Noise

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine June 2017

From out on my back deck in the woods of Stonington, CT I hear all kinds of noise.  Tractor trailer truck tires hitting the highway’s shoulder rivets, dirt bikes whirling the grounds of a backyard, Ninja motorcycles racing for a thrill, various yelps and squeals from the woods which could be a deer giving birth or a human working an electric saw for a tree house.   An 8-year old kid learning the saxophone, coyotes fighting, the boom of a fireworks finale, my dog whimpering in the closet, weed whackers and water cannonballs from a nearby pool.  A camera drone, a piper twin, a generator during a power outage.

I can deal with all these noises.  But one I cannot fathom, or accept, is the thunder of a suicide bomb inside a concert venue.  Or, the sound of my 22-year old daughter who has already attended over 50 concerts, telling me she’s afraid to go to concerts now.

STOP THIS NOISE.

My first concert was The Beach Boys at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, CT.  Everybody remembers their first concert.  I plan to go see Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds tour at Foxwoods Resort Casino in September to make it all come full circle.  Concerts are sacred things.  When I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert for the first time, it changed my life.  (This happens to a lot of people.)  The hope – the joy – the energy – the feeling you get that life is worth living, worth celebrating, worth screaming at the top of your lungs for.  That’s what concerts are for.

BUT NOT THIS.

We simply cannot let them win.

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Nightmare Gigs

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine May 2016

Throughout my illustrious and surely un-famous musical career I have been plagued with nightmares between the restless hours of three and five a.m. But they’re not your standard falling, drowning, getting chopped up kind. They are about my gigs. They usually come when I have a big show coming up, or when I am completely prepared for the show, or if I have serious doubts. I had a gig coming up at a prestigious folk venue in Pomfret, Connecticut. In my dream, when I started to play my guitar that night I noticed too late that it had no frets, no little dots, and the strings were arranged upside down. I was guessing where to play the chords, and they were all wrong. I was doing a slow, haunting melody, and one of the band members started helping me out by playing along (with a proper guitar) and turned it into some zydeco foot-tapping thing. The whole place started dancing crazy, while I tried to sing my heart out. There was this plastic cover on the microphone, like a prophylactic, and my mouth kept swallowing it up. This in turn would choke me, and I kept screwing up the words, so to speak. As the place is hopping, and I’m mortified, this horrific thunder and lightning storm comes out of nowhere, and the power goes out. People start screaming and scrambling, and I figure, I’m a professional here, so no matter what, I am going to finish this song. I get to the epic final note, without the help of my Creoles, and the place erupts into hysterical laughter. “What a stupid way to end a zydeco song!” somebody yells, and the laughter continues.

This is the stuff dreams are made of people.

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I often dream of my Junior High. I am walking the halls like I own the place, and disapprove of the changes and new paint. But in reality, Junior High held such promise for me, except for one fateful night when somebody thought it was a good idea for me and three others to perform as a barbershop quartet a Capella at the BIG high school in town. When you’re 12-years old and can sing harmonies with others, teachers and parents think it’s just so wonderful and cute. Unappreciative, rebellious teenagers in high school… not so much. So we break into a rousing rendition of “Jeepers Creepers” in perfect four-part harmony, just to show them how great we were.

It took the audience about 10 seconds to start giggling – softly and respectfully at first. But then, before we knew it, the place was ablaze with uncontrollable laughter. My barbershop mates and I looked at each other as if they must be laughing at something going on behind us. We finished the song and were rewarded with more laughter, and not a single hand clap. I guess you could call this my first experience with celebrity mortification. This humiliating event appears and re-appears in my dreams, and is right there on the surface every time I start a show. Will they buy and appreciate my music, or will they think it’s a “Saturday Night Live” skit?

Gigs that can easily turn into nightmares include: playing to empty bar stools, competing with sporting events on a TV set right over your head, equipment malfunctions, band members not showing up, and bartenders forgetting how to turn off the jukebox. But there’s more!

Charity gigs can be emotionally rewarding while you give your talent away in exchange for a good cause, but can occasionally be nightmares.

One time we went to Woodstock, New York to do a benefit and our pay was “gas money.” We pull into town, and it didn’t take long for the reefer to permeate. It was everywhere man! The scene: Kids riding bikes with joints hanging out of their mouths, seriously good musicians on every corner with bongs next to their tip jars, nostalgia boutiques with Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix tapestries covering the door. Far out stuff here.

It is still 1969 in this town.

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There’s this 100-year old dude who rides around on quite a fancy 10-speed with all kinds of voodoo stuff hanging off it. He calls himself Grandpa Woodstock, and flashes the peace sign more than New Yorkers flip the bird.

Protestors show up every day on the green with freshly made signs advertising the cause of the day. Our day was “Free Gaza” day. People in this town are either pacing back and forth for a cause, sitting on a bench eating ice cream, strumming a guitar, or just flat-out wasted on the sidewalk.

So we get to the venue (a church) and expect hundreds of these modern moguls to pack the place and rock out for the cause. There are only a couple places for live music in the entire valley so our hopes are high.

Not to be.

Turns out, people just didn’t want to hand over the $20 cover charge to help out the church – no matter who was playing in there for free. We played a Woodstock-inspired set to five people. One was the pastor. We never got the gas money. We drove back to Connecticut in a blinding rain storm at 3 a.m.

Sign of the times I guess.

Another nightmare gig to EVER agree to is the abominable “Play for the Door” gig. This means there’s a cover charge and the band is presumably paid what is collected at the door.

Lies. Lies. Lies.

Unless you’ve got one of your own groupies watching every move the door-collector guy does, the band ain’t getting nowhere NEAR what’s collected at the door. It’s their word against yours. If you count 50 people in the room, at $5 a head, then you would think if you graduated Junior High, it equates to $250 for the band. When they hand you $100 at the end of the night with a nice smile and a thank you so much, you can cry foul all you want, but stupid you, you agreed to this stuff.

One time at a bar in New London this exact thing happened, and the drummer got so mad he literally punched the bartender (or slightly missed him, can’t remember.) “You’re full of crap! We can count! Give us what we’re owed!” But unless you’re going to break the poor bartender’s knee caps, you really have no choice but to take what you’re given. Better than nothin’!

This other time at a bar in South Windsor, we were again, playing for the door (STUPID!!!) Having learned from our mistakes, we actually left our own scout at the door, to count every dollar. The door-collector guy kept letting people in for free, and this was immediately reported to us. We approach the guy.

“Why aren’t you charging these people? We’re the entertainment and we get the money collected at the door.”

He says, “I can’t charge my regulars or they’d never come back here again.”

Turns out, every single person who walked in the door that night was a regular, except for my brother and the sax player who showed up late.

We made $10.

Sweet dreams people!

Book Em Danno

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine March 2016

I adjusted the microphone stand to align my silver Seinnheiser so it pointed straight at my upper lip. Not too high, not too low, not pointing up and not pointing down. I screwed my water bottle holder precisely half-way down on the left side of the stand, not the right side. I swung my electric Fender strat over my head, stood up to the microphone, and waved my guitar to the left to be sure I wouldn’t knock the stand over, or whack my bass player. It was 15 minutes to show time and the bar was filling up.

The waitress seated a party of four directly in front of the stage and I smiled at them. A coiffured woman in her sixties said to the group but mostly to me, “Oh No! There’s a band? We’re going to go deaf!” I quickly scanned the room and saw there were literally no more seats to be had so I politely interjected, “We’re not loud at all. It will be nice dinner music for you.” Huffy-Puffy lady was not convinced.

Would you like to know what I REALLY wanted to say?

“Listen you old fogey, enjoy your shrimp but, do you have ANY IDEA the steps I had to take to set up this microphone in front of your ungrateful self? HUH?!? It’s not just a microphone. If you would look past your salad fork you’d see it’s also guitar amps and monitors and speakers, which involved the heaving of those said speakers on top of whimsy old speaker stands that may loosen and come crashing down smack dab in the middle of your carafe. And it’s not just the the bags and bags of super heavy maple-shelled drums and copper symbols and metal stands with delicate screwing knobs that were also lugged in here at 11 a.m. so we wouldn’t get in the way of ‘your party.’ We also did a sound check hours earlier so your delicate ears weren’t subjected to any squealing or pounding snare drums. In order to set up this microphone you see before you, first we had to learn how to play our instruments, then we had to become a band, then we had to rehearse once a week after working all day at our day jobs, and then we had to hone down an entertaining show – FOR YOU. Then we had to PROMOTE the fact that we now ARE a band, and then we had to BEG the manager for this grand opportunity. You see my dearest, this microphone in front of you should actually be referred to as the eighth wonder of the world.”

As most musicians know, booking gigs is worse than root canals, the mere thought of colonoscopies, and stomach flus that come out both ends – combined. It’s like what Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire says: “It’s an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about.”

But let me tell you about it. Here’s how it goes down.

You scan Facebook event invites, newspapers, and especially this wonderful publication – Sound Waves Magazine – to see where other bands are playing. You see if there is anybody in those bands who will talk to you and you ask them who the booking contact is at the venues they have bookings. You call the venue and ask for that person. That person is never there so you ask when they will be there. You call back at the designated time, but miraculously they are still not there. How do they make a living if they’re never at work? You set a plan to drive to the venue and spend a few dollars at the bar so you can talk to the booking contact who should be there who maybe just never wants to come to the phone. You get there and ask for the booking contact, but they are not there. So you ask…again… when they will be there. They say they don’t know. Obviously, all booking contacts are independently wealthy.

So then you move on to the next lead, and the next, and the next, and they all pretty much work out the same: NO GIGS and out a lot of gas money.

Sometimes venues want you to send them a package in the mail with a demo CD, a “Fact Sheet,” and a nice glossy picture. So, you scrounge up the money to record a demo CD in a studio, a photographer for a photo shoot, and a print shop for the 8x10s. Then, you make up some facts in a Microsoft Word document and list all the places you have managed to play. You buy some ink and paper for your home printer and print out the facts. You go to Staples and buy some fancy colorful folders to put the facts, the picture, and the demo CD into. You also buy some 10×13 yellow clasp envelopes to put the colorful folders into. You write the mailing address of the venue on the yellow clasp envelope and drive to the post office. You pay the post master to deliver your yellow clasp envelope. You wait two weeks to call the person you addressed the yellow clasp envelope to but get his voicemail so you leave a message informing him that he should have received a brightly colored folder in a yellow clasp envelope for booking consideration. YOU NEVER HEAR BACK. EVER.

Sometimes venues have fancy forms on the Internet for you to fill out where you list your band name, upload an .MP3 (from the demo CD if you can figure out how to burn it off the CD and attach it to the form), and you enter in your band’s web site. Sometimes, free Facebook band pages aren’t enough, as well as other free services such as SoundCloud, ReverbNation, or BandCamp. So, in order to have a REAL band web site, you have to make up a domain name for your band and register it with a service like Go Daddy so they can make your band name into a URL (the stuff behind http://.) Sometimes you have to add “TheBand” to the end of your domain name because there are only so many domain names to choose from. Then, you have to find an Internet provider to host your band web site, but you also need an Internet provider at your house so you can build the web site and upload it to the other Internet provider so when people type in your URL, Go Daddy knows where to send the people who look at booking consideration forms. But in the meantime you have to learn how to build web sites so you can have a band web site so you can type it into a form so the booking contact at the other end of the form can ignore it. Sometimes it’s just too complicated so you have to hire your next-door neighbor’s 12-year old son to build it for you. But regardless, you NEVER hear back from the people behind the form. EVER.

For this particular gig mentioned at the beginning of my whining here, it took THREE YEARS of going into the venue, not getting to talk to anybody, finding out the booking contact had changed and the new one preferred emails, so emails were sent, to no response, ad nauseam. The BIG LONG AWAITED BOOKING DAY came on an unexpected Sunday afternoon while having lunch at the venue, with no particular agenda. I was just hungry.

The bartender said, “Hey – when the heck are you playing here?”

“Apparently never.”

“No wait, she’s here, let me go get her.” She went and got the billionaire from her yacht or the back office or something. We talked. She booked us for three gigs, one every other month.

Well that was easy.

So, Party of Four? Enjoy this show that was super easy for us to book. And by the way, the microphone WILL be quite loud.