Diary of a Wedding Band-Aid
Thursday, January 15, 2004 - 9:36 am
Somehow I got talked into flying to Boise, ID, this weekend to play guitar in a band called the Subaru Brats who are performing at a wedding reception for some Scottish hippy who's getting married in a kilt. The Subaru Brats are two friends who used to be in a group called Banned From the Mall and who I'm in a different band with called The Airresponsibles. The Airresponsibles played their first and only show last month in a basement jazz club the night after a whole slew of us had driven out to Port Angeles to see yet another band involving Matt, the bass player, called AV. The Airresponsibles, their audience, and the resulting show suffered a little from some lingering fatigue and pain incurred the night before, but in the end it wasn't too big of a catastrophe. We were joined onstage by a giant stuffed gorilla named Squatley who my roommate and his girlfriend had retrieved from Safeway at about 1:30 am when we sent them off to buy beer to drink in the hottub at the hotel. Squatley starred in a series of home movies filmed in the hallways of that same hotel which wrapped up shooting around 6:00 am. Somehow, we defied all known laws of physics and avoided getting thrown out of that place even though we'd crammed about ten people into a single room and raised hell until sunrise.
Needless to say, we were a little strung out the next night, but powered on valiantly and made it through the show. Aside from a near-fight between between one of the current Banned From the Mall guys and the guitar player from AV (who opened for us) and a tense episode where the drummer from still another one of my old bands, Fylo, hopped out of the crowd during the all-accoustic encore to add some drums and was promptly booted by the drummer from AV (who owned the kit), things didn't go half bad.
Also, on the way back to Seattle from Port Angeles, we invented "Flash Gambling," which is where you stop at every casino you see and send one person from the car in to play a single, $20 hand of blackjack, and then run back out. I think we broke even.
Any case, that's a little background. The story now is this wedding party where I'm playing guitar with Eric and Matt. Those guys performed as the Subaru Brats in Boise a few months ago and made such an impression on this guy in the back of the room that he up and demanded they play his wedding. I'm not sure whether he knows what he's in for, and I'm not sure why Eric and Matt want me along, but I imagine it's going to be a bit of an adventure. We'll be doing something a little mellower than our Airresponsibles show, with no drummer, and with a slightly different songlist. I told them I refuse to sing in front of a wedding party and potentially ruin the evening, but Eric might sing a couple of the songs I usually do. He emailed me (I should mention that he lives in Ketchum, ID, while Matt and I live an hour apart in Washington) a list of about 20 songs -- some Airresponisbles tunes we wrote together, some Banned From the Mall songs, some Subaru Brats songs, and a handful of covers. I know about half of them so far. The show is in two days.
Last night after work i holed up in the basement with some peanut butter and a can of Vernors and some carrot sticks to work on the songs. After goofing off for a half-hour trying to figure out a Guess Who tune that'd been stuck in my head for two weeks, I finally got down to business.
Surrounded by piles of printed emails with chords and lyrics and notes and a stack of tapes and CDs, I bumbled my way through some of the newer material before getting frustrated and turning to the older stuff I already knew. Then I stared at the ceiling and sang Flaming Lips songs to myself while trying to play piano with my toes. I took a break to get another Vernors and talked to one of my roommates, who was heading to a friend's house to watch bad movies and drink 40s. I told him I'd try to catch up in a couple hours when I was done practicing.
Ten minutes later, I killed the lights in the basement and followed him out the door. We ended up watching two amazingly horrible movies ("Ginger Snaps" and "Night of the Creeps,") as well as the trailers for a few Dolomite films, and I was passed out in bed by midnight. I figure I'll have more time to practice tonight.
Friday, January 16, 2004 10:44 am
Flying out today at 2:50 in the pm. Feeling shaky. Not really nervous so much as I am hungover and tired and hungry. Just ate some pumpkin seeds, which were good. Was going to get a bunch of practice in last night after going to see my friend Nine Foot Drew's high school choir perform (he's a teacher) but as it turned out I got stuck working until after 8:00 and missed the recital altogether. Headed straight home, ate a peanut butter sandwich, and went down to the basement to learn the two-thirds of the material I still can't play. About twenty minutes later, having accomplished nothing, I got a call from Simmons, who is the bass player in Fylo. We just played a show a couple weeks ago and are still kind of riding high on the fact that we pulled it together after not having played in over a year. Any case, I ended up taking a break to go hang out and have a quick drink.
Six hours later we were tangled up in a tense argument about whether we could walk home and whose house was closer to the bar. I was positive mine was closer and determined to prove it. Long story short, my car is still at the bar and my walk home was about 30 minutes longer than I'd expected it to be. (i was guessing 8 minutes.) So now I need to get my car back, pack my stuff, and get to the airport all the while gracefully bowing out of an employee satisfaction meeting which starts in about ten minutes. Not too worried about that, though. Last time we had one of these things, all that came out of it was a half-baked idea to start a book club .
Supposing I should be fretting about the show tomorrow, but the way I see it, I'll be arriving early in Boise -- around 5:00. We should have some time to practice tonight.
Saturday, January 17th - 2:34 pm
Made it safely to Boise last night after my first experience with Southwest Airlines, which amazingly doesn’t have assigned seats on their airplanes. My boarding pass didn’t have a time, a gate number, a seat number, or any other kind of information on it, just a gigantic capital letter “B.” This meant I got to board the plane in the second of three cattle-like herds and fight for a seat.
Eric picked me up from the airport and we headed to the Best Western to drop off my stuff before heading out to Matt’s girlfriend’s dad’s house where we were going to grab dinner and practice a little. The very mention of the word “practice” made me shudder because I hadn’t come clean about my lack of preparation. I kept quiet and hoped for the best. We listened to a recording of the first and only Airresponsibles show that a friend made for us and I think it scared us both shitless, considering it was so sloppy and drunken and fragmented. It wasn’t lacking in a certain kind of charm and there was definitely a ballsiness to it but it was worlds away from anything that would be acceptable at a wedding, even one as unorthodox as this one we’d gotten roped into.
All that passed when we got to the house, though, where Matt had set up all our instruments in the living room and Mary was busy whipping up a full-on pork chop dinner complete with mashed potatos and gravy, fruit salad, and some kind of crazy apple custard pie for desert. There wasn’t enough room for everyone around the dining room table so Eric and I sat a kiddie table off to side, just like at Thanksgiving. We talked about an idea I had for a movie where a couple of hippies solve a mysterious crime by studying the bootleg recording of a concert where a murder takes place, and about the fact that neither of us had probably eaten a pork chop in over ten years.
Practice actually went pretty ok, all things considered, and it was pretty rushed because we were all in a hurry to go back into town and check out the nightlife in Boise. I faked my way through a few songs I’d never even heard before and neither Matt nor Eric seemed to pay much attention or be bothered by the fact that I was obviously completely lost. Fortunately, in over ten years of playing guitar, I’ve managed to learn one lick, which travels beautifully across the borders of keys and genres and time signatures. It got to the point where nobody could keep a straight face because I was using it so much. But so what. It’s a freaking wedding. I’d rather play the same clichéd solo a hundred times than get all experimental and start dropping heavyweight farts left and right.
It occurred to me that we’re not being very punk rock about this whole thing. Then again, even though this guy asked for it, there’s no reason for us to get him in deep shit with his in-laws for hiring us.
Eric wanted to play a version of Cotton Fields he’d heard on the CCR boxed set and even though we’d never played it before and Matt hadn’t even heard it, we added it to the setlist. I reluctantly agreed to break my ban on singing and take over vocals on one of my Airresponsibles songs, “No Funny Business in the Feather Bed Tonight.” All in all, it was a relatively encouraging session.
Back in downtown Boise, we walked from the hotel to a few bars. I realized really early on that this was primarily a college town and suddenly felt very old and inadequate. Everywhere around us the clumsily drunken youth of Idaho screeched in glee and hollered at strangers and exercised the power of domination you have when you’re twenty years old and bulletproof and edging toward the eleventh hour of a raging blackout. We saw two fights and a kid getting arrested and another guy getting busted trying to pay his cover with a counterfeit twenty dollar bill (no shortage of punk rock ethos there).
One time, long ago, these had been our people, and I recognized that. Whatever has changed in us since then will never change back, no matter how ridiculous and dangerous our evenings continue to be. There’s an element of violence and desperation we’ve exorcised and passed on to those kids running around banging their heads on the cracked sidewalks of Boise, and it’s theirs to make the most of for now.
Not that we didn’t get pretty stupid. We definitely did. Before it was all over, we’d closed down a bar where a waitress had really offended me by telling me to “settle down” even though I really don’t think I was doing anything more than telling a story with a few sweeping gestures with my hands. We wound up sucking down the better part of a twelve pack of Coors back in the room even though people kept bitching about how bad the beer was and how boring the Robert Redford movie (“The Electric Horseman”) that I insisted on watching was. In the end, everyone fell asleep and woke up ragged today.
We went to Cracker Barrel for breakfast, which was fantastic, even though I was still off-kilter enough to have a hard time enjoying my biscuits, gravy, eggs, bacon, and hashbrown casserole. After that, we browsed through bargain CDs at a pawn shop, paid a quick visit to a historical museum, and hit the hot tub at the hotel. Not bad for an afternoon, and aside from the fact that I spent the whole time wishing I could just find a comfortable bathroom with a little bit of privacy, it was a pretty soothing couple hours considering how worried I’ve been about learning songs and embarrassing myself (or the other guys) at the show tonight.
Now we’re planning on dropping the equipment off at the room where the ceremony is, getting some dinner, and coming back to the hotel room for a little practice. There are still a half dozen songs we haven’t even played and a good ten where I have no idea what I’m going to do. Hoping to get that figured out sometime in the next four hours.
Sunday, January 18 - 11:18 pm
After finally dragging ass out of the hot tub yesterday we threw everything into the back of Matt’s car and headed to the space where the wedding was to take place -- the ceremony, dinner, and reception were all in the same room. There was a huge stage at one end of the room and a staircase leading to a second floor loft and more than anything it looked like an old brewery with the vats removed and the cobwebs dusted off. The freaking stage must have been ten feet off the ground.
We walked in pretty sheepishly, Eric and Matt not having even seen this guy since their show six months ago and pretty certain they’d have trouble recognizing him. I felt, probably correctly, that there was no reason whatsoever for me to be there. Inside, a crack team of specialists was busy setting up chairs, examining large pieces of cloth, and keeping young children in line by calling out their overly sophisticated names. I knew this was going to be a bit of a strange wedding, but had yet to peg the exact kind of strange.
We eventually worked up the courage to ask who was in charge and spoke with the “facility manager,” a fiftyish woman with a wilderness of long gray hair that just screamed “art history professor” when taken in tandem with her hip black eyeglasses. I’m used to being a nuisance and an intrusion, but this woman was even ruder to us than she needed to be, and stated in no uncertain terms that she had no idea what the plan was for us. This was bad, because it made us all change from being just plain nervous to absolutely terrified and a little pissed off. We managed to at least try to rise above it, though, this being the day of a beautiful bonding of whatever and so forth..
It took tracking down the groom (who Eric fortunately did recognize) and chatting briefly to get at least a loose idea of the plan. There was a Celtic band that would play through most of the dinner and finish at 8:45. We should be ready to play by 9:00. Good enough. We stashed our stuff backstage and headed back to the hotel to meet up with the girls and get some food.
Mary’s friend conveniently worked at a sushi place and managed to swing a huge and delicious meal for five of us, complete with more wine and food than we could finish, for absolutely nothing. The guy who waited on us was a little confused about our story--none of us had yet developed an expedient way to explain that we were in town to perform slightly ridiculous acoustic indie-rock songs at an aging Scottish hippy’s wedding. Pieces of information crucial to the understanding of the situation tended to get left out. Especially with multiple narrators.
When we got back to the room we sat around and practiced for another hour or so, running through some tunes that went pretty well and some others I swore I’d invented parts for last night but couldn’t for the life of me remember. Helpless, I fell back on my one little riff time and again but there didn’t seem to be enough energy in the room for laughter or merry-making. Also, there were a couple songs we’d written on the setlist at the restaurant that we *still* hadn’t even played, but there was no longer any time to worry about that. We broke to bathe ourselves and get dressed.
I don’t usually get dressed up, and so the nice pair of pants I’d brought with me were still pretty wrinkly from the last wedding I attended. Also, I’d grabbed a shirt out of my closet that looked nice enough but which I never remembered seeing before. Both of these needed to be ironed and there was no way I could avoid doing it in front of everyone. I’m not a complete numbskull, but I’m damn close. And I’ve ironed before, but never in any kind of organized or skillful or even supervised way. I was confident I could get through this without burning the place down, but had a feeling my lack of prowess in ironing was about to earn me the same looks people get when they admit they’ve never seen the Wizard of Oz.
I arranged the ironing table with my back to everyone, and perhaps they weren’t paying much attention, or maybe I’m just a natural, but I banged those fuckers out and I’ll be damned if they didn’t look pretty ok. First major battle of the day: Victorious.
We drank a bottle of wine, which was a good idea. In retrospect, we probably should have had four. We left a little early and got to the place around 8:00 and realized it was stupid to be early because we weren’t invited to the wedding and there was nothing for us to do while everyone else ate and talked and did their thing. So we left.
Back at the hotel, we opened another bottle of wine, which like I said we probably should have done in the first place. I can’t speak for anyone else but I was nervous as shit. I’ve kind of gotten over being nervous before playing in front of people and usually just get jittery. This was different, though. I was flat-out terrified that we were going to ruin this poor couple’s wedding. It was true that they kind of brought it on themselves, but still.
Round Two -- we arrived not long before the Celtic band finished. I was in no rush to get started, figuring the longer we waited and the more the partygoers had to drink before we started, the better. But we could only put it off for so long. Next thing I knew I was onstage, unrolling cables, plugging in microphones, and stealing a glance at the crowd whenever I could, which appeared to be made up of a hundred tiny smurf-like creatures, very far away and a long way down. Honestly, I don’t think the closest human was within twenty yards of the stage. Which was fine by me.
A little sound-checking, some feedback problems, and a whiskey or two later, the bride and groom had a short cake-cutting and speech-giving ceremony and then introduced us as a group they found in a bar that lives in different states and doesn’t perform much and only appears on rare and special occasions. Eric had written us a nice little introduction that cited the US Postal Service as a major factor in keeping us together. True enough
Eric broke into the opening lines of “Genetically Modified Apples,” a song I knew pretty well and which had basically gotten us the gig. The groom requested that we play it a few times, and this first time, I thought, went pretty well. We pretty much nailed it. I looked up at Eric and Matt and made that “not bad” kind of shrug that you make sometimes, but Eric still looked terrified.
“Did you see that guy with his hands over his ears?” he asked me.
“What?” I asked. I hadn’t seen anything but my fingers and my guitar, which I’d been begging to do the right things from start to finish.
Eric put his pick in his mouth so he could have both hands free to demonstrate.
“Like this,” he said. “With his fucking hands over his ears!” To demonstrate, Eric placed his hands over his and grimaced in an awful, agonizing way.
“Oh,” I said. “That’s not good.”
This, of course, was a stupid thing to say, but I was nervous and there were a lot of people kind of watching us at the moment. Then they started yelling. We couldn’t understand what they were saying and had to ask them to repeat themselves.
“It’s too loud,” one person finally yelled.
“Oh,” Eric said. “Well we’ll turn it down, then.” He looked over at me and I turned down the volume knob on the PA. Easy enough. We’re here to be accommodating, if nothing else.
“But it’s good,” screamed the same guy.
“Thanks,” Eric said. “We appreciate that kind of feedback more than the guy who just covered his ears with his hands.”
This sounded to me like a bit of a wisecrack for a wedding singer, but I trust Eric and he was pretty much in charge of the whole thing, so I went ahead and laughed. A little old man proudly raised a trembling hand and a few people near him applauded. I realized he must have been the ear-clencher. He looked pretty tough, but I figured I could take him with Matt’s help if need be.
We launched into another song and finished it without much incident. Eric made announcements about a free cab service and a cop lurking across the street. We played another song. I took a drink of beer. And another song. And nothing happened. No applause, no jeering, no heckling, no “yee-haws.” People seemed to be absolutely oblivious to the fact that we were even there.
“Jesus,” Matt said during one of our song breaks, which tended to get longer and longer as the night progressed. “This is just like practice.”
“Except quieter,” I said.
“Should we go back to the hotel and change out of these clothes before we go out tonight?” Eric asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Let’s see how much time we have.”
“Yeah,” he answered. “Well, let’s not get stuck here too late. What do you want to play next?”
“I don’t care,” I said. “Matt?”
Matt called out a tune and we played it. Silence. Mary was sitting in a chair alone off the front of the stage and at one point I think she fell asleep. I thought about using Eric’s cell phone to call someone in Seattle and tell them about the situation. “Listen,” I would say. “Listen to how quiet it is even though we’re on stage.”
To finish up, we played Genetically Modified Apples again with some kind of crazy alien effects on Eric’s voice. I don’t think we even said thank you or anything. We just unplugged our shit and packing it up. The groom came up to us, neither pleased nor displeased, and explained that since he was wearing a kilt he didn’t have his checkbook and would it be ok if he just mailed the check. We said that would be fine and got the hell out of there.
We parked the car at the hotel and didn’t even bother unpacking it. Went straight to a bar with a Boys II Men style group playing music where we ate some pizza and watched people strap themselves up to flavored oxygen machines for a buck a minute. I yapped away with a girl who was a karaoke host and her boyfriend who was a Navy engineer-turned used car salesman. Both very good people and an enjoyable conversation. Our waiter from the Sushi restaurant showed up having apparently gotten a better explanation of our story from Mary’s friend and displayed a sudden, newfound admiration. “You guys are fucking nuts,” he said.
It was the most heartening thing anyone had said to us all weekend.
The rest of that night kind of blurs away. We ended up back at the hotel room, watching tv and finishing off those cheap beers and I eventually woke up on the couch too late and had to haul ass to shower and make it to the airport for the next Southwest cattle call. When I got back home everything seemed to be dull and black and white, and the gutter on the front of my house had fallen into the yard. I sat on the couch, watched the Patriots beat the Jets, and then dozed through most of the Panthers/Eagles game.
People asked me how the weekend went and I said not bad. They asked me if I ruined the wedding and I said, amazingly, I think not. They asked me if anything crazy happened and I said I ironed the shit out of a shirt and pair of pants. I asked if anything had happened around here and they said no.
The week before the wedding, Eric emailed me an article about how risk-taking has been linked with longer living. Something about adrenaline secretions. I thought about Keith Richards. His argument about taking chances being healthy was, cornily, actually pretty effective, though it’s not why I went out there and did this thing. The real kicker was when he told me that he’d already reserved a hotel room. That sounded really good to me. For some reason, I really like staying in hotel rooms. I’d go stay in one right now if the opportunity presented itself. For sure.