Sunday, September 7, 2008

Day two hundred and forty six/seven ... History, luck, and a legend.

This sure ain't no vacation.

Eight shows in five days.

Essentially we travel the world, playing a show a night, if not more, providing an unparalleled, and heretofore singular musical and theatrical experience.

But we like to gawk, too.

My aunt had slipped me some money to go on a nighttime tour of the monuments. 

She had had the good fortune to hook up with an all expenses paid trip to D.C. back in August of 2005, right before my mom got her diagnosis; she says it was one of the best things she's ever done.

Steve agreed to go, and so we signed up and met the bus at our hotel at 6:30.

But not before a tasty filet mignon at the hotel restaurant.

Our happy-go-lucky waiter virtually floated from our table to the kitchen on what seemed like a thin layer of fabulousness that coated the carpeted floor. He made sure we were served in time to slow down and eat and enjoy every bite, which we did.

We made it to the bus just in the nick of time. Our driver was a bit of a sleazeball who tried to curry our favor by telling us that, because we were all there and ready early, that he was going to show us the White House from a different angle than most people get. He was doing us a solid.


I could smell it; Steve could smell it; half the bus could smell it.

But he brought us and told us we had to hurry and get our picture (which sounded like he was asking us to get our "pitcher") and get back on the bus. 

He must have told us three times where the bathrooms were located in the monuments. But I just had to go and get a coffee with Steve and end up having to go on the bus. When he did a headcount and he didn't see me, Steve told him where I was.

As I came sheepishly out of the head I heard, "People ... I've tried to point out how there are many bathroom opportunities at all of the monuments. Please use them first ... thank you."

So, anyway, we got to see the monuments ...

... and more monuments.

And when we were standing around the Jefferson memorial I heard a stoner dude in a hoodie and a Phish t-shirt say, "Hey, TJ ... you liked to smoke weeeeeeeeed, didn't you? Didn't you? Yeahhhhhh ... you did ... you were cool."

Fucking hippies.

I think this picture below should settle the does-Freddy-have-the-largest-head-in-the-world debate once and for all.

This here, above, is the Washington monument reflected in a piece of the Vietnam Memorial.

Below is from the FDR memorial; one of the better and more interactive of the ones we saw that evening. 
By the end of the tour there were a few people who had clearly had enough of the constant getting up and walking twenty feet and looking at stuff. They just stayed on the bus and did sudoku.

And then, three and a half hours later, we were dropped off at our hotel.

I, without thinking, ran downstairs to put in 30 minutes on the treadmill. 

The rest of the night was spent staring at the flat-screen TV and picturing that McCain guy's face superimposed on the body of a gerbil. 

It's easy and fun to do. 

And after a nice sleep on my Select-Comfort bed ...

... it was time for breakfast and another day of music, mayhem, and free pens of all shapes and sizes.

We had rehearsal at the church again. This time, in addition to the blasphemous songs I mentioned in yesterday's post, we added Wilco's "Theologians" to the list.

They don't know nothin'
About my soul
They don't know

So, after a couple of sacrilegious hours of making music at the altar we headed to the convention center.

This time, they let us in no problem and we got to drive right in almost to the floor of the center.

This woman was clearly put off by her diminutive husband's request for extra time to walk around at the convention. Nobody seemed to notice his constant waving and stretching from her green bag. 

I felt kind of bad, but it seemed like a domestic dispute and I didn't want to get in the middle of it. 

It's interesting to see the kinds of people who are working the booths of the convention.

There are a few--and I mean a few--that seem like they're there to help the state of the senior citizen. The have some research they have done on osteoporosis, or memory function, and they just want to share; they have only respect to gain from their presence.

Then there are the people who are manning the booths for companies who were hired exclusively for this gig. Most of them are female and in their twenties. They look as bored as a kid stuck in a parked Dodge Dart, waiting for their mom to finish making small talk with the neighbor so she can take them to school.

I'd say they get about $9.50 an hour; probably no break on the pedestrian, overpriced food; and access to the same free junk that we all do.

Then there are the celebrities like Richard Petty who come and sign autographs. He's pretty well known and easily recognizable even if he didn't have a cardboard cutout right next to him.

Then there are these two freaks who, I think, have a health book out.
They cause excitement merely because they are standing in front of a giant, full color, poster of themselves, and behind an imposing table covered in brochures. I had no idea who they were, but since most other people just had the names of their product or service, they stood out. The sign says they are Bart and Cherry Starr and that Bart is a famous football player, but I think they are aliens sent here to observe and absorb our strong feelings of adulation for celebrity.

I could be wrong.

Or, I could be an alien.

Then, there are people like this who are hired to come here and perform a service like health checks or massages. These women took good care of me both times I came over and sat and waited in a long line. When my girl, LaVonne, finally called me, it was a bit of a commotion as she had all the other ladies there come over and look at my tattoo (the one with the naked angel with the big boobs). After some good-natured prodding and chastising, I got a good working over.

All I know is that if you don't have something you're giving away, be it a massage, a photo-op, a chip-bag-clip-magnet, or even a bowl of Hershey's Kisses, nobody's going to stop at your booth.

I found a booth with a guy sitting down, and on the table were ear plugs. I said, loudly, "Now here's something I can actually use." And then I noticed it was a booth for the hearing impaired. He just looked at me and smiled. I sheepishly picked up the five page brochure that was attached to the ear-plugs, along with a pen, and put it all in my bag. 

I have no shame ... not when I get my sample on.

Madness ... simply madness.

But back to the reason I'm there at all: making music.

The shows that day were good. Once again, these are twenty minute performances that go by in a flash, but the folks who assemble in front of us love every minute of it.

We go on right after the drum circle, and right before the organ demonstration.

We got these hats from the travel agent people.

In between shows I collected even more crap to clutter up my house.

Selected fun items include: a red and white pill-shaped de-stresser (how ironic) that you squeeze in your hand; a little clip-on book light; some Glucosamine energy drinks; and a little hand-held fan that flashes lights on it and makes me feel like I'm going to have a seizure when I stare directly at it (I take my buzzes where I can get them these days).

Then we did our 4:30 show and hit the bricks.

I took a quick swim and went out with Ken for some tasty Italian food.

As we were walking to the restaurant, we passed what looked like the White House. Upon closer inspection I noticed that it was, in fact, the White House--a few, scant blocks from the hotel. This, coupled with noticing earlier that my room cost $439, gave me a new understanding of the grandiosity of it all.

I had no idea I was living so large.

We had been so busy that I hadn't had a chance to savor the treatment.

No rest for the wicked, although some of the wicked ride Rascal Scooters.

Asleep by 11:00 p.m.; up at 6:00 a.m..

In the van for 6:40 a.m. and out to the convention center for soundcheck in the big hall; the grand ballroom; the 14,000 seater; the first big gig of the day.

The boys set up and acted professional ... 

... and I did exactly the opposite. (Photo by Steve Sanderson).

The Chorus showed up and we did our 25 minute show ... from 8:30 a.m. to 8:55 a.m.

When we started there were a few hundred people in the auditorium.

By the third song there was about 2,000.

 (Check out Bob on the giant monitors) 

And then something wonderful happened.

Quincy Jones and Maya Angelou were to give a talk as part of the closing ceremonies for the convention.

I didn't know what kind of proximity I'd have to them.

I didn't really care, I was just excited to be anywhere near such amazing talent.

The security backstage was tight.

We were all sort of milling about--the band, the Chorus, and our production staff--when a wheelchair with an elderly black woman, dressed in a light green dress, was wheeled in our direction--it was Maya.

She had her people stop for a few seconds to say hi to the Chorus but it was quick--no time to chat; certainly no time for a photo.

She was introduced to the room to a big ovation--she is a living legend.

While she was making a few opening remarks--we were all still backstage--I saw some well dressed black men wearing fancy hats come our way with a man a bit shorter and older than them in the middle--it was Quincy.

Quincy Jones.

A legend.

An inspiration.

One of this country's foremost talents--producer, arranger, composer, performer, and just about anything else involved with music you could think of.

And he was coming my way.

It all happened so fast that it was over almost before it began.

I approached him gently and quietly--it was very dark backstage and I didn't want to cause too much of a commotion.

He had people all around him, but I got his attention.

"Mr. Jones," I said, "It's a pleasure to meet you."

And he took my extended hand and shook it. He even added an extra soul shake or two. 

He looked me up and down. I was wearing black pants, a black shirt, my pork pie hat, and my "all access" laminate.

It was about 9:15 a.m.

At this point Quincy Jones spoke to me.

"Man ... what'chu doin' up this early ... you're a musician, right?"

"Workin', Mr. Jones," I said ... "I'm workin'"

"Man ... "

And then he was whisked away by his guys and brought up to the stage area while I just stood there and smiled.

Quincy Jones had my number.

I was shellshocked.

And he proceeded to speak with Maya Angelou for the next hour.

This will be a hard experience to top.

We did our two other obligatory shows for NAMM and beat feet. We still had our nighttime show. 

Four in one day--a new record.

The Duke Ellington school is a predominantly black high school focusing on the performing arts.

It's a small school with a small theater.

It also had a small problem--no power.

There had been some high winds and rain earlier in the day and it had knocked the power out to much of the building.

Our techs, Dan Richardson and John Laprade--sound and lighting respectively--did their best to get the room up and running for us. They found outlets halfway across the building that had power and hooked up alternative AC.

But the show couldn't go on without lights in the bathroom and lights in the hallways.

At seven o'clock, when we still didn't have any power, the director of the theater told us that if nothing happened in fifteen minutes we'd have to cancel the show. The Chorus had already warmed up and all of our gear was set up. It would be a shame to break the momentum and pack everything away regardless of how tired we all were.

I heard the a/c turn on before I saw the shadows disappear.

And at 7:12 p.m., the lights came on and I heard a cheer ring through the building.

All systems were go.

We did a quick soundcheck onstage with the renewed energy, both electrical as well as of spirit--this was to be the last time we performed this show--"Alive and Well"-- in its entirety and no one wanted it to end like this.

The place filled up in a matter of minutes--it had been sold out as of that afternoon.

And from the minute the curtain came up I knew it was going to be special.

The crowd was alive. From the response to certain songs I could tell that a lot of them had seen the movie. The lights were amazing and the sound was, as usual, unparalleled. This show is not an easy one to mix, but Dan does an amazing job. 

We got two standing ovations. When the second one came, nobody sat back down. For all of Dylan's "Forever Young" the whole crowd stood on their feet, loving every second of it. It was quite moving--the typical response of us lazy ilk being to sit.

I noticed something new. It seems that cell phones have replaced the trusty Bic lighter for holding up in one hand and swaying back and forth during ballads. It is a sign of the times that--to me--is both healthy as well as unsettling. 

Kind of like this guy.

Behold, the magic and mystery of Stan Goldman.

And so, the Young at Heart marathon came to a close.

It's 3:10 a.m. and I couldn't go to bed without finishing this piece.

A lot has happened in a short time. I barely had a chance to walk more than a few blocks. I suppose some day we'll return. But for now I will leave D.C. with a good feeling. I know that it's going to be a charged atmosphere over the next phase of political America. I know that there will be a lot of grandiosity and fervor, and I'm sure there will be a lot of entertainment to go along with it. With the close of this trusty two-act show I can say that I too am ready for change. I don't know what shape the next production will ultimately take, but I can say for certain that I will be a part of it. And I know that I am thrilled to be able to make a few thousand people forget about their troubles and believe in the healing and bonding powers of music ... no matter how old they are.

And who knows, they may want us back next year.

It's in Vegas.

Yeah ... I think that would be a fun time, too.

Thanks for reading.


PS: This trip was made so much more enjoyable having this man as our bus driver from NoHo to D.C. and back again.
His name is Wayne and he rocks.

It's good to have good people around as much as possible.

Wayne is one of the best.

On behalf of the Chorus and the band I'll just simply say, thank you.

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