Monday, January 30, 2012

Duran Ad Infinitum

Well, another week on the road has come and gone, and each week, each gig, is its own little universe of idiosyncrasies and oddities. Otherwise, why else would I tell you about them?

I'm pretty sure that this current trip is the longest one I've been on since the six-week run that included those two miserable weeks in Shreveport. A week here at John Ascuaga's Nugget, Two weeks at Carson Station, followed by a week off, then a weekender at Casino Fandango. And this trip's doldrums are beaten back by Joy's warm embrace, though seeing to her needs adds a whole new level of difficulty to the trip, albeit one I'm used to now. My birthday falls during this run, as does that of our eldest grandchild Cody, and Joy would not be denied the opportunity to be there for both birthdays.

So we left a day early on this trip, Tuesday afternoon. Our first stop along the way was in Browns Point, where my old bandleader Calvin waited anxiously. When I told him that I was heading south, he tasked me with an errand. Y'see, liquor is a lot cheaper in Nevada than it is in Washington, so he staked me with some money to buy him some booze. A lot of booze. About $250 worth of Bacardi rum and the cheapest vodka I can find, to be precise. To be totally honest, I needed the money. I only had about $90 to my name, and that wasn't enough for my gas expenses, so Calvin's grubstake came at just about the most opportune of moments. From there we headed south to Olympia for some excellent teriyaki.

Night was falling as we entered Vancouver, looking for a place to crash for the night. My Uncle Skip and Aunt Suzi live there, and although we had an open invitation to stay there whenever we needed, I wasn't able to get a hold of them, so I fell on plan B. I knew of a motel alongside I-5 that advertised rooms for as little as $21 a night, but their night-clerk told me those rooms were unavailable. I wound up paying just over $50 for a tiny room with the luxury(!) of a private bathroom. If that was a 'luxury', we really had no desire to find out just what those $21 rooms were like. And did I mention that it was raining buckets, cats, dogs, and other small mammals that night? I got passed on I-5 by an ark near Castle Rock. In so many words, we were soaked, our things were soaked, and we just shut our mouths and took the room. Here's the review from the Musicians Boycott! Travel Service – if you're in Vancouver, WA and have the options of sleeping in your car and the Value Motel, recline the driver's seat, homey – you'll sleep better. That said, the night-clerk was a nice lady, and we'll probably be seeing her next week at the Carson Station, as she's taking a week's vacation to visit her mother in the Reno area, and would love to see me play.

Ironic, no?

Wednesday morning rose clear and calm, and we broke fast on a combination of Sausage McMuffins and Bacon Maple Bars from Portland's rightly famous Voodoo Doughnut (another reason why I love Portland – despite the Timbers!), and we were on our way south and east. The heavy snows that had hit the Oregon Cascades had been tamed by the Oregon Department of Transportation, and climbing Willamette Pass was a piece of cake, and we scarcely saw snow after that. I slaked Joy's craving for Taco Time's Crispy Beef Burritos in Klamath Falls, then made the remainder of the trip as uneventful as possible as we pulled into Sparks.

And did I mention that Steppen Stonz were going to have company onstage this weekend? Well, it just so happens that a major convention was going on in the Nugget's convention-center space, and the convention had booked a band for that Thursday night, a Duran Duran tribute band called (wait for it) Duran Duran Duran. My sources have told me that they were invited to play a few sets in the cabaret on Saturday night in addition to the corporate gig. Fortunately for all parties involved, I knew of this a week in advance, as the Nugget's best soundman had called me while I was still in Port Angeles to ask me if D3's drummer could borrow my drums for that night. I told him that I had no problem with it, that I was glad that he'd called me in advance to let me know this, and just how the fuck did he have my phone number, anyway? (Mikey gave it to him). J.R. (that badass soundman who looks a little like Stephen King, just better looking) gave me their drummer's phone number, but he never did answer the message I left him. This didn't bother me much, because it said two things to me – that he'd probably use his own gear in the end, and that I still had time to get a hold of him up until the night of their show in the cabaret if he didn't.

Joy and I wound up meeting D3's singers (Brey and Noelle) on Friday afternoon at the Nugget's pool. Brey's totally 80's frosted hairstyle was a dead giveaway – to be honest, he reminded me of my old marching band chum Zach Barnhart to an almost alarming degree – but he and Noelle were as nice as could be. They'd actually come down to the cabaret the night before to see the tail end of our set after they'd finished their gig upstairs, and were quite impressed with our show. We talked shop for a while, then I let them go enjoy the pool by themselves – I know full well how much a musician appreciates his space, and while talking shop is always fun, sometimes you just want to be left alone.

Our shows on Thursday and Friday were uneventful enough, and we came to the decision that I'd just push the riser my drums were on back out of the way to give D3 enough space to set up their gear. Their show turned out to be really fucking good, despite the vocal mix being kind of muddy. Good thing I knew the words to damn near every song they played. I've always kept a place in my heart for Duran Duran – they were pretty much the last band I was into before I discovered metal – and D3 didn't mess around much with the songs that everyone knew. They also threw in some other 80's chestnuts, like David Bowie's “Let's Dance” and “One Thing Leads To Another” by The Fixx, and I just loved the fuck out of that. And I found the rest of the band to be really nice guys, though I did have to give their drummer just a tiny amount of shit for never calling me back. I'm sure that by the time you read this, you can go to D3's website (which is actually just a link to their Facebook page) and find pictures of the two bands together. The remainder of the night went without incident, and Sunday was actually pretty good, despite playing to a nearly empty cabaret.

I've actually walked away from this gig feeling pretty damn good. I figured out something I should've done a long time ago. Y'see, while I'm playing, I can barely hear my drums – the sounds my Simmons Hybrid drum module creates, that is – over the rest of the band. And to think, the answer had been staring me in the face ever since I'd started to trigger my drums. What I did was to use the Hybrid's unused right-channel output (the left-channel output is the mono output, and that goes to Cliff's mixing board) as a monitor channel, and plugged that into the small mixer I use as a monitor mixer for the headphones I wear onstage. It actually took me a minute to get used to be able to hear my drums clearly for the first time in a couple of years. And it was good.

And with our contract with the Nugget allowing us an extra day's stay in the hotel, I can pack up my gear at a leisurely rate today, then do laundry and pack up our household things before making our way up to Carson City on Tuesday. All my friends at the Station are looking forward to seeing Joy, and I'm looking forward to actually being able to unpack, and stay unpacked for a couple of weeks.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Up And Down, Part Two: Why Don't You Talk About Them Any More?

After an emotionally draining morning that had been capped off by the winter's first snow, I needed a little time to collect myself. During those hours, I got phone calls from my band. Not Mike and Arthur, but Ron and John.

Things haven't been well with Dirty Joe lately. Our last gig back in November had been a disaster in my opinion. Roger looked disinterested, Ron seemed in pain, and Joy was convinced that John was stoned on something, though I wasn't seeing what she was. A few days later, as I was leaving the stage at John Ascuaga's Nugget, I found a voicemail from Roger on my phone telling me that Ron had been taken in for emergency surgery after tests had found a mass on his colon. Absolutely freaked out, I called Roger back, only to get his voicemail. I haven't spoken to him since.

Roger is no longer a part of things, I've since discovered. While I was on my most recent run in Nevada, he'd gotten into an argument with the couple whose property he was staying on in his trailer, as well as with the president of his motorcycle club. The end result of which was his expulsion from the club and from the property, though some have tried to tell me that he 'retired' from the club. He has failed to respond to my calls asking for his side of the story, so I've come to the conclusion that he is no longer able to continue with the band. And that's fine with me. He's been on a massive downward spiral for quite some time now, and I've only been a part of roughly the last half of the ride to date. I hope Roger is able to right his ship, and soon.

And Ron is the next domino to fall. The mass removed from his colon was cancerous, and he was given roughly a year to live, and that depended on how well chemotherapy went. The signs so far have been encouraging, but I have a hard time believing anyone who would tell me they felt great getting chemo - maybe all the weed Ron's smoked has messed up his system to the point where chemotherapy actually feels good.

But he's called me a few times in the last few days, telling me that we could get together to rehearse during the day at RBar downtown, and that my old friend Dave Garner (sound-tech extraordinaire) would be willing to run sound and otherwise set up rehearsals for us, as well as offer his connections to us for jams and/or gigs in the Seattle - Tacoma area. I'd like to believe that to be true, despite my distrustful nature. I don't think anyone would offer up promises like that to a dying man, and I just can't picture Dave doing anything that low - it's just not in his nature, and I've known the guy for twenty-plus years, so I have to think this is at least partly true. And John has been calling me about bringing a new singer (well, new to me at least) in to take some of the workload off of me, as well as the guitar player he'd mentioned to me before in conjunction with a side project of his to possibly replace Roger.

Truth is, while I'd love to get Dirty Joe (or whatever I'd prefer to call it) moving forward again, if for no other reason than to provide some comfort to Ron in what will be his most trying times, I almost don't want to. The downward spiral the band and the guys have been on has been hard for me to handle. I don't like dealing with rumors of hard drug use. I don't like people trying to get me to hook up with the band's hangers-on - even if I like them as people, I'm still not interested, though hell, I'll flirt with anything if I think I can get a laugh out of it. Anyone who's ever seen me flirt knows it's only for laughs - I grew up watching way too much Pepe LePew as a child for me to be all that good (or serious) at it. I just don't want to deal with the interpersonal drama between the band and their respective circles, something blessedly absent from Steppen Stonz.

But as it stands now, the weather will likely have final say over the proceedings. That first snow of the season has friends coming, likely in the next day or so. And by the time it clears up, it'll be time for me to get back on the road again, spending the next several weeks in Nevada, this time with Joy in tow. It'll be nice, but we'll be back in the trailer again for at least a week, her first time back since we left Reno for Port Angeles two years ago.

As usual, we'll just have to see things go - knowing that they never go as planned.

But the snow let up after noon, and I worked up the stones to bundle Joy into the truck to drive down to Seven Cedars to see my old homey Curtis Seals and his current band, Gruvbox. Curtis and I go back to my earlier days in Powerlight, and it's always nice to see him in whatever band he's playing in (of which there are currently at least three). It's good to reminisce with him about this and that, long drives back and forth from gigs, bandhouses, his prodigious snoring. It was enough to drive away the funk in my my mind and allow me to relax psychologically as well as physically.

And talking about it with you is always good for flushing the negativity from my psyche. That, and making a nice big pot of boeuf bourguingon (albeit with pork, but still plenty tasty) for the family to feast upon helps mightily. Now pardon me while I digest......

Up And Down, Part One: Saying Goodbye

I look in the rear view mirror, and I see the day just past. And I'm glad it's gone.

It didn't start in a way I wanted it to at all - with a funeral. Joy's best friend's daughter died while I was playing at Boomtown. She could be a sweet girl when she wanted to be, but her demons led her to a lot of dark places, and eventually to oblivion. I could say a lot more, but I choose not to. To be totally honest, the service wasn't what was bothering me - where it was being held was. Allow me to explain.

It's 1994. Joy and I are madly in love, happily engaged and planning a wedding for April Fools' Day. And believe it or not, Joy was actually a Christian at the time. When we got together, she was attending this small Baptist church here in town. Joy's first marriage had been a civil service in the County - City Building in Tacoma, and she wanted a church wedding this time around. I was fine with that, so long as she registered to vote. So we went to to the church's pastor and asked if he would marry us. He asked us a few questions, then went back to his office to meditate and pray on it. Five minutes later, we had our answer:


Joy was crushed, and almost immediately in tears. I was gobsmacked - why would he possibly say no? Well, he explained. In his little weltanschauung (that's 'world view' in German, FYI), because Joy had left her first husband - never mind that at the time, he'd done some pretty bad things which I shall not mention, enough that Joy left him for all the right reasons - she was no longer fit for marriage in the eyes of God.

I vaguely remember him offering to be our witness at a civil ceremony, but I was too busy pushing Joy to her car while keeping us both from tearing that smug redneck bastard into bite-size chunks. The next day, I called my best man Adrian, and he suggested his church, a Foursquare church in the Sequim Valley. After meeting with his pastor, and kind and gentle behemoth of a man who moonlighted as the offensive-line coach for the high-school football team (and someone my mother knew and respected, even though she's the next best thing to an atheist), he not only offered himself and his church to us, but offered us a bargain-basement rate for renting the church on one condition: that we submitted to be the guinea pigs for a marriage-counseling program that the Foursquares were developing.

Allow me a brief departure. If you know me, you know I despise organized religion. It was instilled in me at a very early age, watching my dad turn off my cartoons to laugh mercilessly at Jerry Falwell and Ernest Angley. This distrust served me well in the era of the cartoonish televangelists of the 80's. Yet the Foursquares' gentle, kind, and understanding guidance in those months not only helped us learn more about each other, it helped me to learn a little something about myself, something I know is there, but I still can't quite put my finger on. I do know that the program certainly saved our marriage a few times. Despite my distrust, the Foursquares helped us immensely, and to this day still hold a certain fond place in my memory. And had it not been for the combination of distance and shitty cars, we could very well have remained in the Foursquares - I was that okay with them.

So here we were, the counseling program going great guns, and the wedding plans moving on pace for that First of April date. When we sent out the invitations, there was some debate on whether or not to invite Pastor A and his family. I wasn't thrilled about it, but we sent it - forgive and forget, and all that bullshit. Bad move. The Sunday after they got their invite, friends of ours that still attended the church told us that Pastor A spent his entire sermon bitch-slapping us for our crime of wanting a church wedding, calling us - and I'm quoting here - 'godless heathen sinners', and calling Pastor B a 'fake Christian who only wanted to get butts in the seats' (meaning: make money off of suckers). Remember how I described Pastor B? While Pastor A was a small, wiry guy at the time, B was an ex-jock - and I don't think he would've taken being called a 'fake' very well. I'm glad I never told that to B.

And the final insult came months after the wedding, when against my advice, Joy fairly dragged her kids and I back to Church A. A made nice, but after the service, couldn't be bothered to drop the hammer on us himself, and delegated his wife to inform us that we were no longer welcome there, accusing us of talking badly about Church A. So long as I live, I'll never forget that stiff-legged walk of Joy's as she grabbed me by the first available appendage and yelled at the kids to get in the car, telling me we'd never see the inside of that church again as she explained what had happened out of my sight and earshot.

Back to 2012. Back to the funeral. Joy was dead-set on going and supporting her best friend. I suggested that a red-hot poker in the ass would be preferable to entering that vipers' nest. But I went, if only to make sure that if Pastor A or his wife gave either of us the stinkeye, that their asses were grass, and I ran the lawnmower. It turns out I needn't have bothered. The best friend's son, himself a pagan like Joy, and with his own issues with A, laid down the law before we'd even left the house. That said, I still sat quietly through the entire service, eyes closed, with my mp3 player blasting nothing but the angriest, most hateful, blatantly Satanic music in my collection (tips of the proverbial hat go to Dimmu Borgir, Behemoth, and Old Man's Child). But nobody noticed us, no stinkeyes were detected, though my heart nearly jumped out of its box when A's wife came right up to Joy and chatted amiably with her for several moments, before Joy's bad hip began to flare up and we quietly took our leave. We'd scarcely been there an hour - though to me it felt like the longest hour of my life.

And there were many hours left in my day, more than I care to talk about right this minute. Let me get some sleep, I'll explain the rest of my Saturday to you then.

Friday, January 6, 2012

"So, What Is Your Day Like When You're On The Road?"

That's what someone asked me today while I was out shopping. So I figured I might as well give you a blow-by-blow description of what a show day is like for me. Here it is, warts and all:


It may seem late to you, but getting up at that hour is actually kinda early by my standards - hell, it's early by the standards of just about any working musician. The room at Boomtown's South Tower isn't exactly five-star luxury, but it's more than sufficient for my needs, and a damn sight better than my pop-up trailer (see previous post). A mini-fridge in my room is an added bonus, as it keeps my half-rack of Coke and stuff for snacks and sandwiches cold. A recent addition to Boomtown's roster of restaurants is a pan-Asian noodle shop that served a pretty good take on Korean short ribs, though I'm a bit disappointed that it's only open on weekdays - tomorrow would be a good day for a steaming bowl of pho. But I can make soups and sandwiches with what I have, so no big deal.


After dragging my ass out of bed, checking my Facebook, showering, and making myself a bowl of rice and pork with Super Lunch Jar TAKERU!!!!!, I grabbed my laptop and headed into town to see a computer tech Mikey recommended me to about what I could do to upgrade Beelzebubba (my new old laptop). The verdict: Nada. It can't be upgraded to a newer Version of Windows, and why bother searching for a larger internal hard-drive when I can just get an external one cheaper? While I wasn't terribly happy to hear that, at least they didn't try to blow smoke up my ass. They told me that Beelzebubba should work just fine for the foreseeable future.

From there, I went to the Legends supermall in Sparks to pick up a few things at Leather Works, and within fifteen minutes I had acquired a nice leather attache case for Beelzebubba, and two new heavy-duty duffel bags that I use for my drum rack and stands for a little under US$65. After that, I rolled over to a nearby Big Lots! to get a mouse for Beelzebubba, and some stationery and pens for the case. Some batteries and a half-rack of Coke picked up at Walmart, and my expedition was complete.


It's ninety minutes before showtime, so I'd better start getting ready. Iron out a shirt and pants, shave and lacquer my hair back into a ponytail with enough hair goop to glue a small child to a wall.


Finish preparing, get dressed and grab my big ol' mug. I need to stay hydrated while under hot stage lights, but I need to sleep sometime, so my last caffeinated beverage was finished off a few minutes ago, and the mug is full of ice water. Time to hit the stage soon, and I'll update things on my breaks, and again after the show is over.

12:15am - Post-gig

We had a good show, insofar as the four of us on stage. Beyond that? I don't think I actually saw more than six or seven people sit down and listen to us. Which wasn't terribly surprising to me. Y'see, Boomtown is in Verdi, about ten miles west of downtown Reno, forty or so from Carson City, and our regular audience is probably not all that inclined to drive out to see us every night. Which means we pretty much have to start from scratch and build an audience. And this time of year that means skiers. And with this incredibly mild winter so far, many of the Tahoe Basin's ski areas are still closed, with only the largest and wealthiest resorts (as in, 'those who have their own snow-making equipment') open at all. But regardless, a lot of families were checking in tonight, as the registration desk is all of about fifty feet from my throne. It wasn't an unpleasant night, but we could've used our regular crowd to come support us.

But now that the night is over, it means that there's just one night left before I can put this trip to bed and head home for a few weeks' worth of well-earned rest and relaxation.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dude, I Got A Dell!

And it's about fucking time.

First off, please allow me to apologize for the long time since my last post. What has it been, six or seven weeks? As usual, things have just been weird for me. And every time that I thought I was getting close to getting the laptop I really needed (hey, you schlep around a desktop in a big ol' plastic container from gig to gig and find out how much fun it is), only for circumstances to change and something more important to come along, something that needed to be paid for right there and now.

And for this last trip I've been on, It had seemed to me that I was on the same old road. Three nights at the CVI, then a few days with my friends Jeremy and Alison. Then a week at Carson Station, followed by a week staying at the Nugget in Sparks, starting with Christmas Day, while playing New Year's Eve at Casino Fandango in Carson City. Then I found myself a sudden lack of options all of a sudden. My father had been calling me, telling me that he wanted to come down to Reno for a visit after New Year's Eve, and that he wanted me to stay with him while he was there. Then he got the urge to replace the futon in his living room with a proper couch, and I was left out in the cold - literally.

My only other option was to call my stepdaughter Michelle, and set up my old pop-up trailer, which had been sitting behind her house in Sun Valley. I had propane for a small heater, and was able to string along enough cords to be able to run some electricity into the trailer for a TV and my Xbox 360. And it turned out to not be such a bad idea. It never really got that cold - it's been a very, very mild winter in Reno, so much so that I actually found myself sweating in my trailer during the days.

And then there was the hunt for a laptop. Michelle recommended to me a place called New2U Computers in Sparks. My first visit there was only productive in that I found out what day they normally got laptops in, which was today. So this morning, I got up early, broke down the trailer as fast as I could, then got over to Sparks ASAFP to see what New2U had. Five minutes and $115 later, I had a Dell Inspiron 6100 laptop in my possession. It's nowhere near new (it runs XP Pro, for fuck's sake), but it actually has more horsepower than Joy's laptop (2GB vs. 1GB on Joy's), though the 80GB hard-drive is positively dinky these days. But it's what I needed, and I'm more than happy with it so far.

And now the trip is officially winding down. As I write this, I'm ensconced in my hotel room at Boomtown in the town of Verdi, just west of Reno by a few miles. It's not on the California border, but I can see it from my window. And there's a Cabela's just down the street from here, which is always good for a visit, and maybe a purchase or two, depending on what kind of outdoorsy stuff I might need. Boomtown is just a weekender, and it's my first time playing here. I'll be giving it my best, and hopefully they'll want us back again, and hopefully for more than just two nights....