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Getting To Know Your Orchestra
November 6 2003 — by Mike Fornatale

Well, we made it from Philadelphia to DC by about midafternoon Monday, without incident. And not one single wrong turn. Except — of course — for Gene, Arthur, Leon, and one band member [?] in The Red Minivan. They got lost and didn’t turn up at the motel till quite a while after we did. Pete and Chapple, in the cargo van, beat us, but that’s understandable. They were packing eight fewer bladders than we were.

And that’s as good a segue-point as any to talk about The Contents Of My Van, one bladder at a time. Submitted for your approbation.

You know this already, of course, but “Love,” when they remove their paisley face masks, are actually a very hap’nin’ early-90s band from L.A. called Baby Lemonade. I’m just going to refer to them as the “band.” But I heard the Stringed Instrument Goddesses variously refer to them as the “Lemons,” “Babies,” or “Baby Lemons.” Typically one or two of the band would be in my van at any given time (not during the shows, however.)

MIKE RANDLE — always with us. He’s a pure shot of sunshine and the only person on the tour with sillier hair than mine. He can’t spell to save his spleen, but when you can play guitar like him, you don’t have to. Other people will follow you around and spell for you.

“DADDY-O” GREEN — he was with us about half the time. Hearty midwestern stock. And one of only four of us in the van who has ever lived in a place where they’ve heard of “snow.” This shared knowledge would come in handy on Thursday, but I’m getting ahead of myself. He sports the only Chin Caterpillar I’ve ever seen that I think looks good. He drums like a hurricane and wears a fiercely determined look on his face while doing so.

RUSTY SQUEEZEBOX — Why the silly nicknames, I thought, when I first met these guys. One reason: three of them all have the same name. Darn good reason it is, too. These poor folks had a terrible time remembering to say “Randle” and “Mike F” all week. Anyway, Rusty plays a lovely Rickenbacker and sings most of the background vocals, helpfully nudging Arthur back into the correct lyrics when necessary. Rusty seems, to me, to be the lynchpin that holds this whole thing together on stage. Of course, he could just be pulling a Robbie Robertson and making it LOOK that way. How can you know these things?

DAVE CHAPPLE — never, in my memory, has anyone under six feet tall (and considerably so) looked so good wielding one of those impossibly long Fender basses. Even THIS Fender bass, which has half the skin worn off of it. Dave is very easygoing and speaks in a measured laconic drawl — until some Evil Relay snaps shut in his brainpan. You can actually see this take place. There’s a snapping sound and the smell of ozone, and a spark behind each eye. Momentarily, rest assured, there will be A Show, and no one will be seated after it begins. The Show might be a monologue worthy of Lord Buckley or Irwin Corey — or it might be something slightly more physical, resembling a high-wire walker with St. Vitus Dance, or it might just be a series of yelps and grunts. On at least one occasion, it was all three of these. I found out quickly that there is actually a clinical term for these interludes. As soon as the aforementioned relay snaps, someone will call out (to warn whatever others might be in the area) “It’s Chapple Time.”

Our orchestra had a slightly different composition than the Swedish contingent. No trombone, one extra String Goddess (I think?) and — hooray! — one of the trumpet players doubles on flute. I had really missed the flute at the Town Hall show.

So, in no particular order — don’t read anything into the order:

DAN LUCAS — trumpet and flute. Imposing demeanor but friendly-looking. Only removes his gray wool cap during the shows (if then.) Does not listen to any music except free jazz, of which he carries a generous supply everywhere he goes. Sadly, he left the entire supply somewhere in New York and now it’s been funnelled and channeled through the CSN (no, not the Crosby Stills and Nash, the Crackhead Shopping Network) and probably been turned over four or six times by now.

You have to love Dan, even if you don’t want to — after the first soundcheck, when I sang Arthur’s leads (to the whole orchestra’s surprise, apparently) Dan had a small brainstorm and spent the whole rest of the tour singing my name to the tune of “Andmoreagain.” (“And if you see Mike Fornatale, then you might BE Mike Fornatale…”) This is not precisely logical but it makes a great song, doesn’t it?

PROBYN GREGORY — Okay, stop right there. Why even tell you what he plays? There was no need to have a Coolest Name On The Tour contest. “Leon Porter?” Nope. Blown right out of the water. Probyn Gregory.

Prior to the first time I saw this fellow’s name in print, I had maintained that the coolest name in the world belonged to a young lady I saw singing Gilbert and Sullivan in Ridgewood New Jersey, at a show a friend of ours was in. I can’t recall her surname, but her first name was “Bronwen.” I’ve also seen this spelled “Bronwyn.” So perhaps there is a subtle Welsh Thread running through the vein of World’s Coolest Names.

(“Michael,” by the way, is the single most common name in the entire Western world, male or female, if you count all its derivatives and various translations. Also of note: it means “godlike.” I use the small “g” in “godlike” because, hey, you do need to be humble.)

Anyway, Probyn Gregory, yeah. A member of the jaw-droppingly amazing L.A. ensemble called The Negro Problem, which I knew — and also a member of The Wondermints, which — DOH — I did not know. I had seen this feller perform with Brian Wilson when they did the first Pet Sounds show in New Jersey a couple of summers back, and I didn’t recognize him. Oh well. I don’t think I looked away from Brian more than twice that night. Probyn plays the trumpet in this band, along with Dan. He has a deliciously wicked sense of humor and wordplay, and apparently makes his own trail mix.

Okay, now, The Goddesses.

ANA VALE-LENCHANTIN — cellist. From Argentina but thoroughly Californitized. Every morning she makes some sort of fiercely ethnic tea, from scratch, and I’m sure it tastes way better than it looks. As for Ana herself, I didn’t taste her but she looks just fine. A big smile and a throaty laugh, and claims to have a boyfriend back home who looks like Vin Diesel. I’m not attaching any particular value to these factoids, it’s just that they’re all I’ve got.

HEATHER LOCKIE — viola. Funny as hell, and gorgeous in a somehow Deliberately Just-Left-Of-Center sort of way — I’m sure she’ll take that as an insult, but it isn’t one. Heather is apparently on a constant quest for yogurt. And she was the first Californian that I caught over-dressing. Don’t these people have blood? I first noticed this when Wendy and I went to visit friends in San Francisco a couple of years ago, in April — it was about 68 degrees and humid, just gorgeous, and here were all our friends dressed like Siberian Refugees. Anyway, the morning after we arrived in Philadelphia, as I was heading downstairs In T-shirt and Members Only jacket (I’m waging a one-man crusade to make those cool again. Oh, that’s right, I mean “to make those cool for the FIRST time”) here comes Heather, wearing a winter coat and a matching deep red wool hat and scarf — a scarf that, were it made of different material, could just as easily have been called a tarpaulin. I said nothing but I found out later that she had busted my barely-concealed smirk.

CARRIE BARTSCH — violin. In every bunch of women there’s a Tall Cool Beautiful Ghostly One, and that’s Carrie. She plays with a fierce, head-snapping intensity. Apparently, she’s a marathon-running champion, and she went out each morning on what would be a gruelling run for most of the rest of us. This rendered unexpected benefits in Virginia; more on that later. But I will speak now of a scenario at the venue in Alexandria, wherein I walked innocently into the backstage area after setting up the stage, only to find the room empty except for Carrie — who was on the floor engaging in a stretching-exercise so fluidly torrid that I couldn’t hold the camera still enough to capture it on film. Your loss.

PAULA YOO — violin. Here’s a lovely and interesting lady. You’ve seen her name rolling by in the credits if you’ve ever had your TV turned on for any reason other than to play Pancreas Harvester 2010, or whatever your game of choice is. As I’ve said elsewhere, Paula trails behind her a veritable arsenal of electronic devices which glow, hum, throb, and crackle. She is constantly on the phone to unnamed folks back in L.A., asking them worriedly if she’s been Drummed Out Of Show Business since the moment she left for the airport. Her parents and brother came to see the show in Boston and looked very proud. She had mentioned, earlier, that her father — when he found out about the tour — had asked sternly “Will there be other girls on the tour??” Paula is 34 years old. Time to let the leash out a bit, you Yoo you.

Especially since Paula — who needs no protecting — nevertheless has a fire-breathing Stuffed Attack Bear that she carries VISIBLY wherever she goes. I pity the fool who crosses the bear. (From this safe distance, I’m emboldened enough to opine that it more closely resembles a skinned rat dipped in hummus. Especially since it just took a gratuitous shot at me in its own diary entry. Hey, bear, I got you there, didn’t I??)

Further huge props to Paula for recognizing virtually all the obscurities that came blaring out of my iPod into the van’s stereo system on the trip from Boston to NYC, more on that later as well.

By the way, she kept her maiden name. Her husband’s name is “McCorkle,” which is not nearly as psychedelic.

JULIE CARPENTER — About whom, the less I say, the smarter I’ll look. I never quite got a bead on Julie Carpenter, even after a long dinner with her and Heather. Here’s as much as I know. She’s from Texas.

Hmm — that description needs a little something. Okay, she’s, um, “diminutive,” and gorgeous in a classically Hollywood-in-the-1920s sort of way. Beautiful and unusual harstyle, piercing eyes. Google offers the following: she’s been in bands called Gropius, Pointy Shoe Factory and the Transona Five. I raided eBay after I got home, and scored a Baby Lemonade CD, a “Harvette” CD (a Chapple Side Project) and one by The Transona Five — which, oops, contains a Julie Quotient of zero. So I haven’t played it yet.

Of all the smokers in the group, and there were several, Julie was the one most in need of the lecture which it was none of my business to give, so I didn’t. She pretty much lights one up before she even finishes the previous one. She should get a little hamster-wheel loaded up with lit cigarettes, anchor it to her head and just spin it.

There is one thing I could tell you about Julie Carpenter, but I can’t, so I’ll hint at it instead: someone (Randle, I think?) at one of our post-show meltdown parties, told the quintessential timeless Pedophile Joke: Kid says “I’m scared.” Scoutmaster says “YOU’RE scared? I have to walk back through these woods ALONE.”

Upon which, Julie riposted with another pedophile joke which — try as I may — I can’t even clean up enough to repeat here. Kudos!

NEXT TIME: Wide-eyed tourists in Our Nations Capital.