The Automatic Pilot story - part 1

Punk rock parody at chorus talent show

It was sometime during the late summer of 1980, or perhaps early autumn, that Karl met Matthew McQueen. Matthew had just joined the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus; Karl had been a member since the first rehearsal in October 1978. The chorus was planning a weekend retreat at Camp Swig (normally , a Jewish girls' summer camp)in the Santa Cruz mountains. In addition to intensive rehearsals, these retreats included a "talent show" featuring a combination of outrageous drag skits and earnest vocal renditions of pop and classical standards (often within then same act.)

Matthew and Karl discovered a mutual interest in performing original songs, and decided to do a punk rock parody with a gay twist. Together we wrote "Prelude to a Quaalude" - thus was born the Brown/McQueen songwriting team. For the retreat performance, Karl sang lead on the first verse, while Matthew played piano. For the second and subsequent verses we switched places; ever since, Matt has been the lead vocalist and band front man, while Karl have done all the pinao and other keyboards. The piano part consisted of pounding bass-heavy block chords to simulate a punk rhythm section. For an ersatz lead guitar, we wrote a part for chorus member Tom Gschwind's violin. As there was still time remaining, we also put together "Sit On My Face" for the retreat.

For a name, we turned to a quote from the testimony of psychiatrist George Solomon on Wednesday May 9, 1979 for Dan White's defense at his trial for killing George Moscone and Harvey Milk: "He sort of went on automatic pilot."

Our performace at the retreat was a smash hit.

Dreams of pop superstardom drew more singers

The chorus retreat performace was supposed to have been a one-time thing. But the response Matthew and Karl got from our fellow chorus members included multiple requests to join the group. The enthusiasm of Mickey Martin, Bill Schade and especially Tony Kramedas was driven in large part by a strong belief, naive in my estimation, that this music was somehow commercially saleable in a big time way.

Karl was of a more skeptical; however he really enjoyed the retreat performance, liked the idea of writing more fun songs with nasty lyrics, and liked the idea of having more voices to work with. Matthew wanted it both ways: achiving mainstream success at the smae time as being nasty and weird.

So they re-arranged our songs for multiple vocal harmonies (up to 4 part) plus violin & piano, and wrote a new song "Bobbing for Apples"about watersports (recycled beer) which was at the time notoriously popular among a certain segment of the community. Tony took the solo for the first verse of "Prelude" - he's sung it ever since.

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Talented Butt, Extremely Tasteless

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