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.


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