Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Here We Go Again (slight return)

I get to the rehearsal room a good half-hour before everyone else. I hope I brought the correct key. It's been over a year and a half since I even set foot in here, the last time being when I loaded gear back in after our show with Madam and The Ants. That was in December. Of 2012.

A lot has happened since then. Births, deaths, illness, catastrophe. Dubstep. Lorde. Thurston and Kim breaking up.

I fumble for the light switch, and as it snaps on, I feel like I was just here. The cheap industrial carpet is still disintegrating into curly strings, and sprinkled with segments of guitar strings, broken picks, and bent beer caps.

Our PA is still there. A few minutes of searching behind piles of gear yields my mic stand. Ha! Hard to believe the gear hasn't been thrown out or broken.

I reach into my bag and pull out my Shure SM-58 Beta microphone. This was the mic I bought myself when I first started to get serious about singing. I've had it for almost 25 years.

Still here. Still working.

I find bags of coiled cables. Definitely ours. A backpack with cables and a tuning pedal. Is this ours? Hmm. Not sure. Some of this stuff...I just don't know. Maybe?

I clear some space and think about where everyone is going to set up. I plug in the PA and start tuning the EQ for the room. I never have enough time to do this.

Dante arrives next. He sees the drum kit of the band we share the room with set up and says "that's not going to work for me." He sets up his kit. I point at his Rototoms. "You should play those." He says "Are those mine?" Yeah. I saved them. Rototoms were very cool for a while, then super-uncool for even longer. But like a lot of things with a similar trajectory, I expect them to make a Halley's Comet-style return any day now. I also have 9 cowbells of his in my recording studio.

The rest of the gang rolls in, one of them stepping out of a black Lincoln Towncar. Hiatus has been good to some of us, I guess.

They've all forgotten stuff. Straps. Picks. Cables. Batteries. Songs. Keys. We start 40 minutes later than planned, after lots of fumbling around. Tuning. Spilling beer. Catching up. Hugging. "It's been too long."

We play the traditional set opener, "Baby Space". It's not too terrible, and like a camera being pulled slowly into focus, by halfway through the second verse, most of the band has mostly remembered how this one goes and it starts to sound like music.

The rest of the songs materialize in similar fashion. As I call the titles, everyone gets a look on their face like they were hoping the teacher wouldn't ask them to hand in their homework. But as Dante counts off each one or plays the drum intros, memory kicks in. The terror, confusion, and embarrassment give way to big smiles when things go right and laughs and winces when we hit the wrong notes.

Foxxx Trottt yells out the chords, or at least shortcuts and cheats like "this one is mostly D. There's a lot of D in this song." I am pretty sure (but not certain) that at least one of the guitar players knows which chord is D.

We play our big hits. We avoid the tricky tunes tonight. Gotta walk before you run. But really, at this point, I don't even care how it sounds. There's time for that later.

Yeah, you know, I miss the fame and fortune sometimes, and the fancy hotel rooms and groupies and all that. But I also remember how dismal it all seemed when we weren't having fun, and how quickly all of that faded. The good parts were the result of playing with my friends, and when we stopped that -- when we stopped playing and started treating it like WORK, and when we stopped being friends and started being business associates or colleagues or whatever -- that's when it all fell apart.

I look around the rehearsal room. I see my friends. My BAND. They're smiling. They're laughing. We're having fun. We're playing music. We're together.

I look at the mic in front of me and I think "Still here. Still working."

PS we're looking for gigs. And I'm gonna write a new song or two.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Bono's Lever

Bono. Super-nice guy.
The phone rattles and hums. It's like 2 am. I roll over and fumble for it.

It's Bono. Great. Gotta take this one.

I unlock the phone. "Hey, mate, what's up? You know it's like 2 am here?"

Bono is super-excited. He wants to play me some tracks from the upcoming album. Apparently he's been doing this a lot. He says "Check this out!". I guess he's holding his phone up to the stereo. I can't hear anything, it just sounds like white noise (which I suppose is a rather succinct, if harsh, review of U2's last couple of records).

Or maybe he's been listening to a lot of Jesus and The Mary Chain. I dunno.

After skipping around and playing bits of other things, I tell him it all sounds great, and that it's good that U2's trying to write their own songs again, instead of rewriting other people's. He laughs and says that's pretty rich coming from me.

Bono gets a bad rap. There's all the G_d jokes and the constant piss-taking in the media and elsewhere. But the fact is, he's a really nice guy in industry full of total jerks. He's still married to his girlfriend. He hasn't broken up with his band and/or made self-indulgent solo albums. He'll put you on the guest list.

Let me tell you a story.

This was a couple years back (like, 10), when The Pants were just about to start their comeback. I had been having kind of a rough time, problems with my voice and being in shape and life and love.

I ran into Bono in London. He drags me into a pub and we talk. He's actually a really good listener. He gives me some advice, and one of his private numbers and says "look, CALL ME if you need to talk." He meant it.

I asked him "Hey man, how do you put up with all the criticism? I mean, people are always trying to beat you down for, I dunno, everything. Your last album. Your glasses. Project RED. Your VC firm. Your good works. That's a lot to take, right?"

Bono chuckles. He looks down at the table for a few minutes. He gets kinda quiet and puts on his Serious Bono face. He looks at me and says, all with that charming accent:

Sid, everybody's got problems. Everybody. You just sat here and ran me through some of yours, and some of those seem pretty tough.  
The thing I realized a while back was that it's not what your problems are. What matters is how you deal with them. 
I don't mind people making fun of me. Where I come from, that's part of how people show they love you. Or what they do before they punch you. It's just part of life. If I was worried about what people said, I'd have never got on stage the first time. Or the second. Or in front of the 20,000 people that saw us play last week. 
As for why I do it, well, it's like Archimedes said about levers. We're all tryin' to move the world a little bit every day. Some people are moving it to make a bit more money or be a bit less sad. A few even try to make things better (as they define it) for other people. 
I've got a pretty big lever. Bigger than most other people's [and he winks at me]. And I believe I have an obligation to use it. Do good works and all that. I'm tryin' to make the world a better place. Tryin' to be a better person. Tryin' to make a good record. Tryin' to have a good time doin' it.
Now, the thing about that big lever is that yeah, I can move the world more than most can. But that also means if I make mistakes, they're bigger, too. Bigger fuck-ups, bigger problems. That's what I have to think about all the time. It's not easy, but I wouldn't have it any other way. 
What's my alternative? I could retire and do nothin', I guess. People would eventually leave me alone. But how could I live with myself, knowing I had that rare opportunity to try, to do something, and I let it pass? 
Besides, at some point I'll have to retire anyhow. God will take that lever away. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe if the new album flops. There's plenty of time for doin' nothin'.

I sat there for a minute or two, turning over what he had said. I was just getting ready to reply when his minder found him and he left. As he got up to leave, he gave me one of those winks of his.

"Thanks for the chat, Sid."

Thank YOU, Bono. Still thinking about it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bob Casale, 1952-2014

I never met Bob Casale.

I met Mark once, Gerry too. Nice guys, who were very depressed about the state of the world, and cynical about the music business.

In other words, smart people who clearly saw the world for what it was. What do you expect from a bunch of college students who watched their friends die at Kent State?

I wish I had a chance to tell them all, back in the day, how much they meant, the impact they had. To tell them what a revelation it was to look beneath the shiny plastic and see the inner workings of people who got it, and weren't afraid to scream and shout it. About how stupid everybody was.

Those videos and songs were funny ha-ha and funny strange. And disturbing.

So clever. And then to wrap it up in a kind of sick candy (s)hell? In some ways, it made them critic-proof. If you hated them, you didn't "get it". And if you loved them (for the wrong reasons), you also "didn't get it" in a worse way.

The music business chewed them up and spat them out. They ended up OK, or most of them did. As you do. They made a couple of brilliant records and a few limp ones. People think of them as a 1-hit wonder, with that one song. (Those are also the same people who can name the one "famous" painting by every artist.) They are WRONG.

When you see Devo as most of us saw them - for the first time, on network TV, back when Saturday Night Live was dangerous (as opposed to the bloated, soulless Harkonnen machine it is today) - as a kid, a "young alien type", you see...genius.

Wow, Bob, Wow. Thanks for the music. You will be missed.

Twist away the gates of steel
Unlock the secret voice
Give in to ancient noise
Take a chance a brand new dance
Twist away the gates of steel  
Twist away
Now twist and shout
The earth it moves too slow
But the earth is all we know
We pay to play the human way  
Twist away the gates of steel
A man is real
Not made of steel
But the earth is all we know
We pay to play the human way
Twist away the gates of steel  
The beginning was the end
Of everything now
The ape regards his tail
He's stuck on it
Repeats until he fails
Half a goon and half a god
A man's not made of steel  
Twist away
Now twist and shout
The earth it moves too slow
But the earth is all we know
We pay to play the human way
Twist away the gates of steel
A man is real that's how he feels