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Mockin' Droll Band

Stanford band takes its irreverence seriously, but not everyone sees the humor in its often outrageous antics

November 16, 2004|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

"The Stanford band is good for levity and entertainment," he said. "Humor and trying to make light of issues that are otherwise real lengthy and complicated is a good thing. I think people are taking things a little too seriously."

Bentley agrees. He says the band uses music for satire, pointing out that if, for instance, another school were enmeshed in a cheating scandal, the band would be likely to play the Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends."

"Sometimes it escapes people," Bentley said.

Sometimes it doesn't. In 1990, the band was booed off the field at the University of Oregon's Autzen Stadium because it spoofed both the logging industry and the environmental movement.

The skit ended when a band member cut a stuffed owl in half with a chainsaw.

Perhaps the most infamous stunt came at the 1997 Notre Dame game. The band mascot, a person in a tree costume, ran onto the field at Stanford Stadium wearing a nun's habit as the band's announcer called Notre Dame the "Blightin' Irish," referring to the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s.

The band introduced "Seamus O'Hungry," and described the Irish as a people whose "sparse cultural heritage consisted only of fighting, then starving."

Advice columnist Ann Landers demanded an apology and Fighting Irish fans were unhappy, as was Notre Dame President Edward A. Malloy. Then-Stanford President Gerhard Casper and the band apologized.

The band still cannot go to games in South Bend. Carruesco was asked when the Notre Dame probation is supposed to end. "There are a lot of probations lined up," he said. "It's hard to remember."

The band plans to perform during Saturday's Big Game at California. The matchup produced a legendary highlight in 1982, when Cal's Kevin Moen scored the winning touchdown on a game-ending, five-lateral kickoff return that ended with him plowing over Stanford trombone player Gary Tyrell.

Dan Bernstein, a trombone player in the Stanford band from 1968 to 1971, said what he and his bandmates did in those years was innocent, compared to the potato famine show. Bernstein, a columnist at the Riverside Press-Enterprise, remembers the 1970 opener at Arkansas when the band members dropped their pants at halftime, revealing surfer shorts.

"We didn't urinate or anything," he said. "We weren't that far advanced."

Carruesco, the script overseer, knows he has his hands full.

"Infamous is one word, but let's just say they are known around the U.S.," he said. "People say, 'Hey, there's the Stanford band.' They're like rock stars. No, don't put that in. I don't want them to read that."

On a recent afternoon, band members headed for the practice field dressed in T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, or no shoes at all. Chris Holt, an English major and trumpet player from Madison, N.J., knows why he's in the band: "I like running around and I like making silly jokes."

Lori Karns, a mechanical engineering student and drum major from Honolulu, practiced in a '70s-style Brady Bunch mom's blouse, orange pants trimmed in sequins, ankle bracelets of white feathers and a clear shower cap.

Once she blew her whistle, it was all business, if you don't count the musicians who were chased and tackled by bandmates for being late.

Karns kept the energy up, bouncing around as if she were on springs. Her face was beaming.

"I am a rock star," she said. "My parents paid for piano lessons for 10 years, and this is what they got."

She laughed at her own joke, Stanford-band style. The fervent hope at practice was that sooner or later, everybody else would get the other jokes, too. And, if not, well, there's always another apology, followed by probation.

There may be a few more unusual turns in store. Next year's band manager is Tom Hennessy, an archeology major and tenor sax player. His father, John Hennessy, is Stanford's president.

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