Monday, January 08, 2007

Velvet Elvis

When I was in junior high, my church sponsored concerts called Kool-Aids. This was the early nineties and Live-Aid, Farm-Aid and Band-Aid were still fairly current so it was a good name for the concerts.

It’s possible that when you read that my church sponsored these concerts, you pictured local Christian rock band playing for youth group kids and the few friends they managed to talk into coming along. Maybe you pictured an updated campfire-type scene, with nice kids sitting on benches and risers in a well-lit room, swaying back and forth a little as the Spirit of the Lord moved them.

Please stop picturing that.

Kool-Aids were dirty dens of iniquity. I loved them. We held them in our youth lounge, which was in the basement of the chapel. We turned out the lights and hired good local bands, regardless of their beliefs. If you sat anywhere, you got stomped on. Mosh pits abounded and to pogo through the entire night was not unheard of. The kids that came to Kool-Aids were kids that listening to Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails and Violent Femmes. A guy named Mike Rosner organized the whole thing and did a smash-up job, month after month. He required demo tapes. Auditions! This had to be good. He said that you couldn’t smoke inside the building but put out lots of coffee cans with sand on the rest of the property. He was a short barrel of a guy with long, stringy hair and he kept the money that he collected at the door in a Guatemalan fanny pack nestled into his large torso. When I got into high school and got the honor of standing at the door myself, collecting money and fastening wrist-bands, he come by regularly to take the money from me and tuck it in the fanny pack. We wore those wrist-bands until they fell off. Because we were coming of age at the same moment these concerts were starting out, wrist-bands of a certain color were cooler because they indicated that you had known about this phenomena earlier than the rest of the 6th, 7th and 8th graders.

Kool-Aids were a place to hang out with the bad boys they never seemed to be in my honors classes. I assume that most of the kids there were stoned or drunk but because we were outside, they did it where I couldn’t see so I wasn’t uncomfortable like I was at house parties. There were only a few junior high kids there; most of the clientele were high school kids with later curfews. We got to see each other’s older brothers in action, not just hanging around the house stealing their kid sisters’ snacks. We got to soak in just how cute they were, with their skateboards and long bangs. Unlike the boys we went to school with, these guys had chests that didn’t cave in and shoulders broad enough to make their hips look good. Our boys looked like girls with dirty hair and bad fashion.

As I got into high school and became part of the groups that helped to make Kool-Aids happen, I began to realize that it was odd that our church would let a bunch of dirty, high teenagers that they didn’t know hang around the church property, swearing as they postured for one another, making out with each other in dark corners and leaving their cigarette butts stubbed out anywhere there wasn’t a coffee can nearby. And that made me love Kool-Aids even more. No one explicitly explained this to me, but I hoped we did this because kids in my generation were only going to come to God when they needed him, when something bad happened. And when that happened, they would already feel welcome on my church’s property and possibly turn our direction for help. Direct proselytizing wasn’t necessary. In fact, when they tried it, the kids just left. So, they didn’t bring in motivational speakers again. They relied upon the quality of the music and the concert experience to be outreach enough. I was saddened when I learned that after I graduated from high school and Kool-Aids had fizzled out, the Board of Elders ruled that local skateboarders wouldn’t be allowed to use our steps and railings and would be chased away by staff and signs. Is property value ever so important that it causes us to chase people away from church? My brother gained respect for one of the only people in that church that he ever respected when John Huffman, an Associate Pastor in his 80s, argued for the rights of skateboarders. The church that I have grown up in has become a bit of a mega-church, not necessarily in numbers but in its outlook. They built a beautiful gym and spruced every inch of the existing square footage. They’d never let those kids in their Doc Martens and Skechers in now.

One of the bands that we loved was called _ton bundle. They were the best. They cut three cassette tapes, some were EPs, some were full albums. I still have those somewhere and several years ago, my brother transferred them to CD, although the last song was cut off because the CD could only hold 74 minutes of music at that point. I think I could still sing along to every song and I can definitely come up with lots of the words off the top of my head, no google search involved. No going back and listening to the songs again.
There used to be a wall and it used to be so tall that I could barely see over it. And I looked where you had eyes and all I see is skies and I wonder just who’s in there. ‘Cause there’s things that bother you and things that frustrate me and I can’t see clearly.

Harmony and dissonance: the princess and the prince. Harmony and dissonance; thought about you since. What else can I call you? What else can I call you? What else can I call you but princess? You’re my princess.

Sideburns. And slicked back hair. Just shaking a leg. Ah. Ah. Yeah. And now you hang on a beechwood frame and silver-plated beads, spell out your name: Velvet Elvis.

There’s a long-haired boy, skipping stones, over there. And there’s a younger boy imitating him, but who cares. And stands up with all his strength and he falls. And he reaches out to understand but no one calls.

You came in and filled it all, with decorations of you.

Actually, I don’t remember as much as I thought I did. I can hear the songs in my head and the lead singer’s voice and I know what the themes of the songs were. The words are eluding me, though. I’m sure the ones I did get have a few examples of misheard lyrics along the lines of “Blinded by the light. Rolled up like a douche in the middle of the night.”

We almost idolized _ton bundle. I wonder if I have a t-shirt packed away somewhere still. They were minor celebrities because they were so good. I remember I saw the lead singer, Rob, at Marshall’s once and couldn’t wait to get home to tell my brother. It turns out that they went to Wheaton College. Once you found that out and when you thought about the lyrics, you realized that, yeah, maybe some of the songs might be about God. But for the most part, it was just good poetry set to catchy music you could dance to. How did that come out of Wheaton College? When they played shows on campus, did people just stand there? Or was the fish an exception to the no-dancing pledge since you didn’t actually have a partner?

Because if it had been Christian rock, along the lines of Petra and One Bad Pig, the kids would have responded in the same way they did when the Christian motivational speakers were brought in. I remember talking with my youth director, Malcolm, about his band, Kid Proco. He compared it to _ton bundle because both of them believed that they didn’t have to preach the word of God explicitly in their music. If they made good music that spoke to people in some way, it was enough because all good things come from God.

A couple of years ago, my dad liked the book Blue Like Jazz so much that he gave a copy to each of my three brothers and myself. This year, he found another book that he liked that much: Velvet Elvis by a guy named Rob Bell. This is a book that I have been aware of and an author that people talk about. In fact, Matt’s parents talked about him a lot when I went to a concert at Moody Bible Church with them. People mention Mars Hill, the church he started, with an impressed tone in their voice. So, since my dad wasn’t wrong about the last book, I figured I’d give this a shot but I hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Too busy flagellating myself over other books. But last night, as my brother Daniel and I were talking, Daniel said, “Hey, you know that book Dad got us? It’s written by the lead singer of _ton bundle!” So, I started it last night and read it on the El on the way to work and back.

It’s fantastic. I have never read someone who articulated my views about doctrine and how to read and - more importantly – use scripture in my life. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, like when I loved the first chapters of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity for their logic and intellectualism and then found myself disgusted as he veered off into dogged doctrine that couldn’t be supported by his earlier arguments. One of my co-workers, who goes to my church, said that maybe I won’t be disappointed. He says that he’s heard that some big dog Christian pastors have been coming down pretty hard on the book for “bad theology.” He said, “Probably, that means you’ll like it.” Ha ha. Very funny. But isn’t it interesting that I feel in agreement with someone’s beliefs who had a formative effect on my own 10-15 years ago? I couldn’t have absorbed as much of his poetry as I did without shifting my perspective to match his just a little. This is fun!


Anonymous said...

I remember cool-aids and i remember ton bundle. You could possibly share those mp3s, could you?

Eugene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bigbelly said...

If I said _ton bundle out loud, would I say "ton bundle" or would I say "underscore ton bundle"?

This may seen like I am trying to be wry, but actually its more like "i'm nerdy and not really hip" question?

PrincessMax said...

bigbelly, for out-loud pronunciation, use the former not the latter. The early nineties were a world before the internet and email addresses, so no one really knew what an "underscore" was. :-)

Eugene, I get nervous about file-sharing when it is the property of actual people, not corporations. How's about I see what I can do about getting the permission of the one band member that I think I might be able to get ahold of through a friend of a friend?

bigbelly said...

Princess, no reply about my use of the word wry? Come on, that took me alot of time to look up. No props?

Also, was I the only one that was on Prodigy before 1994?

PrincessMax said...

Not the only one on Prodigy. My screen name was BJMB02B. I think we first got it when I was in 6th or 7th grade. I'm fairly sure I still have print-outs of emails from strangers that I corresponded with.

I never thought wry would be a big step for you. Even so, sweet, dude.

Anonymous said...

Oh please please please share your mp3s!! I was just talking to my best friend a few days ago about the song Princess and we have been wildly searing the internet for anything related to Ton Bundle. I'm sorry, _ton bundle. Ask your friend and tell the guy that people are begging for his songs!!

Anonymous said...

Oops, that should be "searching" the internet. But searing works too for the amount of feverish _ton bundle looking-upping we are doing. =)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, we always just called it ton bundle underscore. My wife burned my 'Taking my Donkey to Town' cassette onto CD last year for my birthday. It's got some skips and various other issues from the transfer, but it's still way better than trying to listed on cassette.

Was an exciting time at Wheaton, with _ton bundle and Harrod and Funck. And Rob actually danced on stage when they played during chapel one time.

Sadly, I told my blog readers (back when I had one that was active) that I would let people have copies of the CD, or at least download the tracks, when I got it burned. I just might do that still.

Link where you can watch for it, if I ever get around to doing it:

philip said...

oh man, i don't even know you but i searched _ton bundle on google and i found your blog.

those lyrics you posted sounded awesome! can you please email me some songs? i'm dying to hear them. i have so much admiration for rob bell as a pastor, but as a singer? whoa. man, it would be awesome.

my email is

oh man, i don't think i can go to sleep now.
- philip

Jenn said...

Like philip, I found you when I searched __ton bundle, having just heard Rob Bell speak locally this week. I was at Wheaton with him, though I didn't know him.

So, I guess I'm a technological dunce, but how do you burn a cassette onto a CD? 'Cause I have Taking My Donkey to Town, too, and I think it's on its last legs . . .

HeatherEV said...

I looked on Google everywhere and the only thing that I can find about _ton bundle is here on this blog and on Rob Bell's wikipedia page. I so wish I knew anything about it. Does anyone know what head injury is referred to in Rob Bell's wikipedia page that caused him to quit the band? I'm also really curious about that. Email me at

M said...

Wow. Great to hear another perspective on all the Kool-Aide stuff... It resonates still with people as I hear stories with new perspectives from the people that went. At one point, we had over 1000 people attend the show. (The first show was less than 100). I even remember after one show cleaning up cigarette butts (that were mentioned in your blog) and remember the lawn be gone....worn down by foot traffic, the whole thing...just gone. It's a small detail but one that speaks to the draw that this even had...a version of scorched earth. I have demos/cd's still left from that era and can be reached at Sincerely, the barrel chested former kook aid organer (sans fanny pack) Michael Rosner

Anonymous said...

What? No mention of Weehawken?

PrincessMax said...

It's funny you should mention that just now. I just read a Facebook thread of one of my older brother's friends that had some pictures of a Kool-Aid and THEY talked about Weehawken. There's a chance there's an old cassette of them lying around my mom's house, too.

SHS said...

Sponge that dog and walkin' like a Ding Dong.

Stumbling across your blog sent me on a ferocious rampage to find my old _Ton Bundle. tape. I don't remember the name of it, but it had Velvet Elvis and Princess on it... Unfortunately, it's long gone, but I did find my Weehawken "Turn Mosler" tape.

Anyway, funny that Kool-Aid Mike found you too; anyone know what Malcom Davis is up to these days?

And I also have to join the league of people who'd really like a digital copy of any _Ton Bundle. that anyone would be willing to share. As I remember it, I had a tape and the front cover looked like a closeup of someone's hair... odd that.

Anonymous said...

Hey...I really loved your post on the Kool-aid concerts...That sort of thing is really big here now, and its held in this tiny little youth center called the cornerzone, and it attracts all kinds of half-high/stoned kids with metal dripping out of every peircable place in their bodies...its great...anyway I was wondering if there is any possible way I can get ahold of a _ton Bundle cassete or copy w/e...I am willing to pay for it...please reply to my email so much! Peace be with you.

Anonymous said...

Tiny Idols has a Ton Bundle mp3 up right now. Check it out...very Smiths-ish.

Rob said...

I would love to send you that last
song that wouldn't fit on a 74 minute
grace and peace,
rob bell

Anonymous said...

Don't know if anyone will ever see this, but I just wanted to say that the underscore in _ton bundle was because..... in the early days the band used to play under a bunch of variations on the name. Wonton bundle, Ten ton bundle, Crouton bundle, etc. Then they went with the underscore. Rob's "head thing" (if I remember right) was meningitis.
My favorite memory of them was going with them to play a show somewhere (I was in a younger band), and when we got there, they all decided to strip and streak around town. Not what I was expecting from Wheaton college guys.

Still, Weehawken were the undisputed kings. It still blows my mind that they never got even a little taste of fame.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and one more memory. The _ton bundle guys used to have parties at their house - at least I think they had more than one - where they would bake 1000 biscuits and give them away to guests. Our little band played a show in their front yard for one. I ended up jumping in the kiddie pool after our last song and messing up my back something fierce.

Keith Duff said...

I've got a digital version of "Princess" from the Kodon compilation CD but none of the rest of my _ton bundle songs seem to have survived from the cassette days. If anyone wants a copy, feel free to leave me a reply here and I'll send the one I have your way.

Rob, if you read this one day and would rather me not pass it on, that's fine too - just let me know. Knowing you, however, I'm guessing you'd prefer for the music to live on.

Anonymous said...

I know it has been a while since this thread. I never stopped thinking about all the great music from this period at First Pres. I would love to get a hold of some of these recordings, which I have long since lost. email me if you can help me get a hold of some of this music @

Jeff Smith said...

Found this post and thought you might be interested in what some Wheaton College students are doing right now.

We leave for Honduras to follow a coffee company doing social enterprise in a week.

Listening to Ton Bundle right now. The very track you have quoted. Shout out to Dr. Lundin.

Kurt said...

Would love to get a copy of Charley's Neighbors, the first cassette.

I was a year behind the band and I am telling you, everything about that time at WC was blowing up electric. So much volcanic creativity; an inordinant amount of bands and art for such a small school, evangelical at that. There was just this unstoppable enthusiasm that seemed turbo-charged. I left there with far more than I came in with and am grateful for that time. It was an absolute catapult.

dave said...

somebody upload or YouTube some of the songs

Big D said...

If anyone is interested:

There's a link near the bottom of the page to stream or download a 320 kbps mp3 of "Princess".

Beyond awesome.

coffeeshoptheologian said...

Been looking around for _ton bundle b/c I lost my tape from Wheaton. Someone's uploaded the whole jalopy on,, also available at this FB page: Awesome!