Here's some musings from the past. Hopefully I'll be adding some new content soon. Please check back for updates and feel free to correspond with me through the contact page.
These first three entries are from a blog I did while I was on tour with Duende Quartet while we were doing Jazz At Lincoln Center's "Rhythm Road" project...
March 17, 2009 - Tuesday
Duende in Bangladesh
Travelogue: take two. I spent over an hour on a blog about a week ago in Chennai, India, only to have a computer glitch wipe it out. This may happen again since we're now in Dhaka, Bangladesh and there are occasional rolling blackouts. They don't last long since the hotel generator kicks in right away but it would be enough to wipe out this blog. Consider this a love letter.
We arrived in Kolkata after a brutal travel day: 15 hours of flying plus a 4 hour layover. We get to the airport around 4 am and are met by our liason from the embassy. We've been warned about malaria and there are mosquitos in the terminal. Good thing we have our meds. It's hot, dry and dusty. I thought India was like that travel commercial with lush jungles, waterfalls, Hindu temples and Bengal tigers. None to be found. The ride to the hotel is like a circle in Dante's Inferno. The streets are dimly lit, many of the buildings appear to have no electricity and scores of homeless people sleep on the sidewalks. There's a guy in the middle of the road with a herd of goats (remember it's 4 am) and there's construction work going - a group of guys repaving the street, heating the tar over a pile of burning logs. The side streets look like avenues to the netherworld. Maybe it's a dream and I'm still on the flight...not so. Finally we arrive at the hotel, an oasis in the middle of this surreal scene.
We get some sleep then we hook up with Dushan who is one of our liason's and sound man for our concert at the Taj Bengal. He takes us downtown on a wild car ride. It's crazy enough that the British left behind their legacy of driving on the left side of the road, but driving in lanes and stopping at traffic lights are things that Indian drivers could care less about. Driving in India is nothing if not a symphony of car horns. Drivers lean on their horns to let you know they're passing or making some improvised move and they basically squeeze in anywhere they can. Two lane roads are changed into four or FIVE lane roads. This makes driving in D.C. look like a leisurely Sunday drive. We get to Park street, one of the main drags, and here's my fondest memory of Kolkata. Car double parked (or is it tripleparked?) as we stand on the sidewalk among the throngs of people, drinking tea, discussing politics, religion and Sanskrit as blaring car horns add to the conversation.
Oh did I mention, we're here to play music? We play our first concert the next night and though everyone is still jet lagged we're well received. I even meet up with Naima's roomate's parents who came out to the show. I've got connections worldwide.
The next day we catch a flight to Guwaharti which is on a plateau below the Himalaya's. From there we take a three hour ride to a city in the mountains called Shillong. If driving in Kolkata is crazy this drive was certifiably insane. Up mountain roads, horns blaring, blindly passing cars while on bends in the road. One routine was passing a car, barreling straight for an oncoming car (or petroleum truck) then getting over at the last second. This happened numerous times. I began writing my will in my head. We saw two overturned trucks and two guys on a motorcycle get run off the road (the passenger falling off). After a while it was so ridiculous it became comical. Somehow we arrive alive.
Shillong is a beautiful place, a small city of 250,000 populated mostly by Khasis. The people here have a more Asian or Mongolian look about them, much like Tibetans. Here we meet Robin Laloo, a great human being with a big heart. He takes us in like family. It's guys like him that make life on the road a lot easier...it can get lonely out here. Robin's a successful business man with a nice house, beautiful family and is completely down to earth. He says "I'm not a businessman but I know business. I just use it to fund my lifestyle." He love's the arts and did most of the leg work to get us to Shillong. The world needs more people like him. He's one of the most well educated people I've met, speaks about 7 or 8 languages and is a great storyteller. He not only speaks perfect english but speaks like an actor in a beautful baritone voice with pauses in all the right places. The drinks flow and he has us spellbound and cracking up all night long.
We play a concert and do a workshop with some local kids then off to Chennai. Chennai (formerly Madras) is on the southeastern coast of India. This is more how I pictured India, still very urban though it's not as oppresive as Kolkata. We finally get to see a Hindu temple. Me and Harry go out on a day off to a Shiva temple (can't remember the name, it begins with a K and is about 12 letters long). The temple is made up of huge pyramid like structures covered with gargoyles of Hindu dieties. It's supposedly closed when we get there but we're met by a "guide" who for the right price can get us in. We leave our shoes at the entrance. I just hope they're there when we come back out (seen "Slumdog Millionaire"?). We finally get to hear some Indian classical music. In the restaurant at our hotel a world class ensemble plays Karnatic music with two bad ass percussionists. We eat there every night.
Another workshop and concert and now we're in Bangladesh. We did an outdoor concert last night for about 1000 people (our best gig so far) and did a workshop at Dhaka university. Sam and I got into a drum battle with a tabla player (big mistake) though he went easy on us and a good time was had by all. It's a little tense here after the recent unrest but the people are great and overall the vibe is cool. Check back later boys and girls for stories about the Phillipines and Taiwan. Less than two weeks to go!
March 24, 2009 - Tuesday
Notes from the Phillipines
So here we are yet further away from home in Manila on the island of the Phillipines (I should say islands... lot's of them. The Phillipines are made up of approx. 7,000 islands depending on whether it's high or low tide). We made it out of Bangladesh unscathed. The embassy briefed us on terrorist attacks, muggings and credit card fraud but like India the most deadly thing was the traffic. It's okay driving there since there's so many cars, traffic goes from a slow crawl to a stand still. But walking around town can be a dangerous thing. Cars dart out of side streets onto the main drag with no regard for human life. Ricksaws speed past the sidewalks either carrying passengers or hawking you for a ride and pot holes and uneven sidewalks are everywhere. This is a walk you definitely don't want to take with an afternoon beer buzz. If food and gourmet meals were the theme of our last tour, traffic and driving styles make up the theme of this one. Bangladeshi buses look like something out of bumper cars or a smash-up derby. They're completely dented, scraped and scratched up. Why fix them? Fender benders are as much a part of driving here as not using your turn signal. The morning paper has reports of pedestrians killed with the frequency of the weather report and stock market listings. Some of the buses are double-deckers and have people packed in like sardines, some leaning ominously to one side, appearing they will tip over at a moments notice. The beggars are relentless and if you're in a decent looking car they're all over you. Their tactics are showing you a young child, the stump of an arm or other physical limitation to pull your heart strings. Trouble is if you open your window and give them some cash the whole lot of them swarm your car in a feeding frenzy. Once I was in a deep nod returning from one of our gigs and was woken by a tapping on the window, only to see a guy pointing a deformed arm inches from my face. Not the best way to wake up from an afternoon nap. It's sad, I know, but after seeing desperate poverty for the last two weeks you start to get numb to it. It's gotta be the only way to survive here without going into an existential depression.
More about Shillong:
In my last blog you met Robin Laloo, racounter, story teller and all around good guy. On our day off he offers to take us out to see the sights even though the whole lot of us are hungover. Lucklily we have a driver and we head out to Shillong Peak, the highest point in the area. Beautiful view of the mountains and hamlets below. Then we take a road out to the country to see a Khasi village. On the way we see monoliths that were erected thousands of years ago by Robin's forefathers. We get to the village and the people there probably don't live much differently than those who were there during the time the monoliths told time and had religous significance. Humble shanties line the dirt roads and we stop for lunch at a roadside shack. It has a dusty concrete floor and a few flies but the women cook food over an open fire in beautiful handmade steel skillets. Robin and Harry dig in but the rest of us lay low. We've gone this far without getting sick and don't want to try our luck, though the food looks very appetizing. I snap some photos outside and the villagers mug for the camera. These folks probably don't know anything about the internet, world financial crisis or Prozac. For a moment I envy them.
More stuff on Calcutta:
In my last entry I might have seemed a little drug about Calcutta and it's true the destitution can be overwhelming. (There's a reason Mother Theresa set up shop there). But there's a vitality that's undeniable and a deep artistic tradtion there. Some of the best musicians, artists and writers hail from Calcutta. One auspicious moment was when we were out with Dushan and I asked him about Satyajit Ray (one of my favorite filmakers). "See that building across the street"? he said. "That's the film institute that Ray set up". And there it was right there in the middle of the slums and chaos. Forget "Slumdog Millionaire". Check out Satyajit Ray or Mira Nair's "Salaam Bombay".
So here we are in the Phillipines with six days to go. We haven't seen much local color in Manila, this place feels like Crysal City. It all hotels, shopping malls and skyscrapers. I've gotta say it's been a bit of a relief since our previous adventures. We did get out to Cebu which is on a different island and has alot more character than what we've seen in Manila. Manila feels more like a tourist trap with connections to the skin trade. Every time you turn around there's a crusty old Euro-dude with a girl that's probably nineteen but looks fifteen. No one even looks twice at these couples. Harry said he saw an old geezer in the lobby that could barely walk with not one but TWO young girls! Guess he's got the little blue pills. The people here are great, very polite and speak English with happy lilt. You really feel like a dumb American when you travel abroad since everyone we've met usually speaks at least three languages. We've had our best meal of the tour so far, a feast of fresh seafood. The embassy folks have really been on the case, the airport scene has been smooth and we haven't had to hassle with any gear since we've gotten here. They've been the most together crew so far.
Tomorrow we head to Taiwan so this might be my last blog till I get back. We work four days straight and then catch the long flight home. It's been an education out here and we've had some great musical experiences but it'll sure be nice to get home! I'll never complain about D.C. traffic again.
April 4, 2009 - Saturday
Home Sweet Home
There's nothing wrong with sleeping in a five star hotel but it feels good to sleep on a familiar matress that leans to one side and creaks when you lay down. Living out of a suitcase is an adventure but it gets old washing your drawers in the tub and sending your shirts to the laundry. I'm happy to be home where I can wake up in the middle of the night and stumble into the kitchen for a late night snack, though I gotta say I do like room service. It feels great to pick up the phone and have a cheesburger and cold beer arrive at your door delivered by a guy in a starched uniform. After being in India for 10 days I was craving the most American of foods. I love spicy food but Indians have a way of spicing up everything, including breakfast food. It wasn't long before meatloaf, mashed potatoes and apple pie were sounding real good. Indians are some of the most good natured people I've met, at least the staff at the hotels. They're polite almost to a fault. I was called "sir" so many times in India I started to think I was in the military. Before long I was wishing for some New York attitude. Once after ordering room service I started to nod out with that relaxing post meal full stomach feeling. The phone rang and I thought maybe it was one of the guys with news of a happy hour special or a change in flight plans. "Good evening sir." Did you recieve your room service okay sir"? "Uh, yes". "Was the food satisfactory sir"? "Yes, it was until you called me and fucked up my nap." I didn't say that last line but I sure thought about it. My housekeeper in Kolkata was a young kid with a great smile that went about his duties with the intensity of a doctor preparing for brain surgery. Once I called down for an iron and ironing board and he appeared at my door huffing and puffing like he'd taken the stairs instead of the elevator. This was probably just for dramatic effect so I tipped him more for his acting ability than his timeliness. The next day I decided to lighten up my suitcase since you almost always bring more stuff than you actually need. I pulled out a pair of jeans and two T-shirts and gave them to my thespian/housekeeper and he looked at me like I'd just handed him bars of gold or a winning lottery ticket. He thanked me and shook his head in the way we know as "no" but sort of in a semi circle and the way Indians do it, it can't be mistaken for anything less than the purest of affirmations. It's become one of my favorite human mannerisms.
In Chennai we did a workshop at the Unwind Center, a community outreach center/music school. It's run by a beautiful cat named Saroop that's the kind of guy we need in American schools, passionate, dedicated and fun loving. It's here we meet a young percussionist named Allwyn. He sits in during our workshop and damn near gives me a lesson with all his skill and enthusiasm. One thing you can say about India is there's no shortage of bad ass drummers. Later that evening we do a concert with a local band called Yodhaka. The leader is a percussionist kind of like Trilok Gurtu. He plays a hybrid kit that's one third Latin, one third Indian and one third drum set. If Chennai wasn't so hot I think I'd move there.
I covered Bangladesh and the Phillipines in my other blogs so here's a few words on Taiwan: Here I had the greatest Chinese meal of my life and there wasn't a single grain of rice to be found. Apparently, the Chinese don't eat much rice it's more an American phenonmenon, like fries with a burger. If you don't have any chops with chop sticks you'll be up a creek since a fork is about as common as a menu in English. You sit at a round table with a lazy susan in the middle and you spin it around to sample all the different dishes. The only problem is the plates are about the size of a saucer for a coffee cup. The upside is the dumplings are handmade by a crew of guys who fold them while you watch behind the glass at the front of the restaurant. The local beer only comes in a 24 ounce bottle and that's just fine with the Duende Quartet. Most of the Taiwanese are either Taoist or Buddhist and they have their own cable channels which I'd much rather watch that American Idol even if it is in Mandarin Chinese. The media is way hipper overseas. I got almost all of my news from the BBC and it was refreshing to get a different perspective from the usual American pablum.
The trip home was another odyssey. Three hours to Tokyo then a three hour layover, then twelve hours to Dulles...fun, fun, fun. I think that's why I'm up at 4am writing this blog. While in line for the flight me and Sam are eyeballing a family with a two year old kid. As fate would have it I had the middle seat in a five seat row and the two year old sat right in front of me! He was cool for most of the trip but he seemed to let out a bloodcurdling scream everytime I was about to nod off. Fire up the iPod. The fun really began once we got to Dulles. I had been up for probably twenty hours at this point and was lucky enough to get singled out by immigration for a random search. I told the officer I was out on a State Department tour and wipped out my intinerary. This was in a binder, about 50 pages long that listed everything I did while abroad damn near down to the minute. He was reading a letter of welcome from the amabassador of the Phillipines when he decided to search my bags. I guess going to Bangladesh and India is an immediate red flag. It's sad that a few knucleheads ruin it for everyone else because everyone I've met in my travels are regular folks...sweethearts. A few idiots try to wipe out a cricket team in Pakistan and every trip to the airport has a black cloud of suspicion hanging over it. So here's a guy with rubber gloves going through a plastic bag of my dirty laundry. I'm hoping he'll find some skid marks on my boxers. He pulls out a pocket knife and starts slicing into my souveniers and I ask him to be careful since he's about to slice into a Buddhist wall hanging I bought in India. He takes this as an affront and proceeds to go through every piece of luggage I have from top to bottom. Welcome home! He goes through my shaving kit like a detective at a murder scene...maybe he thinks I can make a bomb out of toothpaste, dental floss and hemorrhoid creme. I'm all for homeland security but I thought for the last month I was a government employee. Guess when you're a musician all bets are off. I really felt sorry for the guy behind me named Sanchez. They probably had him pegged for a Mexican drug lord.
It's good to be back and the ride on the Beltway from Dulles seemed suprisingly mellow after our adventures with South Asain driving. I'll leave you with a couple of qoutes I got from a book I bought in Chennai about the influence of Indian music on Western culture called "Bhairavi":
Shujaat Khan: It's very natural for two people who are musicians to sit down and play together without concerns about where they came from or what religion they practice...I think music could go along way toward promoting the idea of harmony between different people whether they are Hindu or Muslim or whatever.
Ravi Shankar: I believe in Nada Brahma (sound is God). Nada Brahma is just a word but that's what it means to me when the raga comes to life. It's absolutley true that Hindus and Muslims work together in creating this music. Our music is our religion, our spiritual path. So in this way, I feel it is an example of how people can work together without thinking about religion. All we can do is play our music and share it with the rest of the world.
Most folks that know me are aware that I've been a boxing fanatic for years. This piece originally appeared on the web at All About Jazz (this was after Modern Drummer turned it down...haha). After it was published Jack DeJohnette sent me an email saying he really dug the piece but didn't like being compared to Joe Frazier, he likes to think of himself more like Sugar Ray Robinson...but hey everyone wants to be like Sugar Ray!!
On Drumming and Boxing
Drumming and boxing are traditions that on the surface may seem unrelated but with further inspection share qualities both primal and sublime. Each can be traced to the beginnings of civilization, boxing being one of the first Olympic games and the drum being the first musical instrument fashioned by human hands. Comparisons can be traced to as early as 1820 with this quote from Pierce Egan's classic "Boxiana": "Drummers and boxers to acquire excellence must begin young. There is a peculiar nimbleness of wrist and exercise of the shoulder required, that is only obtained from growth and practice." Both traditions are generally regarded as primitive except by practitioners and aficionados. Surely we've all heard the joke "four musicians and a drummer" and likewise boxers have been looked upon as the barbarians of the sporting world. With the business of boxing being on a similar level of corruption as the music biz, some of our most noble athletes have lived in the shadow of more popular sports figures. It's hard to believe that boxing was once rivaled only by baseball as America's most popular sport. Just prior to World War II Joe Louis's bout with Germany's Max Schmeling defined the feelings of the nation. Today the media would rather report on the antics of Mike Tyson than the accomplishments of Roy Jones, Jr. Likewise the offstage exploits of Keith Moon or Tommy Lee are better known among the public than the artistic achievements of Elvin Jones or Tony Williams.
I've always been a fight fan. Growing up outside Washington, D.C. Sugar Ray Leonard was one of my heroes. A few years ago my interest turned into an obsession. I began collecting fight films and studying boxer's styles. Here are some things I learned about the art of drumming by watching these master athletes at work.
The mechanics of drumming are similar to the boxers form. Playing the ride cymbal or riding the hi-hat is akin to a boxer's footwork. They set up the flow and feel for both the drummer and boxer and are significant to the style of both. When I watch the footwork of Sugar Ray Robinson I can't help but think of Philly Joe Jones. Ray was probably the slickest boxer ever to enter a ring and Philly Joe defined "hip" not just for drummers but for all Jazz musicians. Ray's dazzling footwork and smooth combinations are much like the way Philly Joe combined rudiments into seamless musical statements. Philly's impeccable ride was as effortless as Ray's footwork, making everything on the bandstand poetry in motion. This concept can be seen among the heavyweights as the determined, ominous stride of Joe Louis is like the greasy, medium swing of Elvin Jones. Both Joe and Elvin are superhuman forces in their fields with Louis's punching power much like Elvin's "bashing" at peak level.
When a drummer plays accents or drops bombs I view this like a boxer's jab. The jab is the boxer's staple and must be timed perfectly to be effective. A drummer's accents also must be timed correctly and placed in just the right spot. Also the boxer doesn't want to be too predictable with his jab. If he bobs his head or drops his shoulders before he jabs, his opponent will pick up this signal and be able to retaliate with a well-timed counter punch. Consequently if a drummer drops bombs or resolves fills in the same place the music will become dry and predictable. In other words don't always jab on "one".
Combinations lead off the boxer's jab as a drummer's fills lead off his ride. Boxing combinations should be a fluid motion not merely a series of disconnected punches. In drumming fills should be organic, integrated with the groove not a static event. Jack DeJohnette is a master of this concept. Jack doesn't play "fills" but a constant wave of rhythmic ideas. To me Joe Frazier is the Jack DeJohnette of the ring. In perpetual motion, Smokin' Joe's combinations flow seamlessly out of constant upper body movement.
Pacing is another important factor in both drumming and boxing. If a fighter comes out with all he's got in the first couple of rounds and doesn't land a lucky haymaker he'll most likely run out of steam if he has to go the distance. Likewise, if a drummer plays everything he knows in the first tune not only will this be unmusical but also he will have nothing left to say and will most likely be spent by the end of the set. In boxing, featherweight Willie Pep took pacing to an unprecedented level winning a round throwing no punches. Years before Ali began boasting (1946) he even predicted in which round he would do it (the 3rd). His longevity is a testament in pacing a career. Pep fought 242 bouts over a twenty-six year period winning 230 times with one draw!
Another aspect of the boxer's style is "inside" and "outside" fighting. The inside fighter prefers being close to his opponent working the body and seeking out uppercuts. I find this much like Tony Williams style; playing on top of the beat, always pushing the music with unexpected flurries and tempo changes. The outside fighter boxes more behind the beat; using his reach, pacing himself and seeking the right punch at the right time, as would a groove master like Bernard Purdie. Two great fighters with these respective styles are Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Seek out any of their three fights together and watch these rivals push each other to their maximum abilities.
Boxing is one of the few sports that is played one on one. The boxer must be determined, focused and in top condition. In the fight game a boxers determination and guts are regarded as "heart". It is essential for a sport hinged on the individual. In music, the gig similarly revolves around the drummer. No matter who is the leader on a date the man behind the drums ultimately leads the band. He determines the tempo, feel and direction of the music. If the drummer isn't focused it can lead to a lackluster performance. If he's at the top of his game it can lead to moments of greatness. Check out Billy Higgins on any of his later recordings. Though gravely ill, he still played with the perpetual bounce and inventiveness that defined Smilin' Billy. In the boxing world an aging Alexis Arguello twice fought Aaron Pryor in his prime. Though losing both fights, Arguello showed great heart and in defeat I see still him as the winner. In short, when making the gig show up with heart.
Training in boxing requires not only sparring but also many solitary hours running and working the bags. Any accomplished drummer knows the value of solitary practice but it's also important to spar! Get out to jam sessions; going toe to toe with other musicians is not only inspirational but also essential. It can also be an eye opener sending you back to the woodshed. The boxer's woodshed (the gym) is in itself a world of rhythm. The sounds of a boxing club in full swing are intoxicating. The heavy bag's bass sound and rat-a-tat snare of the speed bag heard together create a meditative polyrhythm. Sonny Liston new well the rhythms of the gym and used to skip rope to a recording of James Brown's "Night Train". In the hands of an experienced puncher the speed bag plays a stream of up-tempo triplets, the perfect workout for any drummer!
So next time you swing the band think of Sugar Ray Robinson. As you drop a bomb remember Joe Louis. When you play a flurry around the toms visualize Joe Frazier. Think of Ali as you lock into a deep pocket. Try to catch a current fight on HBO or Classic Boxing on ESPN. Vintage fight films are shown weekly and you can see the masters at work. Better yet get some hands on experience at the gym or for a small investment set one up at home. You'll notice a change in your reflexes, focus and concepts on drumming.
Musings on my first road gig and grad school for life on the road...
On The Road with The Flamingos
It was my first road gig. I'd done some casuals in L.A., played at the local theme park for a high school summer job, but this would be my first taste of the road. I'd just got back from the West Coast after the blues of L.A. made me pack up my yellow Datsun and make a solo drive cross country. Back in D.C. I found a job loading trucks at UPS from 4 to 8 am. and knew I wouldn't last. The drivers wrote up reports on how the new guys were making out: "worst load I've ever seen" read my latest sheet. I couldn't keep up with the pace of the conveyor belt or memorize the address locations on the shelves of the trucks. It was especially challenging when I showed up still buzzed from the night before.
Soon I got the call from Mike Evans.
"I heard you were back in town. Are you looking for A gig?"
"Most definitely," I said, still bleary eyed from the A.M. shift, in fact now always bleary eyed.
"You remember The Flamingos?"
"I remember the name."
"They had some big hits in fifties—"I Only Have Eyes For You," "Love Walked In."
I remembered "Eyes." Their haunting rendition had become the classic version of the tune.
"I'll give you E.J.'s number. He's one of the original members and leads the group."
"Sounds great. Thanks."
I called E.J. later that afternoon.
"Hi, it's Mark Merella. I got your number from Mike Evans. He told me you were looking for a drummer."
"Yeah, he told me you'd be calling. We having a rehearsal tomorrow night, if you want to come by and audition."
"Let me know where it is. I'll be there."
He gave me directions to a row house in Northwest D.C.
When I arrived, I was greeted by an older black gentleman just leaving for his shift as a cab driver.
"You need to go around back to the alley. They're in the basement."
I drove down the narrow alley which was dimly lit and ominously quiet. Was this a set up? I inched down the concrete, gravel crunching under my tires, and finally heard some keyboards and bass spilling out from a basement door. I made my way to the top of the stairs and descended the wooden steps into the darkness of the basement.
I was met by E.J., extending his hand in greeting.
"Glad you could make it."
"Good to meet you."
"Let me introduce you to everybody. This is Archie and Benny. We call them the Twins." We shook hands. Archie and Benny were from Austin, Texas where they had their own group "Silky Smooth Band and Show." They had replaced two of the original vocalists. They weren't twins by birth but were thick as thieves and dressed the same, mainly both sporting Mr. T starter kits. They also had their own valet called "Dootie" who sat in the corner reading the sports page.
"Here's my cousin Jake. We started the group back in the '50's. We own the name and have been doing it ever since."
Jake put his pipe in his mouth so he could shake my hand. He was probably pushing seventy and had the grizzled look that only 30 years of road gigs can give you. He gave me a jaded look that said: "Can this white motherfucker play?"
"Here's the rest of the rhythm section: Glenn and David." I was relieved that they were around my age, two journeymen musicians hired as sidemen. I'd later find out trouble had a way of following David around but Glenn was all about music and was one of D.C's hottest keyboard players. He later told me he only took the gig because it was steady and he was trying to pay off his car note.
After I set up my drums, E.J. counted off one of the numerous doo-wop tunes in their band book. It was an easy audition. Mostly the 12/8 groove that accompanies almost all '50's doo-wop numbers. They did do some Motown and some more current soul tunes but it wasn't anything I hadn't already encountered on club dates in L.A. Glenn and David looked relieved that I locked in fairly easily. Jake wasn't as easily convinced.
"When I do "Blueberry Hill" you need to break it down like Bumpy did."
Glenn gave me a wink that said: "Ignore him," but I knew I couldn't possibly be as soulful as a guy named Bumpy. I later found out that to "break it down" you need to crack the snare drum on "one" and bring the dynamics way down (a staple of playing R&B). After a few more tunes E.J. pulled me to the side.
"Okay kid you got the gig. We pay $100 a night and cover travel and rooms. We don't go for heavy drinkin' and druggin.' Are you in?"
$100 a night wasn't great for a road gig but neither was waking up at 3:00 in the morning to go to UPS.
"Sounds good. I'm in".
"All right we leave Friday morning. We meet at my place in Springfield and take the van. We'll be playing a club in Brooklyn and then a couple of oldies shows in upstate New York".
We hit the road on a fine spring morning headed to the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn and then on to New Paltz, New York. We were set to play a couple of shows with The Orioles, The Clovers and a few other acts that were still riding off the one or two hits they had thirty odd years ago. It was just me, Glenn and E.J. and Jake. The twins always drove themselves and David would somehow materialize right before the gig. E.J.'s ride was a conversion van from the mid seventies which anyone with even a passing knowledge of cars would have guessed by its appearance: Brown with tan pin stripes, naugahyde interior and orange shag carpeting. Despite its appearance the van was comfortable and ran in tip top shape. One thing a road veteran knows is to take care of regular maintenance.
E.J. eased on to 95, taking his time on the on ramp since he was pulling our gear and clothes behind us in a U-Haul. Jake lit up his pipe and was kind enough to crack his window but the smell of burning tobacco still made its way to the back of the van. I didn't mind, I've always liked the smell of pipe smoke, and it took me back to the days when my father lit up after a long day's work. E.J. fumbled with a cassette and slid it into the tape deck. I anticipated some classic R&B, maybe James Brown or Marvin Gaye, or maybe E.J.'s really a closet jazz fan or likes old school blues or gospel. The speakers vibrated with the slick production of Jam & Lewis.
"Yeah, that Janet Jackson is BAD," said E.J. looking over his shoulder for a split second.
"This is the kind of sound I want to bring into the band."
I thought he was kidding, but to my horror he would later buy a drum machine that Glenn had to learn how to program and I had to play along with. I loved the sound of some of The Flamingos' old records, that wide open Rudy Van Gelder sound, the sound of one mike in a room that really puts you into a certain time and place. I admired E.J. for wanting to keep up with the times, but I was hoping to get schooled in the ways of classic R&B.
"Hey E.J., check this out," I said, handing him a cassette over his shoulder.
"This better be good if I gotta take off Janet."
He slid in the tape and we heard the drummer kick in with a fat, laid back 12/8 groove and a tuba playing a familiar bass line. The trumpets stood in for back up singers: "doo-wop shoo-bop." The lead trumpet then laid down a greasy version of the melody to "I Only Have Eyes For You."
"Who the fuck is this?" asked E.J.
"Lester Bowie. He's a trumpet player from St. Louis."
We listened as the Brass Fantasy did a verbatim version of The Flamingos' arrangement. Lester played the melody slyly and irreverently, and Jake laughed when he did one of his patented flutter blasts. It was soulful and comical at the same time, the musicians pushing the arrangement to its furthest limits.
"Wow, ain't that a bitch ."
I thought maybe E.J. didn't appreciate Lester's take on their tune, but the tone in his voice expressed wonder that someone had taken their music to a completely different place.
Baltimore soon appeared in the distance and I thought of Cal Ripken and Billie Holiday. Unlike D.C., Baltimore feels like a real city. Ethnic neighborhoods, blue collar ambition, even a skyline. The hum of the van soon lulled me to sleep, my head occasionally rocking up and down when E.J. hit a bump in the road or worked the brakes. By the time I awoke we had stopped for a pee break on the Jersey Turnpike (Probably at Walt Whitman or James Fennimore Cooper—isn't Kerouac deserving of a rest stop named after him? How about Ginsberg? he's from Jersey). Glenn and I hopped outside, the glare of the sun momentarily slowing us down. Jake stood by the side of the van scraping the bowl of his pipe and knocking it on the van's bumper. We walked among the weary travelers, red eyed from too much coffee and lack of sleep, some backed up from too much junk food.
After a visit to restroom with its wall length trough-like urinal we made our way to get some grease. Glenn hit McDonalds, his favorite. He told me he worked at one when he was down and out in Frisco; I think he worked there to get free food. I got some sausage and peppers from Sbarros. My grandmother would have been horrified at the thought of Italian fast food but it worked in a pinch.
When we got back to the van Jake and E.J. had stocked up on junk food from the vending machine, cheese and crackers, candy bars. I don't know how they did it but I rarely saw them sit down to a hot meal.
"Hey Glenn, I should have had you get me some fries," said E.J. "What have you got there Merella?"
"Sausage and peppers."
"Good God, you're eatin' that squeal?" E.J. replied in disgust.
I was dumbfounded. Weren't black Americans the kings of the pig? Cooking ribs to perfection, frying up porkchops, even cleaning out the guts for chitterlings and boiling the feet with sauerkraut. I thought maybe E.J. was a black Muslim."
"Me and Jake don't mess with that squeal. We're black Jews, came up in the Black Jewish Church in Chicago. We're descended from Ethiopians; we didn't come out of slavery."
I wondered where the got the name Carey. It didn't sound Ethiopian to me.
"That's where we got our concept of harmony—from the Hebrew songs we learned in church."
It was true their vocals had the minor blues-like quality of a chanting cantor. "The Black Jews are descended from the Queen of Sheba and we've spread out across the world, some of us here in the U.S., the Rastafarians in Jamaica, and a group of us in Israel. That's our goal—to get back to the mother land."
The only black Jew I'd heard of was Sammy Davis, Jr.
Later I thought they were living up to Jewish stereotypes when I tried to press them for a raise, but I soon learned they were tight with their money after years of being ripped off by musical industry scoundrels.
Jake was the paymaster of the band and he was as old school as they came, paying in cash from a huge roll of bills he kept stuffed in his sock. His bookkeeping consisted of signing your name next to an amount he had scribbled in a beat up notebook. As primitive as it was, I received a 1099 at the end of the year.
E.J. was back in stride on the Pike, the bass note hum of the engine filling the seats with a relaxing vibration. As a veteran of the turnpike, E.J. measured his progress not by mile markers or city names but by the numbered exits.
"Exit 12, yeah I had me a freak in Rahway. Girl used to send her daughter out to spy on me at gigs. Exit 14, hey Jake remember Chuck Wepner "The Bleeder from Bayonne? That tomato can that fought Ali in Cleveland? He got lucky and knocked the champ on his ass but he paid for it later."
E.J. was a big fight fan and loved the fact that I knew boxing. This was during Mike Tyson's prime, and after I had eased into the band we all took a "field trip" to see Tyson knock out Michael Spinks in 90 seconds on closed circuit television. We were now on rt. 278 heading East for Brooklyn. Our gig was at Bilotta's Villa, a restaurant-showroom on Flatbush Avenue. Frank Bilotta was an "entrepreneur" who was also a crooner in the style of a young Frank Sinatra. He was a huge fan of doo wop and treated E.J. and Jake like they were gods.
"I got my first piece of ass in the back of a Cadillac with these guys on the radio and I swore if I ever got my own joint The Flamingos would play it."
We crossed the fabled Brooklyn Bridge with its spider web cables, spanning out from mammoth Arch De Triumph like towers. Here, Walt Whitman took the ferry to Manhattan, before the bridge laid way to the industrial dynamo of the American night.
Henry Miller saw the forlorn span from the Fourteenth Ward and I thought of Paris and Rimbaud, though never really escaped Brooklyn and Sonny Rollins shedding on his saxophone to the Zen-like mantra of passing traffic.
Up Flatbush Ave. passing brownstones and walkups we pulled into the alley alongside the Villa. Walking into the darkness of the club we saw the Twins and Dottie sitting at a table over a large pizza.
"Dig in fellas. It's on the house."
We passed, and then from the kitchen Frank emerged in sharkskin suit, toupee and glittering pinkie ring.
"E.J., Jake, good to see you, been too long. Hey, who's the new guy?"
"That's Mark our new drummer".
"You a paisan?"
"Yeah, half, the half with the name."
"I can spot one a mile away. What's the other half?"
"Jesus Christ. Whaddya like to do get drunk and then beat the shit out of yourself!" He let out a huge laugh and grabbed me around the shoulders.
"Hey, these fuckin' moulies will take good care but if they don't you just come to me," he said flashing a smile at E.J.
"Hey from this moulie to a fucking greaseball, FUCK YOU!"
They both grabbed each with a big hug and laughed together.
"You know who loves doo-wop more than blacks? Italians! We put the WOP in doo-wop," Frank said, cracking himself up.
"Hey, youse guys need anything before showtime just let me know. It's all on the house but Marco no ‘buca before showtime," he said laughing as he left the room. "Or should I say whiskey?"
Glenn and I made our way out to the van and started humping in our gear. The club had a nice size stage with lights and a decent sound system. We got set up and went into an impromptu sound check, Glenn and I ripping into "Cherokee." Glenn stopped to make a few adjustments when we heard Jake say from a corner table: "Stop playing that devil shit."
Our opening set was the only time the band really got to play. We never took it too out, it was usually instrumental versions of R&B tunes Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On," or maybe a Stevie Wonder tune or the underated Donny Hathaway's "Valdez in the Country." We were a different band at sound check.
Evening came and the club began to fill with couples who had come of age when the sounds of doo-wop could be heard on street corners, not from boom-boxes, but from fledgling a capella groups with their eyes on the big time. Frankie Valli, Dion, Danny and the Juniors, sounds of blackness in the white boroughs of the city. We got ready for show time. Opening our suit bags, I was greeted by an off-white tux (slightly yellowing) with huge lapels and black satin borders. It had probably been rented to a pimply faced kid to wear to the prom in 1955.
"You shoulda seen the shit we used to wear," said Glenn looking over the top of his glasses. "This is the new stuff."
We dressed in the "executive lounge" (the stall of the men's room), staying behind as the old timers had gone to the motel to get ready.
David materialized on cue already dressed, bass in hand, a new mystery woman at his side. Jake, E.J. and the Twins entered through alley entrance, waiting "backstage" until they made their grand entrance to the stage from the kitchen door. Glenn, David and I hit the bandstand for our opening set, basically killing time. That's how it was night after night: two or three tunes up front from the band, then it was all about the vocals and rightfully so: Jake, E.J. and the Twins could hold the room spellbound, their haunting harmonies taking people back to an era where in a time of innocence. The soundtrack was both safe yet mysterious. Jake held the bass; E.J. sang lead and the Twins harmonized like they had been there from the beginning. More than once I got the chills listening to them work their magic. It was an all encompassing sound: the emotion of gospel, the harmonies of Jazz, the soul of R&B.
Whether in a bar in Brooklyn, a casino in Vegas or at the county fairgrounds they had the aura of neon, art deco, drive-thru's, sleek automobiles and the early days of television, when all was well with the world...or so we thought.
This piece is for any musician who's found themselves in a compromising situation to make the rent...
Club Date Confessions
How did I end up here? I’m sitting onstage in the ballroom of a five star hotel in downtown D.C. No matter I had to haul my drums through an alley, onto a loading dock and up a freight elevator, it’s a five star hotel none the less. On the way in there’s rats by the dumpster, a guy hosing garbage off the loading dock and a security guard that looks me over like a hobo trying to crash a railyard. I wheel my cart through a maze of hallways and finally to the bustling kitchen, full of chefs, servers and stressed out maitre d’s. If this is what the kitchen of a high end hotel looks like I’d hate to see the back of a Chinese take out. Dirty dishes in precarious piles are stacked near the food ready to be served to tonight’s guests, on the floor soggy bits of food lie in water from the dishwashers hose and the ever present rat traps remind you who runs the place when the lights go out.
So I make my way to the ballroom and am happy to see the bar is situated close to the bandstand, though this can be a blessing and a curse. A good stiff drink can be the tonic that either washes away the angst of the gig or makes a four hour wedding seem like an eternity. I set up my drums and make small talk with the other sidemen on the gig. The leader is happily away from the bandstand, nervously talking to the party planner about when the band should break for the cake cutting. He stutters, twitches and merely nods in approval when she tells him the band will not eat. This is gonna be a long night.
We start the gig with the usual fare (bossa novas, standards and some show tunes) and we’re not three notes into the first tune when I realize the leader is a drummer’s worst nightmare. He’s the bass player (normally the drummer’s right hand man) and this guy can’t play two notes in time, much less in tune. Worse than that (almost) he feels he needs to coach everyone in the band on how to play. His favorite target seems to be me. “Now keep it the pocket. Don’t speed up.” This clown couldn’t find a pocket in a pair of painter pants. I just grin and say “Okay”, while my brain is saying “Fuck You.” As I look at him I see a glazed look in his eye that tells me it’s taking him every ounce of concentration to play as horribly as he is playing. A strand of drool hangs from his bottom lip as his fingers move in the most un-bass player like manner. This guy makes the bass player that played “Smoke on the Water” in my first garage band sound like Jaco Pastorius. Why is it that every leader on a club date gig is always the most unqualified, insecure, saddest mistake for a musician in the room? Oh, I remember. He spends all his time talking on the phone to clients, going to bridal shows, jogging, doing yard work, anything and everything but practicing his instrument. Hey buddy, do us a favor. Become a booking agent. We’ll gladly pay you twenty percent to stay the hell away from the bandstand.
The set mercifully ends. Me and the piano player practically trip over each other as we race to the bar. We defiantly order two scotches on the rocks.
I down my drink and say: “You hear the shit he’s playing up there? Unbeliveable.”
“Last time I heard someone sound that bad, it was a thirteen year kid on a bass at Guitar Center.”
“You won’t believe this. He booked me on a jazz gig last week and the front line was violin and trombone!”
We both crack up laughing.
“Oh well, as long as his checks clear.”
After a few minutes of solace our fearless leader approaches, his bow tie askew and drool stains on his lapel.
“Come on guys, we need to go back up”, he stutters. “They want a dance set before they have dinner…and try not to hang around the bar”
We slowly rise to the bandstand like death row inmates preparing for execution. Fearless Leader counts off the next tune but starts his part at about half the tempo he counted. “Follow me boys!” he shouts
We lamely make it through a few R&B tunes. These tunes are normally all about feel and groove but not tonight.
An older couple approaches the bandstand and politely requests “Moonglow.” Fearless Leader shuffles through his Real Book, finds the chart and says “Sure we can play that for you” in the tone of a Catskills lounge lizard. You half way expect him to say “Try the veal we’ll be here all week.” He then mercifully asks the piano player to set up the tune with an intro. After four bars the rest of the band somehow comes in all at the same time…well almost. We get to the bridge and Fearless Leader is completely lost, staring at the music as if trying to decipher the Dead Sea scrolls. He nervously looks around, twitches a few times then shouts: “Sell ‘em Satin Doll!” as he suddenly goes into Dukes standard to the horrified look of the rest of the band. The sax player pulls his horn out of his mouth and drops his head as chords clash, the groove (or lack thereof) teeters on falling apart and the dance floor clears. I guess we didn’t sell ‘em anything.
Later in the evening the crowd’s getting liquored up and doing the silly dances that well off white folks love to do. We’ve already done “YMCA” and the father of the bride requests the “Chicken Dance”, possibly the corniest song ever written. Knowing that this guy is paying for the whole thing, including the band, Fearless Leader triumphantly announces: “Coming right up!” He immediately counts of the tune without enough time for the horn players to get their bearings and they slightly falter on the pick ups at the top of the tune. No matter, this is a silly song anyway and we’ve fucked up every other tune so far, so no problem. Not so for Fearless Leader. He puts down his bass and storms over to the horn section to the bands polka accompaniment. He stares at them, with wild hair and bulging eyes as if he were Stravinsky and they’d just butchered “The Rite of Spring.” WHAT”S WRONG WITH YOU GUYS DON’T YOU KNOW THE FUCKING CHICKEN DANCE?!!!”, as yet even more drool flies from his lips. “I THOUGHT I HIRED A-1 FUCKING PROFESSIONALS!!!” Now he’s starting to sound like Buddy Rich but without the talent. Me and the piano player play the stupid little polka theme as the crowd forms a circle and pump their arms like chicken wings, seemingly oblivious to the tirade unfolding before them. He grabs their band books and throws their music all over the stage, “CAN’T YOU READ A FUCKING CHART, MOTHERFUCKERS.” I feel like a shrink witnessing some kind of Freudian meltdown. “YOU GUYS ARE FUCKING FIRED, EVERY LAST ONE OF YOU”. His voice cracks at the end as if he’s about to cry, the climax to his onstage therapy session.
We finish out the set without Fearless Leader and the rest of the band is just hoping that he can pull himself together enough to get the check, before either he’s committed or the father of the bride is too drunk. I pack up my drums as Fearless Leader’s bass forlornly leans against his amp. I feel sorry for it.
Once again, out the back of the hotel. No glamorous exit with paparazzi at every turn. Not for the club date musician, the guys that tough it out weekend after weekend, lame gig after lame gig all just to pay the rent. Save that for your pop stars. We don’t need it anyway. Just a decent gig with a group of good players and a sane leader. A hot meal, an open bar, free parking and an easy load in will seal the deal.
I load up my car and slide in behind the wheel. So how did I end up here? When I first got into music it was for the love of playing and the mystery resolved after each new discovery. A pair of sticks and a snare drum were the voice of some fascinating new language. Playing with other musicians brought a feeling of camaraderie and accomplishment that I’d never felt before. Somewhere it turned into whoring myself out to half assed band leaders that either can’t or don’t want to play some quality music.
I slide in a CD to wash away the stain of the gig but it’s bittersweet. Listening to masters like Miles and Trane, I doubt these guys ever had to put up with what we did tonight, and if they did it was from a leader that sure as hell knew music. Hacks didn’t cut it back in those days. I think back to the beginning when music was a joy and I’m sure at one time it may have been for Fearless Leader.
Somewhere along the way it went horribly wrong.
This is piece about my time in Los Angeles when I was attending Musician's Institute. It was an important part of my formative years and a great time in my life...
Snapshot of West Angeleno
It was a one room apartment, yet stood alone, on the second floor above a storage room. Beige, stucco, surrounded by asphalt, warped wooden steps with green peeling paint. Once inside, a small kitchen to the right, to the left a closet filled with weeks of dirty laundry. Ahead in the main room, a view of the street, furnished with a davenport, drums and guitars. On the wall, shelves of paperbacks from the used bookstore. In the far right corner a walk in closet, with a thin shaded window and a beat up mattress. Last a small bathroom, the only room with a door.
These were our humble digs.
We were three young men: naive, enthusiastic exiled in L.A. while attending Musician's Institute. Standing on smog shrouded bus stops to reach the corner of Hollywierd and Vine -- stepping of the RTD into dry heat and exhaust, winos prostrating on the Walk of Fame, passing transvestites, pimps and bums, then climbing the steps above the Wax Museum. In these hallowed halls, studio veterans with skinny ties teach the perfect feel for the perfect note, according to coked-out producers. The noble M.I. creed is: "Good time, in the pocket, Slick and sassy for all".
We opted for self-education.
Piling into Randy's Toyota we climbed the San Gabriel foothills, on a pilgrimage to our own university: Brand Library of the Arts. Once the home of old money aristocrats, now a sanctuary for starving artists. The tuition: one library card. With wide eyed enthusiasm we flipped through the bins of LP's turning up riches in sound. Discovering the mad scientists of the twentieth century: Varese, Cage, Boulez, Stockhausen; we also dug deep into Africa, Indonesia and E.C.M. Our private stock had Trane, Miles (we loved the electric stuff), Blue Notes and Weather Report. For comic relief there was Horton, the Art Ensemble and Chick Corea's Scientology Symphony. After checkout we flew down Olive Avenue beneath clouds of smog, crossing the bridge over the Southern Pacific, smoking cigarettes with anticipation until thudding up the steps to our door.
Let the ritual begin! Out comes the bag of Thousand Oaks skunk, a Cheshire Cat grin on Larry's face. Sitting in the breakfast nook, three shamans at the holy altar, passing the bong in contemplative silence.
Randy shuffles through the albums and stops at a picture of Stockhausen with wild hair and bulging eyes, fingers fixed at the klangregie. "Hey let's check this out", he says nonchalantly.
He carefully takes the record from sleeve, places it on the turntable and with steady hand guides the needle to the edge of the vinyl. What in the hell?!!
This ain't no be-bop rhythm change or jazz fusion chops-fest, symphony of old or Afro-Cuban fantasy. Ain't no show tune, pop tune, rock n' roll blues, movie theme, aria, Irish reel. No folk tune, chant or TV jingle.
This music ain't of this earth.
We sat in rapture, three disciples before the burning bush. At times laughing, then looking at each other with bloodshot eyes in disbelief and after a barrage of electronic mayhem Randy's solemn cry: "Whoa!" It was true this was music like none we'd ever heard -- beyond genre, devoid of cliche, an open door to free expression.
The needle finally reached the end of the vinyl, crackling between the label and grooves. There was nothing more to hear it had all been said. In twenty minute of sine waves and spliced tape we had glimpsed the edge of the universe from our shabby one room apartment. There was only one thing left to do -- Frank's! Eventually as the initiated know, after the ritual hunger sets in. We stumbled down the steps and onto the sidewalk, the neighborhood pleasantly surreal. Distant car horns, the blast of a jack hammer, a white noise jet overhead. Water spilling from a hose, the chirping of birds. I heard these sounds for what they had always been -- music. Muse-ic. James Joyce was right: God is a noise in the street.
Ah, Frank how you fill me with longing. For a beef dip sandwich with fries on the side, a Greek with blue and a dishwater coffee all for under four bucks with tip. And hey! I'm still half-stoned, so a slice of apple pie ala mode. Frank's was the home of the L.A. exiles: artists, musicians, out of work actors, hustlers and those who lost their way to the American dream. I pulled open the door to the familiar aroma of grease, cigarette smoke and coffee and we entered our think tank, a naugahyde booth. Fueled by caffeine we rattled on in the pseudo-intellect of the TV generation:
"Hey someone should write a thesis on Gilligan's Island as a Freudian archetype".
"Yeah, check it out, the Howell's represent greed".
"The professor intellect".
"Mary Anne a sexual mother figure".
"And Gilligan and the Skipper two repressed homosexuals".
Brown linoleum, clanking busboys, hanging lamps with muted glow. Shuffling waitresses, sizzling grill, the din of conversation. Alone one evening Randy sat at the counter stirring cream in his coffee. A leather faced trucker leaned over, stubbed out his cigarette in disgust and said: "That's COFFEE your drinking boy not warm milk".
In a plume of smoke sat the prince of Frank's, a man we only new as Ace. You could always find him holding court with a booth of clean-shaven young men. Looking like Hunter S. Thompson in boots, vest and bolo tie he smoked a thin brown cigarette with the gestures of an aristocrat. He claimed to know all the fringe Hollywood types and you could hear him riffing at his table:
"You know Jay North was a damn good actor and a personal friend. It's a shame how the industry threw him into the gutter after "Dennis The Menace". I could have been an actor but I prefer to write exposee".
After having our fill of coffee and cigarettes we paid our check and walked into the Santa Ana winds. We ran into Rene, a Bronx born Puerto Rican who had initiated us into the rhythms of Afro-Cuban music and the ins and outs of the music biz:
"Bro, I got a steady over at the Beverly Hills Hotel, man, they treat you like the help. I saw Jane Fonda on the elevator; if I look her in the eye I get fired."
In a threadbare tuxedo, loading his timbales into his car for his evening gig, he gave us a solemn look and said: "I'm tired of being exploited". As he drove into the distance I noticed how the smog over San Fernando gives off brilliant sunsets. I contemplated my future.
And the evening star
Against a dying sun.
Something about the night stirs creativity; maybe it's the quiet city that heightens the senses. But since the afternoons revelations our instruments almost seemed useless. Slouching on the davenport, I picked up an album cover and began slowly reading the liner notes.
Give up everything; we were on the wrong track.
Begin with yourself:
You are a musician
You can transform the vibrations of the world into sounds.
Firmly believe this and from know on never doubt it.
Play vibration in the rhythm of the universe.
I sat behind the drum set and thought about the elements of wood, skin, chrome and brass. I picked up the sticks and began caressing the cymbals allowing space to hear the overtones. I listened to the rhythms of the overtones and filled in with random accents. Flurries of hi-hat, stabs of snare, I began hearing waves rolling in from the ocean, floor tom earthquakes, glaciers of brass. But it was Randy and Larry who were really making it happen. Randy with cigarette in mouth, eyes closed (always eyes closed) guitar plugged into the diabolical Turtle, harmonizing notes with a primal scream. Larry with roach clips on the strings of his bass, sputtering harmonics with Harpo Marx deadpan. We purged ourselves of all we had learned, hoping for a glimpse of the truth. It was love and war as it should be and we cast sly smiles of recognition. Then raising an eyebrow in epiphany, I flew open the doors that hid the Murphy bed and flailed the bedsprings with eager drumsticks. It was either Looney Tunes or sublime yearning and we burst with laughter at the audacity of it all. Calming the storm, we settled into a meditation, the sounds dissolving into space -- no grand finale or pompous ending, it was the rise and fall of the wind, a distant moan of a train at dawn.
We were drained from our journey, only enough energy to lay and read: Alan Watts, Kerouac, Musician magazine. The ashtray filled, the coffee cups emptied, the street lights shadowed on the torn yellow shade. We heard the sound of flipping pages, a clearing throat, a fart and chorus of laughter, the creaking of the Murphy bed as it folded from the wall, the rustling of blankets as we finally retired -- Randy on the Murphy bed, me on the davenport, Larry in the walk in closet.
This was our life for one year. Three young men in a one room apartment with only our music and friendship.