Biographies of Greatness

The authoritative (if not positively dictatorial) biography of Brian Ballard Quass



Some Stupid with a Flare Gun

Who here remembers the lyrics to Deep Purple's 70s riff called "Smoke on the Water", detailing how "some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground"? A show of hands, please, who remembers?

Well, you may as well know... that was me myself, and no mistake. Yes, I was the "stupid" who burned down the stage set where Roger Glover and company were holding forth way back in 1971 in Montreux, Switzerland.

Hey, I was scarcely 10 years old at the time and I didn't even realize that it was a flare gun, OK? I was literally like, "Gee, I wonder what this is?" and before I knew it, the gambling house was burning down.

There was smoke on the water, a fire in the sky... God knows what all.

Okay, okay, I'll tell you the whole story. [sigh] Here we go again...

You see, we had all come out to Montreux.

You know Montreux: On the Lake Geneva Shoreline.

See, we were making records on what they called a mobile...

And needless to say we were pressed for time.

Well, it turned out that Frank Zappa and the Mothers

were at the best place around...

Sorry, I'm choking up. Fortunately, no one was injured, but...

I think what really killed folks and made me a pariah for four decades to come was the fact that I had inadvertently burned down the gambling house.

It's one thing to burn down a sound stage, but when you burn down a fully functioning and profitable gambling house as well... in Montreux, no less.... well, you make enemies, even if you're too young to realize it at the time.

Anyway, you probably know the rest of the story.

Funky Claude, bless him, rose to the occasion.

He was pulling kids out of the ground like so many radishes.

I still remember him running in and out of said gambling house, shouting, "I got another! I got another!"

Long story short, we ended up at the Grand Hotel, and, brother, I am telling you,

it was empty, cold and bare. Brr!

Fortunately, there was this rolling truck stones thingie parked just outside.

So Roger and company could make their music there.

And what with a few red lights and a few old beds...

Well, what can I say, they made a place to sweat, yeah?

Oh, I forgot to mention: my parents were roadies at the time. They were like: "Great, Brian, now you've embarrassed both of us and probably ensured our ultimate dismissal from the band."

I was like, "Mom, Roger and them lot won't hold it against you. Besides, if they want to fire anyone, it should be the numbskull who left that flare gun lying around. I mean, what was that about, exactly?"

I was like that back then: I'd adopt a perfectly snarky attitude just to get a rise out of the old'ns.

Anyway, mom was just mumbling by then, she had had it up to here with me, but I made out a few words: "Well, no matter what we get out of this...," she murmured....

I'm like, "Yes, Mom? Yes?"

"...I know, I know they'll never forget."

Words of prophecy if there ever were such. The band has been ragging me to this day, to the point that I simply no longer accept phone calls from Roger, Ian, and Steve, even though I think I probably missed a call in 2008 in which they otherwise might have summoned me to their induction into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.

Come to think of it, the band is lucky that I did not demand a cut in the royalties for "Smoke on the Water," given my key role in inspiring the lyrics. Of course, they had some nerve making me out to be "some stupid with a flare gun," but then they never mentioned me by name - although now that I myself have blabbed, I'm going to have to start rejecting smart-aleck phone calls from the entire rock world.

On the bright side, they saved me from being a nobody. True, my subsequent breakthroughs in nuclear physics have also raised the odd eyebrow overseas, albeit in the rarefied world of Nobel politics in Oslo, Norway... but as far as the hoi polloi is concerned, I will always be that "stupid with a flare gun" who "burned the place to the ground" - me, Brian Quass, an unwitting catalyst for rock-and-roll history.

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