Pat Harris



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The Captain’s Log – March 2016

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Baton down the hatches, because the Austin Piazzolla Quintet will be spreading its polyphonic, polyrhythmic, poly-sacrilegious sounds all over the mountains and basins of Colorado and New Mexico in the coming days.  And not a moment too soon.  I, Commodore Harris, after nearly two weeks of living dormant in the northeast am itching for adventure.  The men and I have coordinated a two-pronged assault on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains.  They will be approaching from the south in The Jolly Rogers, while I will approach directly from the east carried by the Trojan Horse of Southwest Airlines.  It is our mission for me to slip into the Denver area undetected, throw up a smokescreen, a diversion to create excitement and intrigue so that they may easily navigate through the horrid rush hour waters of the Mile High City.

We begin our journey this night at a dress rehearsal with the Parasol Arts dance company, and we will remain with the group through Sunday.  On Monday, we must steel our nerves for the mountain passes that lay ahead.  Whatever the ailment, it seems Colorado has the cure.  I do not speak alone when I express my enthusiasm for the micro brewing culture of this utopia.  The bearded, patchouli wearing, jam-grass picking natives know their wheat, barley and hops fermentation processes very, very well.  I dare not say the beer is better than my home state of Michigan, but there are no slouches out here.  Combined with the altitude, it is remarkably easy to feel an early onset of wooziness.

As any group of traveling marauders must do, it is only right that we stimulate the local economy as we are dependent upon every local community for our financial wellbeing.  It is only fair, and in good karma, that we see what offerings are available for us to partake.  In most cities, we favor local ale to literally “get a taste” for where we are.  We have also been known to purchase the occasional piece of art, stationary, mug or hat.  Colorado is different, though.  Colorado has its own jewel of an industry. Magical, magical things can happen in Colorado.  Magical.  Last year, we experienced a bit too much magic.  I can only speak for myself, but I knew I had overdone it when I awoke in the barracks of The Jolly Rogers after eight hours of sleep, and there were big black tentacles made of smoke grasping for my soul from down the hallway.  I was forced to lay motionless, eyes closed, in my bunk until the monster went away.  I have no recollection how long it took for me to muster the courage to venture out, but I know when I stepped out of The Jolly Rogers into the crisp morning air, I was immediately engaged in a staring contest with a deer that was crossing the road.  The Commodore does not flinch first.

I’m flying in, and I must pause to thank Colorado for its gifts and majesty.  Getting a literal birds eye view of the mountains inspires and delights.  We are all looking forward to another great run of performances.  Mike will finally get sweet assistance for his glaucoma, Tony’s chronic back pain will get temporal relief, and we can only hope that James gets his appetite back.

Friday, March 4 — Thursday, March 10

We have experienced what can only be described as Lost Time.  Even though we have been playing constantly, we have been operating within a very small geographical region of Colorado.  Today marks our first real push into the mountains.  We have been safely confined to the much flatter front range of the Rockies, and now we forge ahead into them.  The only way to literally go is up.

We have had the distinct honor of branching out and performing with other organizations on this journey.  Last weekend marked our first collaboration with Parasol Arts, a dance company based in Denver.  We were part of a show that mixed music, dance, and narration to tell the story of Astor Piazzolla’s life.  Our modus operandi has always been to be gracious and endearing— in order to do whatever is easiest for us.  As such, we docked the Jolly Rogers for the entire weekend in the parking lot of a multimillion dollar dance facility.  I wouldn’t say it was an eye sore to the facade of the building, but it didn’t do much to elevate its status in the neighborhood.  We didn’t ask to stay, but nobody told us to move, either.  Tis better to ask for forgiveness than for permission it seems. There was a very nice shower space in the locker room as well as a beautiful lounge we overtook with ease.  When we are invited to make ourselves at home, that is exactly what we do.

We had a show with the Boulder Chorale performing a few arrangements for chorus and quintet.  Having the opportunity to work with top notch dancers and a professional chorus has really ignited our creative juices, and we are thinking of new ways to incorporate other elements into our future productions.

In an effort to continually foster music education, we had the pleasure of presenting a few clinics and master classes at the University of Colorado in Boulder, as well as the Colorado Springs Conservatory.  We all get a great deal of fulfillment working with younger musicians in an effort to keep the artistic spark alive and to empower them to cultivate what they love.

It has been difficult to find time to keep track of our escapades in the Captain’s Log.  Since we have not yet spent hours traveling, the time to collect my thoughts has been severely lacking.  Even though we are technically a week into our jaunt, this is the first real bit of time we have spent watching the miles go by.  Our own Liberated Hell Raiser, Mike, is at the wheel as I write, and he is doing an admirable job keeping us from harm.

There are far too many stories for The Captain’s Log, and most of them are very nonmusical.  We are not rich, but we do see to it that we have an enjoyable time while we travel.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The adventure continues.  The saga continues.  Simple things grew eventful following yesterday’s entry.  Colorado.  Mountains.  We were en route from Boulder to Pagosa Springs.  The scenery is amazing out here.  We journeyed through Wolf Creek Pass and James pushed The Jolly Rogers to her limit.  On our descent from the summit, we decided to take a quick break at an advertised scenic overlook.  I was sitting in the shotgun position while James was behind the wheel.  As we turned off the engine, I smelled what I could only describe as, “I smell auto burning.”  It was directly out of the Ralph Wiggum playbook.  We stepped out of The Jolly Rogers, and sure enough, smoke was billowing out of the front right wheel well.

James:  “It’s definitely smoking.”

Tony: “Is it on fire?”

Jonny snapped a few photos.

Mike went into the back of the RV.  He would seemingly prefer to be engulfed in flames rather than fight them from outside if things took a turn.

I, Commodore Harris, grabbed the fire extinguisher— just in case.  As the boys saw the possible severity of the situation, they began throwing snow into the wheel well and pouring water on it.  The unmistakable sizzle rasped up with every bit of snow and water thrown on it.  After 45 minutes, there was still immense heat radiating from the surface.

We kept The Jolly Rogers in a low gear and cautiously made it down the 10 mile stretch at a 7% grade into Pagosa Springs.  We love Pagosa Springs, and it is a destination any time we are in Colorado.  Our hosts, Sally and Doug are some of the most amazing people we know.  This morning, we awoke with a breathtaking view of the mountains.

Currently, we are in Durango, about two hours from our destination for the day.  God bless Tony.  Tony won’t take the blessing, though.  He’s a meat eating vegetarian who doesn’t believe in God.  That’s not a judgement, it’s a fact.  He wears many hats in this band, and this morning, he is wearing the auto mechanic one.  He has removed the problem tire, examined the brakes and caliper, and bled the brake system.  We are all saying a prayer to our respective deities, except for Mike, because Mike believes in science.  James might believe in something.  I don’t know.  Jonny plays in Church on Sundays when in Austin, so I’m going to assume he’s the most pious of the bunch.  My fingers are crossed, and that’s about as sacred as I get, but we have to tackle Red Mountain Pass after all of the kamikaze auto work Tony has done.  At the highest point, we will be 11,017 feet above sea level with sheer cliffs and no guard rails on the roads.  It is one of the most gorgeous areas in the country, and I hope that we can make it through without incident.  One thing we have going for us, is that the weather is being very kind.  The sun is out and wind is minimal.

Saturday, March 12

The Lark and Sparrow in Montrose was originally an old Masonic Temple.  I, Commodore Harris, being sensitive to the paranormal, immediately felt a presence in the building after walking up the extended stairway.  A simpler way to put it, is that even though the glass domed ceiling was gorgeous, this place is haunted as shit.  I cannot say by what or whom exactly, but there are entities that have not yet left this hallowed space.

After spending the night with James’ parents and pillaging their pantry for much needed calories, we boarded The Jolly Rogers, said goodbye to Colorado and hello to New Mexico.  James, perhaps due to his mass consumption of both meat and beer, may have lost partial feeling in his right leg.  I only mention this, because as we hit the city limits of Santa Fe, we were caught in a snow storm and yet we were still blazing past cars, never wavering our position from the far left lane.  So much for the weather being kind.  We barreled into Santa Fe, NM after an explosive show in Montrose, CO.  It turns out that we love every city we travel to.

Unrelated to the travel and vistas, we all now have an intimate working knowledge of Tony’s lower intestinal health.  I don’t know if there is any correlation between his fair weather vegetarian diet and the three pounds of fiber cereal he consumes promptly after waking up each morning, but there is always much pomp and circumstance when he enters and subsequently exits a bathroom.

We always wish we could spend more time in Santa Fe.  I now refer to him as our good friend, Bruce, welcomed us back to The Gig with open arms for the third straight year, and we sold that bitch out for the third straight year.  We love Bruce.  We love The Gig.  We love Santa Fe.

Not to go quietly into the good night, we stayed with Mike’s friends from “the early days” Dave and Jane.  They are our Albuquerque Connection, and they have a fondness for tequila.  Mass amounts of tequila.  Their fondness is contagious.  It has become a bit of a tradition for us to have a “tasting” post-show.  The tasting starts out innocent enough with Dave pouring responsible portions out for us as he explains the subtleties between the various tequilas.  As the taste progresses, the pours get a bit more liberal, the details on particular region become a bit fuzzy, and a few other conversations begin.  Generally, within an hour, we are giddily hammered, all subtleties are gone, and I’m loudly requesting another round of the tequila that has that smokey flavor out of the penis shaped bottle.  The following morning typically has a slow start. No exceptions.

Sunday, March 13

Our final day of the tour.  Time ceases to exist when you’re in The Bubble; what I refer to as life on the road.  It’s hard to remember specifics about where you came from and what happened.  I like it.  We play the music, and then it’s gone.  Even though we play a similar setlist through an entire tour, there are enough variants in each piece to make it difficult to remember who did what and when.  I do remember Mike and James having particularly inspired cadenzas in Montrose.

Since we were staying in the foothills of the New Mexican mountains, we decided to take a hike on this fine day.  James set out for downtown early, while Mike, Tony, Jonny, and I, Commodore Harris, went out into the desert on our own vision quest.  I’ve never been the outdoorsy type, but sitting in the hold of The Jolly Rogers for hours on end with four other guys who’s dirty laundry is piling up while toting a 50 gallon tank full of our excrement makes me crave any amount of fresh air.

What started out as an innocent 30 minute hike turned into a 3 hour race to the top.  I am perpetually out of shape, the air was thin, and we didn’t bring enough water.  Typical gringos from the low lands.  We made some friends who gave us some of their water.  We didn’t anticipate being out and about so long, and the four of us earned a solid sun burn on our faces and arms.  I speak for us all when I say it was worth it.  The views from the top were serene.  Our next run through Colorado and New Mexico ought to be titled the Vista Tour.  There was never any lack of scenery— the complete opposite of the midwest.

I don’t know how our fearless leader James does it, but we managed to play some of the best rooms I’ve ever been in.  Not only do we get to travel to great cities, but we play *the* best rooms in them.  It took three years for the scheduling to work, but James was finally able to get us into The Outpost in Albuquerque.  Much like every other venue we played on this run, The Outpost is in the game for all the right reasons (same with The Gig, The Mezzanine, Lark and Sparrow, etc).

Wednesday, March 23

Captain’s Log. Commodore Harris’ Account.

T’was a storm of storms rolling over the Rocky Mountains.  A level five shit-fest in Denver.  I, Commodore Harris, live in Albany, New York while the rest of the blokes live in Austin.  An important thing to know about Albany is that it’s at least 2.5 (in fair conditions) hours from anywhere people actually want to go to.  I packed up my automobile, affectionally known as the Blue Dragon since Fall of 2009, and first dropped my dog off at Camp.  She hates Camp.  They tell me she has fun with her “friends,” and that she “ate all of her food,” but I know my dog, and she hates Camp.  If I were her, I’d hate it, too.  Since she has dwarfism (Pembroke Welsh Corgi), can’t let herself outside, and can’t be trusted to exercise portion control with food, she has to go to Camp.

I drove the 3 hours down to Newark, just got into my extended stay parking lot, and received a phone call that my flight to Denver had been cancelled due to weather.  Everything done got cancelled.  I frantically tried to get on the Southwest website to remedy the situation, just like 100,000 other people, most with far more of a temper than myself, and no luck.  Called the toll-free number, busy.  Called again.  Busy.  Called six more times and finally got through.  Waited on hold for over 90 minutes only to find that I could get to Denver by Saturday night even though I need to be there on Friday.  Begin to drive back to Albany.

I’m sure you, dear reader, can see where this is going.  After a hoopla of hoops, and careful bordering on obsessive checking of the Southwest website, I was able to get a flight that put me into Denver late on Thursday night.

Thursday, March 24

Captain’s Log. Commodore Harris’ Account.

As it was, I woke up, repacked the Blue Dragon, took the pup to Camp, and got back on the road.  Did all of the fun things associated with driving and flying on a holiday weekend after a major storm has grounded every flight to and from a major US city.  Door to door, it took about 24 hours of actual travel time, plus a $75 fee to check my bass on a plane, and the out of body experience that is Terminal A of the Newark Airport.

It is important to note that my fellow band members, stationed in Austin, were scheduled to fly to Denver early this very morning.  Their flight was also axed.  James, ever the leader, saw to it that an environmentally destructive SUV was rented due to the Jolly Rogers being unable to depart on such short notice, and they all left Austin, driving, at 2am in order to make a 6pm dress rehearsal in Denver.  Those men.  Foolhardy lads.  Too foolish to procure any decent ale, so I was forced to imbibe Miller High Life upon my late night arrival.  It is no champagne, and I already feel its ill effects weakening my lower intestinal tract.

Sunday, March 27

Captain’s Log. Commodore Harris’ Account.

Again, we find ourselves relatively stationary this trip.  We are accompanying the word class Colorado Ballet playing two suites by Astor Piazzolla.  Everything about the weekend was amazing.  The dancers, our hosts, the AirBnB house rental, Natalie at the dispensary— everything except the travel.  We feel so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunities we have had thus far in the band’s tenure.  We often get asked how we came together, and to me, the story of Jonny replying to James’ Craigslist ad never gets old.

We have a bit of downtime until the end of May so that we can recharge and work on writing new material.  There are plans to go into the studio in June to record a new album or albums, and we are plotting a tour of the northeast in late August after we all attend the Tango Festival in Stowe, VT.  Positive things lay on the horizon.

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The Captain’s Log – February 2016

Monday, February 8, 2016

Captain’s Log.  Commodore Harris’ account.

Woke up early, too early, to load and board the Jolly Rogers.  She is a sight for sore eyes, and will serve as both our transit vessel, and bosom from which we will all draw strength and power for the next ten days on our maiden journey to the east.  On our way to civilized lands, we will have to travel through hostile territories not often friendly or welcoming to men of our ilk.  The course we have charted, in the interest of both time and financial economy, require that we use whatever stealth we may possess as we navigate a region full of those who place their faith into the hands Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Adolph Hitler, and Jesus Christ.

Morale is high on this, the first day of our venture.  In a display of good form, Tony offered to delight and entertain us through the morning hours.  Ever the one to employ the latest technological advances, he volunteered to purchase, at his own expense, a magical text titled, “The Secret Language of Birthdays.”  We may all have taken a few steps closer to enlightenment as we discovered the meaning and significance behind the day in which we were each born. Tony possesses disciplined artistic sensibilities, while I Commodore Harris, have my own liberated artistic sensibilities.  James, our leader, the man who leads us into and out of the fiercest fires of Hell, has his innocent heroic inevitability which pairs well with Jonathan’s trusted wild call.  Lastly, the wise sage of our group, the indomitable Mike, has been foretold to be a liberated hell raiser.

We are a merry band of misfits.  Not quite social outcasts, but well on our way.  We bring our own form and function to this endeavor.  We do not seek wealth or riches.  We do not wish to impose our customs upon the local tribes.  We travel because it is what we must do.  We are curators of an art that quickly approaches extinction.  We are the one-percent.  The one-percent at the bottom, doing the work so-called civilized people dare not do.  The cost is great and the heaviest price is time away from our loved ones.  Will they be patient and wait for our eventual return or will they move on?  Will they even remember us?  Will we remember them?  Our health and mental wellbeing always hang in the balance between the dark and the light.

We have many more miles to log before our first stop in Athens, GA.  We know not what awaits us, but we press forward with cautious optimism.  We have heard rumors of a settlement called New Orleans that awaits us when the sun begins to fall, where the whores run like stray dogs in the streets, spreading disease and pestilence.  We will be forced to stop, to give The Jolly Rogers the rest she deserves after an arduous day keeping our relentless pace.  We are guided by the Belt of Orion.  Lord, protect us.

 

 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Captain’s Log. Commodore Harris’ account.

We slept under the stars of Alabama last night, awoke at dawn, and continue our voyage against the wind.  The Jolly Rogers shelters us from the elements, but she is mercilessly beaten by the wind and uneven terrain.  She drinks heartily when we give her rest.  We also drink heartily when we allow ourselves to rest.  After an hour of camaraderie, tired from travel and glossy-eyed from drink, we retired to our bunks.

We are warm, well rested, our bellies full, and though we are anxious to be able to share our gifts with the good people of Athens this eve, our heats hang heavy.  What began as a sunny day, bright and full of hope, has clouded over.  Snow has begun to fall as we plow through the white, long-needled pines just south of Atlanta, GA.  As is to be expected in these endeavors, our best laid plans are always under scrutiny and always challenged.  We were forced into waters none of us had anticipated. We are used to the requirements and to think quickly in order to ward off disaster along the way, but we are still able to be surprised.  Again, James, our heroic leader, thinking on his feet, most cool under intense heat, was able to guide us from a tragic situation into a tolerable one.  He is to be commended for his diplomacy.  Without him, we would likely leave many bridges burned, and towns reduced to rubble in our wake.  In a world as lawless as this one, the only rule we follow to the letter is the Golden Rule.  We are reminded of this again today.

The road ahead is long, but it is well worn.  We are not the first of our kind, but we may be some of the last.  The climb to the top continues to get more steep and narrow.  The odds are firmly against any financial success, but we all readily acknowledge that there are far easier and more comfortable ways in which to earn one’s keep.  There is no reason to pretend we know what lies ahead.  We have a vague map, and information is used and evaluated as it is presented.  We eagerly look forward to meeting new friends tonight in Athens, and we remind ourselves that while we travel mile after mile, hour after hour, day after day, all of our sacrifice is for that short duration of time in which we get to hold our instruments and commune with the audience through music.

 

 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Captain’s Log. Commodore Harris’ account.

What a wonderful place Athen’s, GA is.  We are uniquely fortunate in that while we pass through settlements not fit for civilized inhabitation, our destinations are quite cultural and give us a steady stream of inspiration.  As we continue our journey en route to Charlotte, NC, I reflect fondly on the events of yesterday and yesternight.

We deployed anchor in Athens amid a small squall.  The wind bit at our faces and the snow found its way down our shirt collars.  Our hastened pace allowed us to arrive early with time to spare; an uncommon but welcome occurrence.  Wanting to expand the horizons of our pallets, we were able to retreat from the storm into Trappeze, a finely independent institution, to quaff ale crafted from Athens’ own Terrapin Brewery.  It is customary for us to sample the local spirits and give unto the local economy during our travels.

It was the evening of our first performance, and the band we shared status with was most generous.  The Athens Tango Project is a wonderful band of musicians, and a very fine group of people.  This author can speak for my entire clan when I say that we very much enjoyed the shared fellowship and the opportunity to hear them perform.  In a turn of good fortune, the front of house engineer was able-bodied, had the sweet disposition of a southern gentleman, and possessed the rare gift of knowing how to transparently amplify acoustic instruments.  Hendershots, our host, was more than generous by offering us gifts of food and drink (both stimulants and depressants, and like the alchemists of old, I was able to combine both to wonderful effect) in addition to our monetary compensation for sharing our specialized talents with the good citizens of Athens.

While our impression of our performance was adequate, a very fine couple approached us after our performance.  Without prompting or provocation, they offered us the lodging of their beautiful four bedroom estate nestled off the beaten path.  While we cherish the comfort and amenities The Jolly Rogers provides us, not limited to just being able to purge our bladders while in motion, we dare not decline the invitation to sleep in warm beds that are on level ground and the promise of a hot bath in the morning.  Our hosts gave us the key to their kingdom, advised us to stay as long as was required to rest, and sent us on our way.  Beautiful place, this Athens.  Her people have done very well by us, and we are most grateful for the warm reception.  When we have achieved our global domination, we will remember and take into account the kindness Athens has shown us.

The sun shines, and the wind is at our back.  Faint echoes of music from last night replays in our ears.  It is quite good to be on the road.  The surprises, both good and ill, have an uncanny way of balancing themselves.

 

 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Captain’s Log. Commodore Harris’ account.

Last night was a welcome night of rest.  While we have only had one performance thus far, we have spent much time barreling down America’s highways in the belly of The Jolly Rogers.  Our venture continues this evening at The Evening Muse in Charlotte, NC.

We have all settled into the routine of being on the road, and we have devolved into a five-headed-man-beast that is incapable of making even the simplest ideas or decisions come to fruition.  It is in these moments that clear communication becomes particularly important, and the ability to simply exist becomes a necessity.

With the newfound free time available to us, our group has found itself splintered on this midweek afternoon.  Tony and I, both sharing March 1 as our date of birth, referring to ourselves as “March Firsters,” though Tony is a few years more weathered than myself, were advocating for a rehearsal as a way to effectively spend our hours.  Not to be dismissed, the indomitable Mike demanded an opportunity to experience local culture.  I advised that I had enough culture for the whole venture hanging between my legs, but he persisted. James and Jonathan joined Mike in his foolhardy quest.  Whilst our comrades sought out a museum, Tony and I commandeered The Jolly Rogers and navigated her as a skeleton crew.

We have docked our craft in the heart of Elmwood Cemetery.  As I write, the sun does its best to warm the cold breeze, and it reflects effortlessly off the worn granite of the McClung burial plot.  To the immediate right of the McClung’s resting place, a pair of laborers, working at a steady and deliberate pace, fill a grave full of fresh earth that is rich with clay.

Private time is a rarity while traveling, and I take advantage of it whenever it is offered.  There are few others that I would so willingly leave the creature comforts of my home to explore new territories with, but I am thankful for the quiet of this afternoon as I rest among those who rest eternally.  The days ahead will be long, traveling great distances to perform, with little opportunity to catch our breath along the way.  The big push begins tonight in the Queen City, where Downtown is called Uptown, and Billy Graham’s all-seeing-evangelist-eye holds dominion over saints and sinners alike.

 

 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Captain’s Log. Commodore Harris’ Account.

There are rats in the hull.  One of our own has taken ill.  Unknown causes.  We all have our private hypotheses inclusive the poor administration of nutritional supplements and fish oil, cold late nights, the decision to abstain from bathing, or his fondness for the sweet leaf.  Regrettably, we cannot afford to delay our pace or to break stride.  While he rests, sweating through the now yellowed blankets, we have concluded that there is the real possibility we may have to aid his passing from this life into the next.  I shudder to think of such measures needing to be taken, but one of us will be forced to use the hammer in an act of mercy to free his ailing soul.

Moving on to matters of a more cheerful nature, we had the wonderful fortune of bringing our message to the masses in Charlotte, NC last night.  We were taken aback by the sheer number of locals who came out to sample our aural wares.  To be greeted with such applause and accolades humbly reminded us that our mission does have inherent value to it. Never have I, Commodore Harris, been greeted with such warm fanfare following the opening piece, and I have traveled extensively in this mercenary profession.  We are very much looking forward to a return voyage to the Evening Muse in the Queen City as soon as time and scheduling allows.

We bid a fond farewell to our gracious hostess this morning.  She was a most elegant maiden, and we are in her debt for allowing us to tie-off The Jolly Rogers to her estate.  As I write, we are resting in Durham, NC, after a hearty meal of eastern barbecued pork at The Pit.  We sip artisanal coffee and half-heartedly discuss the plan of attack for our engagement this evening at The Shed.  Our standard method is to strike virgin ears fiercely without relenting, only allowing for brief moments to catch one’s breath.

There are moans and grunts from our fallen mate coming from the sleeping quarters.  Even with the distance between him and the observation deck, we hear is pain, and the slushing around of his gut rot.  The indomitable Mike, having circled the sun nearly forty more times than our heroic leader, James, does not share in our hope for our distressed partner, insisting on delivering him from evil and scouting the unknown area for a cellist in proper health.

 

 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Captain’s Log.  Commodore Harris’ account.

We had a burdened sleep last night.  The temperature has been falling steadily on our journey and plummeted last night.  The wind bites at our faces like a starving pack of wolves who now smell an easy prey.  The Jolly Rogers has been our protector, but takes the treacherous weather head on.  Icicles hang from her corners and frost covers her portholes.  In an attempt to drop some ballast, we emptied the black tank, which held a mixture of human excrement and an equal amount antifreeze, but I fear we may be pushing her too hard for her advanced age.

We have made it to the capital of this nation.  Despite the governing bodies being comprised almost entirely of caucasian males, babbling incoherently at each other, who cannot seem to agree on anything, there is a great and beautiful diversity of culture in this place.  It makes one wonder how in a land that refers to itself as “The Free,” the majority of its inhabitants are slaves to the few. Monuments symbolizing wisdom, strength, and the determination for what is ethically right, while rooted in ancient pagan ritual, stand misunderstood, or even worse, ignored all together.  They loom tall and cast long shadows at this hour.

We met our host, David, this afternoon.  So often, my men and I venture without any allies in the foreign destinations we seek out.  He is a most generous and understated feudal lord.  A man who cares deeply of his subjects, and who speaks to them as if they are equal in social standing.  He is a curator of independent music, an impresario, and we are honored to be his guests this evening.  At this point in our journey, we happily welcome the company, gifts, and accommodations he joyously provides us.

We unloaded our wares into the awe inspiring Falls Church.  Rich with history, original construction of this structure began in 1732, and its namesake comes from its geographic location. Our guide informed us that George Washington was a parishioner, and it was occupied by confederate troops during the depending-on-what-side-you-stand War of Northern Aggression.  We eagerly await our opportunity to make music in the beautiful circular hall with its hand laid brick floor and heavenly reverberations.

We must awake before the cock crows tomorrow.  A hard haul to Asheville awaits us.  While we are looking forward to our performance nestled in the mountains, it will be a grueling travel day in order to bring our music to the ears of her people.

 

 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Captain’s Log. Commodore Harris’ account.

Valentine’s Day.  The Feast of St. Valentine.  We are reminded on this day of those we hold dearest to our hearts.  We are also reminded of those chalky candy hearts, and the gentile Texas turn of phrase, “That certainly is a gun in my pocket, and it’s holstered for you, Valentine.”

We have surpassed the halfway mark on our voyage, and I’m sure we all could have benefited greatly from more rest last night.  It would be hugely practical if we were able to bed ourselves at an earlier hour, but it takes a good while to calm the mind after such performances.  We have found that craft ale, of which we maintain an ample supply, continually refreshed, helps to bring us to a gentle state of evening tranquility.

We had an excellent performance in Falls Church, and I cannot stress our appreciations for our feudal lord and host, David.  A generous man if ever there was one.  So often, we may find ourselves at home, stuck in our own heads, feeling morose about the state of the world.  Through these travels abroad, we have the fortune to meet some of the kindest and most giving people; the kind of people you may think no longer exist.  We get to participate in a facet of life which goes largely ignored by those who disseminate information to the masses.  We may not speak the same language or agree on matters of the soul, but we get to experience some of the best sides of humanity.

As we forge ahead through the Shenandoah Valley, now a full week into our quest, our heroic leader, noticing a waning of energy among the crew, saw fit to cook us a hearty breakfast.  While I manned the helm, doing my absolute best to wrangle The Jolly Rogers and keep her ib course, James treated us all to a fine, made to order breakfast without any slackening of pace.  We all agree it may not be the safest method to obtain sustenance, but we also agree that it was a most enjoyable and entertaining way to pass the time.  The things we must do to keep the faith strong.

We have almost made it to Asheville, NC.  The weather remains bitterly cold, but there is a stark elegance to the mountainous landscape.  As we crest, a blue haze envelopes the the distant peaks.  A light crust of snow has held onto the branches of the naked trees.  In the valleys, water once gently flowing, has frozen against the stone cliffs that border our winding trail and presents the feeling of being in a fantastical forgotten world.

 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Captain’s Log. Commodore Harris’ account.

Our time in Asheville was wholly too short.  I believe the men and I could have kept ourselves properly dehydrated for a few days without repeating a single beverage in that wonderful city.  We found ourselves on the receiving end of good fortune, and the whole experience exceeded our expectations.  The more one travels, the more chance one has of facing an uninspiring performance situation or some other trial of the spirit, and thankfully, without hexing our final upcoming showcase, we have not had to face that particular dilemma this trip.

We have crossed the threshold into kinder weather with the worst of it behind us.  We were able to successfully stay a day ahead of some frightful winter squalls that were cutting across the southeast, and save for a bit of rain, it ought to remain smooth sailing.  It was pure luck, and we were blissfully unaware how close we stood to the precipice of disaster.

I find the travel days to be the most difficult.  We are on this adventure to perform, and no matter what happens, the performance is our reward for a day spent trying to occupy the mind without offending anybody else aboard The Jolly Rogers.  In the tight quarters, it is easy to wear out one’s welcome, but we are a rare group, keenly aware of this, and we all do our absolute best to be respectful.

I was able to rest my eyes for what felt like a brief moment this afternoon.  As I laid down, it was still quite wretched and dismal outside, but upon waking, a familiar and welcome humidity had seeped into the cabin, and the temperature was nearly fifty degrees higher outside.  My hands have been lapping up the moisture. Once scaly skeletal talons, they are now starting to once again resemble the artistry of an intelligent designer.

We are heading directly into the swamp lands of New Orleans.  Mardi Gras, a celebration of some kind of heretical devilry was last week, and we are unsure as to what the condition of the city will be in.  She was almost eradicated, erased, swept clean off the map a few years ago from a tempest of biblical proportions, but she still stands, as I understand it, because of the effort from the local tribes and without real help from the federal overlords.  We will make our final stand in this place often referred to as The Big Easy.  When our work is complete, we shall head home for two weeks to recuperate and rest.  In March, we head west to confront, court, and conquer the mountains and desert.

 

 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Captain’s Log. Commodore Harris’ account.

I failed my post yesterday.  I let my team down, and I let myself down.  Letting myself down is a daily activity, often multiple times, but letting my team down is unacceptable.  An entire twenty-four hour cycle went unaccounted for.  There is a reason, not a terribly good reason, but a reason nonetheless, for why I was unable to record the details from the daily events from February 16.  And what a glorious day it was.

There needs to be an addendum on the entry on February 15.  At the time of writing, I had assumed smooth seas for safe passage.  We were not expecting to have to press forward through torrential rains, gale force winds, and tornado activity.  We were caught off guard at dusk by the southern tip of a magnificent storm system.  James took The Jolly Rogers as far as she could safely go before making an executive decision to immediately halt our progress due to safety concerns.  James was weary and worn from such focused attention navigating the dismal conditions. I took the reigns once the rains relented.  We were not in the clearing for long, and I was soon forced to take evasive measures and to dock The Jolly Rogers to wait out another intense barrage of weather.  We were losing time, and daylight was behind us.  As conditions slowly improved, we cautiously moved on, making it to our final destination, New Orleans, much later than anticipated.  As we pulled our craft into port, we were overjoyed to see that the RV park, the Luxury RV park, had a bar still open for business, with reasonably priced libations.  After a bit of swashbuckling conversation with the locals, we hailed a ramshackle cab and went into the heart of downtown Nola.  Mike, the liberated hell raiser, in an unexpected show of restraint, opted out of the adventure, choosing to retire after a long day, but he would make his presence felt tomorrow (more on that a bit later).  James, Jonathan, Tony, and I, Commodore Harris were in search of food and drink as the clock inched closer to the midnight hour.  There is no shortage of revelry in New Orleans, and there was still plenty to occupy the senses on an “off” night.  The clock ticked and we desperately wanted to eat before The Stripper Rush, which occurs at approximately 4am each morning, would make for an even longer night.  With our eyelids growing heavy, we decided to pack it in, and hail an Uber.  Blessed technology.  Before we could properly tip the barkeep, Lisa had arrived and we piled into her automobile.  She informed us that we had docked the Jolly Rogers quite far from town, in an area unfamiliar to her.  We were able to ease her mind by being perfect gentlemen, although slightly giggly, and we repeatedly emphasized that we had no murderous intent.

Sleep came quickly aboard once aboard our traveling home away from Home.

Now routine, we awoke with the sun, and being on the eastern side of the time zone, the sun rises earlier than we would have preferred.  Not wanting to waste a perfectly available day, we hopped to, gathered our things and made our way, this time with our Liberated Hell Raiser, a full quintet, to the French Quarter.  We had but one simple objective prior to our performance that evening: Eat, drink, and be merry.  We treated ourselves to beignets and chicory coffee.  A righteous beginning to the day.  The Crescent City has the best street music culture of anywhere we have visited.  As the day wore on, our heroic leader, James, wanting something a bit more substantial to eat, led us to a fine establishment for a relaxed sit down meal.  Always looking for maximum value of our minimal currency, we could not help but be drawn to the martinis that were twenty-five cents each.  For clarity in the log: twenty-five cents each.  Round one came and disappeared quickly.  Our waiter could not even ask if we wanted a second before Mike cut him off demanding more.  Our Hell Raiser had a first-class ticket and was bringing us all along for the ride.  Round two arrived, more substantial in size than round one.  We had a glorious meal. The cajun cuisine hits the palette in all of the right places.  As we were about to settle our debts, our waiter asked if we wanted martinis to-go.  There was no time to mull it over.  Of course we did.  We were presented with even bigger drinks on this third round.  I believe we were all feeling quite giddy at this point.  Speaking only for myself, I was in an irresponsible mental state after our second, but the opportunity to roam the streets on a beautiful afternoon with liquid happiness in hand was too tempting to pass up.

We were unloaded unto the streets.  Our ears filled with sounds of the city and our eyes filled with art and architecture.  Our trajectory was anything but intentional.  We frolicked, danced, boogied, grooved, and cajoled our way through town thankful for the sun’s rays and grateful to be rid of the subzero temperatures of the north.  The swamp land was our land.

Our libations began to wear off in the late afternoon.  We found our way back to The Jolly Rogers to regroup for our final performance of this venture.  When you set out, it seems like an eternity.  You give into the ebb and flow of travel, and each day begins to blur into the next.  By the time the final day arrives, you can scarcely believe it and wonder where the time went.  At the show, the odds were against us due to some problematic acoustics and problematic patrons, but we delivered all that we could as best as we could, and we were proud to give our all for those who cared to listen.

At this very moment, the Captain’s Log for this adventure comes to a close.  I am sitting in an aluminum tube that through sheer force has muscled its way 30,000 feet into the heavens.  My brothers aboard The Jolly Rogers are without The Commodore.  They take the road back to our fort of operations in Austin while I steal away to upstate New York.  I miss them already, and I am replaying the many laughs and ridiculousness we all shared.  Make no mistake, we are all quite mad, and quite happily so.  I do look forward to being reunited with my fair lady and our corgi child.  I look forward to sleeping in my own bed, and I look forward to taking a long hot shower that doesn’t require that I do everything in my power to avoid touching any of my surroundings.  I love being home, but I also love the unknown of the road.  I wish my comrades safe passage to their homes.  We will reunite in two weeks for more global conquest, and more importantly, more of the Captain’s Log.

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I Can’t Not Work Like This, Part 3

I Can’t Not Work Like This:
My Month on the Road with Leonard Cohen and the Best Gig I Never Played

Part 3 – Hindsight

It is only through looking back that I can clearly see what an amazing experience this was. If ever there was a “once in a lifetime” event, this was it. I did my best to retell my story, but I had to do quite a bit of editing in the process. I did not curb, soften, or taylor my words because I was part of some out of control rock and roll experience. Rather, as I read back through the journal I kept while on the road, I was not in a positive headspace. One might say that I was in quite a dark place, and I certainly wouldn’t want anybody other than myself to read those pages. During the initial jotting down of my thoughts, I was freely associating what I felt as it came to me, and there were some constant themes that kept reoccurring: loneliness, isolation, self doubt, and defeat.

I don’t believe there is a way to adequately prepare for a situation like this, and I’m glad I was rushed into it with so little time to think. My usual modus operandi is to overthink everything and go into Contingency Plan mode. In this instance, I had to “just go.” What did I learn about myself that I didn’t know before? For starters, I had no idea how much of my personal self-worth is tied to playing/performing music with and for others, and how much I relied on being in close proximity to “my people” until both were suddenly stripped away. It doesn’t seem so bad when you think of one month out of twelve, but it was very difficult in the moment to be without both. Being in a foreign country, my phone became a glorified pocket weight. Any texts or phone calls were going to be murder for my bank account. I sent an email to some of my closest friends when I was about three quarters through the tour and I expressed my gratitude for being able to make music with them and for having them in my life. I realized, despite my best efforts to not be the guy who hangs out in bars and clubs every night of the week, that I am a part of a small but precious “scene” in Austin. The musicians I work with at home (who also happen to be some of my best friends) are as talented and as world class as anyone I was traveling with at the time. I say that not as a sleight to anybody in Leonard Cohen’s band, but only to illustrate how fortunate I am to work with such gifted individuals on a regular basis in Austin. The gigs/tours like Leonard Cohen’s are few and far between. Please be aware that just because you may be listening to live music in a bar, that doesn’t mean that the performers aren’t worthy or deserving of your attention or that they won’t be getting a call for some larger gig in the future. The stars may not have aligned properly for some, but the time will come for each of them in their own way. I have no doubt of this. It also didn’t help my mood that the weather was typically cold, grey and damp. I am used to the weather in Austin, and I take the sunshine and warmth for granted.

After sifting through the sketches, ideas, and fragments of the daily details I kept, I was able to more objectively recall the events of each day, and I’m thankful that I have many fond memories which eclipse the negative ones. I really loved the first days in New York with the pressure and the stress of, “I have to get this done. I have to succeed. Be a pro.” I thrive in these situations. Three days to transcribe and learn 40 years of material? I’m your man (pun intended). This was not the kind of gig to prove your chops. Thankfully, I’ve never had a desire to prove my worth based on how many notes I can fit into a measure of music. This gig was all about taste and restraint. My strategy during my preparation (aside from mass amounts of coffee) was that if I was needed, I didn’t want anybody on stage to know that it wasn’t Roscoe on bass. Once I had the material transcribed, charted, and learned, including the various rhythmic, harmonic, and structural twists and turns in each song, I committed myself to learning “Roscoe-isms” (the musical ideas, licks, or riffs that he would consistently use in specific parts of songs). I had his monitor mix in my ears for every performance, and it was a masterclass in electric bass playing. I also learned Roscoe’s harmony vocal parts; all of the Oohs, Ahhs, Do-Do-Dos, and So Long Marianne’s. Whatever I brought to the table, I knew I was doing my job correctly if my playing went UNnoticed. Whatever Roscoe did, I was going to have it covered. The only thing I knew I couldn’t pull off was the “Pleeeeease!” from the song “I’m Your Man.” He will forever own that.

I cannot begin to describe my feelings on performance days. I was full of anticipation, fear, excitement, and a whole range of contrasting emotions. As soon as we got in the vans to go to the venues, the thoughts of, “Today could be the day. It’s go-time,” flooded in. I would sit through soundcheck, take my notes, and eat a light dinner because of my nerves. After dinner, I would put on my suit, and my adrenaline would be pumping. The show would begin, always fifteen minutes late, and I would be at my post behind Chris. I’d watch Roscoe through the entire show, “Is he getting ill?… Was that a stumble?… Is this it?…” All the while, my adrenaline continued to surge. Song after song. Show after show. If I had been required to play, I would have had to walk onto a stage I’d never been on, grab a bass guitar or upright bass (depending on the song) that I had never touched, performed the music with a band I’d never played in, and all in front of the biggest audiences I’d ever have been in front of. No rehearsal. No soundcheck. No pressure. Each song turned into each set and each set became each show. I’ve never had so much adrenaline and tension that never was able to be released. After each performance, I had to unwind from the gig I didn’t play; a very unusual thing to have to do. Generally, I get the adrenaline rush before a gig, I play, and an hour after the gig I’m ready to crash and call it a night. On this tour I would get the rush, but none of the payoff of actually having performed. It’s one of those things that to read it now feels silly and maybe even trivial, but at the time it was incredibly difficult because there was no getting out of the “tour bubble.” Perhaps the hardest part for me was literally being so close to getting on that stage and never having the opportunity. It was a huge exercise in staying humble, swallowing pride, and being grateful.

My closest friends while on the road were Mitch, Charley, Dan, and Hattie. I cannot overstate how wonderful they are. Mitch was always there to check in with me, to offer encouragement, and to see how I was holding up. We had some enlightening and candid talks which I am thankful for. He’s been in this business for the long haul, and I really appreciated him sharing his story with me on the ebb and flow of a career in the music industry. He told me about his first tour with Leonard Cohen in 1979 (he was my age at the time) and how he thought it was, “Just going to go on forever… Then it stopped.” When I asked how he can go from playing on a tour like this to playing a four hour gig that pays $50 in Austin he explained: “You have to realize that this,” meaning the tour, “this is not real life. This has been a great ride, and I’ve been very fortunate, but this does not last. There is a definite ending this and then it’s back to real life.” It was a great way of putting it into perspective. You get into trouble if you start believing that this is the way things go from here on out. You can fall off the mountain as fast as you can climb it.

Dan (keyboard and harp tech) was a great friend. We had a dinner in Halifax and he was open and willing to answer any questions I had ranging from life on the road, where he has been, who he’s worked with, how he was called to do the Leonard Cohen tour, and all things technology. He is a smart, smart man who works his ass off for his employer, and he easily breaks the stereotype of the brutish band technician.

Charley and Hattie, “The Sublime Webb Sisters,” are some of the most beautiful people I’ve had the pleasure to know. They truly “get it”– life, and I feel like we hit it off immediately. They were so kind to me, and they went well out of their way to include me in on any trips, outings, or social functions. There were many trips to vegan restaurants and holistic health food shops, and there were wonderful stories, great laughs, and conversations which ranged from total seriousness to outright absurdity. I loved every minute. They could summon the dry English wit which gave me a run for my money, and I am grateful to them for their kindness and willingness to let me tag along from day one. I hope our paths cross again sometime soon.

I’m not sure what you may know, think you know, or have read about Leonard Cohen, but if it’s anything positive about his character or generosity, I can and will confirm it. He is an artist’s artist, but he still has the ability to have an everyday conversation. Though his songs and poetry carry serious weight, he has a great sense of humor, he makes jokes, he smiles, and laughs. He chooses his words with great care and precision. He means what he says, and you believe him without question. He wants what is best for everyone in his organization, and he takes care of everyone in his organization not out of a sense of duty as a leader, but because he genuinely cares for them. I arrived fresh off the plane during a soundcheck. Mitch introduced the two of us at center stage. Mr. Cohen shook my hand, thanked me many times for joining the tour, and then wanted to make sure I had warm clothes. Thirty minutes after getting into my New York hotel room, I received an email from Mr. Cohen thanking me again for my “help,” and he offered to assist me in any way he could. After the tour, when he had a chance to read my thank you note, open the envelope full of charts, and listen to the CD of my own music I shamelessly included, he responded with an email thanking me for the “wonderful charts,” and for the “beautiful music.” The ultimate thrill was him suggesting that next time around, the fader on my voice should be “moved a bit to the north” to bring more focus to the vocals and the text. I never saw him wear anything other than a finely tailored black suit.

No matter where I go or what I do, I will always be thankful for this experience, and I am honored to have been a very small part of the tour. If I was there solely to bring Mr. Cohen the peace of mind that the show would continue, I’m happy to have been there and to have done the work. I’ve been back in Austin since May 2013; working on my bass playing, writing, and performing with as many talented musicians as time will allow. I am hopeful, but I do not assume that I’ll have another opportunity like this. I’m looking forward to the slow and gradual growth with a few of the projects I’m currently working with. I suspect most of my touring will be in a crowded van where I sleep on floors or couches for the foreseeable future, but as long as the people are good and the music is honest, it will be worth it.

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I Can’t Not Work Like This, Part 2

I Can’t Not Work Like This:
My Month on the Road with Leonard Cohen and the Best Gig I Never Played

Part 2 – Road Stories

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, ON.

One of my favorite Grateful Dead shows from the “famous” Spring 1990 tour was in this venue.  The Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain which open the second set are reason enough to check it out.


After successfully completing the task of washing my laundry in a foreign country (check that one off the list), I spent the remaining part of last night in my hotel room. I woke on this very ordinary Tuesday in Hamilton to cold and grey skies. Show days go by quickly because there is movement. I had my gear setup in my hotel room, and at noon I started to play along with the recording of the Memphis show. I wrapped my practice at 3pm, which then gave me a thirty minute window to pack my things, head downstairs, and get in the van headed to the gig.

During the soundcheck, Mr. Cohen called a few tunes that hadn’t been performed in the actual concerts so I had some more transcribing ahead of me. I didn’t have the keys that the tunes were in, so I continued using the roman numeral system (which doesn’t work well on songs that modulate or have non-diatonic harmony.) I heard what I believe to be some of the best versions of The Night Comes On and Joan of Arc during this soundcheck. The latter song features Mr. Cohen in a duet with Hattie Webb, and the way their voices contrast in the alternate verses suit the tune perfectly. The audience wouldn’t get to hear either of these songs while I was on the road, but I suppose it’s a good problem to have: Too many brilliant songs to fit into a 3.5 hour show.

Mr. Cohen is the prodigal son of Canada, and the Canadian fans are more fanatical than the U.S. fans. He is what Bob Dylan is to American listeners, and at this point in his career possibly held in even higher regard.

There was a security breach as the band arrived for soundcheck. We took the vans to venue and loaded in a back door. Unbeknownst to any of us, a LC Mega Fan snuck in through the door before it closed all the way. I didn’t see her, nobody else saw her, but apparently, she made a straight line for Mr. Cohen’s dressing room. While I don’t think she was of any threat to anybody, the on site security handled the situation quickly and quietly. The backstage areas of these hockey arenas are small labrynths, sans minator. She was found wandering around backstage and promptly shown the door.

Starting in Hamilton, all of the performances would be taking place in hockey arenas. As in previous performances, I stood still like a statue for the duration of the show behind Chris (bass tech). Now, because I was standing on the rink itself, I also was able to feel the slow burn of my feet as they got colder and colder as the performance went on. The reaction to each song was far greater than what I had heard from the American audiences. During the encore segment of the show, Mr. Cohen would skip on and off the stage to the ovation of the crowd. Joey (road manager) and other crew members would come to the wing of the stage for this part of the show to hold flashlights and to beef up security. Since we were in an arena, there really isn’t a proper backstage area or wings that typical theaters have. The band was finishing up the last moments of Take This Waltz while Mr. Cohen skipped off the stage and down the steps. Joey, being a seasoned veteran of these situations came up to me, “Pat. Welcome to the family. See that crazy bitch a few rows back? Make sure she doesn’t get down here.” Will do, Joey. Will do. I turned around and saw the woman slowly snaking her way through the crowd and working her way toward the rink. Thankfully, the venue security reached her before she was able to get close. I was glad I didn’t have to take one for the team and potentially damage my new suit.  Let the record show that I would have made that sacrifice, though.

Some just need a reminder not to take things too seriously.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Goodbye Hamilton. Hello Halifax. It was a beautiful flight into Halifax. It was pleasant to see the sun when we were above the clouds, and when we dropped below, the overcast skies made the surrounding trees an otherworldly shade of green. The further north and further east we traveled, the more remote the world became. We were below the clouds for a good long while for our descent, and there was no sign of civilization until the airport came into view.

Once on the ground, a bus took us to the Lord Nelson hotel in downtown Halifax.

This was posted in the bus bathroom.  From what I can determine: Banditos cannot watch each other use the can, and you shouldn’t throw your fruit or drugs into the toilet.

Everyone got off the bus and obtained their room key from Mike. I tried to do my best Dana Barrett impression while getting my key, “Are you… The Key Master?” Mike, being of English heritage, about 25 years my senior, and handling keys for everyone in the band and crew, wasn’t buying what I was selling.

Cold weather and grey skies are good for creating an unquenchable thirst for hot liquids and the desire to be productive.  Once in my room, I pulled the desk out from the wall, pushed it against the window, and setup my computer so that I look at the street and park below. I really enjoy the way the cold light pours down onto my face while I sip a mug of something that’s hot, but in the present moment, I had nothing hot to sip on. That would have to be fixed if I was to be productive, and there had to be a good place nearby.  Being the avid Trailer Park Boys fan that I am, I was hoping to soak up some of the local culture, and Halifax did not disappoint.

A view of Halifax from the hotel window.

I stepped out of the hotel and I saw our flight attendant, Amy. Smoking. I usually pride myself on being able to pick out a smoker in a crowd, but I had never had any suspicion. I said a friendly, “Hello,” and quickly realized that when Amy is off the clock, that clock is nowhere to be found. I expected some sort of canned on-the-job response. Instead, I got a somewhat sassy, “Sup?” as she nodded her head backwards and exhaled two full lungs of hot smoke into the cold Nova Scotia afternoon. I thanked her for being so nice to me as I joined the tour and was on my way through the downtown to try and find something hot to drink. Onward. As I turned the corner, there was a Tim Hortons which would be fine in a pinch, but I was looking for something a bit– not Tim Hortons.

I’m sure everything about the way I was walking made it clear as day that I wasn’t a local, but Halifax was a nice enough town. There was a cool bookstore that caught my eye. I was hoping they might have a copy of The Stand that I could grab for Micky, but that search came up empty. I then went into a drug store to purchase “Thank You” cards for the folks who had been so helpful to me. I had to busy myself with something other than music, and expressing gratitude to others seemed like a worthy use of time. I was striking out on the coffee front, and eventually found myself in Tim Horton’s.

The influence of Texas is far and wide.

As I was walking back into the Lord Nelson, Paul (stage manager) was walking out. “Hey Paul,” I said and smiled. Paul was clearly on a mission and was not going to be sidetracked. We made eye contact, but the firm head nod from him said that there was no time to talk. Back in my room, I played my bass freely until I heard the all too familiar new email message “ding” on my computer. It was from Charley (singer) and she invited me to hang out later on that night if I was up for it. I didn’t need any excuse to be around people, and gladly accepted. I ordered room service for the first time in my life because I didn’t feel like going out in the elements. There’s nothing quite like northern Atlantic seafood, and anybody who would dare compare it with seafood from the Gulf doesn’t know any better.
A short while later, there was a knock on my door, I grabbed my tray and headed up to Charley’s room. On entering her room, it was clear that she has figured out this life on the road game. She had the forethought/knowledge to bring an electric kettle as well as a variety of tea in order to make every hotel feel a bit more like home. We had a great conversation for the next few hours which spanned a broad range of subjects. It was very helpful and I welcomed the ability to be able to speak frankly and freely about our experiences and to know that I was in such good company.

April snow in Halifax.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


I really enjoy performance days, not only because there may be an opportunity for me to perform and play dress-up, but because there are people around. Most of the band and crew have been on this tour since 2008, and one of the hardest things to do is to “infiltrate” an organization like this. Social circles, customs, and bonds have already been solidly established. The honeymoon period has long since passed and privacy/alone time is sacred. When we get to our hotels, everyone scatters like roaches when a light is turned on. I am most certainly a people person, but I also fear being the clingy new guy. On what I refer to as Common Time, the time when people cannot avoid each other like on travel days or performance days, everybody is always kind and willing to talk, but as soon as Personal Time kicks in, there is an unwritten but very evident Do Not Disturb sentiment all around. I was not only a new person in the mix, but I also didn’t really have a scene. I traveled with the band, changed in the band dressing room, but I wasn’t an active performing member. I made friends with crew members, but I didn’t have any duties. None of those “we did this together” successes included me, and it was a very interesting and unusual position to be in. While still grateful for the experience, I began to feel very isolated. To further my feelings of separation from the pack, my phone didn’t work in Canada, and the only connection I had with friends or family was email or a carefully timed Skype call. I was with great people, amazing people, talented people, kind people, but they were not yet my people. As the new guy, I largely kept my mouth shut, did a lot of listening, and responded when spoken to. Everyone was very kind and willing to engage with me, but there was a lone exception.

While I had never done anything at the level of the LC Tour, and it’s entirely possible that I never will again, I’m also no stranger to The Game. My golden rule has always been and always will remain: Be Cool. Always, Be Cool. Typically, a day on the road consists of 8 hours of sleep, 4 hours playing the gig, and of being cool for all remaining time. The road is not a place for fragile egos or bad attitudes. No matter if I’m with five guys in a van going through the mountains of Colorado, or with a crew of forty flying over Canada, my primary job is to Be Cool, and my distant secondary job is to play bass.

Since joining the tour 14 days ago, the air between Roscoe and I was densely thick. This is all purely my own conjecture, but I was getting the sense that Roscoe may have been suspicious of my motives and/or my activities, and there wasn’t much of a safe zone for me. The vibe I was sensing was reaching a point where I didn’t want to leave my hotel room or interact with anybody in the band or crew for fear that the perception of me laughing or engaging with others might be mistaken for some kind of “bass coup de tat.”  The last thing I wanted to do was to come between people or start unnecessary drama. That certainly would not be in accordance with Being Cool. However, we are both professionals, and it was in my power to try to put this to rest. I’d much rather have him as an ally than an enemy.

I gathered my nerve and sent Roscoe an email asking if he might be willing to meet for coffee sometime in the near future. I had gotten to know some of the other band members, but he and I didn’t have a chance to communicate one on one since my arrival. I received a response from him about 10 minutes later that we could meet for coffee in the hotel lobby before we were fly to the next city. Perfect. I packed my gear, and headed downstairs to where he was waiting. My adrenaline was pumping and caffeine was probably the last thing I needed in my blood, but I ordered an Americano anyway. I wanted to be as clear with what I said to him as I possibly could, and had gone over this conversation numerous times in the mirror of my hotel room. We had our drinks and sat down at a table.

“Thanks for meeting me for coffee,” I began. Roscoe wore a black suit with a skinny black tie over a grey shirt and stirred in some sugar into his latte. I continued, “I wanted to take this opportunity to reintroduce myself. The circumstances in which we met were less than ideal. You had just gotten out of the hospital, and I had just flown into this having been awake for 40 hours.” I could feel drops of cold sweat from my armpits falling onto my sides and leaving streaks of wetness as they slid toward my waist under my shirt. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m here to help in any capacity that I can. I’m not here to steal your job. This is your job. You are the bassist. I am the understudy, and I’m here to learn. I know you’ve been a part of this organization since 1979, and I have no intention of ousting you from your own legacy.”

Subtle deep breath. Exhale.

Roscoe thanked me for putting myself out there, told me that he felt really well. He said he appreciated the fact that I came to him, and that I had the guts to say what I said. Another deep breath. I felt better. We talked for the better part of an hour, and I felt like we had made a genuine connection. We were wrapping up our conversation as the rest of the band and crew filtered into the lobby to get ready to head out. As we boarded the bus, I had a new respect for Roscoe, not only as a bassist, but as a person.

Monday, April 15, 2013

St. John, New Brunswick

My day started like most days: Wake up (early), turn on the TV for companionship, shower, and then leave the hotel room in search of coffee. I put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on my door and mentally prepared myself for the cold. I typically just leave the DND sign on my door at all times because a.) I’m simple and I don’t require 6 towels to shower, b.) I’m cheap and I don’t want to have to leave a tip everyday because I’m perfectly capable of making my own bed, throwing out my own trash, and hanging up my own towels, and c.) I’m a bit paranoid, always, and I don’t want any of my musical gear, computer, or passport to somehow go missing. As I pulled my door closed, the housekeeping staff was out in full force. A nice woman saw me, and asked if I needed anything. Without fail on this journey, everywhere I’ve gone, ALL housekeeping staff is amazed that I do not need or request a single thing: No towels, no sheets, no instant coffee refills, nothing. I usually have to explain that, “I’m a pretty low key guy and I don’t need much to be comfortable.” The conversation usually ends with them looking at me with a slight reservation; as if I have a chopped up body on ice in the bathtub that will only be found after I checkout.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I was in Moncton, NB and I once again found myself without sufficient clean clothes. I typed “Laundromat” into a Google search on my trusty new computer and the first result was a laundromat called “The Laundromat” which looked to be just a short walk from the hotel. I had dinner followed by juices with Hattie, Charley, and Dan, packed my things, and got a little map from the front desk. After a very brisk walk I came to “The Laundromat” and heard music coming from inside.  “Cool place.  It’s rocking in there,” I thought to myself. I walked in the front door with my Apple bag of dirty clothes only to find that it was “The Laundromat” in name only. The Laundromat was actually a local townie bar. I could drink my fill of booze, and share war stories with the natives, but there was no chance of me being able to clean my unmentionables in there. Out the door I went, and I hustled back to the hotel with dirty laundry in tow. Thank you, Google, you coy search engine.

I woke up early the following day, once again searched for a laundromat, and saw a second location. Not wanting history to repeat itself, I actually called this laundromat to make sure I could clean my clothes. It was a cold but sunny morning and I began my second attempt to clean the few clothes I brought. There’s a reason that laundromats are in certain areas of towns. It’s not a geographical accident. I walked out of the city center where the hotel was located, and the shape of the neighborhood went from nice, to average, to shady. The laundromat was in the shady part of town. There was, however, a Tim Horton’s kittycorner from where I was headed.  How bad could it truly be?

I was the only person in that morning, and it was a peaceful time listening to the washing machine spin it’s magic. As I was sitting at a table and working on cleaning up the charts I had made for myself, a rusted out car with a loud engine came careening into the parking lot.  A man sat and smoked in the still running car in the small parking lot while a large woman who wearing a ripped sweatshirt and faded pink sweatpants burst through the door of the laundromat. This must have been an emergency. She hurriedly made her way past me in a straight line directly to the bathroom. I didn’t even know there was a bathroom until now. She turned on the light but neglected/forgot/didn’t care to close the door. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity for me to walk over to look at the dryers because I couldn’t see into the bathroom from this position. Tumble. Permanent Press. Regular heat. Low heat. No heat. Delicates. Yes, these were going to work out really well. I heard the toilet flush, but I definitely did not hear the sound of a faucet running or any hand washing. She walked out of the bathroom, apparently still unaware of my presence in the room, let out a relieved, “Jesus Christ,” under her breath, exited the laundromat, got into the loud and rusty car that had been waiting with the smoking man and was gone. Moncton.

This experience made me want to hustle a bit more that I thought I’d needed to. I completed my task as quickly as I could. I pulled my clothes out of the dryer before they were technically “done” in order to get back to the safety (sanity) of my hotel room. I was walking down a neighborhood street with my clean clothes in the Apple bag to get back to civilization. While the air was cold, the sun felt great on my face.

On the other side of the street, a man hollered, “Mornin’!”
“Hey there,” I smiled and gave a quick wave. The man crossed the street and made his way over to me. I quickly glanced around. There were no cars coming and nobody else was walking on the street.
“SO, friend,” he began, “Y’a’int from ‘round here, eh?”
Am I that obvious? Shit. Here we go.
“No, I’m just in for work. Leaving tomorrow,” was my reply.
“Ah huh…” Wheels were turning. “Well, maybe we could help each other out. Mutual benefit. Y’see, I don’t have no money, and I don’t have no smokes…” He trailed off for a second while I stood without saying a thing. Was he expecting me to offer him some smokes?  “And I just get angry, really… Really angry when I don’t have no smokes. I’m just real worried that I’m going to get real angry real soon.”
I looked around and there wasn’t another soul to be found. No witnesses to whatever might take place. Think, Pat. You’re sometimes smart. When I travel, I always take my cash, credit card, and ID out of my wallet. I have a hidden pocket in the arm of my coat where I keep my cash and cards, and any coins go in the visible front pocket. In the event I ever have to “hand over” my wallet, the only things I’ll be losing are my ten year old imitation leather billfold and the stamp card for the place I get bubble tea from in Austin. If the card has ten stamps, it’s worth far more than the ten year old wallet. Despite my preparedness, here I was, standing face to face with a local smoker who had an anger problem.
“Well, sir,” I started to reply, “I certainly don’t want you to have to get angry over some smokes. I’m not a smoker myself, so I can’t help you there.” I opened the front pocket of my coat where the coins were kept, and in Canada, coins can add up to quite a sum of money. His hand instinctively went out and an expression of complete seriousness came over his face. “All I have is this,” and I handed him about six dollars in Canadian change.
“Thanks, friend,” he smiled. He still had this look in his eyes that there was an outside chance that the money I had given him wasn’t going to be enough, and that he might still get angry despite his recent financial gain. “Say, you ever been campin’ up here? It’s beautiful in the Springtime.”
“No, I haven’t. I’ve actually got to get going for work now,” was my response in hopes that he may leave me alone.
“Right. Well… Y’should come back. I can show you some great spots.” He turned and walked away in the opposite direction I was heading. He never told me his name, how to get ahold of him, and definitely didn’t say thank you for the money, but the situation was over without anyone getting angry. Moncton.

When I got back to the hotel, I sent a text to my girlfriend: “I think I just got mugged, but I’m alright.” She was in class when I sent it, but about an hour later I got a very concerned call from her.
“Are you alright?!?” she questioned.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” and I relayed the story to her. There was a moment of silence on the other end of the phone.
“Hello?” I asked.
“Pat. You were not mugged. You were hustled. They are two very different things,” she explained. “I was worried like crazy when I saw your text in class. I thought somebody came up behind you with a gun or a knife and took everything. You got hustled by a townie.” Moncton.

Moncton.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

St. John’s, Newfoundland

I wish I could start with, “One of my favorite gigs I played was in…” but since that never happened, I’ll have to begin with: One of my favorite hotels I was able to stay in was in St. John’s, Newfoundland. For some strange twist of fate, the newbie without any real tasks got the massive corner suite overlooking downtown. The sun was shining into the big corner windows of my room when I walked in and I could feel the warm heat off the floor which had been getting hit directly for a few hours before my arrival. Looking out, the houses are all painted vivid colors and the hilly landscape requires many unique street directions and intersections which reminded me of a town that might be the product of Dr. Seuss’ imagination.

St. John’s is as east as you can get while still technically being part of North America. It’s east enough to have it’s own time zone which is thirty minutes ahead of Atlantic time. Some actual math was required when trying to coordinate Skype conversations with my girlfriend in New York.

I went to a (vegan) restaurant on the first night in town, and it was by far the best (vegan) food I’d have on the tour. It was a cute little place called Sprout, and I highly recommend it if you’re in the area. It was the most “full” I’ve gotten from food which had no animal product in it, and I was grossly full after this experience.

The show in Newfoundland was supposed to be the final stop on the tour, but a month before I joined, a plague straight out of the Book of Revelation got ahold of all of the males in the band and crew and they had to cancel two gigs which were then rescheduled for the end of the tour.  In true New Testament style, the women were spared. Thus, there a party was planned for the band and crew at the hotel in Newfoundland, and just because of two rescheduled shows, that’s no reason to cancel a perfectly good gathering that was already on the books.

I made my way down to the party room and met up with the friendly folks who were already there. It was great to chat with these folks when they are off the clock. The band and crew are so professional when work has to be done, and it was nice to be able to see them catch a breath on an off day. Even though I had consumed a quarter of my body weight in vegan food about an hour before the party, I managed to push down some more food from the buffet. Our flight crew who safely took us from city to city was also present for the festivities. Amy, the flight attendant, was definitely there and definitely off the clock. She saw me and with a drink in her hand walked in my direction. After some hellos and pleasantries she said with a warm smile, “I haven’t told you this,” she started, “and I’ve never heard you play, but I don’t have to. If you’re getting the call to join a group like this, you’ve got to be pretty badass at what you do.” I was caught off guard. It was such a kind thing to say, and I felt a tear or two welling up in my eyes as I thanked her. She then asked me, “Are coming out for some drinks and dancing with us after this?” I felt so stupidly full from gorging myself for the better part of the afternoon (and evening). I tried to tell to her that I was probably going to stay in for the night because I was just too full from all of the food. This is not what she wanted to hear. Her smile didn’t fade. It blacked out. Gone. Her face instantly fell, and a look of stern seriousness came into her eyes. “Don’t be a girl. Go upstairs. Take a shit, and come out dancing with us.” That was all the arm twisting I needed.

AC. “Necessary.”  Good call.

Closed, but worth the walk. Definitely not vegan.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Montreal, QB

The tour was originally supposed to end in Newfoundland, but two shows were rescheduled to the end of the tour. This meant that the band and crew had a four day layover. What to do, what to do? Mr. Cohen, being a man of infinite class and hospitality, elected to spend the days off in Montreal, QB. It will likely be my only time staying in a hotel this fine, and it was the only hotel I’ve ever been to where there was a foyer leading to my room.

The Foyer.

The Room.

The Bathroom.

I had been hearing about “The Toto in Montreal” since joining the tour, but nobody would actually tell me what it was. I found out when I set foot into the bathroom of the hotel room. I heard a gentle purr, looked in the direction of where the sound was coming from, and saw that the toilet lid went up with a motion detector. I went over to further investigate. To call it a toilet is an insult and doesn’t do justice to this modern marvel. The Toto. It did everything… Everything. This thing will do anything from a warm gentle rinse to a full force black hole pulsating power wash, and it even had a heated seat. It was my first time using something like this, and I have to admit, I’ve never felt cleaner or more refreshed.  I also felt slightly unfaithful. It didn’t hurt that there was a TV directly across from where one sits. I took to having my morning coffee in the bathroom while watching my lifetime quota of Dog the Bounty Hunter while enjoying the warm embrace of The Toto.

The Toto. Proof of the existence of a loving god.

On the first night of our stay, I was quietly practicing, and I heard a knocking close to 7:30pm. I answered it, and a very nice woman from housekeeping was at my door. Through a thick French accent, I heard something about turning down. I could barely hear my amp, but I know how low frequencies easily travel through floors and walls. I quickly apologized, “I’m so sorry, I was practicing, and I thought I was being quiet. I’ll stop for the evening if it’s bothering the other guests.”
“No, monsieur. Do you want turndown? Turndown service?” she slowly asked me.
I had no idea what turndown service was. “What is this turndown service?” I inquired.
“Turndown. We close the blinds, dim the lights, pull back your bedding to make the room ready for sleep.”
I thought about this for entirely too long. “Thank you, but I can close the blinds and get ready for bed on my own,” I responded
“Would you like any chocolates?” I do like chocolates, though.
“Are they free?”
“They are free.”
“I’d love one.”
“Just one?”
“Alright. Two, please.”
“Would you like a bottle of water?” I could definitely drink some water.
“Is it free?”
“It is free.”
“I would love a bottle.” I reached out and she handed me a bottle of water. “You know, would it be possible for me to get one more bottle of water?” She smiled and handed me another bottle of water. It was so dry up in Canada, and with the heat on everywhere we went, it was so hard to stay hydrated.
“Is there anything else I can do for you before I go?”
“I am all set, thank you so much,” I replied. Just as she was about to turn around and go to the next room a very powerful idea struck my brain. “Excuse me, would it be possible for me to get five bottles of water?”
“Of course, sir,” she smiled and started handing me bottle after bottle from her cart. I stood in my door way with five bottles of water in my arms, thanked her and she went on her way. It’s likely that I singlehandedly put her behind schedule for the night.

As the clock turned to 10pm, I decided that I wanted a beer. Just one.  Montreal had to have some good local beer. From my walk earlier in the day I remembered passing a little market store only a few blocks from the hotel. I put on every layer of clothing I had, went out into the night, and made my way to the Marche-Cosmopolitain. I walked in and saw the beer cooler in all of its glory. There were many Canadian IPAs that looked very tempting, but then Talkerman spotted me. Talkerman was stocking a shelf with wine and asked if I needed any help finding anything. I said that I was just looking for the moment. He started in with the usual small talk and somehow he got it out of me that I am from Michigan but now work as a bassist in Austin. “Hey man, do you have a card or CD I can have? I’d love to check out your stuff.” I didn’t have either on me, and the way the conversation was going, I wasn’t terribly comfortable with him knowing my contact information. “Hey man, I write songs. Yes, yes, I sure do. That’s so crazy. Here’s a tune I wrote a while back.” He proceeded to sing his original tune as if he were being backed by one of Nashville’s finest country sidemen: “Born in Michigan, raised in Texas, now I live in Tennessee.” The “Tennessee” was drawn out like, “Tenn-ya-sayy-eee.” He went on to tell me that he’s a songwriter by trade, and a bass player by passion. Who was I to dispute that? All I wanted was a beer, and maybe another few minutes on The Toto before bed. Instead, I was getting a private unaccompanied solo performance from Talkerman in the Marche-Cosmopolitain.

I got back to the hotel, and I had been in communication with Joey (tour manager) who’s room was just down the hall. We were going to hang for a bit. I cracked open an IPA, took a sip, and I wish I could say that it was worth enduring the private concert, but it was pretty bad. All of the French Canadian beers I bought were pretty horrible and syrupy. I know what I want out of an IPA, and this was not it. I took my bad beer and walked down the hall to Joey’s room. Upon entry, it looked like a scene from an end-of-the-world movie where the protagonist has just stumbled into a new space where technology existed. I mean this all in the best way possible. It was an awe inspiring scene and I couldn’t help but notice that Joey’s room was far larger than mine, which was totally cool, because he was working far harder than I. Joey waisted no time getting Mission Control setup earlier in the day. When he gets into a new hotel room, he promptly swaps out all of the hotel’s lightbulbs for the Phillips LED lights that synch with Apple devices. Thus, there’s a calming and ever changing hue of light through the room. The sheer number of devices that he tours with is mind blowing. He had his Apple TV connected to the flat screen TV across the room with music playing though it, the same song on a loop, and was working off of two different laptops. He employing an iPad, an iPad Mini, and an iPhone that he was also working on. There were cables everywhere, running across the sofa, the bed, and over chairs. He was like a conductor of a modern orchestra– Talking to me, replying to emails, updating the Leonoard Cohen website, and answering calls. All at once.

Joey had two large McDonald’s bags on the desk and two large cups of soda.
“Big McDonald’s fan?” I asked.
“Not really, but I always get two meals,” was his flatline response as hey typed on his laptop while reading from his iPad. I must have had an inquisitive look on my face because he stopped everything he was working on, sat back in his chair and looked at me. “I always get two meals, because one of them always sucks.” He pulled out a quarter pounder from one bag and a box of chicken nuggets from the other, held them side by side, and gave me a watch-and-learn look. He took a bite of a chicken nugget. “Pretty good,” he said as he chewed and then picked up the quarter pounder. “Ugh,” with a mouthful of meat, “terrible. See what I mean?” he asked. Without a second of hesitation, and without looking he tossed the quarter pounder into the trash and then emptied the fries from one McDonald’s bag into the other. The two sodas sat side by side on a little clearing of desk next to a Red Bull energy drink and a liter of water. It was getting close to midnight and I asked how late he plans on working, to which he replied, “I’ll just work straight through all of tomorrow and sleep the following day.” I took that as my subtle cue that told me hang-time was over.

Monday, April 22, 2013

I decided it was a good day to “ease on into”. I took a long hot shower because in addition to the Toto, the shower had an amazingly huge rainfall faucet which was too good not to stand in for a long time. I found a bathrobe and slippers in a clever yet functional hiding place, and then proceeded the wear them around the hotel room. I laid on the bed while watching more Dog the Bounty Hunter. While watching Dog break a crack pipe and overuse the word, “Brah,” I realized I hadn’t yet explored the hotel room to the fullest extent that I could. What other treasures were waiting to be discovered? I’d only recently just found the robe and slippers. I opened the cabinet below the TV to find a sizable fridge stocked with booze. I opened up the left side to find a bunch of food/snacks and a price list. I would not be partaking in any of the snacks or beverages. I went over to the right side of the cabinet and there it was. The Nespresso maker. Heaven sent. Since nothing in this world is free, I hurriedly went to the other side of the cabinet to find the price list. On the front were the prices for the food, on the back were the prices for the drinks. Coffee was nowhere to be found. Could it be true? I gave another look at both sides and still didn’t see anything pertaining to the Nespresso. I looked for a second price list, if there even was one, but came up empty handed. I felt like a junkie. I had not had my coffee fix for the day, and paradise was so close. I made the decision to make a phone call to the front desk. I got up off my knees, straightened out my robe, sat on the phone side of the bed, and dialed “0.”
“Bonjour, Monsieur Harris,” came the voice on the other end. Jesus, they know my name.
“Ahhh… bonjour.” Pause. “Esque vous parlez Anglais?” Please don’t fail me, high school French.
“Yes, sir. How can I help you?” Win.
“Yes, hello. I was wondering… I found an espresso machine in my room, and I was wondering if there was any charge to use it?”
“No sir, the espresso is for your enjoyment.”
“This is perfect. Merci beaucoup,” I replied.
“Je vous en…” In my haste and blinded to all courtesy I hung up the phone before she could finish. I had the info I needed and had my eyes on the prize.
I proceeded to spend the rest of the morning in the robe and slippers, getting jacked on free espresso, and practicing the bass.

The sun beamed into my room in the early afternoon and that was my cue that I needed to get it together and actually leave the hotel. I wandered around Montreal for the afternoon and found a bookstore. Based on our conversation earlier in the tour, back in Hamilton, I bought a copy of The Stand for Mickey. He was so kind to me, and it was a small token to show my thanks. I also picked up some more “Thank You” stationary to write cards to the members of the band and crew who were so welcoming when I joined them.

Montreal.

I got back to the hotel after the sun had gone down. As I entered, something was amiss. I looked around. The lighting was dim and inviting. There was a new rug and fresh slippers were at the side of the bed. The bed sheets had been pulled back. There were chocolates on my pillow and five bottles of water at the bedside table. I had been had.  I had gotten the Turn Down Service. My odd cheapness from last night must have made quite the impression on the housekeeping woman for her to remember that I asked for five bottles of water the day before. I sat down at the desk and compulsively checked my email; my link to the outside world. I had secretly been waiting and/or hoping for an email or any sign from somebody higher up in the chain of command to say something like, “Get ready, you’re on the gig tomorrow,” or “get ready, you’re going to soundcheck with the band tomorrow,” or “get ready, we’re having a one minute pre-soundcheck rehearsal that you’re going to play on.” That email never came. However, I did get an email from Mike (band manager) that Mr. Cohen wanted to invite us (the band, the crew, and any spouses) to dinner tomorrow night.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dinner time. I went to the currency exchange vendor earlier in the day to make sure I had enough Canadian money in hand only to be sorely disappointed that the exchange rate was so close; basically dollar for dollar. The dinner hour approached quickly. What to wear? I had been on the road for about five weeks at this point, and my choices were few. I was going to go with my well worn black shirt, and black slacks, and my new square toe black shoes. Can’t go wrong with black.

The vans were waiting out front and everybody made their way over to the restaurant. I was fortunate to be able to dine with some my favorite folks on the tour: Charley, Dan, Tash, Renee, and Nicky. I was looking at the menu and felt a little overwhelmed with the prices that I saw. We had the usual pleasantries of asking around the table what we were going to order and Mr. Cohen walked over. “I just wanted to let you all know that I have ordered red wine for all of us. They have a great vintage here, and I think you’ll all enjoy it.” He walked on to the next table.

“What a great guy,” I said to the table. “That’s so kind of him.”
“That’s how it works on this tour,” Charley replied. “Leonard is one of the most generous and gracious men I’ll ever know.” Everyone around me nodded their heads and confirmed this.
“No other tours are like this,” Tash said.
“I received an email last night from Leonard with a listing of all of the vegetarian dishes from this restaurant,” Nicky began. “He’s so incredibly thoughtful and didn’t have to do that.”
Tash concurred, “It’s amazing how well he knows everyone in this organization, and he always goes beyond to be accommodating.”
“You should get whatever looks good,” Charley added.
It occurred to me without it being directly expressed I would not be spending my own money on this night. This was Mr. Cohen’s treat to the band and crew. Appetizers came, dinner came, and the wine continued to flow. When it looked like everybody was just about finished with their meal, Mr. Cohen stood up, “I hope you all saved room for dessert and coffee. They have a wonderful home made cogniac here and I’ve ordered that for each table.” Mr. Cohen is an amazingly generous host and a true gentleman. While I was enjoying myself and the company at the table, there was the constant thought, “I don’t deserve any of this,” in the back of my mind.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Winnipeg, MB

The penultimate stop. First Winnipeg, then Regina (or “The Gina” as it was referred to by Hattie, Charley, and Dan), and then back to Austin where it was warm and the sun shines.

I’m at another laundromat. Ah, the local laundromats– Such magical places.  I brought my laptop to work on the journal that I had been keeping throughout the tour (the journal which served as the basis for these posts), but I was distracted by two men/boys who appeared to be in their early 30s. They were filling up a lot of space in the laundromat with their conversation. As I emptied my dirty clothes from the Apple bag into the machine I sensed a tension in the air. The gents were talking in non-hushed tones how difficult their respective lives were in a coy battle of subtle one-upmanship. They were both in relationships with other partners, but oh, the things they would do with and to each other if only they were single. It was a hard dialogue to tune out.

As I typed and tried organizing my thoughts, a new guy came into the laundromat and was announced with the shrill beeping of a loud digital doorbell. There was plenty of free space, but New Guy decided it would be best to setup shop right next to me. There’s an unwritten rule that if the space allows, you put as much distance between yourself and a stranger as you can. It’s like using the rest room: There are sometimes as many as twenty urinals in a row. It is protocol, when available, to leave at least a one urinal courtesy gap between you and the guy peeing next to you. If it’s just the two of you, you leave a six urinal gap. The fewer people in a large space, the more space you put between each other. This is what I consider to be common working knowledge.

New Guy dumped all of his dirty and smelly clothes all over the counter which is typically reserved for folding clean clothes. “That looks fun,” he told me as he sorted, hacked, and then spit into a nearby trashcan. What is it about me that draws these characters to me like hooker to a politician on the Vegas strip?
“Well, it sort of is for fun, or at least it helps pass the time,” I replied.
“That for school?”
“No, I’m just keeping track of where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing for the last month.”

New Guy made a hard left turn in the dialogue. “So, I saw this woman today. She didn’t know where the fuck she was going, and she was in a fucking wheel chair.” I couldn’t imagine any interesting or worthwhile stories starting this way.  “I told her that I live around here and I could draw her a fucking map.” The F-bombs kept coming, but they were casual and lacked any real emotion. “So I drew her a fucking map,” which he pulled out of the waistband of his sweatpants. “See,” he retold the scene, “ ‘You’re here, and you need to get here,’ I said (he said). So you gotta fucking go down this road until that road.” He reenacted his exchange with Wheelchair Woman. I looked at his map and it was essentially a few wiggly lines drawn on a napkin which was devoid of street names or landmarks. It didn’t make sense to me.
I asked, “So… you drew her a map, you let her see the map, but then you kept the map?”
“Yeah,” he responded, “She was in a fucking wheelchair and didn’t know where the fuck she was going. I made the map.”  He left his dirty clothes on the table and walked out.
It all started to make sense now. I finished my laundry for what would be the last time on the tour.

In the soundcheck for the evening’s performance Mr. Cohen announced that George Jones had passed away that day and he would like to honor Mr. Jones during the performance.  Mr. Cohen and the band started looping the song Choices and began an impromptu arrangement. Most of the crew was scratching their heads. I was informed that it is unheard of for Mr. Cohen to throw a last minute curveball at the band like this on the night of a show. After the soundcheck, we were sitting in the green room and the band was still riffing on Choices, but there were some differences as to how the tune went and what the form was.

While many country songs sound simple, there are often some zigs where you would expect zags, and there are certain phrases that get extended or cut short without one really noticing. The changes in form are subtle enough to be extremely dangerous and can lead to a crash-and-burn on stage. I offered to chart the tune for the band. Finally! A task! I went into the men’s dressing room and Roscoe, the musical director, followed me. He cued up Choices on an iPhone, I established the key (the people’s key of D major), and set about charting the song. As I was writing down chords, Roscoe would tell them to me… Because I hadn’t spent the last month transcribing music on my own (irony). “One… One… Four… One… One… Six… Five…” Yep, got it. A single pass through the tune was all it took. I then opened my computer, input the song into a nice, clean, easy to read music notation program, and printed copies for the band. That was my big contribution.

I brought in the final copies of the Choices charts to the men’s dressing room to give to Roscoe. We had a fine social relationship after our talk in Halifax, but from my perspective there remained a very Charleston Heston-esque, “You’ll have to pry this bass out of my cold dead hands to get on that stage,” sentiment. Upon handing the charts to Roscoe, he gave me a genuine thanks (always appreciated), and we talked for a bit. I had my Leonard Cohen charts on the table next to my laptop and he complimented them. “Those look great,” he said. “You know, I never got into the whole music notation software thing. I just never got around to learning that stuff.” It obviously didn’t slow him or his career down for not having said skill. Then he said, “You should give me a copy of those to add to the charts I already have.”

What? Did I hear this correctly?

He walked over to one of the road cases that get rolled around everywhere the band goes, pulled a drawer open, and lifted out a three inch thick folder full of Leonard Cohen sheet music. “I’ve had all of these that I’ve compiled over the years,” he said as he thumbed through them, “but they probably wouldn’t have done you any good because they’re in different keys.”  I excused myself from the conversation to use the restroom.  With hindsight, I’m so happy that I had to do all of the transcription that I did on the road.  It was not only great ear training practice but a huge course in song construction and arrangement.

Tuesday, April 29, 2013

The flight home. We traveled comfortably from The Gina to Los Angeles, and I was seated across from Charley and Dan, while Mr. Cohen was directly to my right.  Upon landing, getting back into the good ol’ U.S.of.A was a breeze, the hot, sticky City of Angels air felt so good on my face. I walked out of the plane and I began my goodbyes.  The previous night I had written thank you notes to many in the band and crew for everyone’s unparalleled kindness and slid them under their hotel room doors.  It was bittersweet saying goodbye to some of my new friends, and I really wasn’t able to fully appreciate the experience until I got home, was able to get some distance and perspective, and realize what I had been part of.  In a very cool move, and much to my appreciation, Roscoe got me into the VIP club in LAX to hang with him and Mitch during our four hour layover.  It was calm and relaxing in the lounge and was much better than having to wait in the chaos of the airport below.  From there, we boarded a plane directly to Austin, I was picked up, came home, and fell asleep.  Seven months later, here I am.

I did end up emailing Roscoe a computer folder full of charts I had made once I got back to Austin, but not before giving Mr. Cohen the hard copies with a thank you card in person at the airport.

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I Can’t Not Work Like This, Part 1

I Can’t Not Work Like This:
My Month on the Road with Leonard Cohen and the Best Gig I Never Played

Part 1 – The Call

Monday, April 1, 2013

It was as atypical as a Monday on the road can be.  I was riding in the backseat through the mountains with the Austin Piazzolla Quintet on a week long tour through Colorado in support of our new release Lo Que Vendra.  We had a few successful gigs under our belts, and didn’t have to perform until that evening, so James (our Colorado tour guide/bandleader/violinist) was taking us on the scenic route to lunch at an elevation close to 8,000 feet.  The burger was unremarkable, but I had rocky mountain oysters for the first time that day, and I can happily report that fried bull testicles taste a lot like any other battered and fried food I’ve taken down.

As we were walking back to the car, I heard the all too familiar sound of my phone’s voicemail alert.  Being in such a remote part of the mountains, service was spotty at best, and I saw that the call was from Mitch (guitar), who was currently on the road with Leonard Cohen.  “Maybe he wants to setup a gig for when he gets back to Austin?” I thought, as I put the iPhone (which will likely be the cause of an iTumor later in my life) to my ear.

“Hey, Pat, it’s Mitch.  Listen man, could you call me as soon as possible?  I’m on the road with Leonard.  There’s a situation with the health of our bassist, and if you could just give me a call back as soon as you can, I’d appreciate it.”

I excused myself from the rest of the group to return Mitch’s call.  As I listened, he explained the situation more in depth:  The current bassist was having some health issues and nobody could really explain the cause.  They needed a bassist to come out on the road for the rest of the tour, learn the music, and be on standby during the shows.  If the bassist were to get ill, I would step in, the show would go on, and that would be that.  My first gig would potentially be the coming Saturday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.  No pressure there.  My biggest hangup was that I was currently on the road with another band with gigs in Colorado as well as gigs for the rest of April back in Austin, and Team Leonard Cohen needed me on Tuesday– tomorrow.

I got back into the CRV, probably had some wild look on my face, and the APQ guys were curious about what the story was.  “Guys,” I began, “Is Christina (previous APQ bassist currently living in Denver) available?  I feel awful having to do this, but I just got a call to join and potentially play with Leonard Cohen through the end of the month, and if I do this, I’d have to fly out tomorrow morning.”  I couldn’t be with a better group of guys. Their entiere reaction was that I should absolutely go and take the opportunity.  If memory serves me right, I think one of them threatened to beat my ass if I didn’t go, and I was eerily comforted by James saying, “If that call was for me, I would bail on you guys without a second thought.”  Good people.  True professionals. We then drove back down the mountain into Ft. Collins, situated our gear, and prepared to travel into Denver for our gig that night.

When things happen in this business, they happen fast.  There isn’t much time to think.  On the drive to Denver with the APQ, I was constantly on my phone and email coordinating with the LC tour manager a flight from Denver to New Haven, CT.  I was also trying to book a hotel room close to the airport in Denver.  Noteworthy, was the fact that I was able to get five dollars off the hotel room simply by asking for a discount.

We had a fantastic gig in Denver, went out for dinner after the show, and the guys dropped me off at the Comfort Inn in Aurora, Colorado.  If I never had to stay there again, that would be fine.  Aurora is the Detroit of Colorado.  Despite calling in my reservation, the computer system at the Comfort Inn was “dy-own” and they had no record of said reservation.  I overpaid for wifi access in the hotel room, and downloaded all of the live Leonard Cohen albums that iTunes had available so I could start learning roughly four decades of material.  On the plus side, I was able to get a $5 discount on my room simply because I asked the front desk if they could go any lower.  It was a modest victory.

Sleep was not a card I was dealt that night.  There was a good mix of total excitement and absolute pants-shitting terror which pulsed through my body and subsequently manifested itself in numerous trips to the bathroom.  In theory, I suppose it’s alright, because I had to “wake up” at 3am so I could take the shuttle to the airport for my 7am flight.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I arrived at the Denver airport at 5am and it was already slammed with people.  I am an anxious flyer, and I get even more on edge when I have to take my instrument and amplifier with me.  To add to this already stressful continuation of a day (I had been awake since 9am on Monday, and it’s now 5am on Tuesday), I had the pleasure of dealing with the biggest TSA she-hulk I’ve ever encountered.  I try with all of my might to follow directions and make everyone’s life easier, and I feel I’m overly aware of this at the airport.  I put my bass and my amp on the x-ray belt and walked through the scanner that will check for bombs in my ass (and also likely give me a tumor of some sort).  After my scan came up clean, the TSA woman started going off on me in the most awful nagging voice I’ve ever heard.  “Seer!  Seer!  What are you?  Deaf?!?  Can’t you hear?!?  You have to stay with your bags until they have passed through the scanner!  I’ll eat your children!”  I don’t think she said that last part, but it was certainly implied.

I then, with a smile on my face and an apology on my lips, went back to the x-ray scanning belt, watched my instrument and amp go through, no surprises, and went through the cancer causing body scanner for a second time that once again did not find a bomb in my ass.

Finally, I was in, checked.  Mike (LC tour manager) had handled the acquisition of my plane ticket, and we were all operating under the, “We don’t really know what the situation is, let’s just get you here, and we’ll figure it out at that point,”  I few from Denver to Philadelphia, and then took a small, anxiety inducing, propellor plane from Philly to New Haven, CT.  I had always known of Leonard Cohen’s music, but regrettably, I had never really invested much time in getting deeply into it.  He is an artist’s artist.  I wish I had discovered him earlier in life.  I  intently listened to Live in London and Songs from the Road albums on my first flight.

On my connection to New Haven I was seated next to The Talker, a person who just cannot grasp even the most deliberate social cues.  Despite having my headphones in and my eyes closed, she started talking to me about something that I really didn’t have any interest in.  Try as I might to do the, “Yes, well, you know, that’s just how it is,” escapist response, she had to keep hammering her non-point into the ground.  I had to give up on my listening to stare blankly at this woman and provide her with single word responses as she monologued through the entire flight.

Once we landed in New Haven, I bid The Talker a goodbye and exited the plane. I got to the baggage claim and the tour manager had sent a driver for me:  Sully.  Sully looked the part.  He could have been an extra mob boss in The Departed, and he held a sign that had my name on it.  I walked up to him and said, “I’m Pat Harris, great to meet you.”

Somewhat startled, he answered with, “What?”

I explained that he is holding a sign that reads “Pat Harris,” and that Pat Harris is my name.  He then asked me the million dollar question, “Where are you going?”

In that instant, it occurred to me that I had absolutely no clue as to where I was going.  I knew I needed to go to a hotel, so I can get in the band vans, and then ride to the gig.  That’s all I knew.  I responded, “I’m sorry, I don’t actually know where I’m going, but you’re the driver, aren’t you supposed to know where I’m going?”  He then told me that he was just checking to see if I was who I proclaimed to be.  Once that was settled, he helped me with my gear which easily fit into the trunk of his black Lincoln town car.  Mob boss.  He insisted I sit in the back because there was, “A bunch of shit all over the front passenger seat,” and we were off.

As we were driving, we began talking, and by talking, I mean that Sully gave me a history lesson on all of the celebrities he has driven.  He told me that he drove YoYo Ma and “some bass player” (Edgar Meyer) from James Taylor’s house, and that the bass gets its own first class seat on airplanes.  After he was finished talking about how he and Denzel Washington are close because Denzel’s daughter goes to Yale, and Denzel visits often, he said, “So, what are you doing out this way?”

I replied, “I’m actually going to be joining up with Leonard Cohen’s tour.”

Pause. Silence.  “Whoever that is,” was all Sully had to say about that.  As I got to the hotel, I met up with Joey (tour manager) in the Lobby and was handed my room key.  I quickly took all of my things up to my room.  Yes, we all get our own rooms, even those of us who don’t actually do much. I went back down to the lobby where I met up with Mitch (guitar/point of contact).  It was great to finally see Mitch and he took me around introducing me to Javier (multi-instrumentalist in the band) Alex (violin), and Roscoe (bass).  There was a definite vibe upon meeting Roscoe for the first time.  I can’t imagine that this sort of situation is common in the industry, and I can’t imagine the thoughts that were going through his head at that point in time.  He had just gotten out of the hospital with some health issues, he’s 2,000 miles from home, all of a sudden there’s this handsomely talented punk kid who is half is age joining the tour, and this kid also happens to play bass.  I can’t imagine anybody would be sunshine and rainbows in that moment.  We were all herded onto the band vans and headed to the gig.

If Mitch doesn’t get to heaven, it doesn’t exist.  He led me through the backstage area, and introduced me to many faces but immediately forgot names.  Before the soundcheck began, I was walked out to the center of the stage and introduced to Leonard, henceforth referred to as “Mr. Cohen.”  Mr. Cohen could be the kindest and most gracious musician/author/poet/artist/person I have ever met.  After our introduction, he thanked me for coming on such short notice, and quickly voiced his biggest concern to me.  I was thinking I would get the, “Are you up for the challenge?  Do you think you can handle this?” type of questioning.  Instead, Mr. Cohen’s chief concern was that I had enough warm clothing because we were going up through Canada for the next month.  He had Tom (merch) grab one of the heavy duty sweatshirts for me from the merch stand.


Soundcheck in Connecticut

The next hours were a whirlwind:

The soup was good.

I met Russ (monitor engineer) and Pants.  They got me situated with my own wireless unit and in ear monitors which gave me Roscoe’s mix so I could hear everything he heard while playing.

“Is there anything you need, Pat?”  Somebody asked.

“…A pad of paper… and a pen… if possible?”  I replied.

I sat down to dinner.  I think that was the first food I’d had all day, and I met Leif (author and Mitch’s guitar tech) as well as Hattie (vocals).  I wish I could remember what we talked about, but the only thing I really remember was Hattie telling us all how much she adored Lee Sklar (bassist who has played on a countless number of hit songs, many by James Taylor).

After dinner, there was a bit of downtime in the green room where I was able to just stop for about an hour and catch my breath. Mr. Cohen was very concerned prior to the show about the setup in the auditorium.  The audience who had paid the most for close up seats had an obstructed view as a result of the stage.  He is so genuine and really cares about everyone not only in his organization but for those who have taken the time and spent the money to support what he does.  On my my way to the stage I had my first glimmer of acceptance in the organization.  Paul (stage manager) had a chair with the words “Spare Bass Player” written on it for all to see.  I then made my way to stage left where I would be positioned next to Russ at the monitor mixing console, my new pal Leif was already busy working on Mitch’s guitars for the show, and I also met Mickey (Leonard and Javier’s guitar tech).  Mickey pulled a picture of himself and Elvis out of his road case, showed it to me, and said, “That’s the first time Elvis got to meet The King.”  Sold.  The man worked with Elvis.  It wasn’t until a few weeks later when I was retelling the story about the photo of Mickey and Elvis that somebody told me how it was a total fake and Mickey had taken it with an Elvis cutout when they were in Memphis a few weeks earlier.

The house lights went down, the stage lights came on, and for the next three hours, I frantically tried to transcribe all that I could simply by listening to the show from the side of the stage.  I didn’t know what key any of the tunes were in, and I don’t have perfect pitch, so I had to resort to using the good old fashioned Roman numeral system for the next thirty songs.

After the gig, the band makes a quick exit and takes the vans back to the hotel.  I was riding the elevator up to my room with Roscoe and Mitch, and told them how great the band sounded and how grateful I am for the experience.  Roscoe replied, “It must be great to be getting paid without having to do any work.”  I didn’t know him well enough to know his sense of humor, but I think it was his version of an icebreaker. I made it into my room, fell on my bed, and remember waking up around 5am still wearing the same clothes as the previous day.  I was officially on the road.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

After changing into my pajamas, I slept until 7am and got out of bed.  I was too intimidated by the daunting task ahead of me to fall back asleep.  Joey (tour manager) was able to get me a soundboard recording of the Memphis show and sent it to me via Dropbox, which I had on my iPhone.  My plan was to get to New York and then transcribe and work until that job was done.

We had a two hour bus ride into New York City.  As we drove through the Lincoln Tunnel, I couldn’t help but think about the scene in the book, The Stand where the protagonist has to slowly navigate through the tunnel on foot in the dark while it’s jammed with cars and dead bodies.  Lovely thought.  We got to the New York hotel, I got my own room (this would be standard for the whole tour), and we were only one block away from Radio City Music Hall.  I went up to my room and patiently waited for my bags to arrive.  I didn’t have to carry any of my own gear this whole trip.  Two days ago I was stuffed in a car with four other guys and sleeping on a air mattress on the floor next to a dog door.  How quickly things can change (they also revert to normal just as quickly).  I wanted and needed to get down to business.  There was much work to be done, but I soon found out that the location of my room was in a bit of a cellular and wifi black hole.  I couldn’t make or receive calls on my cell phone, and the hotel’s wifi reminded me of my days in junior high when I thought I was the cool kid for having a PC with a 56k modem.  I was in my room for about three hours, quickly descending into madness as I tried to get my iPhone to download the huge files of the soundboard recordings.  Drastic times called for drastic measures.

There was an Apple Store situated about 5 blocks from the hotel.  At 5pm, I made the journey to the Big Glass Square, descended the Big Glass Staircase and entered the busiest Apple Store I have ever been in.  I hate going into the Apple Store.  Love the products, hate the store.  Most people go there simply to play on the gear with no real intention of purchasing anything, and they tie up all of the sales representatives.  After wandering around and scoping out some of the different MacBooks without anybody asking me if I needed assistance, I had to go “Uncle Chris” on the situation.  My Uncle Chris is not known for his social graces.  The man says and does what he wants, when he wants, and I had to take a page out of his playbook.  I’m not proud of it, but again, desperate times.  I barged in on a conversation a representative was having with a client who wasn’t going to pull the trigger on anything quickly and said, “I need some help.  I have $2000 that I want to spend in this store in the next three minutes.”

“Oh, okay sir, let me call somebody for you.”

Within seconds, Dane was magically available, and I had settled on a MacBook Air which was cheaper than I had expected.  I am not the type of person to make impulse purchases.  I usually go to the grocery store and end up putting half of the items in my cart back on the shelves because I don’t “really need” them.  However, I had 3.5 hours of material to transcribe and it needed to be ready by Friday.

I went back to the hotel plugged in the computer, spent the next hour getting everything configured to a way that would be best for my workflow, and then tried to download the recordings of the Memphis gig.  It was moving along at a snail’s pace, and it was the perfect time to eat.  I left, had a bite, came back, and the encore set had downloaded successfully.  As I started to download set 1 and set 2, I set about transcribing the encores.  It was closing in on 8pm.  I had a yellow legal pad, a ballpoint pen, headphones, and a coffee that would keep me awake for a good long while.  I worked until 4:30am and was able to get set 2 and the encores transcribed.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

I woke up at 8am with the room phone ringing from the front desk.  I had a friend in Austin overnight Fedex my passport to me in New York because the next part of the tour was in Canada.  The hotel brought the envelope to me as I began working on transcribing the first set.  I had to work quickly because I had an 11am appointment with Nicky (wardrobe) to get fitted for a suit.  Nicky has an impressive resume of stage productions including shows that have been performed in the Globe Theater.  Every detail of the Leonard Cohen show is meticulously thought out and executed.  Nothing is left to chance and random doesn’t exist.  The color scheme is subtle, but there are “blue days” where the band wears muted blue tones, and “grey days” which should be self explanatory.  If I was needed to perform, I had to look the part.

I met Nicky in the hotel lobby and we headed off to Zara.  When I initially left Austin, I had only planned on being gone for a week, so while Nicky was dressed to impress in New York, I was wearing my comfortable, but considerably less fashionable grey hoodie, spare jeans that are too big, and some black pleather loafers that were purchased at Target.  I was like the little poor boy in the big city. It was a montage worthy scene.  When she asked my sleeve length, collar size, or shirt size, I was absolutely useless.  “Depending on the brand, I typically have a 34 inch inseam with a 30 waist, and my shoes are generally around 11.”  She was so kind for never once rolling her eyes.

Luck was on our side, and she picked out an amazing grey suit which fit on the first try.  We looked around for a few shirts, found some that got the job done, and called it a day pretty quickly.  It’s amazing how fast these things go when somebody has an eye for fashion and can just lay it out there in plain English.  It was actually quite an enjoyable experience.  My only previous memories of picking out nice clothing were traumatic affairs with my mother and grandmother as we did back to school shopping.  This could be why I now have a total aversion to shopping for clothes unless I absolutely need something.  Nicky and I parted ways.  She was off to run more errands and to find me a pair of shoes while I headed back to the hotel to continue my transcriptions.

Upon my return to the hotel, my suitcase, which was more like a stuffed sausage man-purse compared to what some of the other band members had with them, was wide open, and I could clearly see that I was fresh out of undershirts and boxers.  No worries, I can have the hotel launder one shirt and one pair of boxes to get me through until Ash comes to town.  Ash is my better half who lives and goes to school in Albany.  She’s a lifesaver, and was coming to visit on Friday evening with some much needed supplies:  White v-neck undershirts, boxers, a backpack, gum, and toothpaste.  I took my one pair of dirty boxers and one dirty shirt, put them in the laundry bag which was hanging in the closet, and walked them down to the front desk.  I made some great headway and had my first draft of the charts for the entire show finished on Thursday afternoon.

I was able to take a step back on Thursday night, caught a bit of a breath, and I went out to dinner with Hattie Webb (vocalist).  Hattie and her sister, Charley, are amazingly talented and kind people.  I cannot sing their praises enough.  As I got to know them, I would discover that these ladies can sniff out vegan restaurants in any city like a sharks smell blood in the water.  They’re not staunch vegans or vegetarians, but they are health conscious, and as good as the catered food tastes at the gigs, it’s often not the healthiest. They would become my best friends on the tour, and my outing with Hattie on Thursday night was a wonderful meeting of the minds.  As she is the closest to me in age out of anybody else on the tour, it was very interesting to get her point of view as to what life has been like touring the world with Leonard Cohen for the last five years.  It’s certainly a lifestyle that I’m not accustomed to.  Prior to joining, my touring experience included driving an insane number of hours with a band, being greasy from travel while playing the show, sleeping on a floor, barely getting real food, and hot water for showers was always scarce.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Once again, I was awoken by the sound of the hotel room phone.  My laundry was ready and they were going to send it up.  Within five minutes, there was a knock at my door, I answered it, and I was handed a fancy white box that was pleasantly tied with string.  I opened it to find my boxer shorts neatly folded.  My simple cotton undershirt was also folded and had a small piece of tissue paper in it to keep it from wrinkling.  The bill was taped to the underside of the lid of the box.  $14.  The presentation was pretty elegant, but I should have just gone out to the store and bought something new for $14.  The first lesson of the road was learned:  Never, ever, use the hotel for laundry.  As I got out of the shower and slipped on my freshly laundered unmentionables, I thought that they were a bit softer than usual, or maybe they were even still slightly warm from the dryer; anything to help justify spending $14.

I was back at the desk in the hotel working on my transcriptions and revising my drafts. Mitch was going to come to my room to run through the show in the afternoon, and I didn’t want to waste his time.  It worked out in my favor that I was coming from another tour because I had my electric-upright bass and amplifier with me.  Practicing my bass was one bit of normalcy that I had while on tour.

Mitch arrived at 2pm to the disaster area that overran my room.  I had various charts scrolled on yellow legal paper scattered all about in various stages of revision or completion.  When transcribing, I make a first draft, then the second draft is to go back through to make sure everything is correct with the reference recording.  I make a third draft of the chart that is easy on the eyes without any scratched out marks or corrections (I always use pen).  I will then make a fourth draft/version where, as if I weren’t already displaying OCD tendencies, I make sure that all of the chords are evenly spaced and everything looks good on the paper.  This is so I can use the chart on a rehearsal or gig if needed.  Once I’ve done everything with a pen and paper, I make a Final Version using a notation program like Finale, or more recently, Sibelius, because I’m neurotic and need to have these things absolutely perfect.

My philosophy with chart making is that there should never be any questions about how a song is performed.  If somebody looks at one of my charts and has a question, I haven’t done it correctly.  I will revise it so that it is not only useful for me, but so that anybody could read the chart cold, without prior rehearsal or without even knowing the song and be able to competently get through the music.  I’m neurotic and need to have these things absolutely perfect.

The hotel room rehearsal with Mitch lasted 4 hours, the length of a typical Leonard Cohen concert, and went very well.  It calmed my nerves a bit to know that I had transcribed everything correctly, and if called upon, I could successfully perform the gig.

An hour after our rehearsal finished, Ash was knocking on my door.  She took the train from Albany to Penn Station and then walked to the hotel.  She brought me some much needed supplies, and it was great to have a sense of normalcy once she walked in the room.  The timing was perfect.  We went out for dinner, and then met up with Mitch, Dianne (Mitch’s wife), Javier, and Alex to go to Birdland to see Pat Martino’s set.  As we were waiting in the lobby, I met Steve (lighting tech).  Steve is an older English man who was wearing shorts in 30 degree weather.  He has an impressive tattoo display which completely covers his legs.  After Mitch made introductions, Steve said to me, “You know, I play a bit of bass, m’self.  I don’t know why nobody called me.”  I didn’t have any response.  It wasn’t until later that I found out that Steve has an amazingly dry sense of humor and has likely gotten into a few altercations in the past as a result of it.  It was an experience to hear Pat Martino in New York City, and at Birdland, where so many iconic albums have been recorded.  You have to bring your A-game to New York or you will get eaten alive.  Getting to listen to one of the greats was the perfect way to clear my head.  No guitarist handles a ballad like Pat Martino and his rendition of “Blue in Green” was hauntingly beautiful.  As Ash and I walked back to the hotel, I was reminded why New York is called, “The city that never sleeps.”

Saturday, April 6, 2013

This was my first official show day, and the first day that I would potentially have to take the stage.  Once again, I was up early, and in turn, it meant that Ash was up early.  I think I sleep better on floors, couches and blow up mattresses than I do in fancy hotels.  It wasn’t long before a coffee addiction came calling.  Ash and I went out for coffee (always a priority) and then to run a few errands.  I needed a bag to carry my newly acquired laptop in.  I was not about to tote it all around creation in the box that it came in.

We walked over to Radio City Music Hall and I was able to get Ash a ticket from the box office.  Ticketmaster is awful.  Despite Ticketmaster indicating that the show was sold out, I was able to purchase an amazing seat for Ash in the center section, directly in front of the soundboard.  We got back to the hotel in the early afternoon, and I worked on learning and internalizing the show for the next three hours.  This was not a romantic getaway to the city.

At 3:30pm, I packed up my charts, my computer, put on my official all access laniard that can get me anywhere during the shows, and walked two blocks over to Radio City Music Hall.  I entered through the stage door, and security was tight.  I had to show a picture ID as well as my current laniard.  I then got yet another pass that was exclusive to Radio City Music Hall so that I could get where I needed to go.  I was immediately caught off guard by how small everything was in the backstage area.  The first floor had access to the stage and catering, the second floor was for the band dressing rooms and the green room, and the third was for the crew dressing rooms and the second green room that VIP guests were allowed.  It wasn’t until the following day I found out that John Stewart was on the third floor hanging out.

I went to the 4:30 soundcheck, listened, made notes to myself, and went to dinner.  Things were very quiet on this day.  There is something about New York audiences that is very intimidating to performers, or at the very least, to me.  Any time I’ve performed in the The City, I’ve always felt that there was something to prove.  You can’t slack or try to slip anything by a New York crowd because they will merrily crucify you.  The feeling backstage with the Leonard Cohen band and crew was similar.  Everybody spoke quietly, ate quietly, and likely thought to themselves quietly before the show.  As would be my routine for the next month: At 7pm I put on my new suit (thanks again, Nicky).  For a guy that nobody out in front got to see, I looked darn fine.  Steve (lighting tech, English) had become a fast friend and was always one of the first to tell me how “shahp” I looked.  The house lights went down and a surge of adrenaline came over me.  I stood behind Chris (bass tech) in my suit and hat, with my in-ear monitors, ready to go on stage at any moment, and followed along with my charts as the band played and supported Mr. Cohen for the next four hours.

Radio City Soundcheck

The Suit, and where I stand during the show

After the show, after having not played, Steve complemented me again, “Note perfect, mate.  Fuckin’ brilliant.  I din’t hear a single mistake.”  Thanks, Steve– You’re a good man.  I changed out of my suit, and walked outside the stage door which was barricaded to keep the super-fans at distance and made my way to the lobby to meet Ash.  I walked up to her and she said, “I’m sorry you didn’t get to play tonight, but that is honestly one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.” I was still in learn-it-memorize-it mode and I really had no idea how the show went.  I was more concerned that I had accurate charts and that I was catching how Rafael (drummer) was counting off every song.

We walked two blocks back to the hotel, I put my things up in the room, and we decided that we needed to go out.  It was midnight, we walked down to the front desk to see if there was a good place close by, and we were directed to Conneley’s, an English Pub that was just down the street.  We planned to go in for a beer, unwind, and then call it a night because there was another show the following day.

We walked into Conneley’s and headed back to the bar.  As we sat down, I saw some of the guys from the Leonard Cohen crew holding court and giving a local New York bar goer some hefty nonsense.  I love the super direct, deadpan, dry, cutting, and sometimes downright hateful nature of English humor.  Any person that can talk heaps trash to me within minutes of meeting them is a friend of mine.  The conversation started out pretty light with me inquiring what other gigs the guys had done prior to joining up with Leonard Cohen.  At some point Van Morrison came up.  Growing up, the only music that was played in my home was Van Morrison’s greatest hits and various Andrew Lloyd Webber soundtracks which were dictated by the seasons.  I was curious about what “Van the Man” is like, but before I could even ask,  “Van Morrison.  Fuckin’ asshole,” rang out clear as day.  “He’s the worst, Pat, the worst,” one of the guys said, and there seemed to be a great deal of agreement to those words.  Another added, “I was once offered free tickets to see Van Morrison, and I refused them because I didn’t want to accidentally like him.”

Paul (Stage Manager, also English) walked in and sat down at the stool next to me.  Paul reminds me of Ray Windstone circa Sexy Beast.  His exterior is hard, but I’m pretty sure he’s a teddy bear underneath.  Just saying hello to Paul often earned me a disdainful, “Why are you wasting my air?” type of look.  I tried to make small talk.

“So, where are you from, Paul?”  His response was some city-word that I couldn’t quite understand.  I was moving onto my second Bass Ale of the evening.  “Really?” I replied, “Is that close to London?”

“Do you know where London is?”  Paul asked me.

“No, my geography for my own country is pretty horrible.”

Paul, being the gentleman that he is, grabbed a napkin and began drawing me a map.  “Over ‘ere you got dir’y Whales.  Up ‘ere you got dir’y Scotland.  Right ‘ere you got stupid London.”  He then pointed to a small dot on the napkin-map.

“Is it nice where you live?”  I asked.

Paul’s straight faced response: “It’s a shit hole.”  I wasn’t making great headway with Paul, but then the tides changed.

“David!”  Demanded, Paul.  David was the bartender, also from England.  “Get another beer for my new best mate and his lady.”  Paul is a good, good man, and so came Bass Ale number three.  Paul then told Ash that I looked like one of those “limber boys,” that he would “take good care of me,” and that he “doesn’t kiss and tell.”

I had lost all track of time as the night wore on.  My sides hurt from laughing, and I was quickly losing the ability to make good decisions.  More of the crew showed up:  Renee (tour manager), Nicky, and Tash (wardrobe).  In my infinite classiness, I asked Renee what part of England she was from, and she told me Australia.  Lloyd Christmas would have been proud.  Dave (tour manager) also came in, took Paul’s seat, immediately saw that I was almost done with my beer, and ordered me another one.  Number four.  David and Tash both had worked with Iron Maiden in the past and had some great stories to share.  As I started drinking Beer Four, Beer Five appeared out of nowhere.  Ash and I then moved to a tiny table to chat with Tash and Renee and to hear about their travels and adventures.  Hearing about what others do, what they have done, and what their goals are is very interesting to me, especially in this line of work.  As Tash was telling us about how she was going to be start working with Iron Maiden again, somebody yelled, “Amaretto shots!” and there they were.

Ash and I walked out of the pub and looked at the time:  3:50am.  The city that never sleeps.  The best thing about New York is that you can get whatever you want at any time of the day, so we walked a block to the Halal Guys food cart.  There was a line, we didn’t know what to order, and Ash said, “We’ll have whatever those folks got.”  That 4am food could have been the best food that has ever graced my tastebuds.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Despite my antics on Saturday night, I was up early on Sunday and felt much better than I had expected I would.  Thank you, Halal Guys.  Ash and I used our time together to get some coffee (top priority) and we walked around Central Park.  It was while walking through the park that I realized my pleather loafers were stretched out, looked horrible, and they felt awful and were terrible to walk in.  I/We walked twenty odd blocks in these painful shoes to Payless where I was able to purchase two different pairs of shoes for $35– In the city!  It was a bargain.  I did some more work preparing for the show in the afternoon, and we said goodbye to each other at 4pm.  I had to go to the venue, and Ash had to take the train back to Albany.

Before the show I was suited up and sitting in the greenroom with the band. Mr. Cohen and Neil (keyboards) were splitting a Guinness.  This would become their pre-show ritual for the remainder of the tour.  Mr. Cohen then addressed me, “What are you drinking over there, Patrick?”  I replied with, “Poland Spring… water.”  I thought for a moment that there was a look of slight disappointment in their eyes with my response.  I wanted to be on point for the show, and with the previous night, it was a fight to stay hydrated.  The second New York show went off without a hitch.  On the walk back to the hotel, I thought about my initial conversation with Mitch, “I know you can play the gig, but I know you have the skills to not play the gig.”  As I reflect on that statement, I think that is one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.

Monday, April 8, 2013

I did not sleep well following the second New York show.  I don’t know if it was nerves, being alone in the hotel, or something else, but I would not get more than 4.5 hours of sleep at night for the whole month of April.  This was my first “full” day of travel, and I was able to see just how everything was handled– in the sense that I had to handle nothing other than getting to the bus on time.  Every night the band would get an email from Mike (band manager) with the details for the upcoming days.  Travel days are always the same:  Our bags are to be placed outside of our room at 11am, we are to be on the bus by noon, and we take off at 1pm.  I think the longest bus ride we had was from Newhaven to New York City; about two hours.

We got on the bus in front of the hotel, drove 30 minutes to the airport, went into a back area, and walked onto the tarmac.  There were no TSA officials, no security, and no cancer inducing x-ray machines. Paradise.  As we boarded the plane, there was a table full of snacks that everyone quickly picked over.  We each got our own row of seats, and there was Fiji water in each seat pocket.  The only hard and fast rule for travel was that Mr. Cohen gets the first seat on the bus behind the driver, and he gets the back exit row of the plane.  FAA regulations were seemingly out the window.  The flight attendant didn’t care that my things were too big to fit under the seat in front of me and I was using my laptop during takeoff.  Had I really wanted to test the waters, I should have had my tray table down, but I was just the new guy and didn’t want to make waves.  While the attendant, Amy, was going over the evacuation procedures, Mr. Cohen, from his seat in the exit row jokingly said, “I’ve got it, guys.”  Mitch was sitting directly in front of me and I asked him if the plane had wifi.  He replied that it did not, to which I responded, “I can’t not work like this.”

I thought the snacks were there to hold us over until we landed, but I was so wrong.  As soon as we were in the air the never ending barrage of food began.  This would be the routine:  Get on the plane, take snacks from the front, eat snacks before taking off, take off, get a refreshment towel from Amy, get a drink from Amy (usually hot green tea with a honey stick for me), get an appetizer from Amy (shrimp, crab cakes, something fancy), get an equally fancy sandwich from Amy, get fruit and/or dessert from Amy, sleepiness ensues, and land.  We were getting constant food the entire time and it made getting any work done difficult.  I was so distracted stuffing my face that I almost missed taking a picture of Niagara Falls as we flew over them.

Our destination was Hamilton, Ontario.  One of my favorite Grateful Dead shows from the Spring 1990 tour took place at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton.  As the plane descended, I had my passport in hand as Amy came around with our declaration cards.  I readied my pen to fill out the card, looked down, and I saw that it had already been filled out for me.  The management left nothing to chance.  If there was something that somebody could screw up, that pretty much means it’s going to be handled for you.  Thus, all of these little details were constantly handled for all of us.  We got off the plane, walked across the runway through ripping cold winds and into the customs room.

“What’s your name?”

“Glenn Harris.”

“Are you here on business?”

“Yes, I’ll be leaving Canada on April 29, and I was last up here in February for work, too.”

“Have a nice day, sir.”

Easy.  Too easy.  A far cry from the angelic TSA agent in Denver.  We got onto a bus (with wifi), and drove into Hamilton.  I checked into my room to find my suitcase and instrument already there and patiently awaiting my arrival.  Laundry was at the top of my to-do list.  I had designated the Apple Store bag that my laptop came in to be the recepticle all of my dirty laundry.  Having quickly learned from my New York experience, I walked to the front desk and found that there was a laundromat less than a mile from the hotel.  It was easily walkable and I could brave the windy cold.

I stepped outside and the rain began.  Cold, obese, drops of rain.  I passed Micky (Leonard’s guitar tech) just outside of the lobby.  I had learned from Rafael (drums) that Micky is a huge Stephen King fan.  I found this out on the the bus as we traveled through the Lincoln Tunnel.  With my dirty laundry in hand, I told Micky that we’d have to talk some Stephen King shop at some point, and I asked him if he’d read The Stand.  He had not.

I continued on my journey to the laundromat.  Nobody informed me prior to my leaving the hotel that Hamilton is essentially the Detroit of Ontario.  It looked like it got beat up and left for dead as a city.  I spotted a Tim Horton’s.  I would spot many more in my travels, and I could always count on having a good cup of coffee from T-Ho’s, but in Hamilton, even the Tim Horton’s looked like it would punch you in the back of the head and take your wallet.

I found the laundromat, and thankfully, they were able to take American money.  The rain continued to fall as I washed, dried and folded my clothes.  With the whirlwind of the last week, this was the perfect bit of “normal” that I needed.  In a strange way, I felt it was good for my soul to walk through the cold wind and rain back to the hotel with a bag of clean clothes in an Apple Store bag.  As everything else was already handled, it was nice to be able to do a small task for myself.

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