Monday, November 25, 2013

Sometimes, You Just Shouldn't Go There

Occasionally, I like to look at where traffic to my blogs is coming from. And the resulting information I glean leads to the conclusion that the only people that read this are either coming here straight from a porn site (not that I have anything against that) or not even people - as in bots. Randomly clicking on the sites that were driving traffic here came up with a Korean art gallery and a photo of a lovely young woman roto-rooting herself.

I didn't really need to know that. Especially with Joy right behind me, playing Lego Harry Potter on our Wii. I don't know how I'd be able to explain that to her.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Communication Breakdown

I know, I know. Way too much time between posts. I've just got a lot of things on my mind. I lost a good friend when Ron DeFrang finally succumbed to cancer on Halloween night - I think.

Therein lies the point, the essential kernel of this post. I only found out about it a few days after the fact from my friend Jeff Anderson, aka 'Trunk Monkey'. And he moved to Iowa a few months ago. Nothing against the Hawkeye State, but fucking Iowa! How the fuck does a guy in fucking Iowa find out about a friend and colleague passing away before I do?

And the cruelest thing of it all is the utter lack of information about it. Most of the guys I play with here in Port Angeles are on Facebook, but the only other person on the planet who posted anything about it is my homey Coog, who hosted our band at gigs at his record store and was as plugged in to the local scene as anyone I could think of. And nobody called me, either. John, Eddie, Tom, Pete - not a soul. It's like there's this weird sort of radio silence around me. In hindsight, I could've broken the silence, and still could - all I have to do is pick up the phone. But I don't, perhaps because I think they're all grieving in their own unique ways. Or perhaps I'm just reacting to their silence with silence of my own. And no obituary, no funeral. Did anyone even bother to claim the body? It's almost like he didn't exist at all. Sometimes, I can't even picture Ron's face when I recall memories of him.

Perhaps I've reverted to that outsider status that I've always had here. Bands and musicians here don't know me. and I know why, that's because I know more players in the Seattle-Tacoma area and even more in Reno and Las Vegas than here. And some of those who do know me don't even acknowledge me as a 'real' musician because I play in Nevada instead of locally, which makes me some sort of poseur. My little brother has suggested to me that I need to stop consorting with the old burnouts and introduce myself to the Peninsula's original rock and metal bands. I've thought about Mac's suggestion, and it wouldn't be the first time that I did. but what band in their right mind would want to hire me knowing that I'm gone most of the year?

And one more thing before I go exile myself to Skyrim for a few days. I have two blogs, and a lot of ideas about things to write about. But I think that I have a hard time figuring out which blog to commit my thoughts to, depending on the subject. And eventually option paralysis sets in and I wind up just letting go of the idea rather than power through and put fingers to the keyboard. So maybe it's time to reduce, and close one of these blogs - and it'll probably be this one, with Joe Knows Jack Squat being the sole receptacle for my random thoughts and irritations. maybe I'll keep this alive for a while, then archive everything and close this blog. Now if you'll excuse me, I have vampires to kill.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tribal: OTEP, Stolen Babies, New Year's Day, Lydia Can't Breathe, Witchburn, Stript - Studio Seven, Seattle, WA

There are concerts I'd like to go to, but I can't due to my schedule and the constant travelling involved. There are concerts that I attend by pure luck, just happening to be in the right place at the right time. There are even shows that I've bought tickets for, then had to bail on because of a last-minute gig. But the concert I went to last night was one I was prepared to move heaven and earth to attend. The primary points of focus for me were the headline and primary support acts, OTEP and Stolen Babies. I've known these bands for years, been Facebook friends with them for years, kept track of them and followed their ups and downs for years. And after making abso-fucking-lutely sure last month that Steppen Stonz wouldn't be working any time around last night, I had Joy purchase tickets for the show, and we made plans to make a day trip of it, though her health issues kept the energy level fairly low so she could make it through the night.

We left Port Angeles a little short of two in the afternoon and made it into downtown Seattle right around found a parking place in the International District to shop at two of our favorite stores, Daiso and Uwajimaya before heading south to Studio Seven, a pretty small venue on First Avenue about a half-mile south of Safeco Field. We got off to a pretty good start with the show, running into Stolen Babies' drummer Gil Sharone behind the venue just after we got out of my truck and I'd gotten Joy into her wheelchair. But things took a sour turn when we found out that the venue isn't as handicapped-accessible as Joy had been led to believe. She couldn't get her wheelchair into the handicapped stall in the ladies' room, and the upstairs bar was inaccessible to her - though to their credit, S7's staff did say to me that they'd carry her up to the bar if she asked. Though at the end of the day, I don't think that Joy would be very enthusiastic to attend another show there.

A funny thing came to mind as we waited for the show to start, sitting by the stage-left corner near the merch tables - this was the first show I'd been to in Seattle in ages. Twenty-four years, to be exact. The last show I'd seen in Seattle proper was Metallica's Snake Pit tour in 1989. The only other shows I'd seen in the state of Washington were the very first concert I'd ever attended (Deep Purple in Tacoma in 1986) and the first concert I'd gone to with Joy (Styx and Kansas at The Gorge Amphitheatre in Eastern Washington in 1996). Every other show I've gone to has been in the Reno-Tahoe area save for one Ozomatli show in Portland. I know more about the Reno-Tahoe scene than I do about the scene in the center of what's nominally my home town. Fortunately that was about to change as the lights dimmed and the first band took the stage.

That first band was Tacoma's Stript. Joy and I thought the music was good, but we both found the vocals didn't seem to fit, though I couldn't quite put a finger on exactly why. Perhaps it was the mix, or maybe that I was actually smart enough to wear earplugs to a concert for once - I'm getting too old to spend the next two days after a show listening to my ears ring - and I just wasn't hearing things right. But there was a surprise for us in store at their merch table, as a guy I didn't really recognize walked right up to Joy and gave her a hug. It turned out that this strange guy was an old friend of ours from not only Port Angeles, but from Reno as well, and he was a part of Stript's crew. Oh, and you'll be hearing more about them later on in this article.

The next band up was a total revelation for me. Seattle's Witchburn served up a heaping helping of sludgy Sabbath-y goodness that completely blew Joy and I away. And posting my positive comments about them on Facebook got me comments from a friend of mine in Reno who'd gotten up onstage and sang with them, as well as a pic of singer Jamie Nova with an old college buddy of mine. Their energy and professionalism was a palpable force, and I look forward to hearing more from them in the future.

With the local bands now done, it was time for the touring bands to hit the stage, and things began to get.... how shall I say it? Tim Burton-esque? First up was Central Florida's Lydia Can't Breathe. I couldn't quite make heads or tails of either their musical or sartorial style, though I caught a certain sort of vibe off of LCB singer Kyle Bolduc, sort of like a young Anthony Kiedis. The Tim Burton vibe grew stronger with the arrival of New Year's Day onstage. Very goth, horror-influenced stuff, yet also the most hooky music of the night. Of all the bands that took the stage last night, New Year's Day was the band that I'd describe as being the most radio-ready. And NYD drummer Russell Dixon is a fucking animal on his kit. I don't know if I've ever seen a drummer with such a chewed-up ride cymbal before. But then again, I can't really say he was riding it - he was hitting that cymbal like it owed him money.

Four bands in, and finally the band I was really there to see took the stage. It's kinda hard to describe how I feel about Stolen Babies. It's like the time you first discover a band that really gets you to understand the power of music, that really changes your point of view. I've said before that the first time I heard Stolen Babies, their music made me feel like I did the first time I heard Rush. Discovering a band like that, and following them as passionately as I have, you take a certain sort of vicarious ownership of things, as in 'I was into them before you were'. In so many words, I became one of the things I despise most - a hipster. But that's a pretty small cross to bear as far as I'm concerned.

They've hit what could only be called a rough patch as of late, lineup changes taking a toll on them. As of late they've been touring as a four-piece, but the sudden departure of their touring guitarist left them wondering aloud if they could handle touring as a sequenced three-piece. In retrospect, they needn't have worried. They crushed their roughly forty-five minute set, tearing through their set with a ferocity I didn't know they had. Gil played his drums like his ass was on fire, while twin brother Rani Sharone alternated between guitar and bass (he handles both in the studio as the band's primary songwriter) held down his side of the stage with furious aplomb. And singer/accordionist Dominique Persi was a far more jovial personality onstage than I'd seen the last time I'd been able to catch the band in action almost six years ago.

I should digress for a moment. That's right - six years between shows. How the fuck can I say I'm so much of a fan of a band when I haven't seen them live in six fucking years? Easy, live my life. I've had at least three shows of theirs grasped out of my hands at the last possible minute due to my own commitments. A show in Chico, CA got nixed due to car trouble. One show in Seattle, opening for mad Canuck Devin Townsend was 86'ed due to a gig in Reno (though I wasn't actually working that night), while a show two nights later in San Francisco was a no-go because I couldn't get anyone to go with me to help defray the costs of driving from Reno to San Francisco and back. Shit does happen, folks. But the catharsis of seeing your favorite band live solves all, if only for that one moment in time.

I was able to talk with all three of them after their set, and even got to introduce Joy to them. Well, another caveat here - she already knew Gil from his stint in The Dillinger Escape Plan, and we'd seen them in Reno back in 2008. She'd glommed all over DEP frontman Greg Puciato then, so much so that I damn near needed a crowbar to get her off of his well-honed bicep, and afterwards I gave him and DEP a good-natured ration of shit about it for probably six months or so. Rani admitted to me that they were both scared and excited about playing as a trio, though it had taken no small amount of experimenting to get things to where they wanted them. Which roughly translates to something like which instrument to play for which song, how much programming had to be done to cover the instruments not played live, and which songs were playable live and which weren't. Gil and Dominique echoed his opinions, and then informed me that they were looking to return to Seattle before next summer. I was also pleased to note that they actually remembered me, though that was mostly through regular comments to them via Facebook - 'putting faces to the names', as Rani put it. They seem determined to remain a trio for the time being, and I sincerely hope it works out for them. That way they don't have to divvy up the money so many ways. And I made sure to give them some money to divvy up in not-so-many ways by buying a t-shirt and CD-cover replica that they were more than happy to sign for me, plus getting stickers, buttons and a branded cigarette lighter for free - having a wife attend shows in a wheelchair can actually be an advantage in some ways, I guess.

And finally it was time for the headliner. I've always wanted to see Otep Shamaya tour with Stolen Babies (the Sharones  played bass and drums on her 2011 album Atavist), and her new band roared through a set of material from the length and breadth of her career. And what I found surprising about this show in particular was that some fans brought their kids to the show. S7 security let us watch Otep's set from the holding area just off stage right, where equipment from other bands would be stashed before being brought on to the stage. Among the other in the immediate vicinity of the holding area were members of Stript's entourage, a few of whom had brought their five-month-old daughter while the band's singer repeatedly crowdsurfed her way on to the stage. And another guy had brought his daughter to the show, an adorable blond moppet of maybe five or six years of age, and he'd perched on the corner of the stage, where she sat attentively and took in entirety of Otep's set. And Shamaya acknowledged the little girl, gave her a fist-bump before sprawling backwards ass-over-teakettle at the ferocity of the kid's fist-bump. Joy and I were loving her playing to the little girl, and I praised her father after the end of the set for raising his little girl right. We thought about hanging out after the show to visit with Otep and her guys back at the merch tables, but Joy wasn't feeling all that well so we made our way back to the truck to head home.

I pondered things for a while over breakfast at the Denny's in Fife. It had been a pretty fucking awesome show. I'd discovered a killer new band, run into an old friend in a manner that was completely unexpected. I'd been able to enjoy bands that I had the deepest respect for. And most importantly to me, I'd done all of the above with my wife at my side. I admit to feeling guilty when I go to a show in Reno when I'm gigging because Joy isn't there with me. And sometimes she lets me know that I should feel guilty, though other times she encourages me to get out of the trailer during those days and weeks off between gigs and go hit a show. But I cherish being with her, and introducing her to my interests and passions.

As much of a pain in the ass it can be at times, I look forward to taking her to see Stolen Babies again. And although Otep has announced that she'd be retiring from music after the touring cycle for her current album is over, I hope to take her to see to see Otep again in the near future. The passion of her music is inspiring. The passion of her fanbase is inspiring. The passion of my friends Gil, Rani and Dominique is inspiring. It makes me want to remain in the business even when all common sense tells me otherwise.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Last Rodeo

(1930hrs) Sorry that I haven't written anything for a while – nothing much to say. Been busy taking of Joy, and not doing much else. I've had gigs here and there with Steppen Stonz, but it's been the same-old same-old. But as of this moment I'm sitting inside the Sequim VFW Hall, getting ready for a show with Ron DeFrang and John Eddy. But it isn't our band per se. You see, when I'm out of town, Ron and John play with their old friend Pete Mainzer and a few friends of his under the name Thin Ice. Their drummer wasn't able to make this gig, so they called me to fill in. And while there were some fits and starts in arranging a rehearsal, I wouldn't have passed this up for anything.

As you probably know, it's because of Ron. His health has been in decline, and from every thing I've been hearing he doesn't appear to have much time left. That, and Pete has been promising that this show will actually be a paying gig. So here I am, typing away to pass the time. And the first wild card of the night has already been drawn, as the drummer who supposedly wasn't going to be here just walked in the door a few minutes ago. And Pete is already inviting him to play a song or two, without actually saying anything to me about it. And nobody's heard from Ron. We supposedly have Andy Maupin in the proverbial bullpen, but nobody's heard from him either.

(1945hrs) Well, we do have someone in the bullpen, but it wasn't who was I was expecting. Eddie Perez is here – he signed into the VFW guest list as Carlos Santana.

(2027hrs) Ron just walked in the door, three minutes before we're supposed to go on. And he brought Andy with him. Now we have three guitarists, all looking to play, and only one guitar amp. And there may be a fourth player on his way. The show hasn't even started and it's already a circus.

(2037hrs) And we're not starting on time. And there really aren't any people here to notice. John told me not to worry about it, because the last time they played here had started off the same way, but they made money in the end. And Eddie has told me that I'd be more than welcome to rejoin his band with Tom Davis. He even told me that they'd been using my old nemesis Daryl Taplin on the drums recently. Let's just say that Daryl – 'The Funkmaster', he likes to call himself – doesn't even know how to play ZZ Top's 'La Grange' or 'Tush'.

I have a small secret to confess. Joy and I may finally be moving into an apartment of our own, thanks to a long wait for Section Eight housing through the Peninsula Housing Authority. My worry is that with my schedule with Steppen Stonz being as hit-and-miss as it is, getting our own place may force me to leave them and get a (gulp) normal job. Not that I'd get much, unless I can find a gig as a courier. Besides that, I'm probably bound for something in the fast-food sector of the economy. But being able to play with Eddie and Tom could soften that blow – if they can actually get some gigs.

Oh, and my plan to wear the suit I with Steppen Stonz tonight hit a bit of a snag – no shirt. Now I remember that I took the damn thing out and washed it. I think it's hanging in my closet. Oh well. I'll do the show in blue track pants and a Reno Envy t-shirt – I'll still look better than Pete and John. Ron gets a pass – when you have terminal cancer, you get a pass on a lot of things.

(2107hrs) Thin Ice's regular drummer Darrell did ask to play a song or two before leaving early, so I'm taking a break. Unfortunately, Darrell doesn't have the best meter – counting in UFO's 'Doctor Doctor' probably a good ten to fifteen BPM slower than he's actually playing it. Darrell actually reminds me of myself when I was younger, and I rushed through every song, earning the nickname 'Turbo Joe'. Playing to click-tracks and sequences for most of the last fifteen years really ironed out my meter. Darrell will probably never have that opportunity, simply because there aren't that many bands left, let alone venues for them to play. What was once six nights a week all year long is maybe three or four nights at best, with the majority being weekends-only.

(2114hrs) Now Andy is playing guitar, and Darrell is on the drums. It's turning into a jam night. That said, Darrell is playing the T. Rex classic 'Get It On (Bang A Gong)' the way Chic drummer Tony Thompson played the song with The Power Station. Darrell is no Tony Thompson, but he's playing a tasty groove. Looks like I might be taking the rest of the set off. Not that it matters to me – this is turning into a real wreck of a show. But that doesn't surprise me. It looks like communication hasn't been all that good. Depending on who you talk to, this show was supposed to have taken place last weekend, or maybe not until next weekend. Cue the circus music.

(0008hrs, July 27) And the big train-wreck finish. Ron didn't finish the show, Eddie and Andy finished out for him, and of course we finished the show with 'Free Bird'. We even had some friend of Pete's come up and play harmonica for a couple of songs.

(0208hrs, July 27) Okay, enough of the doom and gloom. Here's an after-action report for you. The reason there weren't any update for damn near three hours is because I was busy, either playing or checking in on Ron. And I did get paid. Pete actually showed me the check he got from the VFW for the gig - $162. He gave me forty bucks in cash right there and then. We also got a fair bit of money in tips, but I don't know what happened to it. To be honest, it doesn't really concern me at the moment. John told me that he'd ask Pete about it, but it isn't going to bother me if I didn't get a chunk of it. Ron needs the money more than any of us do, because it sounds like he's having girl problems, which is the last thing he needs in the last few days/weeks/months of his life.

In all honesty, the money is nice but irrelevant. I'm leaving for Reno in a few days, and I won't be back for a month. And from what I've been hearing, I doubt very much if I'll ever see him again after tonight. It's been fun, if not exactly profitable, playing with Ron. But it's never really been about the money. I make money with Steppen Stonz. Not a lot, nowhere near enough, but I do make money with them. Playing with Ron, John, Pete, Eddie, Tom, Swinny, Grant, Phifer, Andy, the MCFD guys a few weeks back.... even assclowns like RJ and Jay, it's fun. It's about rocking out, pure and simple. And the world will be a lot less fun when Ron leaves us.

I hope people feel that way about me someday.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Square Peg: SUBHUMANS w/ Total Chaos, Out For War, Priscilla Ford - The Alley, Sparks, NV

Last night (May 23) was a jarring night for me, a night of being an outsider amongst outsiders. Making my way to The Alley last night, I parked my car in the parking garage at John Ascuaga's Nugget, then crossed the street to pass through the casino before walking down Victorian Avenue to the tiny club. It's Memorial Day weekend, and at the Nugget this is a weekend reserved for country artists and bands. And if you know me, I pretty much despise everything about modern country music. Vapid, shallow artists playing music (that more often than not isn't theirs) that I've often described as a bastard hybrid of the southern rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the twangy pop of The Eagles, without the talent of either. And ironically enough, next door to The Alley is an Irish pub that was hosting live music as well, an 'acoustic' jam that in my humble opinion could've been bottled up and sold as a cure for insomnia. Or for rat poison.

The first band up at eight was, as Reno shows are wont to be, a local band. Priscilla Ford was a pleasant surprise to me, more rock than punk – imagine a young AC/DC. To be honest, they were the best band of the night. Out For War was a blur of hyperactive blasts, every song played at pretty much the same tempo – 'let's see how fast the drummer can play' speed – with metallic guitars and bellowed vocals that were completely unintelligible. Then came the primary support band, LA's Total Chaos. This band were punk-rock holdouts in the highest sense of the word, 24-year veterans of the scene trying their best keep alive the nihilism of the late Seventies and early Eighties. Not to mention the look. Of all four bands that took the stage, these guys were the only ones who actually 'looked' punk. That said, four guys my age dressed up to look like a cross between GBH and Avenged Sevenfold looked kind of pathetic to me, and their music while their music was better than that of Out For War, it still sounded tired and outdated to me.

Subhumans bring back some interesting, if mixed memories to me. I used to be in a band that played their music along with that of other bands of that genre and era back when I was high school, leavening Tony Reed's originals with covers of songs from the Misfits, Hüsker Dü, and early Suicidal Tendencies. But my favorite song we played was a Subhumans track, “Zyklon B-Movie”. Even in their heyday of the mid-Eighties, Subhumans were always odd ducks, mixing their punk with bits of actual musicianship, not to mention leavening their leftist sociopolitical views with an infectious sense of humor. I told their merch guy that I was completely surprised to find that the band was still playing, only for him to tell me that they'd actually gotten back together in 1998, and had been playing steadily ever since, and that this was their third show in Reno in the last few years. I don't know what that shows more, how my tastes have changed since I was a kid, or how little attention I pay to punk these days.

When they came to the stage, Subhumans seemed a little out of sorts at first. Their singer admitted as much almost immediately when he explained that they were all jet-lagged. This was their first show of a quick six-show run, four shows in California after tonight before closing their run in Las Vegas at a 'punk rock bowling' show. But they recovered quickly enough and played a good set to an appreciative audience, the highlight of the night for me being “Internal Riot”.

Too bad the night was pretty much lost on me. I already felt like an outsider among outsiders, and my mood didn't improve when I got a phone call from my bandleader, informing me that a show planned for Saturday had fallen through, and things got worse when I called Joy to tell her, and she began wondering aloud if we'd somehow screwed up, and she got pissed off at me when I stopped her in her in her tracks and told her that I simply didn't know what happened, and that this was no time to go assigning blame to anyone just yet. She doesn't like me interrupting her, even when I know exactly what she's going to say – I think she hates that most of all. And the final insult for me was in the men's room of all places, when I was bum-rushed out of the loo by a pair of SuicideGirls wannabes who walked in on me while I was trying to take a piss. Ever have your dick in your hand when total strangers of the opposite sex walk in? Trust me, it's not an enjoyable thing. I know I turned eight different shades of red as I rushed to put my junk away and did my best to keep myself from going nuclear at these ignorant little twats. Fortunately, the show was almost over at that point, and I was pretty much the first person out of the venue when the last note was struck. I was still so mad at what had happened, I found myself nearly unable to use the men's room at the Nugget as I made my way back to my car, still halfway expecting to have someone try to get into my stall as I was trying to do my business.

I think the thing I took away from this show was that I was still an über outsider, and I didn't really fit in there, even among the other outsiders that Punk claims to embrace. But I think that I'll fit in a little better tonight, as my friends Pain Clinic and Blasphemous Creation will being playing there as part of The Alley's “Heavy Metal BBQ”. Best of all, the show is free. And now that I don't have to get up at the ass-crack of dawn to get ready for a show on Saturday, I can go to this show and still get a decent night's sleep.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Living In Stereo - Headphones, That Is

It's something I've noticed lately - I always seem to have headphones on, or earbuds in, listening to something. All the time. It's a fact of life when I'm onstage. When I'm playing with Steppen Stonz, just off to my left, hiding behind my hi-hats and the drum pad that I use for, depending on the song, rim clicks or tambourines, is my little command center, where I place my Simmons Hybrid drum module and a Behringer Xenyx 802 mixer. I use the mixer to create a monitor mix for headphones, with the first channel coming back to me from Mike and Arthur's mixer, basically what's going out to the crowd. The second channel is the right-channel feed from the Hybrid, the left/mono channel going to the main mixer. When Cliff was playing keyboards and mixing the sequences, I took the headphone jack from his mixer and put it into a third channel on my mixer, so I could hear the sequence as well as what playing Cliff did. I stopped that when Miguel joined the band, because sometimes his playing overwhelmed the mix he was sending to the main mixer. Now that Alex is manning the post, I may go back to having that third channel in my mix.

And I always have my earbuds in when I'm setting up and tearing down my kit, listening to my mp3 player. When I'm in front of either of my computers, I'm listening to iTunes, or whatever video I'm watching through those earbuds, or the comfortable Sennheiser over-the-ear headphones that I bought at the Guitar Center in Sacramento while on an expedition with Joy for some other reason. I even use headphones when I'm running my Xbox 360 through the little TV I use when I'm camped out in the trailer, and at the Nugget and Atlantis, where I just cant get the 360 to work with their hotel TVs. I just don't want to make too much noise, bother Joy in the hotel room, Mike and Arthur in the bandhouse, or the neighbors behind Michelle and Bill's house up in Sun Valley.

The craziest thing is that I've started to notice that I occasionally have the phones or buds in place and plugged into whatever device, even though I'm not listening to anything. Joy's started to tell me that I'm wearing them too much during the day, as though I'm doing so for the purpose of not having to listen to her. Even I'm beginning to think that maybe I'm wearing them too much. Perhaps it's a sign of something. Some unconscious desire to shut out the world, perhaps. Though given my current situation, maybe it's not such a bad thing. Right now, the cold hard reality I face is something I really don't want much to do with any more. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

In The Dark

It's times like this that I seem to be at my most reflective. It's damn near six in the morning, and I just can't sleep. But I can't just sit on my ass and do nothing. So I sit here and I type this out, or cruise Facebook and play SimCity Social - my favorite FB game, please try it! - or play games on my 360 until drowsiness finally comes. But I've got shit on my mind, and that's why I don't sleep well.

In a little over forty-eight hours from now, Joy and I will be headed down to Sparks for a quick four-night run at the Nugget. Note that I said 'Joy and I'. This is one of her few opportunities to come south with me, and while I enjoy her being there, it can also be a massive headache. Dealing with her health issues on the road is doubly more difficult when we're eight hundred miles from her doctors her in Port Angeles. But that's a fair trade-off for having her be able to spend time with the grandkids - can't really call them 'grandbabies' any more, since Cody is nine and Ellie is a month away from eight. She doesn't get to see them much because travel is so difficult for her.

And while we're heading down that way, we'll be stopping to see her sister's family in Bend. I don't really think that they've ever forgiven me for putting all of Joy's family on full blast in various locations online for what they did and said to her, about how they think she fakes being sick for attention. Cindi and her husband Bob were never a part of that, but refused to side with us, so I cut ties with them as well. I could still give a flying fuck about seeing them, but I have other friends in Bend that we both want to see - now if I can only remember to call Calvin to get their phone numbers....

And I'm still broke.

And Ron DeFrang is still dying.

And Joy is still sick, where maintaining the status quo is all she can really hope for, and 'getting better' is more fiction than fact.

No wonder I'm stressed out and can't sleep. Thank the spirits and totems that Joy lets me have some of her antidepressants that double nicely as sleeping pills. I try not to take them that often, but I think tonight is going to be one of those nights.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Playing Sick

A fact of life in music is having to play regardless of how I’m feeling that particular day. I’m no rock star, no Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga, who can call off a show if they have a sore throat or some other boo-boo, though to their credit they usually don’t because they understand that if they did, they’d be disappointing a large number of people that spent large amounts of money to see them perform. In my world, the arithmetic is much simpler - I don’t play, I don’t get paid.

And being a singing drummer is basically double the hassle, because an illness or injury can affect one aspect without damaging the other. For example, when I was playing in Powerlight, I worked for weeks dealing with an umbilical hernia that came about from lifting massive speaker cabinets with little regard for proper lifting technique. Lift with the knees, dumbass. I have a little half-moon scar under my navel to remind me of that.

But the bigger problem isn’t injury, it’s illness. And my sinuses have the battle scars to prove it. Back in 2008, I came down with what I first thought was a nasty cold when Powerlight played the Fire Rock Navajo Casino outside of Gallup, New Mexico. The bug quickly turned out to be a sinus infection that cost me my singing voice for two weeks between Gallup and the following week at the Atlantis. I could still play, albeit propped up - okay, stoned out of my gourd was more like it - on Wal-Mart generic DayQuil. But not being able to sing made Jackie more angry with me than normal, because she had to do all the singing, and didn’t have me to fall back on. And to this day I still have nosebleeds because of that cold.

I’ve been fortunate - blessed, even - to not have gotten sick like that since I joined Steppen Stonz, but my luck was due to run out sooner or later. Two weeks and change ago, I began to feel a tickle at the back of my throat while we were playing the Atlantis. Years of experience have given me the tools and techniques to combat a cold while keeping up onstage, but cold meds, saltwater gargles, and gallons of hot peppermint tea weren’t enough to keep my voice from being reduced from a mighty roar to a meager croak worthy only of a killer Bill Clinton impersonation. Fortunately, I’m just a backing singer for Mike and Arthur, and they were surprised that it took over three years for me to finally get sick like this.

The last two nights of our week at the Atlantis, I actually pushed the mic aside, simply unable to sing. And resting for the majority of a week in the trailer in Sun Valley did little to help. But my good friends Jeremy and Alison came to my rescue with the leftovers of a bottle of antibiotics that Alison had been prescribed for a sinus infection of her own, delivered to me at The Alley in Sparks, where Jeremy’s band Envirusment laid out a killer set of tunes along with three other bands. But the antibiotics weren’t able to bring my voice back for my next gig at Casino Fandango, where their soundtech Merrell (who also happens to be the casino’s entertainment director) said that my voice wasn’t anywhere close to being up to snuff. Mike and Arthur were soldiering on just fine without me, but the lack of the third voice in the group was noticeable, and things just didn’t sound right.

Meanwhile, Joy was doing what she could to help from up in Port Angeles, getting me an appointment at the Volunteers In Medicine clinic there to try to get me some sort of help. Unfortunately, the appointment wouldn’t be until March 27th, and I had a gig with Ron DeFrang and the boys the night before the gig. So when it became clear to her that I wasn’t getting any better, she pretty much dragged me by my hair to the ER at Olympic Medical Center, where a patient and understanding doctor heard my case and immediately prescribed me a course of Zithromax to clear up the infection. The downside to this was that the visit will likely cost me hundreds of dollars that I don‘t even have. Bankruptcy, here I come.

But I shouldn’t complain too much. While I made it through the gig with the boys, something just wasn’t…. right. Ron didn’t look good at all, like he’d just rolled out of bed to make it to the gig, and had to convince me to keep from stopping the gig after two sets because I’d seen him back behind R Bar, looking for all the world like he was going to keel over right there and then. And his girlfriend Angela arrived, she was crying constantly, looking as though her heart had just been torn out. They haven’t been together for all that long, and she’s less than half his age. But she cares very much for the old galoot, and seeing her looking as sad and pale as she was (not to mention noticing the smell of vomit on her, whose it was I couldn’t tell you), I have to admit that I’m more than a little worried myself. Everyone noticed how frail and weak he seemed, from those of us onstage to the staff at the bar. They were happy to have us there, and were more than happy to have us come back again, but I told them that I wanted to make sure that Ron was alright before committing to another date.

In so many words, I’d rather play with the old fart than in his memory. I’ve already lost too many friends recently, and I’m not ready to lose another.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Friends With A Benefit III: Bacon And Revenge

Since Ron DeFrang simply refuses to die, and that people are actually liking what they're hearing from us, Joy and I went ahead and scheduled two more gigs. But our boy Mike Colgan, better known to the world as "Coog", posted a Facebook listing for a show in the back room of his record store (Coog's Budget CD's) he billed as "DeFrang III: The Revenge" on February 22nd before I could post a listing for the show Joy'd secured for us at R Bar on the 19th, so that became "DeFrang II.V: Bacon!" Seriously, I couldn't come up with a snappy title for the life of me. But the shows were fun. The Tuesday show at R Bar wasn't much more than a warm-up for Friday's show, basically a practice run. But we still had a good time, and the folks at R Bar wanted us to come by and play again in March, after I get back from my current run of shows in Reno and Carson.

The Friday show wound up being a total blast. Coog had his own band MCFD (Mydlyfe, Crysys, Fluffy, D-Ray) open for us, and they ran through a set of punky fun that the very mixed crowd enjoyed. And I do mean mixed. The crowd was split down the middle between punk-rock kids and people of their parents' generation. But the kids enjoyed our set, headbanging like mad, even moshing a bit here and there when not getting off on Ron's solos.

The funny thing is that MCFD could've been MCFJ. I've known Coog for years, and 'Fluffy' is the psychobilly handle of my old friend Craig Logue. Craig and I have known each other since middle school, and we've got deep roots in local music up in Port Angeles, as bands either of us were in used to rehearse in the basement of my mother's house - I called it 'Slimepit Studio' for no particular reason - and we even tried putting together a band of our own, the WrestleManiacs. And yes, we sang about nothing other than pro wrestling. Coog had offered me the seat in MCFD on several occasions, if only I'd bother to stay in town for more than a week or two at a time. But the life of a working musician is a life on the road, so I politely declined. "DeFrang III" was the first time Craig and I would share a stage in damn near twenty-five years.

And it was fun. While Coog would've let us play as long as we wanted to, we settled on playing a tight hour-long set that featured our best material, and plenty of old favorites that even the punk-rock kids all recognized. And then the show got kind of personal for me, because my sister Julie and her husband Charlie showed up. Julie and Charlie are recovering alcoholics, and they simply will not go into a bar or casino, which is totally understandable. The downside of that - from my perspective, at least - was that they'd never ever seen me play with any band of mine over the years. And I understood why, and accepted it. Seeing them at the show, along with my father, and little brother, made this show as personal for me as it was for Ron. And because of that, I played like a house on fire. And Ron, John, and Andy caught that vibe from me, and I do think that this was the best we'd played together as a unit.

But the show kinda ended on a downer for me. Well the downer didn't actually come until well after the show was over. While we were in bed later that night, Joy told me that she'd had a heart-to-heart talk with Ron's girlfriend Angela, and asked her the hard questions about Ron's health. Angela told Joy that she was genuinely worried that Ron might not make it to the next show in March. She actually said to Joy that I was the only thing keeping Ron alive. Needless to say, that knocked me for a loop. It's a responsibility I'm not sure that I want. Don't get me wrong, I want Ron to if not get better, at least be able to go out on top. What Angela said, it really messed me up. I almost feel guilty right now as I sit in a mall near the Atlantis, borrowing wi-fi from a local independent radio station to put my random brain dropping on the web for your amusement. I almost feel guilty that I'm here with Steppen Stonz instead of rehearsing new material with Ron and John and Andy.

I know that I shouldn't feel this way, but I feel like I'm killing the big guy, and not the tumors in his gut.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Friends With A Benefit II: This Time It's Personal

Yes, that's what I called this gig on Facebook. In all honesty, I'm amazed that it actually happened. Why, you ask? Well, let me explain. We have to go back in time a few weeks, to just before my last run with Steppen Stonz in Reno. I've been trying to get a tribute gig together for Ron DeFrang for several months now, since his diagnosis with terminal cancer. But it was always one roadblock after another, mostly around the unwillingness of folks to commit to a certain date, prepare for shows in a proper manner.... and of course, me being gone all the time.
But the show on Tuesday happened, warts and all. And we basically considered it practice for the show last night at the Coo Coo Nest here in Port Angeles. I wasn't feeling all that good after Tuesday night, so I took the days off between the two shows to get healthy, letting John and Eddie know that I'd be at the nest at six in the evening to set up. I made it there right when I said I would, but nobody else was there. I cooled my heels in the parking lot for nearly an hour, calling John for updates, and at about seven he finally called me back while trying to figure out how to jimmy the door to his truck, since he'd locked the keys in it, with most of the gear inside. I just told him to call me when they were on the road into town, and went home to get something to eat.
Thankfully, John got his truck opened up, and he let me know to make my way back to the Nest to set up. Eddie Perez decided to not play this show, and just ran sound instead through the ancient PA that he and John cobbled together. Our colleague Pete Mainzer was coming in tonight with his new ensemble, basically him fronting Ron and John with a different drummer and  rhythm guitarist. We'd asked him to bring his PA, and he flatly refused to do so unless he got paid. Wait just a goddamn minute here - this is a benefit show, everyone's donating their time and effort here. Nobody here is getting paid, and the money is going to help Ron, that's why it's a fucking benefit! And things got worse with Pete later on from there.
His band went on first. And in a word, they were awful. This new drummer, his name was Darryl. Nice enough guy, but I've got a suggestion for him - try another instrument. Dude could barely count to four, didn't know what he was playing, and in several cases just seemed to not have a clue what he was doing. And Pete was his normal self, drinking up a storm and acting like he was the star of the show, when in reality he blew more lines than a cokehead with allergies. Ron and John seemed clearly embarrassed by what was going on. Meanwhile, I was sitting quietly, tapping out text messages to Joy, singing all the parts that Pete and Darryl blew under my breath, waiting patiently for these guys to stop, so a real band could play. I later found out that Darryl had been drinking heavily as well prior to the show, which suddenly explains a lot.
I must digress for a moment. You've heard of 'straightedge', right? I invented it. You're welcome. Of course, back then we didn't have a name for it, we were just a bunch of snotty punk and metal kids that weren't cool enough to hang out with the in crowds, so we just did our own thing. The irony is that I've lived a lot better than most of those cool kids. I've been married to Joy for nearly twenty years now. I don't drink - never did. No smoking, no drugs, no nothing. No rehab, no divorce, no jail time, either. And even if I did any of those things, I'd damn sure not do any of them before or during a show. If I'm going to go out on stage and perform for a paying audience, I'd damn well better be at my best.
Finally - mercifully - their set came to an end, and I was able to get behind my kit again and run the show right. John and Ron and I knew our shit well enough, and their friend Andy Maupin helped out with rhythm guitar and some vocals, even taking a lead for our version of Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" and sharing vocals with me on "Comfortably Numb" - I sang Roger Waters' lines, while Andy took David Gilmour's.
And we just knew what we were doing. Old hands playing music we'd all played before with one band or another in our lives. And we rocked it out like fucking gods. We actually brought the crowd at the Nest from to bar and into the main room to enjoy the show, getting people dancing, moving, entertained in general. We played like our asses were on fire, and it showed. No noticeable gaffes, though there were lyrics I forgot here and there. And I'm sure that the guys would say that they made little mistakes here and there, but I didn't notice. But we were something that other guys weren't - professional. We hit the right notes at the right times. We didn't completely fuck up a song in the middle and come to a crashing halt. We entertained the crowd, we interacted with them. We brought up their energy with fast songs, cooled them down with slow songs. We just did it right. And after the show, everyone came to thank us for a job well done. We made some more money for Ron - not much, maybe $50 - $60 or so - but it was all for a good cause. Or maybe it was just so Ron could buy some more weed.
And remember when I said that things got worse with Pete? They did, but in an enjoyable way. During tear-down, Eddie told me that Pete seemed a little upset with my singing, told him over and over to turn me down. And Eddie was telling me this with a huge smile on his face, which basically told me that I'd sung Pete under the table from behind the kit. And he never said goodbye to me when he left - or to anyone else for that matter. I think that perhaps he learned that he'd been put in his place. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I guess. Pete came into our orbit telling me that he could get us regular work at the nearby tribal casino, but I'm pretty sure now that he was just talking out his ass. He's got a nice PA at his place in Sequim, but all the PA in the world can't make you sound better when you've been drinking, and it's clearly affecting your performance.
And our old buddy Coog, owner of the local indie record shop here in town, insisted that we play a show in the back room of his shop one of these days. We kinda owe him, after all - he's the one who actually confirmed the gig with the Nest a few days ago, because John and Eddie forgot to confirm the gig with them while I was in Nevada. So it looks like there may be a few more benefits for the poor old invalid before he shuffles off this mortal coil. I sure hope so - I really dig doing shows with Ron.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Friends With A Benefit

I'm home now, for what that's worth. Back from another cold time in Reno, and switching hats from sideman to bandleader. And I'm doing charity work, after a fashion. I've been trying for months to put together a benefit/tribute show for my lead guitarist here in Port Angeles, Ron DeFrang. He's dying, colo-rectal cancer having pretty much already destroyed him, but he wants to put on one last show before taking that next step in life. And I've finally managed to put a show together. Not that it was easy, mind you.

Since there's just no way he could play four hour-long sets straight through, John Eddy and I have been lining up friends of ours to work with us. John's basically been my point man, making the arrangements while I've been out of town time and again. We set up two shows, the first being this past Tuesday at R Bar, where we pretty much expected nobody to come - and we were pretty much right. But the manager of the place liked what he saw, enough so to offer us the place again for a midweek show later on down the road (weekends are reserved for a contracted DJ). And while I hadn't played with John or Ron, our our friends Eddie Perez and Tom Davis in a while, it sounded good enough for the offer to come - possibly as soon as three weeks from this past Tuesday.

If there was a damper on the show, it was a couple that Ron had invited to the show. The husband was a decent rhythm guitarist, but his wife was a hot mess - not to mention an egotistical bitch who tried taking the show over for herself. While I was setting up, she'd asked me politely enough if I'd set up a microphone for her to sing in, and I told her that there were plenty of vocal mics to go around, and if she wanted to sing, all she had to do was come on up and start singing. And she did at first, but then things went downhill from there pretty quickly.

During a break, I'd been told that this person was talking shit about me, and the show. Why, pray tell? Because I hadn't invited her up to the stage. Uh, waitjustagoddamnminute here. I did just mention that I told her that she was free to come up and sing whenever she wanted to, right? Yeah, I did - precisely one paragraph ago, and a few hours prior to her complaining to everyone other than the person in charge. And she complained to my wife and my father, who'd come down to see me play before taking off to spend the rest of the winter in Arizona in his new RV. ( ........ ) And now she was threatening to take her husband and go home - wherever that was supposed to be, because she'd told me earlier that they were homeless. Go figure.

So in an effort to be diplomatic, I tracked her down to the bar, where she was busy getting plastered. And she had the nerve to tell me that what I was doing was wrong, that it started out okay, but now 'all these other people here were playing and doing their own thing.' I politely informed her that these other musicians (Eddie and Tom) were invited guests, and friends of Ron as well. And that this was my show, and everyone on that stage was there because I'd asked them to be. But I politely neglected to tell them that her husband had been invited by John, and nobody had asked her to be there. I let the drunkard come up to sing a few songs (even inviting her to come to the stage on the mic!), and immediately regretted it - she sounded like someone had shot a moose. Or shoved a red hot poker up its ass, I can't figure out which. The three or four songs she sang were clearly the low point of the night, and everyone agreed with me. To be totally honest with you, perhaps I shouldn't be so harsh. She'd told Joy and I that she'd suffered brain damage, the result of being assaulted by a special-ed student she'd been teaching when she still had all her faculties, so maybe I should give her a pass. Maybe if she'd been sober it wouldn't have sounded so bad. But she wasn't, and it did. So ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, here's an object lesson for you - play sober. Playing or singing drunk means you clearly don't give a shit about what you're doing, what you're giving out to the audience. And I've never seen anyone give a good performance onstage in my life while drunk.

Oh, and just to add insult to insult, she repeated her claims to me after the show, that what I'd done was a bad thing for Ron. She should count her blessings, because a less forgiving man would've made her swallow her pride for saying that - not to mention a few teeth. Here's hoping she's better behaved at the next show on Saturday at the Coo Coo Nest here in PA. Because if she isn't, I'll just tell her husband to take her ass off my stage and get the fuck out. And if he doesn't, I will.