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.