” The only combinations not allowed are closed fists to the face, or anything involving the genitals.
- The Aggressor then turns to the Impartial Third Party and whispers either the number “one” or the number “ten” into his/her ear. This number represents the “Power Level Scale” (more on this later).
- The Chooser then has to choose one of the three combinations layed out by the Aggressor. The Chooser also has to choose the “Power Level”, which is a number between one and ten. EXAMPLE: the Chooser can say, “I choose your heel and person B’s foot at a power level of seven.”
- The Chooser has no idea if ten is the hardest or if one is the hardest. If the Aggressor had whispered “ten” into the Impartial Third Party’s ear, then ten would be the hardest and one would be the softest, so a seven would be a fairly hard strike. If however, he had whispered a “one” into the ear, then one would be the hardest and ten would be the softest, so the seven would not be a very hard strike. The Impartial Third Party is there, solely to keep the Aggressor honest.
- When the Chooser picks their combination and power level, the Aggressor then, must strike their body part on the other person’s body part at the power level chosen. The beauty, is that only the Aggressor and the Impartial Third Party know exactly how hard the person is going to get hit. If a ten was chosen, and the scale was a one, then the Aggressor could wind their strike up, like they are going to stomp on the person’s foot as hard as they can, but deliver a strike that consists of barely brushing the victim’s foot with their heel.
- Classic Combinations is a game of violence, but it is also a game of politics. Since it is played in rounds, every person in the circle will have the opportunity to be the aggressor and chooser. Choosers have the option to play it safe by choosing safe numbers around five or so, or choosing combinations that involve themselves. Any Choosers that go aggressive; choosing a one or ten, or even a two or nine, can regret that decision later in the round when people are seeking revenge. Aggressors can play it safe too, by choosing body parts that won’t hurt too bad if they are struck together with maximum force. The Aggressor is also allowed to choose their own body parts as the second part of the combination. EXAMPLE: the Aggressor may pick, “My fist, and my own shin” if they want to play the politics game.
I know what many may be thinking, and no, this game is not the reason Champion broke up. That is probably because Jim refused to take part. He definitely had the shortest fuse in the band, and I could easily imagine scenarios where escalations caused problems. Luckily, he watched from a safe distance under the guise of his fake religion he made up; Pagan Pacifism. The sole tenet of Pagan Pacifism being “Thou shalt not play Classic Combinations.”
We took this game all over the world and spread it to any who would listen. Some joined in delight, while others shook their heads and said we were idiots.
Some Classic Moments in Classic Combination History:
I once slapped Todd in the face at an 8 out of ten. He had a pretty good hand print on his cheek for a good chunk of the drive.
In Germany we toured with a band called Under Siege. Their bass player was a giant human being whom everyone called “Doctor Pain”. One afternoon, before a show we were at a friend’s home in Germany and I was in a bedroom checking my email, while members of Champion and Under Siege were playing a round of CC in the front room. I heard a loud boom and felt the whole house shake. Aram screamed and there was a chorus of laughs. Apparently, Doctor Pain had stomped on Aram’s foot at a power level of seven. If it had been any harder, we might have had a chance to see how Germany’s health-care stacked up against Canada’s.
One tour, the band was playing a round in the back seat of the van. I was driving, so I was sneaking peaks in glea, through the rear view mirror. Our roadie, Justin Thunderlizard was the Aggressor and had to administer a strike which consisted of an open-hand slap to Todd’s face, to be immediately followed by a backhand to Aram’s face. I believe the power level was seven out of ten. The following is slow motion footage of the results ( I wish this was real-time instead of slow-mo, because it doesn’t look very hard in slow-mo, but you can see that the open hand slap caused Todd to fly out of the picture):
Countervail was one of the more important bands for late 90’s Seattle hardcore. This group from Thousand Oaks California, was one of the few bands who consistently came back to the Northwest time and again.
The twelve hour drive from the bay area to populated areas of the Northwest is one that is still rough for touring bands, especially in the winter. Even so, Countervail never waited too long between trips up here, and as such, gained a lot of love and respect with the NWHC.
Their shows were always great, and the band members were always fun to hang out with, and were so gracious about the intensity of the crowd at their shows. This picture was taken at a show they played at the Auburn Annex.
The Annex was a venue that pretty much kept Seattle hardcore alive for a year or so. The only other venues for shows at this time were; the Velvet Elvis in Seattle; Ground Zero in Bellevue; The Firehouse in Redmond; Club Impact in Tacoma; and Big John’s house in Fall City.
I know this sounds like a healthy amount of venues, but each of these clubs had their own problems:
The Velvet Elvis was awesome, but it was hard to book shows there without months of notice because of show volume and conflicting dates with the theater group that used the club.
Ground Zero and the Firehouse were both really cool, but also had to be booked months in advance. Also, both clubs went through weird phases of frowning on stagedives and aggressive dancing, because they were teen centers.
Club Impact was a Christian club, and had a bunch of weird rules, like: no swearing, and had a weird overall vibe. They also loved to throw on weird ska, or indy bands who really didn’t fit with the lineups.
Big John’s house (actually his parents’ house) was an awesome spot for shows, but it was in the middle of the woods, way out in Fall City, and he couldn’t do too many shows either because, well… it was his parents’ house.
The Annex in Auburn was pretty much the only club where you could throw together a hardcore show with only two months notice, and ensure that you could have the lineup you wanted, and that stagediving and other hxc wildness wouldn’t be frowned upon. Plus, at this time a pretty significant portion of the hardcore scene lived in Auburn. It was also a halfway point for commuters from Seattle and Tacoma.
The Annex eventually shut down, and the owner Grady, turned the club into a Jazz Record shop. But shortly after, Seattle got what I believe to be the single best venue in Seattle HC history; the Paradox on University Ave.