When I opened the door to my hotel room I could see my leather jacket was on the corner of the bed nearest the door , as if someone had dropped it off in a hurry. I stepped on the day sheet on my way over to check that my wallet was in the inside pocket. It was. And I did a little dance when I saw the day sheet said:
You are in Flushing, New York.
Tonight’s show is at the Brendan Byrne Arena
in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
The bus leaves at
1:00 PM SHARP.”
I tried to imagine that I was going to be completely unaffected by the fact that tonight’s show was in New Jersey. Why should that matter? Lines on a map. So what. New Jersey, New Schmersey.
Freshly showered and dressed, I presented myself in the lobby at 12:45 pm and didn’t see anyone else, but the bus was out front. The wind was raw and cold like winter was still hanging on in this part of the country. I knocked on the door and Randy opened it. He was our main driver, a forty-something guy with enormous arm muscles, biker tattoos, and a crew cut. All I knew about him was he used to drive long haul trucks and he liked driving rock bands better. He rarely said much, preferring to let his nod imply good morning or hello or whatever. I nodded back and got into the nice, warm bus.
Martin was already there. “Hey, stranger,” he said.
“Hay is for horses.” I sat down next to him in the front lounge. “Is it supposed to warm up today? This cold is brutal.”
“Not for a couple of days, I think. What, you weren’t watching the Weather Channel at four in the morning like an insomniac should?”
I looked at him. Something about what he said didn’t feel like our usual poking-at-each-other banter. “Have I been that bad?”
“With insomnia? If it’s bad enough for me to notice, I’d say yeah.”
“I slept fine last night.” I shrugged instead of elaborating on why. “So was it you or Flip who brought my stuff back?”
“Don’t look at me,” he said. “I take it you had a good time, wherever you went?”
“Got a good night’s sleep,” I said, and that closed the subject.
Within a few minutes we had everyone but Remo on the bus and Randy gave a double toot of the horn before pulling away from the curb. I took that to mean Remo was off doing press or something.
I confess I actually didn’t know who the fuck Brendan Byrne was and I didn’t care. I vaguely knew he’d been a governor of New Jersey but I didn’t know if it had been during my lifetime or what. The Brendan Byrne Arena, on the other hand, I knew of as the hockey/basketball arena at the Meadowlands where a lot of big concerts took place. I had never actually seen a show there, though.
Insert standard joke here about how in New Jersey the area known as “the Meadowlands” is a giant swamp.
The acoustics were good, though. I’ll give it that.
Remo was still not there by 1:30 so I got the band together for a pre-soundcheck rehearsal where we worked on “Baker Street.” Honestly I didn’t want to rehearse it so much that everyone got super-comfortable or bored with their parts. All the backing musicians had backgrounds in jazz, and the regulars were up for being challenged: part of what would make it exciting is that it’d be so fresh. Alan had even found a keyboard patch that gave him a sound kind of like the one in the original.
Remo still wasn’t there when we wrapped that up, and a brief debate took place between the sound crew and Waldo about when he was expected and whether we should give the stage over to the opening band, who were a kind of quirky blues band called Puddle in the Road. I hadn’t had much of a chance to talk with them yet.
While they were debating, Remo came in, so that answered that. We ran through half of three different songs and everything checked out fine, which meant it was time to go back to doing nothing until showtime. I decided to sit and watch Puddle in the Road do their check. They were fun, and one of the songs was so catchy it was going to be stuck in my head for a week at least.
Which led me to asking Artie later, when we were hanging around, “What’s it going to take for a band like Puddle to make it?”
We were sitting in the main green room, which the crew had set up with a couple of couches and a snack table with bowls of fresh fruit, granola bars, and containers of yogurt in a bowl of ice. Artie had a half-eaten cup of yogurt in his hand. “Well, depends on a lot of things. I mean, the style they’re playing is great for parties, but it isn’t really what radio is looking for right now.”
“Okay, but isn’t hit radio basically any-genre-goes now?”
“Well, except country and rap, and even those have one or two exceptions.”
“Exactly. So why not, whatever you would call what they do?”
Artie dug around in his yogurt cup, apparently having discovered the fruit on the bottom. “What would you call them?”
“Quirky blues? Party blues? I don’t know. But that song, ‘Hop The Fence?’ It’s really catchy. Don’t you think it could catch on if it had a really fun video?”
“Possibly, but you know, typically a record label isn’t looking for a one-hit wonder. If that’s their one really hot song, their best bet might be to license it to someone–have someone like me shuttle it to an artist on my roster.”
“Hm, yeah.” Jordan would have probably said the same thing.
“The history of this band is kind of interesting, but not exactly the best for a commercial breakthrough,” Artie went on.
“Yeah? I don’t know anything about them except Remo likes them.”
“They started out as a college group, playing on their campus, and then expanded out to playing campuses around the country. To hear them tell it, they were a Grateful Dead cover band for all of a few weeks but quickly moved to more uptempo blues with a touch of ska.”
“And that’s a strike against them?”
“Well, the band wasn’t originally called Puddle in the Road, either. It was ‘Pothole.'”
“Ah.” Good name for a jam band, bad name for a band in an era when there were Moms Against Music groups campaigning for censorship and boycotts.
“Yeah, Even with the name change they’re pigeonholed as a quintessential campus party band. They have a pretty good thing going with regular gigs, but no radio penetration at all.”
“Also, and it’s annoying to even think about but it’s more and more true in the video age, they’re great musicians. But they’re not telegenic.”
“But couldn’t you make them more telegenic for video? We had stylists all over us before we filmed ‘Why the Sky.'”
“Well, you also had going for you that you and Ziggy start out good-looking. And you’re both in good shape.”
By good shape I think he meant neither of us was chubby, unlike the lead singer of Puddle who was sort of a schlub. I knew better than to argue about that. How cute you were or whether you were considered “hot” by the teen magazines had nothing to do with whether someone was a good musician or not, but I knew what record companies looked for was a lot of things other than musicianship.
“The sad truth is that if I want to go out and sign a quirky blues party band because I think that’s the next hot trend,” Artie said, “I can probably go out and find one that’s more marketable than this one. Which isn’t to say these guys aren’t going to make it. Every band has strikes against them.”
“You’re saying these guys aren’t unique?”
“Only in the sense that every band is unique. But I would bet you I can find another uptempo blues band with a Jimmy Buffett-meets-They Might Be Giants vibe.”
“Huh.” That was kind of a chilling thought. “How many flamenco-influenced cello and hand percussion bands do you know?”
He shrugged. “If you’re doing it, I guarantee you you’re not alone. Someone out there, among the millions and millions of musicians we don’t know, other people are doing it, too. And if there’s a sudden breakthrough hit in that vein? Then there’ll be a stampede to sign a pile of them.”
Yeah. And four out of five of them would end up in hock to the record company and that would be that. But of that one out of five who made it to the next level…
Yeah, I was depressing myself thinking about it.
“That reminds me,” Artie said. “Tomorrow morning, before you leave for Philly, could you come by the office to sign some stuff?”
My hackles went up. “Sign some stuff?”
“You know, some CDs and promo photos of you.”
“Oh. You mean autograph. I don’t know what I was thinking.” I was thinking we hadn’t finished some paperwork, or like they needed me to amend my contracts or something. I was paranoid. “Is there some point when the whole band is heading down there?”
“I don’t think so. Nomad’s been to our offices so many times we didn’t set something up for this trip.”
“I’ll see. I’ll have to figure out how to get to midtown from the boonies where we’re staying. That might be easier on our day off. We’re off Friday.”
“We could send a car for you if we need to. I’ll check the schedule.”
I nodded. I’d have to check the schedule and make sure I wasn’t supposed to be anywhere, but with Remo doing most of the promo appearances on his own, I hadn’t had to do much.
Remo came in then and poured himself a cup of coffee, added milk and sugar, and then poured liberally from a flask into it before he sat down, looking rough around the edges.
I was going to bust his balls about being late, but instead I said, “You all right?”
“Yeah.” He took a swig of the coffee and grimaced. I guess even with milk and booze it was too hot. Or maybe it just tasted awful. He seemed pensive.
Artie got up to throw away his yogurt container and drifted away. Everyone else was elsewhere right then, too.
“Something on your mind?” I tried again. Remo was generally not an angst-ridden type of guy, you know?
“Did you hear about what happened?” he finally said, after another grimace-inducing swallow of coffee.
“No.” Or I wouldn’t be asking. But I didn’t say that.
“To Clapton’s kid.”
“No…?” My skin prickled with dread, though, from his tone of voice.
“Four years old. Fell out a window in Manhattan. Fifty stories. God.” He covered his eyes with his hand. “A janitor left the window open at his girlfriend’s condo.”
“Oh, jeez.” I couldn’t even say the words that’s awful. I also wasn’t sure how close Remo and Clapton were or if the heavy upset was all because Remo was thinking that could have been Ford who fell out the window. “When?”
“Last week.” He coughed and drank the rest of the coffee, setting the empty mug down. “He was going to come to the show but he’s lying low. Grieving.”
I didn’t even know Clapton had a four-year-old kid. “Have you talked to Melissa?”
“Not about this. I don’t want to freak her out.”
“Randy’s got a phone installed in the bus, you know.”
He nodded. A moment later he got up, and I knew now that I’d planted the idea, he was going to call Melissa anyway.
It’s a dangerous world out there, sometimes.
I don’t know what she told him, but by the time I saw him next, he was back to normal, all his emotions stuffed back into his pocket except for his usual laid-back jollity.
And the show was fine.
(Note: Both the cold New York weather on April 3, 1991, and what happened to Conor Clapton are true. It was hard to pick a song for this chapter. -ctan)