Monday, June 30, 2008

Day one hundred and seventy eight/nine ... The payoff/the departure/epilogue.

Raleigh was a quick ride from Winston-Salem.

That being the case, we decided to stop for breakfast. Everything was pretty standard except that Scott opted for the "fruit plate" to go along with his pancakes. The friendly waitress let Scott know that "That fruit plate is pretty big. You sure you want two pancakes?" Easily influenced, Scott opted for just the one.

Well, the waitress wasn't lying about it being big. It was--a whole dinner plate's worth of big. Among the assortment of fine fruits: canned melons; canned apples; canned cling-peaches; and jarred maraschino cherries freshly spooned, shimmering and glistening from the mid-morning sun shining off of the syrupy, sugary, institutional coating, barely camouflaging the spoon marks inflicted by the chef. The prepared fruit, gleefully released from its corrugated containment cell into the general food population mere moments earlier, happily commingled with a healthy dose of cottage cheese aiding and abetting its conspirators to conceal a thin layer of the most subtle of all nature's fruits--shredded, iceberg lettuce.

Only in the south.

And I mean that in the quaintest of ways. Lamentably, I did not have the foresight to take a photo. I think, from the above description, you can picture it.

So, anyway, we made it to Raleigh in a couple of hours and set up camp at Lisa's. She's somewhat of a den mother to us lost boys.

Lisa has been a constant in all the trips we take to, and through, Raleigh. She's the classic southern girl: easygoing, confident, insightful, witty, honest, and classy. I would have to add that she is trusting as well, as she leaves the key to her place under the rug for whenever we roll in. I'm not sure what her new housemate, Joe, thinks of the situation. We met him as we were moving in and I think he was a little surprised--well, more like a lot surprised. Sorry Joe, you may split the rent, but we've got a show to do.

Thanks again, Lisa.

Hung out there for a while, did a bit of laundry and got ready to go to town.

Hit Sadlack's for a while. Sad's is the southern equivalent of Arnold's from Happy Days with a lot less milkshakes and a lot more beer. They have bands out on the patio and we almost always play a show there. This trip, unfortunately, time did not permit a gig. Said hi to a ton of folks we haven't seen in over a year, had a sandwich, listened to a funk/blues band playing on the patio for the obligatory ten minutes and then headed out.

Our gig was at a place called the Berkeley Cafe. Can't say I'd call it a traditional cafe, but they did sell hot dogs which made Dave's ears start to wiggle. Maryanne books the room, as well as a couple others in town we have played. She takes good care of us and we try do our best in return.

Thanks, Maryanne.

Morgan Kraft opened the show again, with Dave on drums, and freaked out the twenty or so early arrivals. I mentioned Morgan in the last post. He has a unique style with the fretless guitar, singing in a forceful, insistent baritone. We are lucky to have such unique and confident friends.

Thanks again, Morgan.

The place filled up by the start of the show. In attendance was one of our earliest-made friends from NC, Mr. Peter Blackstock, co-founder and editor of No Depression magazine. Peter has supported us and our roots-rock intentions dating all the way back to the early part of the decade. His hearty endorsement of us has helped both in spirit and in opening doors which had been locked from the inside. This took on a more literal form when Peter showed up at a gig of ours back in 2003 at which the owner had decided to lock the doors early and keep the show "private" for the fifteen or so folks whose curiosity had gotten the better of them. He even brought us Creme-Puffs which up until then had only been available from the Winn-Dixie. 

From the swaying, smiling, applauding, and close proximity to the stage for the entire show, I think Peter liked it.

Thanks again, Peter.

It was a spirited two-plus hours of a show. All the good stuff got its due. We even played "Stars", off of our third record, Iron Hip. We haven't played that tune in over a year but it didn't show too much rust from what I could tell. "Stars" is our Raleigh friend, Rosie's, favorite song (she even brought cut-out paper stars the last time we played, and put them at our feet--cute, cute, cute.). If we don't play the song she'll shout and holler "Staaaaarrrrrrsssssss!!!!" until we do. 

It's kind of surreal if you don't know why she's yelling it.

It was nice to see so many people in attendance at a place we've never played. The town, on the other hand, we have played probably twenty times. 

Raleigh is like our second home and has always been good to us--great even. The folks here are real. The atmosphere is honest, resilient, debauched, defiantly southern and community-oriented. It's nice to see that, in a country where strip malls have replaced town squares, and drive-ins with roller-skate service and freshly grilled burgers have been replaced with rhumba-lines of idling cars--bloated, belching, and crawling forward to retrieve bag after greasy bag of pre-made slop--that there is a place where you can slow down and sit with people who like people, and eat fresh food that was made just for you before you go play at the local venue. And when people talk to you there, and they say they'll see you later at the show, they're not just making small talk. Because you will definitely see them later. It's a matter of pride and personal honesty, and it always takes me by surprise. And that's a wonderful feeling indeed.

We went to a place called Slim's after that. We had played there once before (the paper stars incident happened there) and something very unique happened to me.

We made it in just before last call. I was standing around and decided to grab the local weekly. I wasn't drinking, and I didn't feel like waiting in line and/or occupying the bartender's time to request a water. So, I just stood hung near the closest dim light. As I was struggling to read the tiny print, the bar the lights suddenly went up. Hooray!, I thought, I can read. What the ... ? This, for me, was the first time I had ever been at a bar when the lights went on signaling imminent exodus, and I was more than happy about it.

Little surprises around every corner, but nothing dangerous, as they say.

We went to our friend Jen and CJ's house for a while and finally back to Lisa's for some much deserved rest.

Saturday started with a fine breakfast prepared by our friend Lutie. Lutie is married to Jac Cain who may very well be the best soundman in the Southeast. Jac may also have the largest collection of flame-oriented apparel allowed per person in North America. Jac's band, The Poonhounds, have played with us before and schooled us in the ways of three-piece, furious, punkabilly. Lutie is a phenomenal bass player and we had the pleasure of her cameo on bass at the Berkeley show on the show-closer, "6:29," in which Bow plays trumpet.

Thank you, Lutie.

Off to Wendell (pronounced, Wen-dell down here), and a relaxing day at the Blue Sky Farms lake compound owned by our friend Steve. We lazed about and took a dip in the 70 degree water. 

Thank you, Steve.

It was here, on Blue Sky Pond, that an adventurous chain of events unfolded.

I spied a rowboat across the pond. The curious chap that I am, I took a stroll and went for a look. After pulling it away from the brush it had been propped up on, I ascertained that there were no paddles and hastily returned it to its proper position against the brush. This, as predicted, elicited a chorus of far off and echoey boos from across the pond. Never one to miss an opportunity for attention (or to prove my seaworthiness), I immediately reconfigured my plan of attack and foraged for a stick long enough and strong enough to use as a makeshift paddle. This took no time at all, and in a matter of minutes I was teetering side to side in the middle of a lime-green, tin and plastic vessel, with a crew of ants in the hold and swaths of snowy white cobwebs as my rigging, and I was rowing with my stick and moving, suspiciously fast, towards the other side of the pond. It was long enough that I paddled it like a kayak holding my hands about two feet apart and alternating left and right strokes.

Upon reaching the other side of the pond I, in true pirate fashion, grabbed the sunblock from my bag and reapplied the life-extending cream.

I took a few minutes to recharge, said my goodbyes, grabbed my camera, and headed back out in my stick-boat. 

Once again, my virgin jump-rope did not see the light of day as stick-boating is one of the foremost calorie burning activities recently discovered.

The elusive North Carolina bear-pig made a surprise appearance waving us on with its snout and granting us some good luck with its mere presence.

Thank you, bear-pig.

And, before long, it was time to head back and get on the road to Charlotte. We dropped off Lisa at home and made the requisite stop at Snoopy's for some hot dogs with chili, mustard, and onions. And yes, I am still on my diet. My diet is specifically tailored to fit my temporary circumstances on this trip while I'm happily stuck stopping at the places five people can agree on. I had a Snoopy dog and a cheeseburger. What I did not have was fries, onion rings, a fried apple pie, or an ice cream float, any of which would have been fair game on a previous trip.

And then, back in the van and on to Charlotte we did go.

Charlotte proved to be a lot better than previous times. 

Puckett's Farm Equipment is a classic old building from a time in the past when the men of the house would head out for a bag of feed, or a new tiller, and talk shop over a cold Pabst from the oversized cooler in the back, smoking Pall Mall Kings or spitting chew.

I talked to a guy there who had seen the place in all its incarnations: as a farm equipment store with a cooler in the back; as a bar that sold a few pieces of farm equipment; and as a club with a bar that just calls itself a farm equipment store. As it stands now, with it's owner, Gary Puckett at the helm, it remains a unique and friendly venue that always makes us feel welcome.

Thank you, Gary.

It's been tough getting people out to see a band they may not know, but last night, with the help of the local press, we put a nice size crowd in there.

We played a spirited set, a bit heavy on the old-school country side, and even had a crew of kids up front dancing. Playing "The Chicken Dance" for those lucky enough to be celebrating a birthday at a Stuntmen show helps get the mojo flowing and before we knew it, they were cutting a rug to our distinctive brand of roots-rock mayhem.

This lucky young lady, named Joy, even got a one-of-a-kind "google-eyed" Drunk Stuntmen poster for her very own.

Personally, I love SS's personalization (directly below Drunk Stuntmen): "Joy, this is your poster."--classic.

And then it was time to pack up and head to the motel to sleep a bit before making the trek home which is where I am currently about five hours into.

I just spoke to my aunt who I will be seeing this week. She is anxious to see me and hug me and let me take care of her like I had been doing not that long ago before I was given this five days of away-time to do this important tour. She needs me, and I am gratefully available to help her now when she does.

It's been a good tour. We played some fine music--our music. We ate a lot of good food. We balanced work with relaxing. And we did it all on our own, without the help of, and conversely the debt to, anyone outside of the immediate family. I saw a lot of people who I care about, and vice versa. These people have stuck with us and made us feel welcome and that's all anybody really needs in this world: to be cared about and taken care of in hopes that what goes around really does come around. And hopefully it will come around while we still are, as we always have been, as we plan on continuing to do, as presently, we have no other desire or directive. 

This is it.

This is enough.

This was easier than I thought.

And this has come to its natural conclusion ... to be continued.

Thanks to Steve and Scott for driving. Thanks to Bow, Dave, and the aforementioned for playing so well. Thanks to all the people who came to the shows, all the pretty girls for making us feel a little less like strangers, and all the club owners and bookers for believing in us for what seems like forever and a day.

And, as always, thank you, all of you out there, for reading.



As I was tidying up this post in my text editor, a giant "Pop!" sound came from the driver's side tire. It sounded like a flat tire. This would be an annoyance, but a minor setback at the most.

We pulled over and checked; no problem was visible.

We got back in and drove a half mile or so and it happened again.

This time we pulled off at an exit where the van was diagnosed with busted wheel bearings.

I wasn't too sure what that meant but soon found out that it was serious--like, get-on-a bus-and-spend-a-day-and-a-half-to-get-home kind of serious. 

So, we used my AAA card this time (as Scott's had the maximum 2 tows on it for the year), and waited in the van. Dave took this time to enjoy the majesty of a Virginia thunderstorm the classic Yankee way: under a tree with an open umbrella.

Yes, it's a bad idea. No, nobody stopped him. Yes, he survived.

Bow dared me to put googly eyes on the giant tiger outside the Exxon. I took him up on it, as you can clearly see.

And so we waited for Wayne, from Wayne's auto repair to come and pick us up. He showed up promptly and ascertained that it probably was the bearings. He then got on his phone, and called Advanced Auto Parts who, for some strange reason, were open until 8 p.m. on a Sunday. 

Then, the van assumed the position on a flatbed for the second time in this four day trip.

And we assumed the position in the back of the cab.

And the five of us--six, including Wayne--drove 25 miles north to the town of Fairfield, VA to see what we could see.

Meanwhile, I found a wall jack outside the facilities and recharged my laptop. I don't know if you can electronically monitor the fear instilled in a piece of machinery, but if you could, I think ol' Lappy's readings would have been off the charts. After five or six people showed up and started to mill about I decided it had had enough and relinquished it from its post.

And we hung out and spent time together, as a band, at a garage in a tiny town in the south, like we've done on oh-so-many occasions. It didn't make us freak out, it didn't make us argue over stupid shit, and it didn't make us give up, because this is the kind of stuff that brings people together. It may be cliché, but it is the truth. And in a matter of a few hours, on a Sunday evening, hundreds of miles from home, we got handed a bit of good luck. 

Thank you, Wayne.

And of course, thank you supernatural spirits of the under-overworld who must be having quite a laugh over this cage of mice they are controlling with reckless abandon. It must be fun to be all-powerful.

So, after we paid the very modest sum for the parts and labor, and gave Wayne our two most recent CD's as a parting gift, we got in the van and drove north.

It was a five hour pit-stop that could have become a multiple day disaster of logistics.

Sometimes, things just work out.

As the brakes coming off of interstate 91 jarred me from a dream, I rubbed my eyes, massaged my sore neck, and took a swig from my almost empty gallon of warm water, I saw from a cloudy field of vision, houses that looked familiar--New England houses--my neighborhood houses. And I realized I was safe. And not only was I safe, I was sane ... in mind and body and spirit.

And as I sit on my couch listening to my landlord mow the grass outside, with pictures on my walls and instruments on their stands in my periphery, I am almost overcome by the beauty of it all--the beauty of fate combined with perseverance and determination. And, I am, as well, struck by an amazing balance--the balance of feeling endlessly satisfied and appreciative that I went on this short but most important journey, and eternally grateful to be back, around people who love me, in New England, on a beautiful summer day, right back at home where I belong.

Thanks again for reading.


And here are the photos I'd be kicking myself for not including.


Above and below: Virginia rest area.

Port-o-John googly-elephant.

Above: bathroom, Omega House Breakfast joint Winston-Salem, NC

Below: outside The Garage, Winston-Salem.

And my all time personal favorites located at a North Carolina gas station ...

And the interstate googler rides on ... thanks for playing along. 
This world takes itself way too seriously. Now, go out there and do something funny to it.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Day one hundred and seventy six/seven ... On and on and on and on ...

Day one hundred and seventy six/seven ... On and on and on ...

So, in true Stuntmen style, the AAA guy, George, brought us the 50 miles to Nashville. More specifically, he brought us right to the parking lot of the gig.


Always make an entrance, that's my new motto. Doesn't matter what kind of entrance, just make one.

The Basement is a small club underneath Grimey's Records. As I posted yesterday, Metallica played a surprise warm-up show there a couple weeks back. Grimey, himself, was sitting downstairs in the club on his laptop and was eager to show me pictures, as well as a Youtube clip of the evening. Regardless of my opinion of Metallica's music (which are not of the most positive nature), I had to admit that that was a pretty cool happening considering that the place holds about 100 people tops and Metallica usually plays stadiums. Grimey, an affable man, and not grimy in the least, graciously allowed me to connect to his WiFi. When we briefly spoke he said, "You guys gonna' pack this place tonight or what?" To which I replied, "Well, we already packed that whole corner of the room with all our stuff. What more do you want?" Grimey smiled and turned his gaze back to his laptop and the pictures of the gig from a couple weeks back. "Fair enough," he said, "fair enough."

So, we dropped off our stuff and milled about for a bit while the 6 p.m. band did a soundcheck for their showcase. Nashville is famous for its showcases where execs come and check out recently signed or about-to-be-signed artists. I don't know the name of the band in question, but their milquetoast, Millennial roots-rocker version of CCR's "Bad Moon Rising" was enough to force me out on the patio to feverishly assemble yesterday's post. Steve showed back up after dropping our van off at Firestone and rounded up the troops, as our aforementioned SECAC rep, John Mullins, was going to take us out to eat. Steve thought it funny that they were playing that CCR song as he left, and returned as they were performing it "for real" as the opening song of their showcase.

Good luck boys, it's a jungle out there.

We had Burritos at somewhere I can't remember, and enjoyed some dry, hot, southern air and pretty girls on the deck. I think they must have found me vaguely interesting in my blacks (complete with dress shoes and striped dress socks. Not to imply I didn't look boss, just a bit out of place), as I nonchalantly dropped my pineapple salsa on the floor. The pack rat that I am, I had the forethought to bring enough napkins to not only clean up the mess, but casually finish my meal as well.

Yankee preparedness in effect.

After that, Uncle John brought us back to the club and hung out for a while until the first band began.

Wow! What a fantastic band. They call themselves Company of Thieves, and hail from Chicago. Smart, catchy, energetic power-pop with the freshness and exuberance that only a group of talented twenty-somethings can project. Genevive is their singer, the focus of the band, and the main songwriter. Petite, spry, pretty-as-can-be, and seemingly perpetually in a state of bliss, she commanded the attention of the polite crowd of twenty or so. Occasional Bjork comparisons came to mind as her voice verged on pushing the limits of the PA speakers with intense vocal runs and sensual, powerful growls one minute, then gently coaxing your emotions out of you like a cat scared and shy under a couch with simple, memorable phrasing the next. She commanded the mic and surrounding landscape of amps, drums, and strings with extreme ease, combining sexy, assertive stances and coy smiles with airy, cheerleader moxie. I'd put her up against any of the mre modern female vocalists--Neko Case, Beth Orton, Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley), or Fionna Apple--and Genevive could hold her own. Their guitarist, Mark, had an impressive atmospheric pop sound--bright, punchy, crunchy, angular, and fresh, that brought the songs to life, lifting up and carrying the already buoyant melodies. I spoke briefly to the drummer and bass player who provided a strong foundational rhythm section and seemed like nice enough fellows. I don't know how long they've been together, but I can tell they love what they're doing. I can see the happiness and hope in their eyes and hear the excitement from their amps and in their voices. I just hope they stick together long enough to find a wide audience. Lord knows there's enough crap out there drawing thousands of people on a regular basis. And guys, if you're reading this, and god forbid your van breaks down, try to remember that the more it happens, the easier it gets. Look at us. Our van was towed to the show last night and right now, at 1:59 p.m. central time, we're back on the road and headed north to the next gig ...

But first a note on the rest of the night.

The second act was a bunch of singer-songwriters who took turns at the mic. Lots of dark, somber, pop a la Ron Sexsmith or the more piano oriented side of Ryan Adams. It was great for the first few songs, then a little less great, and then, after a while, oh geez, whatddaya know, it was time for us to play. Where does the time go?

We played a spirited set of our more rock-oriented material to an appreciative crowd. It's not often we only play one set of music. Normally the gigs are three or at the very least, two set nights. It was fun to pick out 12 or so gems and kick out the jams. Good energy, great sound, and a decent stage with a long history of bands both famous, semi, and nobodies. I think, right now, we fit somewhere right in the middle. That's where it seems the safest for creativity without the benefit of quitting.

Why quit when you make your own schedule?

We half packed up our stuff before it was decided that we could leave everything there and come pick it up in the morning--providing our van was indeed fixed.

Our elusive manager, Jon Hensley, was in attendance and all Burrito Brothered out (ie: Jew-fro, sequined Nudie-style shirt, bell-bottom fancy-pants, and beautiful ingenue in tow). He gave Dave and myself a ride back to the Red Roof where we were staying while the rest of the guys hung for a while, doing absinthe shots and sucking back Millers. Yeah, it sounds like a good time and I'm sure it was, but I have to keep on my game. It's not really that hard once you know what you want to do. Really.

So, after a lazy morning with Law and Order on the TV with the mute on, I rolled out of bed. I did 50 or so pushups and about 100 crunches and thought about grabbing the jump rope I had brought along on the trip. It being about 100 degrees out, I decided to forgo the cardio portion of my exercise routine. I do know though, that I am not long for a new belt. Not because my old one has broken from constant, inconsiderate pressure, but because this one is having a hard time keeping my pants up at the highest setting. That will be a trip to the store I will make, joyfully and without hesitation. It just needs a few more weeks.

And on that note, I must add that I enjoyed a fantastic 8 oz cheeseburger deluxe from Fat Mo's before we hit the road. I did not, however, get fries, poppers, or soda. I bought a gallon of water and will be careful in the rest of my consumption for the day. Hell, I could have gotten the 27 oz burger that was on special ... well I could have.

This was, of course, after Steve returned from Firestone (thanks again John M.) with our trusty van and we escaped from Music City.

The tour so far has been for lack of a better word, eventful.

And that sure beats sittin' on the couch watching Jeopardy.

"I'll take Bands That Won't Quit for $800, Alex."

"This band, now in their sixteenth year, continues to defy the odds and travel the country flying in the face of economic security, emotional stability, and general common sense, playing original American rock and roll and living each minute like it may be their last."

"Who is, Drunk Stuntmen?"

"Correct. Although we also would have accepted, who are Drunk Stumtmen."

And now we continue on, to Winston-Salem, for gig # 2 and creep, steadily and without hesitation, to points north.

Thanks for reading.

Well catch up tomorrow.


And here, as promised is more in my series of shots from the Google the Earth tour.

Friday June, 27 2008:

PS: I might as well continue on as it is now Friday and I'm waking up in the music room of our friend Vickie's house.

The drive from Nashville to Winston-Salem took about 9 hours. The Smokey Mountains were ominous and imposing on either side of us as we drove on through intermittent rain, stopping every so often for a sandwich or to use the facilities. Rest areas are prime targets for googling as the clientele is constantly changing and are comprised of folks from all corners of the country. The security guards seem to be oblivious to the goings on right under their noses. I suppose they need not concern themselves with the ways of entertainers. That usually works out for the best.

We pulled into The Garage at 9:30, and strolled in as a couple was finishing the early show--a woman with stand-up bass, and her husband playing guitar. They seemed pleasant and played well.

Our friend from Northampton, Morgan Kraft showed up shortly after we did. He had agreed to play the opening slot.

Morgan, who owns Micro Earth records, got us connected to Mitch Easter who recorded our last record and assisted with the engineering. We've been collaborating on projects with Morgan for a few years now. From teen country phenom Ashley Heath in semi-deserted and fossilized Marshal, NC, to recording versions of our record in a giant warehouse not too far from where we are now Morgan has been not only a positive influence on our struggle to survive with our music, but an inspiration to keep striving and trying new and unusual things.

Speaking of new and unusual things, Morgan plays fretless guitar. He also sings. His style is hard to pinpoint but it seems to be raucous, frenetic, rhythm and blues. He played for a half an hour and gave up the stage to us.

At ten past ten I called my Aunt as we hadn't spoken since before we left. She had been asleep and I apologized for waking her but she contested that she'd rather talk to me than sleep and so we chatted for a few. It is always nice to let those who care, know that you do too.

The Garage is a fine music venue. The vibe is equal parts promoting music, as well as local graphic art. It's nice to see in a town that pretty much is run by big tobacco. The soundman, Brian, was super-professional and friendly. I later found out makes tube amps for guitars. His company is called Lyndon Amps, and he seems to know his stuff. We talked at length about tubes, master volumes, speaker cabs, and modded amp schematics.

The show was a well played, energetic, hour and a half of our A material. The stage was roomy and it gave us the chance to spread out physically as well as sonically. I got some welcome, creative feedback from my Bogner due to me putting it on the floor rather than on it's case, and asking Brian to put some in the monitors. Steve had a good night on guitar and even got a sweet solo in Every Third Thing.

Kim, the bar owner, and Sara, the bartender took good care of us. Steve even arranged for a pizza party complete with Greek salads and garlic dippers. Lamentably, earlier in the evening, I tried to position one of the 10 or so window fans on a chair in front of the band. It fell, breaking off one of the fan petals. Kim gave me a amiable scolding before taking the broken petal out of the casing and plugging the fan back in. As you may or may not know, physics will not allow for this alteration, and so we just made due with towels, water, and beer.

I had a strange moment of recall upon hearing Sara packing a pack of smokes from the bar. It's been so long, not only since I smoked, but also since I really spent much time anywhere that allows smoking inside clubs. We live in a much different world than even a few years ago. "Smoke 'em if you got 'em," is now, "smoke 'em if the man says it's okay," which I can live with--literally.

Mid-way through the set, a woman with black and white dyed hair, a Ramones t-shirt, and striped stretch-pants wandered in and declared, "I love these guys ... ." And we were reunited with Vickie, who owns a couple of bars in town and booked us the very first time we played in W-S about 6 years ago. She let us crash at her house not far from the club. Before I even could get my suitcase from the back of the van, Vickie was blasting some James Gang from the living room. I came in and she was dancing around in her bare feet on her hardwood floors, singing and smiling. This is the kind of stuff that I remember, oh-so-well, from the many tours we have embarked upon, and subsequently returned from. This is the stuff you have to pit against the quiet security and comfort of a Red Roof Inn with its sterile artwork on the walls and single-serving soaps in the shower. This is the real stuff--the stuff of stacks of vinyl and ash trays; leopard pants and studded belts; kiddie-art and decoupage; incense and bong water; sleeping bags on the floor between the drum kit and the bass amp, and nobody knocking on the door at eleven o'clock trying to get you the hell out.

And so, we left around noon and had breakfast in town with Morgan and got on the road to play Raleigh, our second favorite place to be besides home.

Two more shows and we head back to the deep north.

Thanks again for reading,


PS: not to jinx anything, but today I can denote the six month mark from when I was arrested, booked, searched, detained, arraigned, and released back to the wild to begin my great metamorphosis.

I'm still a pupae, but I can feel the sprout of wings on my back and antennae on my head. Let's just say growing pains never felt so good. Yes ... that's about right.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Day one hundred and seventy five ... The cameo/On the road again

Well, I thought I was going to have it easy.

I thought I was just going to finish working at the Michelson's Gallery and take care of a few loose ends, throw the game on the radio and screw around on the computer until Scott came by in the van to pick me up.

For those of you just joining us, I'm in the band, Drunk Stuntmen, and we're on our way to Nashville for a show, then three gigs in North Carolina, and, if all goes as planned we'll be back home by Sunday.

I'm fast approaching my six month sobriety mark on Friday. That's 100% sober as in I don't even smoke Yuba Gold ("legal now, but for how long?").


So, as I was saying. I thought I was going to have it easy. But as I was sweeping the sidewalk outside the gallery, I felt two tanned and hairy arms on my shoulders. I turned around and who was it but Bob Cilman, the director and leader of the Young at Heart Chorus.The Chorus is a wonderful group of men and women with an average age of 80. They sing rock songs, they sing funk songs, they sing indie songs, and people sit and watch in amazement until the music ends and then freak out en masse at the power and magic of a younger generation's music combined on stage with people who most of the world is used to seeing sitting quietly in the corner of a nursing home, knitting.

I normally play guitar with them. It's a good gig to put it mildly. They've taken me to Europe nine times, and this year I even got to play on The Tonight Show and Ellen last April. I was offered the most recent batch of dates, but because of family circumstances I had to bow out. The last three weeks of shows were out of town and even thought tonight they were playing in town, my spot on guitar was respectably filled and I thought I was going to have it easy.

"I need a favor," Bob said.

"What's up?"

"Jack's not doing so hot and he's going to have to miss the gig. We're going to bring in Fred Knittle and do 'Fix You' instead and I want you to play guitar on it."

"On just that one song?" I asked.

"Yes. Can you do it?"

"Umm ... uhhh ... umm ... oooo-kay ... sure."

"Great. Be there at six thirty and you can use all of Jim's stuff."

"OK, Bobby."

"Great Freddy, see you there."

"See you there, Bob."

There's no way I could have declined. My momma raised me better than that.

So my night, which I thought was going to consist of cooking the last of my Hadley Grass (that's asparagus, friends; best in the land and on it's way out for the year), listening to the Sox on the radio and packing for my trip, turned into something completely different.

I took care of my last minute things, trained at the gym with James, saw my shrink, and went home and changed into my blacks. I pulled the dress shoes out of my suitcase that I had earlier packed, grabbed my Pork Pie hat, hopped on my bike and rode it downhill the 1/4 mile to the Academy of Music ...

... and I entered the hug zone.

See, this bunch of people, they are family. We've known each other for over four years now and have gone through a lot together. And when I'm not there it's a big deal. I should just know this, but sometimes I wonder if it really is a big deal. I wonder, due to distance and lack of contact, if to them I'm just a good guitar player with a funny hat.

And then I enter the hug zone and I'm completely reassured like I just came in from being away for years and my family was worried sick about me.

I got some good hugs yesterday. And each time, as the numbers of hugs reached the low twenties, I couldn't remember if I had hugged everybody, two more would pop around the corner with eyes wide and bright like the first glimpse of presents under the tree, and they'd say: "Freddy! Oh, come here. I've missed you."

It wasn't until I could see them all amassed that I could determine if I had received my allotted hug quota for the night.

So then, strangely, I got to sit in the crowd and watch, for the first time, the group that has made my professional music career seem a little more robust, perform to 800 of my neighbors.

I conversed with the couple of people next to me who recognized me from the movie. They asked me details about individual members and how life on the road must be like with these wonderful people.

I confirmed that yes, it was wonderful, and that I'm just happy that tonight I can be here in town able to jump up there and perform a song (which hadn't happened yet), and head out on the road with my band because that meant that the situation which had prevented me from saying yes to any of this had improved beyond belief and that, while it wasn't the optimum situation, It was about as good as It could be, and that that made me supremely happy indeed.

I said it all vague like that, like I'm saying it to you, and as the lights flashed signaling the start of the second set and I got up to wait in the wings, they nodded their heads and smiled and wished me good luck.

And as I stood there, watching, one of the stagehands came up to me and asked me why I wasn't up there playing, and all I could say was ... "I will be."

And just like that it was my cue and the vast man who is Fred Knittle was wheeled out by Steve Sanderson, and I walked from one side of the stage to the other grasping elbows and patting a few backs as I sauntered by and picked up Jim Armenti's guitar and sat down.

Bob mentioned that the song we were about to play was being dedicated to Jack Schnepp, who couldn't be here tonight. He introduced Fred (who has made the song a Youtube sensation at almost a million hits), and then pointed my way.

"And we're happy to have back with us tonight, a fantastic guitarist and Northampton resident, Mr. Freddy Johnson."

And I tipped my hat to the crowd and we were off.

"Fix You" is a simple song. I have some basic, strummed chords for the first three quarters of the song. Then I put on the distortion and get to play a haunting, two-note figure that has the first cycle all to it's own. Then the chorus sings, and finally it's back to Fred for the outro.

The whole time I was playing the figure by myself, I had locked eyes with Bob. He has a mesmerizing glare. And for about thirty or so seconds we bonded as if to say, "This is what I'm talking about. This is the good stuff."

And as quickly as it began, it was over and my work was done.

The crowd went crazy as they always do, and I got up. Jim came over to retrieve his guitar and I handed it back to him with one arm, and shook his hand with the other. We both looked out into the crowd who were on their feet and I felt right again. I felt like this is what I was meant to do. I felt like order had returned and, while it was fun to sit in the crowd and watch my family perform on stage, that it was this vantage point--with wires at my feet rather than popcorn boxes, and microphones on my side rather than inquisitive guests--that was where I was the most comfortable.

I waved to the crowd and walked back across the stage and past the stagehand who was smiling. I grabbed my bag, threw it over my shoulder, unlocked my bike, and rode the quarter mile back home to get ready for another adventure.

Which brings me up to this moment, at 11:27 am, after driving (or I should say, being driven), for the last thirteen hours, with wind in my hair and a "Welcome to Tennessee" sign quickly making its way through and past my field of vision.

Not too much has happened since we all piled into the van. Steve and Scott have split up the 17 hour driving shift so far and we're only a few hours or so away from Nashville and our first gig at The Basement.

I have begun my quest to bring untold smiles to untold faces all over this untold world by adding googly eyes (or Googling, as I call it), to all manner of suspecting an not-so-suspecting animate and inanimate objects.

I started locally at the 7-11 on King St. I have no idea if, as of this posting, if they have been removed either by human or natural means but just knowing that there was a possibility of making people smile when they needed one is enough for me.

These here were added at a lovely rest area right past the Nashville border. It is early in my game, but already I am having quite a bit of fun.

And if you're gonna put up giant sculptures of people and neglect the most important feature, then I'm gonna' be forced to do it for you.

All's fair in my google world.

And of course, I had to tag our van--our wonderful, trusty, reliable, been-around-the-country-and-always-makes-it-back van ...

... the van that's at the Dodge dealership right now with a broken water pump.

Always pay for AAA, kids ... it'll save your ass more than you could ever imagine.

This view I almost missed: the one from the cramped back seat of the tow-truck. That's George. He's a good buddy.

Yes, our baby's got problems ... problems that she's had for years ... problems we've put up with forever because it's what we do. We get to the city we're playing at, by any means possible, and call our contacts to see if they can give us a hand.

We pulled over at Gordonville, TN (about 50 miles from Nashville), and were greeted with a Stuntmen steam-bath courtesy of our radiator. Steve went to work underneath trying to reattach the belt that had come loose. He instructed me to get on the WiFi and find something called a serpentine diagram. It sounded a bit Dungeons and Dragonsish, but I did what he said. I even had to fork over $2.75 to the McDonalds internet corporation and they didn't even give me coupons. When it was discovered that what we were looking at was a bit bigger of a problem that we could fix ourselves, Scott got on the horn and got AAA over, toot sweet.

While en route, Steve called our SECAC rep John Mullins and arranged for a garage nearby we could leave our van overnight.

John Mullins came to the rescue by bringing us to the hotel, taking us out to eat, and bringing us back to the club.

Thank you John. GO SECAC!

We'll know more tomorrow about tomorrow, but this problem looks like something that won't set us back too much.

But right now, as I type from the patio of The Basement, a club that fits about 50 people tops, and a club where on July, 12 Metallica played a special warm-up gig for fanclub and friends (Youtube it if you don't believe me), I feel calm, I feel serene, and I feel ready for whatever has to happen.

This is my life. From the swankiest, air conditioned LA hotels, to the gravel of the hot parking lot of Joe's Ammo Shack, I have to be able to deal with whatever comes next.

On the road again, however, whenever, with whatever is necessary for the rest of my life.

Thanks for reading.