Pat Harris

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.