Pat Harris

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.